State Schools are Nifty!

Guest article for the alumni column in my department’s yearly newsletter, just a touch preachy.

Choosing Rutgers was probably the best decision I made senior year of high school. The peculiar thing about the tech industry is that employers care about what a candidate knows, not which school they attended – certainly more so than in business or law, but also more than in more “traditional” engineering fields. I was confident that I could achieve my goals no matter which university I chose, so I couldn’t justify paying the high prices of the “elite” schools. As an in-state student, Rutgers was a fantastic value – the scholarships only made the choice easier.

At the time, I was unsure whether I wanted to follow an academic or industry career path: the former would involve undergraduate research and careful GPA preening to prepare for graduate studies, while the latter would entail internships and the self-driven study of practical skills. Fortunately, Rutgers afforded me the luxury to straddle the divide, pursuing both directions through senior year as I continued my soul-searching.

During semesters, I had the opportunity to contribute to a biomedical research project on stroke rehabilitation using smartphones, and to a computer vision research project on transmitting hidden messages using light (funded by NASA’s NJ Space Grant Consortium). During summers, I interned at a nutrition app startup in New York, and at an online university course startup in Silicon Valley.

My advice to current students, then, is to muster up the drive to take advantage of the opportunities available at Rutgers. There’s an excellent Computer Science undergrad community which regularly holds workshops, events, and “hackathon” competitions to help beginners pick up essential skills and prepare for technical interviews. And as a large research university, there’s an abundance of projects which would appreciate the contributions of a programmer, if you only reach out to the professor.

My advice to prospective students, hesitating between Rutgers and pricier private options, is to believe in your ability to develop yourself and shape your career. With motivation, you can achieve as much at Rutgers as at any Ivy.

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