By Khanh Nguyen.
NYU CS is bad. It lacks resources and a good curriculum. Many students complain about the lack of recruitment on campus and support from professors. Browsing recent Reddit posts or Discord messages, most responses about NYU CS CAS are criticisms.
I transferred from University of Maryland, College Park, where I was a CS major. I would like to provide my comparison of the 2 CS departments that I noticed after my time here.
Many who are familiar with both CS departments would wonder “Why the hell did you transfer?”. On paper, UMD CS is a lot stronger. The courses offered are more abundant and interesting. The student body has stronger programming skills and the recruiting scene is decent. I agree. But here are a few reasons why I left.
There were 250 kids in my introductory courses. They were weed-out classes so the size made sense. Coming from a high school with 350 people, it was certainly difficult for me to adjust. On the upside, the curriculum for my class was rigorous since I had a really great professor. However, due to the size, there was usually a long line to get help on projects during office hours. As a new programmer, these time slots were crucial for me to understand the assignments and reinforce my comprehension of the concepts from the lectures. I usually came early to avoid the crowd and was able to get pointers on more difficult projects. Those who came 30 minutes later were not so fortunate. There were days that I saw 20 distressed students cramming into a single room waiting for help from 1 TA before the project was due. Not the kind of environment you wanted to be in. Overcrowdedness was also a problem during the professor’s office hours. Sometimes, there would be a line of people out the door waiting for help. Either you came early or came another time. It was hard to reach out to the lecturer and ask questions regarding the course materials. This could come at a disadvantage especially if you need recommendation letters and you haven’t met with the professor for enough occasions. One of my friends also considered transferring but couldn’t get a recommendation letter because he was told that he hadn’t come to enough office hours. In addition, the class size left fewer opportunities to ask questions during lectures since the professors need to go through the course materials in a timely manner.
Two courses, Data Management and Applied Internet Technologies, specifically demonstrate this problem with NYU CS. For the Spring 2021 term, their waitlists stretch to 120 students. However, it is not a foreign problem to UMD or to Columbia. I suspect this also happens at other institutions as there is an increasing number of students majoring in CS. It’s unavoidable, especially with the more popular courses or professors. I recall being on the waitlist for introductory courses at UMD until the last day of add/drop period before getting a spot. The expansion in students majoring in CS led to Limited Enrollment Program at UMD after my freshman year, which requires students to re-apply to the major after completing the required courses. This is done at University of Washington as pre-major. I suppose it is a reasonable solution to keep the program competitive. The admission into the major is not guaranteed even if you do well in the required courses since the application is reviewed holistically. Personally, I find it stressful to experience the anxiety of competitive application again after 2 years.
I’m not an extrovert. I’m not really an introvert either. I’m not sure which category I fit in. I do know that I don’t enjoy the social life at UMD, which consists of football games and frat parties. I enjoy a wholesome gathering or checking out restaurants. UMD’s college town, College Park, isn’t really know for great restaurants if you cannot tell. Washington D.C doesn’t really have a food scene either since it consists mostly of goverment buildings. Gentrification has increased the rent prices in D.C’s Chinatown. The social life at UMD just wasn’t for me.
All of this contributes to my transfer decision. Even though I enjoyed the CS courses, where I built a solid foundation, I don’t feel that I fit in at UMD as a person or as an international student. However, having experienced a competitive department, I try my best take advatage of the resources at NYU to succeed as a CS student. There are certain aspects I really enjoy at NYU.
NYU CS curriculum is lackluster. The department doesn’t even require students to take Calculus II1, probability/stats, and programming languages. However, if you are familiar with a decent CS curriculum, you can plan your to take courses with more challenging professor at NYU.
I really enjoy the class size at NYU since each class usually has 30-80 students. It allows me to attend office hours more easily and get to know my professors on a personal level. Before the pandemic, sometimes I would go to office hours without having specific questions in mind and discuss different topics with them. Everyone should take advantage of the professors at NYU. They are at the top of their fields and really knowledgeable. I find that professors here tend to be on the friendlier side. Some even have lots of industry connections so definitely attend their office hours to know them better. They might also be the founder of hackNY! or cryptographic algorithm inventor.
My first and current job is a grader. I applied through NYU handshake before arriving on campus. This provides me some income to spend on grocery and entertainment.
For my sophomore year, I was able to land a SWE internship at Rent the Runway, which was eventually cancelled due to the pandemic. Thanks to the NYU opportunities mailing list, I landed another one in June. I’m not sure if it can be attributed to NYU. But being at the right place at the right time certainly helps. I wouldn’t have known what Rent the Runway was, were I not in NYC.
If internships are your biggest concerns and you are applying to college, you shouldn’t go here. There are better and cheaper schools with better outreach for these things. However, if you are already at NYU, you can still succeed. It might take more work but keep in mind that the market is competitive so you have to play the game either through networking, problem solving or cold emailing.
Wasserman often hosts coffee chats with employers and alumni3. Attend these events and talk to as many people as you can. These events are set up to network so remember to ask for people’s contact information and reach out. They can help mentor you or put you in touch with recruiters. They are also often hosted by student organizations such as WinC or Tech@NYU.
If you start programming in college, I suggest finding paid internships as soon as possible since you are behind in terms of programming ability. Don’t be afraid of applying with no experience. If you are lucky, you might land your first offer. If not, you can have some practice interviews or you may receive recruiters’ emails, which you should save for the following internship cycle.
In addition to internship experience, there are great projects developed by NYU students with medium-sized codebase you can work on such as Schedge. There are also lots of open source projects on GitHub. They are great entry points to software development. You can learn a great deal just by contributing and asking questions. So code, learn, apply and do your best. NYU CS might not have the greatest recruiting scene but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed!
NYU is notoriously known for not having a traditional social life. I found it to be the opposite. I don’t have a crazy or wild social life, where I go to bars or clubs often. But I found more people at NYU, who I vibe better with. I also find most people in NYC more interesting conversationalists. It most likely stems from the fact that everyone comes from different backgrounds and interacts with one another.
NYC is a great city for food. I enjoy having access to good restaurants, specifically Asian ones. Now, on the weekends, instead of sitting in my dorm, I usually go out and try food at new restaurants or another cuisine. NYC is also great cities for other activities such as museums or shopping. Being a student means that you can have free access to the MET, MoMa or MoMath, which is a perk I use heavily during the break.
If you are at NYU and disappointed after reading reddit posts or previous blogs about the CS department, I hope this provides a way to take advantage of all the courses and resources. Rather than worrying about the environment, it might be more productive to make the best out of it and blame it after graduation. Though I have my gripe with the CS department here and there, I’m generally happier at NYU. It’s a combination of many factors. I enjoy having a diverse student body both in terms of race and geography. I enjoy the accessibility to great restaurants. NYU CS is not perfect by any means but there are reasons other than the courses you should consider before choosing a school4.
In Shoup’s Algorithm course, there were complaints about how the first assignment requires Calculus II knowledge but the department never requires the course. ↩
Interestingly enough, I got an interview at Microsoft through NYU and also an internship offer from a hedge fund through On-Campus Interview at Wasserman. ↩
Before the pandemic, I have attended coffee chats with companies such as PDT Partners, GrubHub, Microsoft, Chewy, Splunk, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs and some smaller firms in NYC. The alumni events usually consist of SWEs working at FAANG companies. ↩
The biggest one is financial reason. Don’t get into debt for ↩