Applying for Computer Science – What Students Need to Know

Applying to College, Building Your College List

With the rapidly evolving use of technology in every aspect of our lives, pursuing a degree in Computer Science, or a related field like Data Science or Information Technology, can be a smart move. These are also some of the most challenging college majors to pursue, due to the rigorous coursework and activities needed to be a strong applicant, and the academic abilities and skills needed to succeed once accepted.

The decision to pursue Computer Science should begin with a sincere interest in the field. Classes for the major are notoriously challenging, so without a real passion, you may not succeed. Furthermore, Computer science is an impacted major at most universities (meaning there are many more applicants than spaces available), and the acceptance rate is below 10% at the most selective schools.

Here are some things that high school students can do to be a strong applicant for Computer Science and related majors:

  • Take a rigorous course load, and get the best grades you can. Most universities will want students to complete AP Calculus, AP Physics, and AP Computer Science (or a community college course in these areas of your high school doesn’t offer these). AP or Honors courses in English, History and/or Foreign Language will also strengthen your position in the applicant pool.
  • Even with many universities being test-optional or test-free, the strongest CS applicants at selective universities will have excellent ACT or SAT scores, especially in Math. Students planning to apply to Computer Science should plan in advance, so they have ample time to prepare to prepare.
  • Take community college or online courses in topics like machine learning, artificial intelligence, Java, C, and C++, or consider taking non-credit, non-graded courses through platforms like Coursera, Udemy, and EdX.
  • Participate in activities like math clubs, robotics clubs, STEM summer programs, coding contests, and hackathons, that show your interest and skills in computer programming.
  • Computer science students can also contribute to GitHub projects or create online coding portfolios or freelance projects, building a robust code repository to share on college applications.
  • Find an internship, community service or research position that allows you to utilize your programming skills in a real-world context.
  • Develop interests outside of programming, including playing sports or music, participating in student leadership, volunteering, or learning a new language – all skills that will help you contribute to an engaging student body and workforce later. Colleges prefer CS students who have interests beyond CS that will allow them to be engaged in campus life.
  • Hone your communication, collaboration, and non-technical soft skills, because computer science is a highly collaborative field that often requires working with others on team projects.

Many CS students worry that attending a selective university with a highly ranked CS program is the only ticket to a successful future in the field – but that’s simply not the case! While it’s true that some companies (think Google, Microsoft, etc.) typically recruit from the most highly ranked CS programs, determined students from less selective universities can still get hired with these same companies. And, because the demand for software engineers and programmers is expected to continue to grow (despite recent layoffs from some large companies that over-hired during the pandemic), students can still land great jobs without attending the most selective universities. So, look outside of the US World and News Report College Rankings top 20 or top 50 schools! Apply to universities where you can thrive and do well. Excel in your coursework and participate in internships while attending college. You will be well prepared to start your exciting career as a software engineer or computer programmer!