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The Absolute Best College for Computer Geeks

By Amanda Alix – Mar 15, 2014 at 10:30AM

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No, it’s not MIT – though it’s comparable, and a lot less expensive

Photo: CollegeDegrees360

Do you proudly bear the moniker, "computer nerd"? If so, you are probably considering a career in this fast-growing field – and that's a good move. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in areas such as software development paid about $93,000 in 2012, and the job outlook is excellent.

While there are several great schools to consider, three in particular – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of California at Berkeley – are often considered top-notch by entities such as U.S News and World Report and Payscale.

After comparing the three, my vote for the best-value computer science and computer engineering school goes to UC Berkeley – and here's why.

A trio of colleges of similar quality
There's no doubt each of these institutions deliver a superior quality education. U.S. News rates MIT as No. 1 for undergraduate computer science and engineering degrees, as well as tops for its graduate degree program. Stanford rates No. 2 in the four-year category, and second for graduate study, a rank in which it is tied with UC Berkeley. The latter is ranked No. 4 for its undergraduate program.

Payscale gives MIT the No. 6 spot for its computer science offerings, and Stanford sits at No. 4. UC Berkeley occupies the top spot, which, you may have guessed from the name of the site, is based on graduates' pay. Payscale doesn't tease out whether graduates have bachelors or graduate degrees.

Differences that can add up
When it comes to a college education, money matters. With college costs rising and college debt levels escalating, getting the most for your money is paramount. Similarly, the salary level you may expect after graduation should also be a key consideration when vetting colleges. Making a good living is, after all, is the chief reason for pursuing higher education in the first place.

UC Berkeley. Photo: Tristan Harward

It is in this area UC Berkeley really shines. While the yearly bill for tuition and fees for MIT  and Stanford, both private schools, are over $43,000 at both undergraduate and graduate levels, UC Berkeley charges just under $36,000 for out-of-state undergraduate students. Its graduate school charges slightly more than $26,000.

Return on investment is a useful indicator of how much bang you can expect to get from your education buck – and all three schools excel in this measurement. Out of all 1486 colleges ranked by Payscale, MIT comes in with an overall ROI of 4, while Stanford merits a 10. UC Berkeley gets a very respectable 34, and, when compared to 434 other state schools, it comes in at fourth place. Against 583 other private colleges, Stanford ranks sixth, and MIT ninth.

When it comes to mid-career pay, UC Berkeley bests the private schools. Starting pay for computer science majors is slightly higher at the private colleges: $90,000 for Stanford, and $82,400 for MIT grads, compared to $82,000 for alumni of UC Berkeley. But graduates of the state school enjoy a higher salary 10 years into their careers -- $141,000 versus $120,000 for those with a degree from Stanford, and $117,000 for graduates of MIT.

Each student must make his or her own decision as to which college is best, and all three of these schools will bestow an excellent education upon every hard-working student. But, when it comes to short-term expenses and long-term earning power, UC Berkeley can't be beat.

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