Give it to me straight - Computer Science

My son is a Junior and wants to major in computer science. It is the only area he’s interested in career wise. He likes to code using Java, which he learned on his own during lockdown. He’s always been into computers. He doesn’t wish to do any data engineering or AI. Possibly some web design or user experience stuff. Possibly being a programmer. He’s not certain just yet. He just knows that this field is what he wants.

School wise he does well but not great. His UW GPA is 3.57 right now. He tends to do pretty well in science. Math is ok but not strong. He’s taking the standard track. Did well in Algebra 1 and Geometry. Algebra 2 this year is quite hard for him. He’s getting a C. He will take Alg/Trig next year to build his math foundation more. He gets the concepts but misses on the details (uses ( )instead of [ ]for example). Part of it he feels has to do with missing so much of Algebra 1 when we had no instruction for 6 weeks at the start of Covid, and then skipped content (also no direct instruction - only videos with limited office hours for the rest of that year). He wanted to take pre-Calc next year but his teacher convinced him to build the foundation stronger first.

He doesn’t love math. It’s a means to an end. I worry about how much math is in his future and how fast paced it’ll be. He’s not looking at super competitive CS programs. He’s looking at for good fit school vs name/prestige. He also is only looking at schools in the PNW/west coast.

Is he going to stand a chance in a computer science program? What can we steer him to as backups for a major/career path if this doesn’t go well once he’s there?

There is not (or need not be) a lot of math in the job, but there is a decent amount of math in the undergraduate CS program. Perhaps if you take a software engineering major, which is available in some universities, you may have less math. Also, majors like IT will have less math.

CS majors at many colleges typically take the following math or math-like courses or content included in CS courses:

  • Single variable calculus.
  • Linear algebra
  • Discrete math
  • Probability theory
  • Algorithms and complexity
  • Theory of computation

Even SEs typically go through Linear, plus an upper level math elective limited to a few choices. It’s going to be rough if he can’t or won’t do the math to get through the gateway.


CS is not my specialty :slight_smile: . But, one possibility to consider is for your son to go to a school that offers both a B.A. and a B.S. in Computer Science. The B.A. would require less math, but still multiple classes of calculus I and beyond. For instance, at the U. of Iowa the B.A. requires 11-12 hours of math whereas the B.S. requires 15-16 hours.

The U. of Iowa also offers degrees in informatics through its CS department. The BA in Informatics only requires a statistics course and the B.S. in Informatics also only requires a statistics class. The informatics majors are supposed to be good for software development, user experience, and information management.

Another possibility would be a major in something like Web Design & Development. At Butler, there does not appear to be any math requirement outside of whatever general education math requirements the university has. The College Board has a list of schools that indicate a Web Design & User Interface major, but I would check each specific college to see if it’s actually what your son might be interested in.

In all, it sounds like your son might do well going to a school that had multiple computer degree options with varying degrees of math, so that he could end up finding the right fit for him, unless he decides altogether that the higher-math route is not for him.

Actually, if you include math-like CS courses and statistics courses, both require more:

  • BA CS major: 6 math-like CS courses + 8 calculus + 3 or 4 statistics or linear algebra = 17 or 18
  • BS CS major: 9 math-like CS courses + 8 calculus + 4 linear algebra + 3 or 4 statistics = 24 or 25

Math-like CS courses include discrete math/structures, algorithms, and theory or logic.

I don’t know anyone who does this well who has a college degree that’s related. There’s really not a strong argument for the expense for this path.

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Thanks, @ucbalumnus and @eyemgh. Always appreciate learning something new! Glad I prefaced my comment with not having CS expertise! :rofl:


Programmer here…getting into a tech career is actually fairly easy. In fact, he could arguably land an entry level job right now. Most CS graduates land IT jobs out of college and spend an entire career never doing a math problem.

It sounds like an IT degree would be a good fit for him. It’s far less math intensive and focuses more on coding and administrative functions with a business background. It’s just as employable as a CS degree, and arguably more so.