So You Want to Major in Computer Science?
“I’m thinking of majoring in Computer Science.” When I hear a student declare this while discussing possible majors, I’m torn. Part of me is thrilled - the opportunities, challenges, and experiences available to Computer Science majors are amazing. The other part of me cringes - the reality is, computer science applicants face an uphill battle in college admissions.
By the Numbers:
University Overall Admit Rate CS Admit Rate
University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign 44.8% 6.7%
Purdue University 53% 33%
University of Washington 60% in state/ 27% in state/
51% out of state 3% out of state
Students pursuing a Computer Science degree at major North American universities have more than tripled since 2006. The University of Wisconsin-Madison increased CS enrollment by over 800% from 2011 - 2021. The University of Michigan saw its CS enrollment nearly quadruple since 2010.
So, how does this translate into admission?
OK - I know the numbers, now what should I do?
Once you have an understanding of the admissions landscape for Computer Science, I’d recommend considering the following two paths:
Path 1: Computer Science is right for me - how can I start preparing to apply?
Strength & Rigor of High School Coursework: You will want to demonstrate strength in all your coursework, but especially in your math and science courses. Take AP, IB or DE when available.
Demonstrated Interest in CS: Show that Computer Science is the right fit for you. Have you taken CS courses and/or participated in CS activities? How have you explored and started to understand this field?
Build a Balanced College List: Applying to CS requires adjusting your expectations. When building your college list, keep in mind a college that would be in your likely category if applying for a non-CS major may actually be a target - or reach - based on the competitive nature of this major.
Consider a Liberal Arts College: Many potential CS majors focus on large research universities and don’t consider the benefits a liberal arts college can provide. Check out this article on the CS major at Occidental College.
Path 2: I’m not convinced Computer Science is right for me - are there other options?
Yes! There are a number of great majors to consider that are related to Computer Science. University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign has a helpful article that introduces some of the following majors:
Data Science / Informatics
Applied and Computational Mathematical Sciences
Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
While some of these majors are also competitive (the admission rate for the engineering programs at UIUC is 23% vs. 44.8% overall), they are still worth exploring as an alternative field of study.
Where to go from here:
Computer science is a diverse field that allows students to work on emerging technologies and challenging, real-world problems. As the admissions landscape has changed over the past decade, colleges are constantly introducing majors in related fields that provide students with new and exciting opportunities. I hope you talk to your BCC counselor and take the time to explore all your options!