Studying Computer Science at Vanderbilt
Ranked as having the happiest students for two consecutive years by the Princeton Review, Vanderbilt University is a private research university in Nashville, Tennessee, which is home to 6,861 undergraduates and 5,963 postgraduates. In 2019, Vanderbilt was ranked 14th in the nation by U.S. News, and the 7th best value school. Colloquially known as Vandy, Vanderbilt undergraduates can choose from the College of Arts and Science, the Blair School of Music, the School of Engineering, or Peabody College of Education and Human Development. As of Fall 2018, there are 438 Computer Science majors in the School of Engineering.
After graduation, Vanderbilt CS majors go on to work for companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Apple, or attend graduate schools such as MIT, Columbia, and NYU. Some students also double major in Computer Science, with a primary major aimed at a professional career in the medical field. With plenty of research opportunities and flexibility to work in interdisciplinary fields, Vanderbilt is an excellent choice for students seeking to major in Computer Science.
The Computer Science Program at Vanderbilt
Computer Science is rapidly growing at Vanderbilt, and is now the 5th most popular major at the university. Vanderbilt offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from the School of Engineering, with guidelines underlined in the undergraduate catalogue.
In their first year, all engineering students at Vanderbilt are required to take “Engineering modules,” which are designed to provide students with exposure to fields across all disciplines of engineering, not necessarily just their specific major. In total, Computer Science majors need a minimum of 120 credit hours, consisting of 28 hours of Computer Science core, 12 hours of Computer Science depth, 1 hour in a Computer Science project seminar, 6 hours of technical electives, 20-22 hours of mathematics, 12 hours of science, 3 hours in computers and ethics, 3 hours of engineering modules, 18 hours of liberal arts core, 18-20 hours of open electives, and 3 hours of a writing course. Students coming in with AP credits can apply some of them to these requirements, speeding up graduation.
The CS program also offers specialized programs in combination with Computer Science, including a pre-medical option with Computer Science, a Bachelor's in CS and Master’s in Finance in collaboration with the Owen Graduate School of Management, and an accelerated 5 year Master’s in Computer Science program with the engineering school.
The department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science also offers Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Master of Science (M.Sc.) degrees in Computer Science. These graduate students’ studies are structured around six primary areas:
- Distributed and networked systems
- Embedded and hybrid systems
- Image processing and graphics
- Intelligent systems
- Software and systems engineering
Computer Science Classes at Vanderbilt
The core Computer Science courses that everyone takes at Vanderbilt follow the structure described earlier, including fundamentals such as Data Structures, Intermediate Software Design, and Algorithms. Technical electives give students the chance to explore different areas of interest, such as Artificial Intelligence, Data Visualization, Machine Learning, and Web-based System Architecture. These courses are taught by leading professors in their field, who have connections to the industry and can help students decide their future career paths. The Computer Science curriculum at Vanderbilt is focused on building projects and getting hands-on experience, both in numerous homework assignments and playing with code distributed during lectures. The CS program teaches principles of software engineering, program design, and problem solving.
Research and Extracurriculars at Vanderbilt
Apart from academics, Vanderbilt offers strong research and extracurriculars related to Computer Science that make the community more tight-knit. In-campus involvement not only enhances the college experience, but also helps to build a network post-graduation.
Vanderbilt offers a wide variety of research opportunities in Computer Science. Home to the Institute for Software Integrated Systems and the Institute for Space and Defense Electronics, Computer Science research programs work in fields of security and fault tolerance, medical imaging processing, nano/carbon, robotics, artificial intelligence, graphics, and algorithms. Beyond Computer Science, there are also numerous opportunities for research at Vanderbilt in other fields in engineering, medicine, and more.
Extracurriculars are key to the CS community at Vanderbilt. The CS community’s rapid growth has resulted in classes that have reached maximum capacity. Student organizations help supplement coursework with opportunities to learn and explore outside of the classroom. For example, VandyApps teaches weekly workshops on topics, such as data science, natural language processing, and interview preparation. Women in Computer provides mentorship, promotes representation in the CS community, and hosts different events throughout the year.
I am personally heavily involved in VandyHacks, which every November, hosts a 36-hour hackathon, attracting over 600 students from across the nation and 68 different universities. A hackathon is a period in which people build any kind of project they want, from virtual reality games to systems that track customers’ in-store locations. We host workshops that teach beginner to advanced levels, and our sponsors run the gamut, from MicroStrategy and Fulcrum GT to Capital One. Throughout the year, we also host a variety of workshops, hack nights, and study sessions to help students of all majors and experience levels learn and prepare for CS exams.
Interrelated Majors at Vanderbilt
Pursuing Computer Science at Vanderbilt offers a great level of flexibility for students to study what they desire. Beyond the liberal arts core that expands into a variety of courses, many students double major in fields, such as economics, music, and mathematics. I am a triple major in Computer Science, Applied Mathematics, and Asian Studies, a somewhat unusual combination. My third major in Asian Studies has allowed me to learn Japanese, take several writing classes, and delve into courses about racial identity and neoliberalism, all in addition to my core CS classes.
Double majors are absolutely possible, but should students wish to focus on just one major, opting for a minor in Computer Science is also a popular option. Computer Science skills have become increasingly valuable in a large variety of fields.
Resources and How to be Successful
Vanderbilt has high academic standards, which can inadvertently cause stress. For any student to be successful in coursework and in personal wellbeing, they must invest in a support network. Extracurriculars and the extended CS community mentioned above play into this. Taking time to relax and decompress will help keep your mind and body healthy and calm, so that you may successfully manage your workload. Professors are also excellent resources. Whether you’re meeting in office hours or walking together between classes, they are there to support your growth. Take advantage of how small Vanderbilt’s courses are. The overall student to faculty ratio is 7:1, which means access to professors is ample.
Helping students build a career path, the Career Center and various career fairs help with recruiting, interviews, and future plans. Attending study nights and the workshops aforementioned not only enhance students’ confidence with course material, but it also provides exposure to a diverse range of projects outside of schoolwork. As an added perk, we provide free food for those late night study sessions!
Campus Life at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt is an arboretum located a mile and a half away from downtown Nashville. Known as Music City, Nashville lives up to its name, with a number of concerts and smaller music venues that are dispersed across the city. Greek life is a big part of Vanderbilt’s culture. As of 2017, 42% of the undergraduate population is involved in Greek life. There are over 430 organizations on campus, including community service organizations, as well as cultural clubs that host large cultural showcases throughout the year. Vanderbilt also offers ample opportunity for study abroad, a program in which over 40% of students enroll. The engineering exchange study abroad program has affiliations with Singapore, Hong Kong, Budapest, and more.
I live in McTyeire International House, a dorm that is home to different language halls. Living here promotes the use of foreign languages and provides exposure to different cultures. I live in the Japanese hall, but there are also French, German, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and International Interest halls, as well. Not only is it a great community and excellent opportunity to hear and practice a range of languages, but it’s also located just 30 seconds away from the engineering building!
Admissions Requirements for Vanderbilt
The overall process to apply to Vanderbilt is similar to most colleges: you can apply to Vanderbilt by filling out the Common Application or Coalition, or via QuestBridge. You do not have to and should not apply through all three; Vanderbilt only looks at one of the applications. These are online portals that students can use to apply to many universities, using the same application. These applications require essays, test score submissions from exams, such as the SAT and/or ACT. When applying to Vanderbilt, you can either apply directly to the School of Engineering with Computer Science in mind, or simply apply as undecided. For more information about the application process, refer to the Common Application.
Vanderbilt offers strong financial aid packages to 66% of undergraduates, including merit-based and need-based scholarships. As a general recommendation, the National Merit Scholarship is a good option, as many schools will offer additional scholarships to finalists. For example, Vanderbilt automatically offers $5,000 a year to National Merit Scholars, which factors into calculations of the overall financial aid package.
Vanderbilt was determined to be one of the most selective schools in 2018, with a 7.3% acceptance rate of regular decision applicants and a 9.6% total acceptance rate. These numbers do reflect Vanderbilt’s level of competitiveness; however, strong preparation and a solid understanding of the application process will increase your chances of admission. Of course, there are several great schools apart from Vanderbilt! While applying to universities can certainly be intimidating, drawing upon the resources from our blog will help demystify your path ahead.
Life After Graduation
Students graduating from Vanderbilt after majoring in Computer Science often go to work at companies, such as Google and Microsoft, with others choosing to move on to graduate programs in Computer Science or in fields like law, medicine, or business. For complete statistics here is a full report of where engineering graduates go.
Amazon is soon laying down some roots in Nashville, truly expanding the opportunitites for Computer Science graduates at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is an excellent choice not only for Computer Science, but also for a wide variety of majors to prepare for a bright future ahead!