Choosing a computing major

Teachers are an important resource for students when it comes to their college decisions. Indeed, undergraduates students often state that a high school teacher influenced their decision to become a computer science major. This blogpost includes a number of  for CS teachers to help their students learn about computing related majors. It might also help teachers recruit students in their computer science courses and highlight the breadth of majors available for students. Along with my colleague Susanne Hambrusch, we have developed the following list of resources for computer science teachers as a part of our NSF-funded PD4CS project.

There exists a range of four-year computing and computing-related degrees a student can pursue. It can be daunting to determine differences and commonalities.

Four-year Liberal Arts Colleges will typically offer one degree, most likely in Computer Science. The simplicity may have a drawback: the number of courses offered may be small and few opportunities for specialization may exist. On the other hand, many liberal arts colleges provide a strong computer science education that is often combined with flexibility, allowing students to take diverse courses in other areas.

Large, research-oriented schools tend to offer multiple computing degrees. The types of degrees and specializations offered are often influenced by whether Computer Science is in a College of Science, a College of Engineering, or in its own College (e.g., College of Computing, School of Information).

Most schools provide information and guidance for incoming students. For example,

Many rankings of computer science programs exist. No ranking is perfect and many schools not ranked or not ranked highly can provide an excellent undergraduate education. The US News and World Report rankings have a good reputation and are respected by universities and colleges. They rank different types of institutions, different research areas, different geographical regions, and more.

Students majoring in a STEM field often consider getting a minor in Computer Science. Having a CS minor will give them additional and often attractive job opportunities after graduation. A minor typically consists of 5-6 CS courses (the student is expected to have the appropriate math courses).  Students majoring in math or physics can often double count courses and may be able to complete a minor with less effort.  Guidelines and expectations differ and a student needs to find out the details for the particular program.

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Aman Yadav is an associate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University. He serves as the teacher education representative on the CSTA board of directors. Follow Aman on Twitter @yadavaman

This entry was posted in Points of Interest, Tips & Tricks by Aman Yadav. Bookmark the permalink.

About Aman Yadav

Dr. Aman Yadav is an Associate Professor and co-director of the Masters in Educational Technology program at at Michigan State University. He works on issues around computational thinking, computer science education, and problem-based learning in K-16 classrooms. Over the last decade, Aman has led professional development workshops at the national and international level to engage teachers in embedding computing ideas and technology in the classrooms. Aman serves on the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) board of directors. Follow him on twitter at yadavaman

One thought on “Choosing a computing major

  1. Helpful post.

    I know you have a disclaimer about the rankings but I’d totally throw them out.

    I don’t know what methodology US News uses for colleges but the high school ratings are bunk and can be gamed.

    I’ve sent well over a thousand kids off to college. Most to study CS and related fields and it works out, one way or another, for just about all of them.

    At a basic level, undergrad courses are largely the same at colleges of comparable rigor. I think the important question is department and school fit and culture.

    Do they have gatekeeper courses or gateway courses? Does the school have a tech culture? Is that good or bad? Is it nurturing? Hard knocks? etc.

    I try to have my students get on campus and spend time with undergrads, if not talk to them remotely. Hopefully they spend time somewhere and say “this is home.”

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