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Advice for Returning to School After Long Break?

Cliff posted more than 9 years ago | from the back-to-the-books dept.

Education 580

arohann asks: "A few months ago, I quit my secure, well-paying (but boring) job as a software engineer in India and have been applying to graduate schools in the US, Canada and the UK. My aim is to get back to computer engineering studies (my undergrad major) as a grad student. However, after a 5 year break from academics I'm not sure about my decision and could do with some advice from Slashdot users.""Here are some of the things that I'd like to know:

1) Typically, how do graduate admissions officials view work experience? Note that I haven't been working as a Computer Engineer but as a Software Engineer.

2) What are the differences between graduate studies at the Masters level in the US, Canada and the UK? I already know a bit from what is available on the websites, so I'm looking for some deeper insights.

3) I'd like to hear from people who've done this, i.e. quit their jobs and gone back to get a higher engineering degree. What problems did you face and what advice do you have?

4) People who've studied in the UK at the MSc, MPhil, MEngg level - how did you fund your education? Were you able to get things like teaching or research assistantships and how much of your costs did these cover?"

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580 comments

Guide to Success (3, Funny)

LBArrettAnderson (655246) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311576)

Step 1: Have a tech job outsourced to you, forcing someone else to find a way to get back into school. Step 2: Ask them how they did it. Step 3: Expect an answser. Step 4: Profit!

Re:Guide to Success (1, Redundant)

LBArrettAnderson (655246) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311607)

agh... before you down-mod me let me explain myself. Nevermind, just read it again:

Step 1: Have a tech job outsourced to you, forcing someone else to find a way to get back into school.
Step 2: Ask them how they did it.
Step 3: Expect an answser.
Step 4: Profit!

Re:Guide to Success (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311710)

step 1: create a global free market economy
step 2: get fat off the work of foreign workers paid much less that you
step 3: complain when your boss discovers that the free market apllies to your job too.....
step 4: post on slashdot about it, instead of looking at why it happened.

Re:Guide to Success (4, Insightful)

dark_requiem (806308) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311744)

Step 1: Demand a policy of inflationary government fiscal programs and a welfare state. Step 2: Watch as your wages go up, but ability to compete in an international labor market plummets. Step 3: Complain when companies do the rational thing and opt for cheaper labor. Step 4: Mock someone for trying to better themselves because you're bitter and unable to compete for wage rates.

Re:Guide to Success (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311757)

Remember in Free America, the Free Market outsources You!

Re:Guide to Success (3, Insightful)

LBArrettAnderson (655246) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311844)

Unfortunately I can't post as AC (and I'm too lazy to find a working proxy), but I always feel the need to point out when somebody says something based on ignorant and biased views. First of all, I have not yet dropped out of school. I will continue my education until I feel I have done enough. That probably includes at least a Masters degree.

I was pointing out an obvious perspective. No mocking was done. In no part of my Guide to Success post did I say anything about the asker being a bad person, simply that there are many biased people here who would hesitate to help him out.

Obviously, due to this comment, and my other comments, due to several moderator's lack of perspective on the English language, today will not be a good day for my karma.

eh0d can tteach you (0, Troll)

eh0d is my daddy (825041) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311581)

to ram your penis in between the door.

he does it to me every day:(

Re:eh0d can tteach you (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311703)

You can go fuck your self in the ass. That's what going back to school is all about you fucking elephant jockey

Interesting (4, Funny)

ravenspear (756059) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311583)

Americans want to get out of school and into the workplace and Indians want to get out of the workplace and back in school.

Sounds like a fair trade to me.

Re:Interesting (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311640)

Wow, talk about hasty generalization! Must every post from or to an Indian somehow be thrown in the wind of offshore outsourcing?

The answer is ! (0, Troll)

big-giant-head (148077) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311684)

YES !!!!!!!!!!!!!

We can't get rid of Bush, so we beat up the Indians......

Get used to it, it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Re:The answer is ! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311742)

Shouldn't we, both culturally and socially, be learning from our mistakes? Or are we bound to repeat the pattern of racism every generation?

Off to re-education camp with you! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311784)

Dear Leader DOES NOT make mistakes!

Didn't you see the "debates"?!!!

Mature students generally do well (4, Insightful)

gvc (167165) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311594)

Mature students have pretty good track records. What they may lack or have forgotten in skills, they make up for in attitude and general savvy.

So don't be intimidated. Sure, you'll have some catching up to do, but it won't be that onerous.

Re:Mature students generally do well (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311658)

That depends on what one means by mature. He may be mature as in older, but in attitude he is a geek and all geeks are pretty much immature...

Re:Mature students generally do well (5, Funny)

wheany (460585) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311764)

Mature means 45+ years old. Teen means ~20 years old with ponytails.

Re:Mature students generally do well (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311667)

My experience exactly. Not to belabor the 'good old days' but I was able to return to school after 10 years away and had no problem competing in the courses I was most worried about, writing and liberal arts.

Re:Mature students generally do well (3, Insightful)

happyemoticon (543015) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311809)

Right on. Every graduate admissions guru I've talked to from computer science to humanities to law says they prefer somebody with field experience as opposed to (exposing my personal bias here) a snot-nosed 22 year-old who thinks they're God's gift to the university. Arrogant people are very hard to teach.

Re:Mature students generally do well (2, Informative)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311818)

I've been dipping in and out of a part-time MBA program for a while, and would generally agree with your point. The biggest adjustment I had to make was simply being able to sit and listen to someone for three hours. Not having done it in a while, I found it to be a skill that had to be relearned.

There were some other things, especially being able to bang out a 10 page paper in an evening without having anything particular to say. But on the whole, as the parent says, general cluefulness makes up for a whole lot of minor deficiencies.

first (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311600)

first 'fuck you.'

My Advice (4, Funny)

Dagny Taggert (785517) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311611)

1. Start drinking now to build up a tolerance. 2. If you're married, get divorced; your marriage will not survivce. 3. Lot's O' Condoms. 4. Did I mention drinking? 5. ??? 6. Profit!

Re:My Advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311812)

You're my boy, Blue!

Uh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311612)

You quit your job and then you are asking the question? Nice work.

Your answer (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311615)

Have sexual intercourse with yourself.

Grad Help! (3, Informative)

CyberBill (526285) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311617)

I recently graduated from a bachelors degree and went out looking for a school to get a Master's from... Unfortunately when I went out, a lot of the schools requested that I got work experience first... So dont forget to mention that you've been WORKING for five years, it really will help you get in.

Wrong order of operations. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311618)

Apply to colleges and make sure you get in, then quit your job.

Some advice from a recent grad... (4, Informative)

Cade144 (553696) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311624)

I just completed a professional degree program after several years away from school. Here are a few nuggets of advice:

  • Buy/sell used books online, if you can. The campus bookstore still rips you off.
  • If you don't know already, learn to use Power Point (or similar presentation software). As far as I can tell, all university professors have traded in their old View-Graphs and slide carousels for Power Point presentations.
  • Collaborate with your classmates (if such is allowed by class/university rules) online. Starting a class blog, or Yahoo! group can help keep you and your classmates up-to-date, and provide a good forum for "what the heck was the prof saying?" type of questions.
  • Pack your lunch/snack/coffee. Campus food services/vending machines still overcharge for junk food.
  • Use the campus career center as much as you can, even in the early days of your degree. After all, a new and better job is the untimate goal, and University Career centers are still full of fantastic advice.

Good luck, and make sure to do all the readings and homework this time around.

Uh oh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311630)

This thread can't end well.

First step, stop lying (0, Flamebait)

stupidfoo (836212) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311632)

First step, stop lying:
A few months ago, I quit my secure, well-paying (but boring) job as a software engineer

Second step, if that really is the truth, you're clearly not bright enough to go back to school.

Re:First step, stop lying (1, Offtopic)

CypherXero (798440) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311681)

Yeah, I second that. Who cares if it's boring, if it can pay for a car, a house, and lots of life's luxuries, then isn't THAT what you want?

Re:First step, stop lying (1)

the argonaut (676260) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311804)

Not always. Some people actually like to have jobs that are meaningful and rewarding. Some people actual value something besides just being able to make ends meet and get a new flat screen tele.

Since you're going to spend about 1/3 (minus time off for vacation (good packages being almost non-existent in the U.S.), holidays, sick time, and cyclical unemployment) of you adult life working, this doesn't sound like such a bad idea to me.

Re:First step, stop lying (0, Troll)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311701)

Second step, if that really is the truth...

Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say he's not bright enough to go back to school, but he certainly does lack some level of common sense. (Then again, he'd probably fit right into academia...)

I would have kept the job while I was looking for a school that would take me, but whatever floats his boat (really, you know he just wanted to spend his days playing video games and occasionally checking the mail to see if a university sent him anything)

Re:First step, stop lying (1)

apanap (804545) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311745)

He doesn't say what he's doing right now though... Might be that he actually has an income while looking.

Re:First step, stop lying (1)

ChuckleBug (5201) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311708)

First step, stop lying:
"A few months ago, I quit my secure, well-paying (but boring) job as a software engineer"

Second step, if that really is the truth, you're clearly not bright enough to go back to school.


Jeez, that's cynical. Some of us have been willing to trade some security and salary for a shot at a job we would actually enjoy. I did that, and am much, much happier for it.

Re:First step, stop lying (1)

Canuck_TV (804581) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311722)

Thanks, I was wondering how long I'd have to wait today before giggling uncontrolably at a one-track mind.

Re:First step, stop lying (1)

MattyDK23 (819057) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311763)

And if some people value the happiness and the enjoyment of life, as opposed to mindlessly raking in cash, what school do you recommend they go to? Myself, I loved the material in the higher-level courses; stuff like fourth-year AI and image processing that I'm never going to use in my career without a M.Sc. or higher. Why not vie for a job you enjoy by upgrading your education, as opposed to working for the sake of working?

Re:First step, stop lying (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311778)

Sounds pretty smart to me. Thank god there's still non-slaves around.

I assume you were going for funny... (4, Insightful)

benhocking (724439) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311821)

and not "insightful" (as it is currently modded), but I, too, left a well paying job to go back to grad school. In my case, the job wasn't even boring, and my employer was great (gave me a laptop computer as a going away present), but I wanted to expand my horizons.

There are far more important things in life then money, and the sooner one figures that out, the closer one will come to having a fulfulling life. Of course, this goes back to the maturity equation someone else has already alluded to.

As to some of the original questions - most US schools will look kindly on relevant work experience (even - or perhaps especially - if that work experience is only tangentially relevant). Diversity is still the watchword here, and that includes diversity of experience. Since most grad students (at my school - UVA) have little to no work experience and are in their early to mid 20's upon entering grad school, the older, more experienced applicant has the benefit of bringing diversity. Additionally, as others have pointed out you likely have additional maturity (e.g., well-defined work ethic) that will give you more of an advantage in the course work than the disadvantage of being away from it awhile.

For the life of me (4, Insightful)

paranode (671698) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311641)

I never understand why people (for some reason especially Indians) have an obsession with getting graduate degrees in Computer Science/Engineering. I was in a grad CS program for a little while in the Southern US and the makeup of the students was 90%+ Indian, a few other Asian, and then the rest (5%?) white. This is not a cultural attack or anything like that, but from what I've heard from the Indian natives I've known is that there is some family pride attached to going further in school. While I may not understand that, I can respect it for personal betterment.

However, I have to say as a piece of advice, that you are wasting your time going to grad school in CS unless your intent is to be a professor or a heavy researcher. I think the best graduate degree for a CS undergrad is probably an MBA, at least as far as earning potential. If your interests are purely theoretical and money is not something you ultimately desire out of your career, then by all means continue.

Re:For the life of me (2, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311723)

Yes, the caste system is very much ingrained in many eastern cultures, even if it's not a matter of law.

It still is in the west, to a point. People tend to think someone who graduated from Harvard is "better" than a guy who graduated from local community college, even though they both studied the exact same things.

It's definately a measure of social status. If your father was a PhD, for you to be anything less is an insult to the family name.

At least 3 years of my 4 year degree were useless to me in any practical sense, I didn't learn anything new. I was just there to jump through the hoops and get a piece of paper.

I got pretty fed up with the whole University scene, and didn't even consider a masters. It won't do me any good.

Any employer *worth working for* is going to care about what you can do on the job, and not much else.

Re:For the life of me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311729)

The reason is simple: advanced degrees are used to obtain immigration rights [competeamerica.org]. It is all really a scam of course. Folks like Seymour Cray didn't need CS Ph.D.'s-and special immigration policies- to create the worlds supercomputer industry-but corporate welfare queens like McNeally and Fiorina do.

Re:For the life of me (5, Insightful)

0x461FAB0BD7D2 (812236) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311738)

A lot of Indians like to get graduate degrees simply because it offers us security professionally, which is by far the most important thing for us.

For almost any Indian parent, a steady professional job (medicine, business, law, engineering, etc.) is far more attractive than a riskier yet potentially more lucrative job (artist, musician, comedian, etc.)

For most Indians, we are told from a young age to study hard in order not to fail in life. Chinese parents, from my own experience, are quite similar too, in many respects.

Re:For the life of me (1)

NoData (9132) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311832)

For almost any Indian parent, a steady professional job (medicine, business, law, engineering, etc.) is far more attractive than a riskier yet potentially more lucrative job (artist, musician, comedian, etc.)

I think you meant to say "rewarding." And by that, I don't mean remuneratively rewarding. It's a rare "artist, musician, comedian, etc." who makes more money than your average physician or lawyer. People become artists because that's their calling, that's what they do, that's what makes them happy. Happiness is highly undervalued.

Re:For the life of me (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311852)

American parents are considered a failure unless they tell their children that they will succeed in anything they put their mind to.

Re:For the life of me (2, Interesting)

paranode (671698) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311854)

A lot of Indians like to get graduate degrees simply because it offers us security professionally, which is by far the most important thing for us.

For almost any Indian parent, a steady professional job (medicine, business, law, engineering, etc.) is far more attractive than a riskier yet potentially more lucrative job (artist, musician, comedian, etc.)

Those are certainly noble goals to set, but from what I've read the earning potential for a CS/CE major can actually dip with a master's degree. Most likely this is due to the fact that there are tons of CS/CE graduates who can do the same work as a master's-level graduate and will do it for cheaper because they don't have the "higher education baggage", if you will. If you work for an oddly-run organization (like US/State Government ;)) then sometimes having *any* graduate degree can boost your salary, but jobs like that tend to pay below market anyways.

Re:For the life of me (1)

iamacat (583406) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311805)

The purpose of a graduate degree is to get a student visa and have about 3 years (you get a 1 year work permit after graduating) to hang around in US and look for a job that can get you a green card. Other than that, there are much cheaper places to teach you programming/CS at graduate level. Of course I can not speak for serious scientists.

Re:For the life of me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311811)

In our CS program, the vast majority of foreign students are mainland Chinese, with quite a few Thai students as well. This probably varies depending on prestige - our school isn't the most well-known name in CS.

One other thing I noticed back in my days as a student employee in a department admissions office (though this was for Biomedical Engineering, not CS) was that nearly all of the applicants from India already had some form of financial support, usually from a relative. (Having financial support of some sort is required to obtain a student visa in the US, is my understanding.)

Most of the remaining foreign students (who happened to be from China, but I surmise that most of the rest of the world would be the same way) could only attend in the event that a faculty member was willing to grant them a research assistantship.

Re:For the life of me (1)

grungebox (578982) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311841)

There are 2 main reasons for Indian students to go into advanced degree programs (this info culled from my discussions with a number of Indian students):
1) Security - job markets are unstable, especially with just a Bachelor's...at least with a Master's or PhD you have a little more flexibility and aren't quite as easily replaced as someone with an MBA (even though the MBA's make a ton more money) This is also important for Visa-retention reasons.
2) It's an easier way to enter the US - getting a job straight from India is hard because of linguistic differences (Indians speak English very well, but communicating effectively still requires some American English) or because it's not that cost-efficient to interview someone halfway around the world when someone similar in skill is probably in the US.
I'm not from India though (second-generationer myself), so this is all just based on casual conversations with people. Take it with a grain of garam masala.

Well... (0, Flamebait)

0racle (667029) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311647)

If you study in Canada, you'll have to deal with irritating Canadains and that could just really suck.
A little more seriously, I envy you. I would much rather spend my time learning instead of dealing with a job but unfortunately, I don't think thats ever going to happen.

Re:Well... (-1, Flamebait)

netsharc (195805) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311678)

In that note, if the poster wants to study in USA, he'll have to deal with the fascist regime, and that could just really suck. The airport screeners can't tell the difference between Arabs and Indians, so be prepared for a lot of hassle and lots of sneering from old white folks who go around with bibles in their hands praising their almighty Lord for protecting them from terrorists!

Re:Well... (1)

DeathFlame (839265) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311700)

If you study in Canada, you'll have to deal with irritating Canadains and that could just really suck.

Luckily for us Canadians, irritating Candians are actually pretty nice to be around compared to some other countries...

Re:Well... (1)

AceCaseOR (594637) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311735)

Well, that depends. I bet most Canadians are pretty nice to be around. The exception to the rule being (from what I've heard) Quebec.

Does that mean I can have my job back? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311652)

Now that you're done with it, of course...

Asking for advice on slashdot... (3, Funny)

revery (456516) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311657)

However, after a 5 year break from academics I'm not sure about my decision and could do with some advice from Slashdot users.

and you will immediately do the exact opposite, I presume?

--
You have been warned once. Do not touch my danish again.

Re:Asking for advice on slashdot... (2, Insightful)

Bouncings (55215) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311702)

However, after a 5 year break from academics I'm not sure about my decision and could do with some advice from Slashdot users.

and you will immediately do the exact opposite, I presume?

Here's my advice: don't tell your choice institution of higher learning that you're applying based on the recommendation of slashdot users.

Not "either/or" (3, Informative)

leitz (641854) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311663)

Many US grad schools offer night time and weekend classes. You need to find a job here and then go to school in your off time. That's how I got my Masters, though not in CompSci.

Having a job will give you money to fund your own small research projects, buy books/hardware, and contacts that can help you answer questions when you're stumped. It's also a much better way to have a job after graduation.

Re:Not "either/or" (1)

Dionysus (12737) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311808)

Many US grad schools offer night time and weekend classes. You need to find a job here and then go to school in your off time.

That's not going to work if he's from India and looking for work in the US (or UK). He'll get a F-1 visa, meaning he won't be allowed to work in the US (and UK probably has similar rules). As a foreign student, you can work in a limited capacity for your university (about 10 hours a week). You're not allowed to work outside the university while you pursue your degree.

In Engineering (4, Interesting)

Ignignot (782335) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311670)

Usually in fields such as electrical engineering, students are encouraged to go out and get 2-5 years work experience before returning to school for a masters or phd. Your work experience is not a liability at all - it is an asset to understand how things are really done in the world. You also know what work is really like, so the courseload at a regular university should be bearable. Personally, I think that disciplines that do not encourage people to spend a few years in the work environment before getting post graduate degrees are going to produce a lot of pie in the sky thinkers who can't cut it in real life.

Plan on spending a lot of time reviewing... (4, Informative)

pll178 (544842) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311674)

Two years ago, I did what you did. I left my good paying job as a project manager at a high tech firm to go back to engineering school. It was scary but well worth it! To answer your questions:

1. For graduate admissions, at least at Carnegie Mellon, they send the files over to the professors based on your interests. The professors then look at your background to see if you are a good fit. In my case, they considered both my academic background as well as my industry experience. In fact, my industry experience helped me.

2. Not sure about US vs. UK vs. Canada, but what I can tell you is that a M.S. in engineering is more than sufficient if you only want to work in industry. A Ph.D. is good if you want to teach and if you want to lead a research team.

3. The biggest problem I had was all in the mental realm. I forgot most of what I learned in undergrad (all that funky calculus stuff, physics, etc ;). I spent a few months doing a major review of everything I thought would be necessary to get me to the level where I should be if I were just coming out of undergrad. I also found that I wasn't as quick as some of the younger students in my lab, but what I lacked in speed, I made up in discipline and focus. :)

uk courses (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311688)

In the UK you can fund an MSc with a career development loan, the government pays the interets on this for the duration of your course. But after you graduate it attracts commercial rates and is due within 5 years. Not sure if foreign students can get these or not.

PHD/MPhill are often funded by grants from universities, government, industry etc. These are tax free and cover both maintenance and tution. If your not able to get one of these you'll need to come up with the money yourself, either by working part time, your family/friends/savings or by borrowing it. Foreigners should have no problems applying for grants, but places will go for those with the best ability (.

Tutition for either of these is usually about £3k per year for a UK/EU student. Not sure if it differs for non UK/EU.

MEng degrees are undergraduate courses usually lasting 4 years (often with a year in industry as a compulsory, so 5 years in that case). I'm currently in the final year of one of these but find the stuff being taught is not focused on technologies, but on methods and software engineering principles.

Re:uk courses (1)

dan dan the dna man (461768) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311858)

You wont get funding for non-UK citizens from UK Research Councils (at least not the ones I'm familiar with). We can't even give our Irish PhD student a stipend, let alone an Indian one..

Here's some advice... (2, Interesting)

rampant mac (561036) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311689)

"Advice for Returning to School After Long Break?"

I hate to use a cliché, but... Just do it(TM)

After you gather all of this information, do something useful with it. I remember being in college and having a classmate who was in his early seventies. He had been a successful businessman, but had never earned his degree. So instead of spending his retirement playing shuffleboard and bingo, he chose to challenge himself and accomplish something.

It's never too late to go back.

retake Calculus (1)

musikit (716987) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311717)

I don't know how many grad professors actually expected me to know this after never using in the 8 years since i learned it.

Some hopefully helpful pointers (2, Informative)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311721)

  1. I was applying to do a PhD, so I'm not sure how much they look at Masters level, but for PhD level, the supervisors quite frankly cared not about work experience, they cared that my first degree was from a good university and that I had a good interest in the subject
  2. The American and Canadian students here (in the UK) don't seem to think that the courses are that different.
  3. Can't really answer that, my work experience was as a sandwich student
  4. I'm paying £3,010 a year in fees in the UK, and I think as an international student you can expect to pay £7,000-£10,000 a year. I'm funding it through an EPSRC grant, which I believe is available to masters students. You need to get in touch with the universities you're applying to and ask what grants and funding are available and how to apply. Quite a lot of places are usually available on a fees only basis (they pay your fees, you pay your way), but you will find the occasional fees and grant place like mine.

Here's my experience (4, Informative)

RealAlaskan (576404) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311725)

I went back to school after 11 years. I had gotten my BSEE in '85, then in '96 I decided to go back to school and get a Ph.D in economics.

I didn't know anyone who could give recommendations (all my professors had either moved on or retired), so I went back to my old school as a master's student for 1 year, impressed the profs, and got recommendations which (together with decent SATs) got me into Purdue.

I found that living on a small income was hard, but the studying was actually easier than it had been the first time through. In particular, math was easier to learn. That was a good thing, since econ and stats take more and different math than undergraduate EE.

I never finished my Ph.D (I'm ABD), but I did get an MS in Statistics along the way, and I'm working as an economist. Finishing would have been do-able, but didn't seem worth the cost in student loan debt and time.

If you can get accepted at a school, you can do it, if you can fund it. If they aren't offering you an assistantship with free tuition and a stipend of more than $10,000 per year, keep looking. Schools recruit undergrads, they hire graduate students.

At least for U.S. schools... (2, Insightful)

jxyama (821091) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311726)

i am not sure if you want to eventually go back to India or not, but if you intend on staying in the U.S. after you schooling, i strongly suggest taking advantage of the "U.S. college experience."

don't go back to school simply to get another degree and cram books. enjoy the college life - go to sporting events, cultural events, join student groups... etc. if you are indian, find a way to acclimate without losing your indian roots. be part of the college community. of course, you should always work hard in classes, but don't let it become an obsession. don't become another stereotypical "foreign graduate student." that's a waste...

Why do Indians prefer to go to college in the US? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311728)

Why do so many Indians go outside of their country to seek higher education?

I'm not knocking it all (and if my assumption is wrong, tell me). I'm just curious of the reasoning behind this trend.

work experience sort of matters (2, Insightful)

grungebox (578982) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311739)

Grad schools, from what I understand (I went straight to grad school for various reasons) take work experience as sort of a bonus, if it's relevant. They usually just make sure your previous schooling was sufficient and that you somehow demonstrate through your application that you are capable of handling the rigors of grad school. It's almost more an evaluation of potential rather than actual merit, since a smart but lazy student is much much worse than a hard-working dumbass, because grad school is work, not just book smarts. I would beef up your application by mentioning any projects you worked on long term at your job, any self-motivated work you've done (in or out of work), etc...Also mention how you've stayed in touch with the computer engineering world (if your specialty is VLSI, for example, then maybe if you continually read the appropriate IEEE journal, mention that). I know a few people that went nuts during the dot-com days by getting all sorts of high-$ IT jobs, and then years later came back for an applied physics PhD. Good luck. Oh, and get used to the pay cut...actually, you're comign from India, so the pay will be about the same :)

my advice if you want to work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311746)

really, don't go in IT. take a trade (carpentry, plumbing, etc.) and discover that you could make almost as much money with way saner hours, way less stress and guaranteed work until retirement. a lot of former IT workers around here have done this when IT consulting (and IT in general) went down the toilet and those who met me (i now live in an apt.) have repeatedly told me the same thing. if i had not been such a chicken, i would have done the same thing, considering i enjoy carpentry work.

you might think i'm joking, but i'm not. i'm back into production support, with a 24/7 leash (sp?) (cell phone, pager) and i'm wondering why i'm not working as a carpenter, considering the building boom around here.

and in the early '70s they said "go in computers, you'll have work for life!". yeah, right.

Real world versus fresh-outs (2, Informative)

ghostlibrary (450718) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311751)

Hi,

Having left the industry to go back for a PhD, here's my input. It may be different for a Masters, in particular for a terminal Masters.

> 1) Typically, how do graduate admissions officials view work experience?

For admissions, mostly not at all. Admissions is really "previous GPA, application, etc." Past work is good if there's an interview stage, but most of admission is just paperwork and weeding out.

Now, if you do get admitted, that's when you talk to your advisor and find out which past work can count as credit hours (saving you time and money).

That said, admissions does have one critical bit-- whether they (the committee/department as a culture) tend to favor returnees and people with experience, or if they prefer fresh-outs with no real-world taint that they can work hard and mold in their own image.

That cultural barrier will be the one big determinant for any application. A department that only wants fresh-outs would turn you down even if you have a Nobel prize.

An easy way to check this sort of thing, is find out the average age of their student body. Most universities post that (or call them), and it'll clue you into which are 'real-world friendly'. Older = more likely to value experience.

Good luck!

From my own experience (4, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311758)

I recently returned to get a pair of Masters degrees five years after my Bachelors.

1) Typically, how do graduate admissions officials view work experience? Note that I haven't been working as a Computer Engineer but as a Software Engineer.

They tend to view it quite favorably. Some programs insist upon it, though I doubt that would be the case for Comp Sci. Work experience is a big plus to admission committees in my experience.

2) What are the differences between graduate studies at the Masters level in the US, Canada and the UK? I already know a bit from what is available on the websites, so I'm looking for some deeper insights.

Can't answer this one.

3) I'd like to hear from people who've done this, i.e. quit their jobs and gone back to get a higher engineering degree. What problems did you face and what advice do you have?

The biggest adjustment is getting used to not having a paycheck anymore. It's hard to adjust your standard of living. Otherwise, I found school to be much more enjoyable once I was older. I was a better student, cared more about the material, knew what questions to ask, and could more easily work with the professors.

4) People who've studied in the UK at the MSc, MPhil, MEngg level - how did you fund your education? Were you able to get things like teaching or research assistantships and how much of your costs did these cover?"

I just took out student loans to cover the whole thing. Interest rates are so low right now it's almost free money. I have some student loans as low as 1.5% interest, and in the US the interest is tax deductible up to a certain amount. My only regret is that I didn't take more money out because the cost of capital is so low. (If you don't know what cost of capital means, learn! It's one of the most valuable things to know about) If you get some sort of working stipend or grant, that is great and you should take it but I'd still recommend getting student loans. Throw the extra into an investment/savings account and whatever's left over is cheap money you can build savings upon. (Yes I realize this is borderline with regard to the terms of the loan but no one will check unless you default)

Shouldn't have quit your job... (1)

Supp0rtLinux (594509) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311760)

The worst thing you can do is to get stale on technology while pursuing education. This equates to all the people with degrees and certs but no experience that find it impossible to get a job. Had you asked *before* quitting, I would've suggested you keep working while pursuing your additional education. It would've kept you more current on technology and might've offered some financial assistance from your employer. Maybe you can beg for your job back?

I guess I'm confused... (1, Insightful)

Vaystrem (761) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311761)

You are bored with your job as a software engineer but you are going back to take a Master's in software engineering?

Are you sure you are in the right field?

Not a problem. (1)

Ygorl (688307) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311769)

You may have to do some review as you go along, but there's really no reason not to do it this way. You'll appreciate the money you've (hopefully) saved up, you'll have a better idea about why you're in school (in terms of what your other options are), and pretty much all the concerns you might have (or at least that I and folks I know had) turn out to be non-issues. It is, from what I've heard, difficult to get into academic research after grad school if you take too much time off, but you're nowhere near making that decision yet.

Similar Paths (1)

Moby Cock (771358) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311783)

It's not too bad of a transision!! I finished undergrad in '98 and went in to the work force (well sorta; I'm in the military (Canadian) and its like a job). I was accepted to do my Masters and started in the Fall of '03. The five years off was not that big of a deal. I'm an Electromag guy and I was worried about the calculus coming back, and it does. I found that the older guys in grad school do a lot better. When I was an undergrad, I worked to finish stuff and be done with it so I could go out drinking. Now, I'm accustomed to doing a day's work and I find I understand the material very well. Of course the big adjustment for me was homework. I was used to having evenings to myself and the homework sucked. But all-in-all not a bad deal. You'll do fine.

Two variables of difference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311789)

Having been there, and done that(undergrad in India and Masters is US), I can say that expect two variables to differ.

First, even between a US undergrad and a US masters there is a level of difference in the amount of handholding that is done. Undergrad students can expect much more help, both from the institution and social networks. That is lessened, either delibrately or not, in graduate school. You'll have to keep on top of all paper work, assignments, readings etc.

Secondly, there is a cultural aspect. In Indian schools(keep in mind that I have not done any graduate level work in India, so far, so I can't say how Indian graduate schools operate), I feel that there is more of a tendency to "follow the book". While you will not find that absolutely absent here, and some professors even swear by it, that is generally not the trend here. If what you are being thought in class contradicts something that you know, or you know a special case or something, by all means, feel free to bring it out.

A US graduate school can be great experience if only your attitude is not to take everything they tell you at face value. What the school tries to do is expose you to a lot of concepts - it is your job to assimilate it. While this holds true more in non-technical streams, it still is a great attitude to have while doing graduate work.

http://himalayantraveller.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

Change !! (1)

karvind (833059) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311792)

I wonder why you still want to do Computers or Computer Engineering !! If I have spent 10 years doing one thing, I will move on and learn new things. And graduate school is the best way to change the field (if you really want to). I had a undergrad training in Electrical engineering and finishing doctoral studies in semiconductors and all that nano buzz. But 8-9 years is enough and I plan to move into biology in my post-doc.

To answer your 3rd question: After the bubble burst, there was atleast 2-4 time increase in graduate applications in US. Many people who lost jobs had no other option (market scene was really bad) and went for masters. Many professors like students with job experience (especially in engineering) as their learning time curve is shorter. The only, so called, problem is that you will still find yourself old in the old graduate student crowd. This at times may be depressing for some people. And remember graduate studies is equivalent of being slave. You will not be earning what you are earning now and your friends will still be roaming in BMWs etc. Engineering grad school is also worst for dating in case you are still single. You can count females on your fingers and most likely all of them will be taken.

Scholarships: I checked data from recent years and scholarships for masters haven't been any good. You can always cheat (which many do) and get admitted for doctoral program with financial aid and then leave after masters. Some professors have started asking for written committment or they will admit you to only phd program. Mengg programs do not provide any finanacial aid for sure (you can do part-time TA). Option of taking loans is always there.

Masters in the UK (1)

chihiro (842974) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311793)

> 4) People who've studied in the UK at the MSc, MPhil, MEngg level - how did you fund your education? Were you able to get things like teaching or research assistantships and how much of your costs did these cover?"

PhD courses in the UK, usually have funding associated with the positions, Masters on the whole don't. So I suspect you'll have to fund yourself, for the period required to complete a masters (usually a year, full-time in the UK).

You may well be able to get RA work, or other ways to help fund yourself, but these tend to vary depending on the University, and there are no guarantees.

The alternative is to do things part time. I am currently doing a (self funded) Masters in Bioinformatics in my spare time - It will take about 4 years - I'm about half way through. Or some courses allow you to work half time, and study half time (so the degree takes 2 years).

Why Graduate School? (1)

eDavidLu (825600) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311795)

If you find your software engineering job "boring", here are some possible reasons.
  1. Your current job is boring, but you enjoy software engineering work. In which case, your solution should be to find another job.
  2. You are bored with software engineering in general. In which case, having a graduate degree is not going to solve anything. You should be looking for another line of work.
  3. You are bored with coding, and want to do "software architect" work, and you believe having an advanced degree will help you achive that. Well, speaking as someone who has an MS in CS and have worked with many other software architects, I can tell you the qualification for being a software architect is the experience, not the degree. So you are better off sticking with your "boring" coding job until you get the amount experience where you can be an architect. Although I understand in some cultures the degree is worth more than the experience, that is almost never the case in the U.S.
In my opinion, the only reason to get an advanced degree in CS/CE is because you are personally challenged to understand the theoretical aspects of computing. If you just want to advance your career, you're better off spending that extra two years gaining work experience.

Depends on your social status..... (1)

tlh1005 (541240) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311797)

The admissions office will give you some credit for work in the field etc., it does count for something. Most of the students I have been in courses with were teaching assistants for undergrad courses, the others on scholarships with a few dollars from summer internships. Since it appears you can do it without working full-time I think you have gone the best route. I am 29, working full-time, and only taking one class each semester towards an MS in CompSci. I have to say it is a challenge keeping up. It is hard competing against students fresh out of undergrad that aren't so focused on paying a mortgage and all of the other things usually done in life after college. Bottom line is, the amount of time you've spent out of school isn't the problem, (I've found I actually study more efficiently than I did years ago when I was earning my BS in CompSci). The problem is everything you aquire IN those years before going back (Mortgage, Wife, not having to budget, etc....) It is just a different lifestyle that takes a lot of adjustment. Good luck!

GRE (1)

Superfreaker (581067) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311801)

I am in the same boat. I am looking at top teir schools. The admission dates for the top teir seem to be different, just as they are in undergrad, usually requiring an application in the early for for teh next year's admission.

I breifly looked at the PhD program admission forms for Princeton and Penn/Wharton, and to my surprise, found they were only like one page long. They asked for school history/GPA and publications, etc.

I think they primarily base consideration on Field of Specialization (for PhD) and GRE scoores. So now I am trying my best to study for teh GRE using Kaplan resources. They have a good review book with a CD ROM. I also got their Word Power book that is intended to give words that are tested often on the GRE. The math in the GRE is easier than on the SAT and just requires that you "remember" what you learned all those years ago.

Plan B (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311825)

There's the old saying "Don't give up your day job," which in this context means keeping yourself employable in your old field, in case the new degree doesn't open the new employment opportunities you're hoping for. So try to keep up with the latest tools and technology that you would have been using if you hadn't quit. (I went back to school and let my old-job skills stagnate a bit, which made it more difficult when I ended up going back into my original line of work.)

How about TO school? (1)

Canuck_TV (804581) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311834)

Interesting to hear the responses of those who have gone back to persue graduate studies after a "break" (LOL) in the Real World.

However, I'd be intersted to know if there's anyone else in MY boat... I started in TV the day I finished High School. However, I'm not all that happy anymore with where I'm working, and to get a similar job without the piece of paper, I think, is going to prove difficult.

Any g33ks out there who skipped out on post-secondary education, and decided it was a good idea in their mid-twenties? The thought of being back in the classroom is terrifying, but I think I'm 20 times more motivated and disciplined now than I was then.

It's not hard, but here's what I learned (1)

tekn0lust (725750) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311838)

I went back as a grad student 7 years after getting my degree. My situation is a bit different than yours as I went back to take 36 hours of undergrad pre-requisits for medical school. I was able to keep my job while taking these courses and I'll find out next month if I got in. But none the less here's what I found.

1) You are going to be waaaay more organized and mature for your classes now that you've had to report to a boss for at least 5 years.

2) You'll (probably) not have to deal with any of the stupid social crap that you have to deal with as a first time college student. i.e. parties, living alone, bf/gf, etc.

3) One thing I found terribly annoying was the difference between academic culture and corporate culture. It's hard to put a finger on it, but academics in general seem to have no concept of the real world. They move slowly, without any sense of urgency nor real emotion about the students they teach. This really frustrated me to no end.

The real question I have for the OP, is what will a masters degree really do for you? I can virtually guarantee you that you learned more in the 5 years of real world experience than you're going to learn in any classroom. In my experiecne with hiring people I put alot more weight in what they have actually done in a corporate environment rather than what they picked up in a classroom.

Quit then Applied?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11311843)

Ummm, most people would start applying and THEN quit their job after getting accepted and the first semester starts. but I guess you can afford to be jobless for a while......

Been there, done that. (1)

DrJimbo (594231) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311848)

I went back to graduate school after being an engineer in the real world for four years.

The biggest advantage my real world experience gave me was that I knew why I was in graduate school and what my alternatives were. This served me well when the going got tough.

The biggest disadvantage was that I was much less tolerant of the standard bullshit that most graduate students accepted without question.

Work your ass off. Try to blend in with the herd. Have fun.

Re: (1)

jcraveiro (848243) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311851)

Well, in my case the break was of (only?) two years, and the only problems I faced were the economical fraglity -- for having quit my job -- and having forgotten some important subjects, for lack of training/applying them in real life.

I did the same thing... (4, Insightful)

elwinc (663074) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311865)

I did grad school after several years in the working world. My advice: take some good solid math classes on the side before beginning grad school. I had forgotten alot of Diff Eq, and my linear algebra was weak. The math courses also helped my confidence. You can amaze your new colleagues by explaining the difference between eigenvalues, eigenvectors, and eigenfunctions!!

My Grad School Resurrection (3, Insightful)

cybin (141668) | more than 9 years ago | (#11311874)

This is a great Ask Slashdot...

I returned to grad school in music technology after 2 years off. For what it's worth, having been in a "real" work environment (at least in my line of work, at a university) really helped me understand how the whole "school beaurocracy" works.

I think going back to school after working gives you an upper hand on your classmates, especially if you're like me and have a teaching assistantship -- "real world" work gives you a lot of experience managing time and planning on how to get things done. It's very easy in grad school to wait until the last minute just like you did in undergrad, but I've found that since I worked before coming here I'm getting things done early and the quality is higher.

My only advice would be, if you go back to school, treat it like it's a job. Be serious, do your work well, and take time to relax too. If you're doing something you love, it's totally worth it.
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