Expensive Degree vs Free Degree for Comp-Sci

hm04 profile image Matthew Marion ・1 min read

I am currently enrolled in my senior year of high school and am going through the college application process. I have good test scores and grades and could be accepted into some upper-end universities. However, attending these universities will put me into lots of debt, while attending my in-state university would allow me to come out debt free. I was told since I already have professional experience as a software developer at a pretty large company, I shouldn't worry about the degree that much.

I have been weighing my options and trying to decide if a more prestigious degree is worth the tremendous amount of debt. Will the degree earn me a larger starting salary, or will showing my personal projects do that for me?


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Matthew Marion


Georgia Tech '22 Computer Science student, soccer player


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Just my two cents, so take it for what it's worth...

I'd say it depends on what you want to do with your career. If you want to be a software engineer working on cool products, the cheaper option plus your experience should be fine. If you want to do get into academia or research of some sort, I'd say go with the prestigious school, but this isn't a hard and fast rule. One thing to consider is what can the prestigious school offer you that the cheaper school can't and is that worth it?

I have the opportunity of comparing an in-state university to a prestigious university right now. I received an undergraduate degree from an in-state university and I'm currently enrolled in a master's program through Georgia Tech. You might say they're not comparable because they're at different levels, but the lower-level master's courses and the upper-level bachelor's courses are sometimes exactly the same, so there is some room to compare.

As for the quality of education, I'd say there's not that much difference. Where I see there being a difference is the opportunities outside of the classroom the prestigious university can offer you. Oftentimes companies will try to team up with the big name schools and give those students really cool opportunities where lesser-known schools don't get the same attention. Where you already have outside experience, I'd say going to a prestigious university might not be as big of a deal depending on what you want to do with your career.

Also, if you're not sure what you want to do, go to the cheaper school. No sense wasting money on a more expensive school while you figure things out.

All this being said... it's your life. You do what you think is best. Don't let anyone else tell you what to do with your career. Take their advice, consider it, decide what you want, then do it.


Thanks for the great, detailed response. I plan on going into software engineering. I live in Louisiana and the best in-state university is not great and neither is the job market for programmers. I guess I am leaning towards going in-state anyways and packing up and moving to somewhere better after my four years are up.

Thanks again.


You're welcome and good luck with your career!

And... All I have to say in response to your comment about the market in Louisiana is Utah has a great technology sector and great schools that feed into it. Don't overlook it. ;) (I can't resist promoting the Silicon Slopes sometimes... #sorrynotsorry)


A degree shows a level of attainment and a skill set. A prestigious university can help open doors that otherwise might be closed. As has already been mentioned, some companies will only consider top flight institutions because it's an easy screen of candidates. Also, while people don't like to talk about it much, having the same alma mater can make an interview go more smoothly (but then so can sharing any other interest). In the UK, there's not that much variance in price between Oxford/Cambridge and the lowest ranked universities, so there's not the same dilemma.

I've been hiring for over 15 years at various sized companies, and it's always been down to the skills demonstrated and not where the candidates got them. After your first few jobs, the university itself starts to become irrelevant. If you can prove you have the skills then you'll get hired.

IMO - you've already got experience - go for the cheaper option, carry on getting more experience on the side. If you need/want prestige later then get it through a masters when you have the salary to support it.


Having a degree from a more prestigious university does increase your chances of getting a better job (getting past the resume filter). And it can make a difference in salary negotiation. But I think the difference only really matters at the extremes. If we're not talking about a community college vs MIT, then I think the differences will be small. Over time, your experience and track record with apps in production will eclipse the degree.

Having professional experience starts you out some notches higher than a fresh graduate with no experience. You should be looking at salaries with X years experience instead of no experience, despite having just graduated.

If you want to just get it done and start your career, I recommend the cheaper option. Also note that if you go on to get your master's, your undergrad degree probably won't matter as much. If you have your sights set on working for Google or somesuch, then a more expensive option will likely be required to even have a chance. Plus one of those institutions will also train you to deal with the high pressure to perform.


Thanks for the reply. Not really sure if I should go on to get my masters. Have heard that it is not really necessary if pursuing a career in software development.


Definitely not necessary at this point in history in such a young field.


I'm from Europe so my comment may not be so useful. I'd ask what would be your question if a free University was available like in Germany?
What about your query if you attend an online university?
There are a lot of Massive Open Online Courses (online education) provided by many well-known universities that will enable you to get just the "tools" you need.