Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Orange and Apples: Carnegie Mellon

Thanks to Andrew Carnegie, Princeton has a lake. Thanks to Andrew Carnegie, Carnegie Mellon exists. Thanks to Jun Wei Chuah GS, we have a Princeton and Carnegie Mellon comparison.

I graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon in 2007 and then spent a year working back home in Singapore. In fall 2008, I started my graduate studies in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Princeton.

Carnegie Mellon is renowned as an excellent technical institute, and rightfully so. But Carnegie Mellon is not only about engineering and computer science. In my time there, I was exposed to courses in French, psychology, history and politics. All of these courses were definitely refreshing breaks from the technical track. Because of the large number of faculty and students in the electrical and computer engineering department, a large number of classes are offered every semester.

Of course, college life is not all about academics. The on-campus dining options are plentiful, and the food is good. Off-campus dining in Pittsburgh is great and affordable for the typical student. You have your options of subs, chicken wings, Chinese buffets, and great diner and bar food. Shopping choices are limited to the three nearby malls that can be accessed by public transport. There are also several clubs and activities that students can participate in, and they cover the gamut from board gamers to rock climbers.

As in Carnegie Mellon, students at Princeton are encouraged to take classes beyond those within their discipline. But the engineering department in Princeton is much smaller than that in Carnegie Mellon, and prospective engineering students should take note of this. Engineering courses, though not lacking in breadth, are fairly limited, and there are not as many choices here. And what you lose in class choice, you gain in class size. Typical Princeton classes are small, and there is a much greater level of interaction with fellow students and the professors. All in all, the academic environment in Princeton is about the same as that in Carnegie Mellon, though there is a slight tendency toward theoretical learning in Princeton, as opposed to practical learning in Carnegie Mellon.

Life in Princeton is peaceful and quiet, and I enjoy the tranquility, though some might find it boring. If you look beyond the borders of the University, there are several fun things to do. The river right at the doorstep of the University offers a good place to go for a jog or, if you’re so inclined, a kayaking session. Also, the air at Princeton is cleaner, probably because there are more trees around the area. Dining choices are quite limited, however, and tend to be more expensive than a student can afford. New York is just an hour’s train ride away and opens up even more things to do, particularly for the museum-going, theatre-loving crowd.

That about sums up my experiences in the two universities. I shall conclude by repeating some words of advice I happened to overhear: When you’re choosing from among the best universities in the world, whatever choice you make will be a good choice.

If you're a former Tiger who is now pursuing graduate studies elsewhere or a Princeton grad student who attended undergrad outside the Orange Bubble and would like to contribute a comparison send an email to