FAQ Content Last Updated: November 27, 2001
"I want to know how USC is"
"I am coming to USC, now I want to know..."
i. "I want to know how USC is"
(When we were about to come, there was one mail widely circulated which highlighted USC's negative points. Here is the mail with my answers.)
CS and EE at USC are good.
And they deserve the high rank they have.
USC 's CS and EE departments are house to very highly reknowned faculty and researchers. The research expenditure here in the engineering department (all engg depts taken as a unit) is the highest among engineering departments of all the universities in the US.
These professors here are renowned in the world: CS:- Ellis Horowitz (famous for his book), Neumann (inventor of Kerberos), Adleman (the A in RSA cryptography algorithm), Barry Boehm (Software Engineering), Michael Arbib (Brain-related issues), Maja Mataric (Robotics), and others; EE:- Bart Kosko(fuzzy logic), C. C. Kuo, Kai Hwang, Wilner(optoelectronics), Solomon, Reed, Ortega, Lee, Nikias, and many others.
In the NRC rankings which were published in 1993 (but still applicable today), USC is ranked 20th in Computer Science and 11th in Electrical Engineering. (I think the NRC Rankings are the best of all rankings)
A significant reason for the high ranking of USC in Computer Science is the affiliated institution Information Sciences Institute, which performs cutting edge research in CS fields.
The USC CS department is good for AI/Robotics, Computer Networks, Multimedia, and Software Engineering.
One of the important things to do when estimating the quality of a university is to see the list of courses it offers. To see the courses offerred by USC EE/CS depts, see the links at the end of this faq.
(This question can be better answered by students who are graduating this or the next sem, than me, since I just arrived here this sem.)
Job Prospects are not very bright because of the economic slump. (in EE/CS)
Of course companies are hiring, but not as vigorously as in boom time.
This is not particular to USC, but this is the case at all places. Due to USC being high ranked and located in California, prospects at USC may be somewhat better than universities ranked considerably lower, say 60+.
One can expect that prospects will improve with time, with the most pessimistic analysts predicting the US economy reverting back to growth before the second half of 2002.
Check this list of companies that came for recruitment at USC Campus in this Fall 2001 semester.
( But this is not the best question to ask. Job prospects will be better than they were before with just a BE, if you study anywhere in the US. Besides job prospects, there are many other things that a person benefits by coming to study in the US:- Education Standard of the Best Quality in the World; Exposure to the industry's best, the richest and the highest; Opportunity to meet people from dozens of different countries, cultures, languages, etc; Experience of the peak that the material world can offer; Opportunity to experience the biggest economy the world has ever seen and is likely to see in the near future; More Career Options - if there is anything that can be acheived in the world, it can be acheived in the United States; Opportunity to have a ride in the foremost boat in the world of technological progress; Opportunity to be in the Home of the Internet; etc. etc. etc. Even if there was no increase in job prospects, I would have very highly recommended a US education to anybody and everybody. )
Well, for MS in CS and EE, you probably have one of the brightest chances of an admit in USC among all universities in top 100. (unless thousands of ppl become aware of this and all decide to apply to USC! So some of you please dont apply here! ;-) )
Yes, USC gives an admit to most of the EE/CS applicants. (maybe because USC wants a lot of international students to come here to boost their already good reputation as a truely International University...its already second in the nation in terms of the number of international students studying)
GRE scores are generally not an important criteria for selection, almost any score above 17/1800 would do. However, they do reject applicants with bad academic records (like <55-58% or so). And of course, basic rules apply, like you can offset very bad performance in one area by a superior performance in the other, like if you have very bad acads and a great GRE score, then chances of an admit are good.
This all is true for MS but for PhD they are a bit stricter.
For most other departments, it probably is the same as EE/CS. Please ask a student who is studying in the department of your concern.
For some statistics, around 300 new students turned up at USC for MS in CS in Fall 2001, out of which a very significant number are Indians, and around 50 turned up for PhD. For EE dept also there are a very large number of students coming up.
Getting into USC in spring is usually a little more difficult than in the fall.
This is a difficult question. In short, they are grim for MS in CS/EE.
People sometimes get aid before coming here, but they are very few. After coming here, some people do get aid in the later semesters, but, again, not many. You cannot depend on that. If you are thinking of coming here, you should be prepared to pay the entire tution fees.
Some people say, aid is luck-based out here. Instead of that I would say that your chances of aid are NOT directly proportional to your merit. Getting aid is not done through a purely merit-based selection out here at USC (I do not know about other universities). It depends on your merit, luck, your persuading ability, your convincing ability, any special skills that you have, being at the right place at the right time, and many other factors. Overall, aid is not deterministic.
If you are one of that group, who have a very good profile, and really want aid, then the best thing to do is to still apply and contact profs in many departments, and if you get aid along with admission then keep USC's name in your options list, otherwise just scratch it out.
For PhD in CS/EE students, you have a much better chance of funding. Many of them get funded, and it seems you can depend on that. You can try emailing professors and ask them for funding. Even if you do not get funded initially, generally most end up with some aid in the beginning of their second year.
For other departments, it is as bad as CS/EE.
For undergraduate, I do not have the faintest idea, but there are people here who have got some grant or something. Please contact them.
No. USC faculty are very well funded.
For RAs, the professors prefer PhD students, primarily because they are around for a longer time. And since the number of PhD students is high, very few MS students are able to get an RA.
For TAs, it is the policy of the CS dept, to give TAships to strictly PhD students only. So by rule MS CS students cannot get a TA. (This is to improve aid conditions for PhD students and thus encourage the PhD program) In EE dept they do give TAships to MS students, but they are very few, and they are given to only the very best of students.
Only few MS students are finally able to get aid, but since the number of MS students is skyhigh, the percentage of total students in MS getting aid is very low.
I cannot guarantee aid for all semesters for you.
If you are confident you have a very good profile, and seek aid, then do apply and write to profs. See if you can get aid. However, I would recommend you to go to other high ranked universities, since you will have a higher chance of aid there and be studying along with students of your calibre.
As of Fall 2001, the graduate engineering unit cost is $867. So if you are pursuing an engineering degree, then multiply the number of units required by this figure to get the total fees. For MS in CS, 27 units cost 27*867 = 23409 US dollars. And some other fees per semester like library etc. take that cost to about 26000 US dollars. So you tution fees are 26k.
Oncampus jobs are available in plenty at USC. If you do not get a good one, then you can always be assured of a job at some cafetaria on campus. The range of salaries for on-campus jobs at USC range from $6.5/hr at cafes to 10$/hr. So, if you do an on-campus job (if one takes heavy coursework, then doing an oncampus job may become a bit difficult), then you earn 6.5*20*4 = 520 $/month. Your rent will be around 300-350 dollars per month (cheaper are available, but not all get them). Thus if you use your earnings judiciously, then you can manage living expenses -your apartment rent, eating, shopping, movies etc. with the oncampus job. So all you have to pay is the 26k dollars. (26k X 48 = 12.5 lacks)
If you get an internship (which depends on merit and the condition of the economy - but chances are certainly less than before in the current economic slump), then you can pay a part of your last sem's fees with the money you save there. (usually internship pays you 3-5k per month for 3 months)
USC is a costly choice.
For a typical public university in the United States, the tution fees are 4-6k per sem instead of 8.5k per sem at USC. Private universities generally have the same range of fees as USC. The quality of education, services, facilities provided by a US university are almost independent of its fees. So dont come to USC thinking that it is the best university since they are taking so much money.
The apartment rental at many universities is 100-200$ instead of 300-350$ at USC. Total monthly living expenses at USC come out to 500-600$ per month, and at many universities, they are 300$.
The oncampus job salary of $6.5-10 per hour is the same at all universities.
So USC without aid is pretty expensive than any other typical university without aid. When compared with a public university, the difference of costs may be large.
So, keep all this in mind when you select USC.
Studying at a high ranked university offers you these benefits :- 1. Good courses 2. Good faculty and research. 3. Slightly better job prospects.
At USC, because of high class strength, you are not able to get personal attention from the professors, so you may have to make additional efforts to compensate for that.
The process of applying to companies for jobs is mostly electronic here in the US. Just go to their site and apply. So wherever you are you can apply to any company anywhere.
But localion does affect on campus recruitment. Being in California, more technology companies come here for recruitment in career fairs. So you can get your interview done for more companies more conveniently.
But this may not be very significant since if companies do not come to a university, then they may take telephone interviews if they wish.
Overall, reputation is more important than the location.
Of course, in comparing universities of comparable reputation, you may make a decision in favour of the university near to industrial concentration of your field. For technology(EE/CS), California, Texas, North Carolina, and Massachussetts are places I know having many industries.
It depends on your priorities.
My suggestion is - do not take climate into consideration unless you are considering Alaska.
I have seen some people who have taken admissions in PhD, and get aid. Then after completing the requirements for the MS degree just stop their studies and leave with the MS degree. But I am not sure if this is routinely possible. Better confirm with a PhD student out here. Not the best way to go about it though.
At USC, you can apply to 5 programs at the same time for just one application fee! I know you can do this if you apply online, I am not sure whether you can do it for a paper-based application. So when in doubt apply to both programs. But do not apply to more than 1 program without any reason, since if all do that, it will unnecessarily increase the competition!
About specializations, you can switch specializations within the department after coming here very easily and quickly in both CS and EE departments. Say switching to CS general to CS-SE, or CSCN to CS-Multimedia etc. But switching to EECN and CSCN is a bit difficult since these specializations are in demand. And CENG is under EE, so do not dream of switching from CE to CS, but you can switch to any other program in EE itself from CE.
AIS had made this very easy for you this year. Go to the AIS website (link at the end of the document), and then see the list of complete members. There you will find the email addresses of Indians who are members of AIS, and they are a lot in number. You can also find email addresses of ppl in the AIS board.
Another more tedious way is - go to http://www-scf.usc.edu/. There you will get links to homepages of all USC students who have made a homepage whether they are AIS members or not. Search for Indian students in the listings. Go to their homepages and find out whether they are in the department of your concern and mail them. Remember to ask people who are in your field, so that you get more correct and helpful replies.
The third way is to subscribe and then drop a mail in email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, which have as members most of the Indians here.
Remember to subscribe to email@example.com so that you all who are planning to come to USC can keep in touch and help each with info, housing etc.
No. They may be a lot more busy than you think. Master's studies in the US is not a joke!
Yes you can get admit in CS here. They are maybe a bit stricter than normal, but even then its quite easy getting in.
You may get some 3-4 courses as deficiency courses. They do not count towards your degree but you will have to pay for them. Watch out, some of them are 4 credit ones, so you end up paying even more..
But you can get some or all of them waived if you want.
For CS402, take CS555 after clearing the entrance test in the first sem. (but
402 is a good course, consider taking it)
For CS455, you must tell Amy Yung in your first meeting with her that you know C++ quite well.
For CS410, you have to tell Amy that you will take CS565 offered in the spring (and you have to take it that time).
Mail Profs. Mail Phd Students to find out more.
Most of them have funding. Email all profs in your area. No prof is renowned for giving more aid!
No Clue! I do not have aid, so contact some person here who has on tips to writing effective letters to professors, and ways to get aid.
For CS department, the best way to know your application status is to email Mrs. Hayano at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is prompt in replying and generally replies within 1-2 business days. For EE department, contact a EE student.
You may have some problem getting courses in your first semester, since continuing students register for courses before you. But this is not a significant problem and is present in most universities. Even in the first semester, you can get an already full course after meeting the professor on the first day of class.
In later semesters there is no problem getting courses.
There is a diagnostic test for a few networking courses, which are hugely popular. But most students are able to take them in one or the other semester if they want to.
Overall, no problem about courses. In fact the variety of courses and the quality of courses offered at USC for EE/CS is quite good.
The USC is located in a neighbourhood which has a higher percentage of Hispanic and African-American population. And also it is near the downtown.
These two factors make the incidence rate of crime in this area higher than average.
BUT, this should CERTAINLY NOT be a factor in deciding whether to come to USC or not. Since it hardly makes any impact on your daily routine life.
To traverse from the school to home and vice versa, USC provides tram (bus) and cruiser (car on call) services which means you hardly any time roam about in the night to be affected by crime.
Los Angeles is called the Entertainment Capital of the World. Several Studios, California Adventure, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Tons of Beaches, Californian climate, etc etc etc are there for you to enjoy.
But Beware, leisure time is not an everyday commodity in Graduate Studies.
The USC campus consists mainly of numerous buildings located in a relatively small area interspersed with lawns. It is not as big as and not as beautiful as some other university campuses in the country. This is primarily because USC is located right in the heart of Los Angeles city near the downtown. Check out the USC Campus Map. Two pictures of USC buildings are: this and this. More pictures of USC are available here.
Nobody can give a rigid and correct answer.
Here is my answer -
Advantages: Benefits of a high ranked university - good courses, faculty, research and slightly better Job prospects.
Disadvantages: 1. Very bad aid scene. 2. Poor Admission Standards. 3. High Class Strengths. 4. Expensive - both in tutions and living expenses.(for cost details, see this question)
USC Selection Guidelines:
If you are not in EE or CS, or Planning (done after architecture), then USC is not a good school! Many students are misled by the fact that USC is 11th in Engineering, thinking that it might be good in Mechanical/Chemical/other engineering.
But the fact is that USC is high ranked and good only for EE and CS.
If you want to see rankings for your field, please see the NRC rankings in your field.
Seeing the very small chances of aid here, I think, come to USC for fields other than EECS, only if you have no other admit where there are aid chances or which is higher ranked in the NRC rankings than USC.
Now for EE/CS ppl -
First of all, I assume that you do not have/will not get aid here.
Now, I will identify MS aspirants as belonging to one of the following categories-
If you belong to category 2/category 4, then USC is definitely not for you unless you dont have any other admit! It is not worth spending so much money if you just want a job, which you can get if you study anywhere in the US. However, if you have a very good profile, then the best thing to do is to still apply and contact profs in many departments, and if you get aid along with admission then keep USC's name in your options list, otherwise just scratch it out.
For category 1, if you an admit in a higher ranked university than USC then go there. If you have admit in a good university (ranked 1-30/40) where there are good aid chances, then go there. Else come here.
For category 3 - if you have an admit in universities (ranked 1-50/60/70) where there are good aid chances, then go there. If you have an admit in university ranked 1-50/60/70 which is very cheaper than USC, then go there. If you have an admit in university ranked higher than USC, then go there. Else come here.
Remember while selecting universities, that most of the universities in the US have high quality of education.
ii. "I am coming to USC, now I want to know that..."
(Note: People coming here in this spring subscribe to usc2k2 yahoogroup to keep in touch!)
D-clearance indicates that you have met the pre-requisites and other rules of the department, and that now you can register for the course. You have to get the D-clearance for each course you register. You dont have to worry about them right now.
Primary concerns after coming here are registering for courses, getting housing, searching on campus jobs, settling down. For spring 2002, the orientation is on Jan 3, and class starts 3-4 days later. Since the offices will be closed for the winter recess from December 18 - January 3, I suggest you do not come later than December 10 so as to complete all the official work in time. But those who have yet to get the I-20 or cannot come early because of unavoidable reasons, then do not worry, since registration is possible without a late fee until January 4 and with a late fee until January 25. See the USC Spring Calender for details.
See the AIS website for a list of books. But there is always some amount of uncertainty. Textbooks keep changing for courses and you may not take the courses for the books mentioned in any list of books..
My suggestion is bring books from which you have learnt your fundamentals, eg C++ by Robert Lafore, etc. Then see which courses you are likely to take this year, and see the textbooks required for those courses from the course homepages, and bring those textbooks. You can always get books couriered from india by your friends should you need another one later.
Nothing to worry about now. Start the search after coming here.
Contact the AIS for temporary housing. (not now, but as the doom time comes closer - or if nothing helps, just try dropping a mail in usc2k and usc2k1 and usc2k2 yahoogroups)
Fixing roommates over email before coming may help. Try conversing in email@example.com.
Its generally better to start the search for permanent housing after coming here, instead of just fixing an apartment advertized over email by a senior. (the senior may be trying to get rid of a bad apartment!)
Maybe some people faced problems in finding accomodation, but in general most students could find housing in 4-5 days after coming here.
Climate in LA gets enough cold that you have to wear woolen clothes. So bring some woolen clothing.
Most of your time here you will spend in a computer lab, which are at flat constant 22 degree centigrade for 365 X 24 X 60 X 60 seconds, irrespective of whatever is the temperature outside the building.
No, good courses are offered in both semesters.
No. You have to personally come here, remove your holds, and then get the D-clearance from the department. Only then you can register for courses.
There is some info available on AIS's site. Also, there are many links on the web (generally other univ's Indian student associations), which can give you a list of things to bring.
But I would just like to tell you that bring a black formal suit and black formal shoes for interviews and other formal stuff here. Black here is the preferrred colour here rather than blue for formal occasions.
You will be required to pay a little less than 9000 bucks for tuition fees.
For rent, the security deposit is just one or two months of rent. And you need to pay your rent monthly i.e. you do not have to pay the whole rent for the year beforehand.
Bring some 2000 bucks other than the tuition fees. If you may not do an oncampus job then bring some more.
Get as much as you can in traveller's checks, since they turn into cash immediately here. Checks and drafts from India take a long time (1-2 weeks) before they can be encashed.
You should have got the immunization form with your I-20. If you did not get it with the I-20, then you will probabaly not get it.
If you will not get it, then just bring these 2 documents it will be fine.
1. Take a PPD test for Tuberculosis. And get the formal result of it.
2. Get a letter from a doctor certifying that you have taken a Measles Vaccine on this so and so month and year. The letter should be on his letterhead and signed and stamped by him.
If you are unable to bring anything regarding this, then they will take the ppd test and vaccinate you here itself for some charge. ( I think it is 45$ for both inclusive).
I really dont think there is any deadline for that. I think you can send it until the registration starts or something. I dont even think that the form is important at all.
Just to be risk-free, you should send the Intent to Enroll form online immediately, even if you dont know whether you will surely joining USC.
For all Engineering majors including CS, the form is available online at
iii. Useful Links
I am a current USC student pursuing MS in Computer Science, joined in Fall 2001.
I remember those days when I was going through the rigours of the application process...and I required a huge amount of information to help me out. But the sources of information were just not sufficient!
In particular, USC is often called a mystery school. You will find many people praising it, and many criticizing it!
I wondered why dont seniors set up sites and provide authentic and inside information about the university so as to let prospective students make informed important decisions in comparing different universities. The method of emailing to students individual questions turns out to be very inefficient.
So here I have created a database of questions on a single page for efficient transfer of information so that it can be really useful and unravel some of the mystery surrounding USC. Hope my attempt turns out to be helpful to you all.
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org only if you are having an important problem. And please be concise and to the point and give as much relevant info as possible. You can also use this simple online form.
Note: This FAQ was last updated when I was just 3 months into my course at USC.
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