I’ve been seeing a Facebook ad recently that advertises a MS in Computer Science in the US. I idly clicked on it, and as I read, I started thinking that I’ve hit on a gold mine. Well, when something looks too good to be true, it usually is.
The ad led to a webpage that advertised a two year Masters in Computer Science from Maharishi University of Management. Red Flag one – what kind of a name is that for a US college? But I’m keeping an open mind, after all, a lot of people think that Barack Obama is not American enough.
The big sell for the program was that of the two years, 7-8 months would be in class, while the rest of the time the student would be working full time for up to two years. The website claims that most of its students find employment in well known companies and they cite Google, Microsoft, Amazon and other heavyweights. The financial aid package is equally enticing. Basically the school gives you a loan of close to 100% of the course cost, and you repay as you start working full time during the program.
So, a virtually free Masters program with the (almost) guarantee of well paying job in the US? Where do I sign???
Well, that’s when the doubts start to creep in. If this program is really what it claims to be, there should be tens of thousands of people beating down their doors to get in. They should be extremely exclusive. Yet the requirements of admission are disturbingly few – they don’t even require the GRE. The website has a sample of the programming test that they administer – and it’s Programming 101, as in, find the second largest number in an array – very strange as this is a Master’s program ostensibly for someone with a Bachelors in CS and a couple years work experience.
They try to slip a seemingly innocuous sentence in there – “You’ll learn a scientifically validated and well-documented technique for personal development, the Transcendental Meditation® program.” Hmm. Why should this you need to mention this when I’m looking at a Computer Science degree? Well children, it’s because that sentence is the most gentle and non-alarming way to let you know that, um, you’re about to join a cult. Apparently this Transcendental Meditation is compulsory, no matter your religious beliefs or capacity for choice. One man’s ooga-booga or woo-hoo is another man’s religion, and there are plenty of Chrisitian based institutions that are legitimized and expect students to follow certain general rules, eg Notre Dame, or our own Strathmore. However, one student complains that they have up to four mediation sessions a day. Another claims that refusing to take part in the meditation results in being shunned by the community, or even your grades being lowered. Googling Transcendental Mediation brings up all you need to know about this cult. TM as they call it, was to the 60/70s what Scientology was to the 90/00s. Crazy celebrities and all.
Another message board warns that even the loan program is not what it seems. Students hardly have anything left over after the monthly loan repayments, and resort to borrowing from banks at high interest rates to live and continue their programs.
So the program, with it’s aggressive marketing recently targeting Kenya, seems to be a combination of a financial money maker and a breeding ground for new converts. In the worst case, you’ll be in debt in a foreign country and a member of a crackpot cult. But in the best case scenario, you’ll have a frustrating two years of your life, have a fairly useless degree but perhaps you’ll be able to secure a US job based on your former experience. People have done crazier things to go abroad.
Would you risk the cult for the chance to work in the US?