Getting Into An Elite Computer Science (CS) School
There are several paths to admission to Computer Science programs and degrees at top schools. For the most part, you can apply for the CS either before you are admitted, while in college, or by declaring and transferring majors while in college. Knowing this is just the beginning of your journey. Each unique route has its own pros and challenges, which we’ll discuss in detail today.
It can be quite challenging to figure out which application method is right for you. Having full knowledge of what makes a good computer science school and the different ways to get into top-rated universities can help you plan strategically for your next step. In this blog, we’ve compiled all the relevant facts to simplify your decision-making process, including the necessary computer science acceptance rates.
Applying to CS Before Admission
This one is often the most common for students, depending on the schools they wish to apply to. At the universities that fall under this category, you apply directly to the Computer Science major during your admission process. The application will request supplemental materials, such as extra SAT Subject Test scores, extra essays, or a resume, in addition to your application to the school. For example, this is the case for the Electrical Engineering & Computer Science major at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) and the University of California at Berkeley (UCB). When you get admitted to these schools, your major is already set when you start your freshman year.
Yet, some colleges have a different approach. For example, if you want to get into Carnegie Mellon University, you should apply to the School of Computer Science (SCS), which houses three separate majors. When you get accepted into SCS, you will have to declare your major at the end of freshman year.
You have to keep in mind that apart from a particular CS acceptance rate, the best CS schools also expect students to have the following:
A strong math and science background
An interest in Computer Science
A grasp of their interests, experiences, and intentions with a Computer Science degree in an additional essay
Such extracurricular activities convey not only a keen interest in the field of software engineering but also crucial qualities like leadership skills and the ability to take initiative to pursue your interests. Besides, extracurriculars outside CS also help demonstrate interpersonal skills, work ethic, and varied passions, as universities usually look to admit well-rounded students. You can view a sampling of some accepted student profiles below.
Computer Science Acceptance Rates
In today's climate, admission to Computer Science programs is more competitive than ever. Check out this comparison of the admission rates in a few top universities compared to their CS acceptance rate.
Admitted Student Profiles
Apart from the computer science acceptance rates, it is always useful to review the profiles of high school seniors who were admitted into the CS programs, as examples of academic and extracurricular resumes:
CMU SCS Student
CMU SCS student
UIUC Computer Science + Math student
Applying to CS After Admission
With some of these best CS schools, students are given admissions even when they not yet declared any major as freshmen. These students will then apply to the Computer Science major later in college, usually as sophomores. For example, at the University of Washington (UW), students get accepted to UW as Pre-Science or Pre-Major students. They can then apply to the Computer Science major as sophomores in the School of Computer Science & Engineering. To be considered for the Computer Science major, they must complete a set of courses and submit a personal statement.
Similarly, at North Carolina State University (NCSU), students can first join the Engineering First Year Program. When they later apply to the Computer Science major, their grades in a few selected classes will be taken into account in order to make the decision.
Engineering majors are automatically enrolled in some of these prerequisite classes, which makes it easier to get into the Computer Science major. This method emphasizes your performance in the first year at college. Other universities like Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) and Harvard University also use this tactic to accept students into their Computer Science programs.
Declaring a CS Major Directly
At a handful of the best CS schools, you do not have to apply to the Computer Science major in order to declare. Usually, as sophomores, students can simply declare their major, and as long as they complete the necessary coursework, they can graduate with a degree in computer science or computer engineering.
At Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), freshmen enter undeclared and usually choose a major at the end of their first year. There are no prerequisites to declaring a major, but Computer Science students are advised to start required coursework in their first year before they are formally declared. Similarly, at Stanford University, students get admitted to the university and then choose an advisor and declare their major at some point in their sophomore year.
Transferring Into a CS Major
At most universities, students can change majors and transfer to another department. This usually happens when a student discovers that they are passionate about a field that is different from the one they initially intended to study. Universities understand that students' interests can change, and they have systems in place to allow qualifying students to switch majors.
Depending on the university, this can be as simple as submitting a form (for example, at Stanford) or an application process very similar to the application process as a high school senior (for example, at UIUC). Most colleges require students to have a minimum GPA to be considered for a change of major to Computer Science. Some schools, such as CMU, require students to have taken a handful of prerequisite classes, in addition to having a GPA above a certain threshold (usually above a 3.2) and submitting a personal statement. But again, remember to keep the CS acceptance rates in mind to have a clear understanding of what you should aim for.
All the best CS schools are interested in admitting students who are passionate about Computer Science. Regardless of the application method you choose, it’s vital to let your authenticity shine through. Remember that experience in pursuing relevant projects is a great way to highlight your love for the field and show that you have taken the initiative to start learning. Besides, your personal statement is another chance for you to express yourself, demonstrate your interest in CS, and explain how you plan to use the degree to advance your passions.
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