Help for intended CS major, what summer and other activities? Calif based

My 10th grade son is interested in studying CS which I realize is a very difficult major to get into. Yikes. He is a very standard ‘normal’ kid, he gets straight As, takes a decently rigorous load (for his school) and has standard ECs. We are in a very large competitive Calif public school. He plays a varsity sport (not good enough to be recruited), he is involved with a number of clubs related to CS. But his school doesn’t have olympiad teams or math teams etc so he has never competed. He tutors kids and teaches basic programming. He does USACO programming contest. Thats about it. He hasn’t done research or held internships, and isn’t nationally or even locally recognized in anything. He is still learning about the field of CS. He applied to some research programs for this summer hoping to really dig deeper into some CS area (like AI or machine learning) but was denied. Frankly, it was a long shot as he has no experience in research or these specialized fields and his ‘wanting to learn more’ may have not been compelling to the admissions committee.

Given how many kids are so extremely accomplished at 16 (all these kids with published research and internships with job descriptions my son can’t even comprehend, national science fair and other national awards, etc), how does a normal kid get more experience? He hasn’t been able to find high school internships and doesn’t even know if he’d be qualified to work at a company programming (when he is reading what other high school kids are doing, it is beyond him). He hasn’t had luck reaching out to professors about research (because he honestly doesn’t know what he wants to research, he just would like to learn more, and again, that probably isn’t compelling. And the cold calling method isn’t likely to yield much for results.).

He would like to go to a UC for college. His resume 20 years ago would have gotten him into a UC but today, probably not, especially in CS. I know Jr college is an option to transfer.

What can he do this summer to help expand his knowledge? Get him some experience in CS? Since he didn’t get into any summer program, research position or internship?
So far, he is planning on taking a class in some programming language at community college and maybe some other CS related course on the side without grades (to explore machine learning or something else).
But is there anything else he can do to add to his resume which he feels is pretty empty?
He may do the standard camp counselor job or teach kids coding to make some money but he doesn’t feel that will help him in his CS pursuits (if he tries again next summer for an internship or research, how does he make himself more competitive?).

Beyond summer, what can he be doing to boost his knowledge and chances of being admitted for CS? He’ll be taking 4 APs next year and 2 Honors classes and I don’t know how much time he will have to add new activities but are there other things he can do to help boost his resume?

He isn’t the most ambitious in terms of the type to start a company or invent anything, etc. He is just a very normal kid. I am afraid reading all these extremely accomplished bios in CC has not helped him (looking at the chance me boards seems to cause more anxiety than help when you see how much other teens have achieved). I wish my husband and I were better connected but we aren’t. I know a lot of local teens have gotten internships and research positions through their family connections but we haven’t been able to provide any exposure there. And it is just so competitive.

Seeking advice from all these veteran parents and knowledge students. I am very late in the game as he is my eldest child. I hadn’t realized how crazy college admissions have gotten. My husband and I muse that our son’s resume is as strong as what we did with good grades, clubs, community service, etc and yet we were able to go to a great college albeit MANY years ago. Heck, back then, it was great that we had a paying job at the local fast food chain after school! Things are so different and I just want to help support him somehow (and feeling quite clueless).
If I should be posting this somewhere else, let me know.
Thanks in advance.

1 Like

I don’t have any advice on activities other than I think your son has great ECs already but do want to comment that it isn’t UCs or bust. I know it can be hard for parents to not have the preconceptions of schools from when we went through the process but a lot has changed. CSUs are a great option and if your son can nail his ACT/SAT, there will be plenty of out of state options that should be affordable and provide for a great education.

IMO, let him do what he enjoys naturally and cast a wider net for colleges. Even kids who spend every second doing CS activities and have perfect GPAs and scores are getting shut out of schools if they didn’t have a good range of safety and matches.

A student graduating with a CS degree will be employable no matter where they went to college.

1 Like

When it comes to UCs, ECs are a very small piece of the admissions puzzle. GPA is BY FAR the biggest factor - especially with them test blind now. Honestly, it would probably be best to spend more time on grades and less time on ECs. The UCs are targeting the top few % of HS grads, which by definition means most people won’t make it in.

I don’t know your kid’s stats but, take a look at the freshman admit profile at each UC.
https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/campuses-majors/freshman-admit-data.html

An applicant needs to be above the mid point GPA to be competitive - especially as a CS major. For UCI, that’s 4.1+ UCGPA. If your son is in that range - that link should help you figure out which UC might be a good target. That’s simply not realistic for most kids.

Now for the good news. There are lots of good options for CA CS students with less perfect transcripts. If your son has a UC/CSU GPA in the mid 3s, nearly all of the CSUs would be happy to have him.

A few CSUs to look at as outstanding CS programs grouped by selectivity

  • CSU GPA in the high 3s SDSU, CSULB CPP
  • mid 3s - Fullerton, Chico, Northridge
  • low 3s - Sac
    High 2s - SF State, East Bay

Another place to look is WUE schools - an association of Western pubic colleges that offer big tuition discounts to CA students. Boise State, UNR and CO state are 3 that draw a lot from our area.

Here’s the full list.

Good luck.

1 Like

Since @NCalRent has mentioned WUE schools, allow me to make a plug for Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. NAU gets lots of CA kids who are shut out of the UC’s and are looking for a residential college experience. NAU also offers both WUE discounts and merit aid to OOS students. Merit-based Tuition Scholarships | Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid (Note that ASU and U of AZ do not offer WUE discounts for CS majors but do offer merit aid to OOS students.) When my kid visited NAU I wrote a review of our visit: Parents of the HS Class of 2019 - 3.0 to 3.4 GPA

Thank you so much for all this info. I don’t know too much about the CSUs (besides Cal Poly which is a reach for all in CS and SJSU which I just learned is very difficult as well to get into). How do I research CS programs? I only know of the typical rankings of the well known schools but what should I be looking at for these other schools?
My son strongly prefers to stay in California but I’ll look into WUE schools more.
For the UCs, if they don’t look at ECs much, how are they distinguishing between all these students with 4+ GPAs, that outnumber the amount of seats? It seems the weighted GPA for so many is over 4.0. My son’s grades are fine right now, (weighted is 4.1 or 4.2) but he is only in 10th grade so we’ll see how 11th grade plays out. The problem with the UC admit chart is that it doesn’t break out by major and I know the CS major is harder than most majors. I think he could get into a UC in a different major but he seems set on CS for now…

Seems hard to believe that he would not get into any of UCSC, UCR, and UCM.

For SJSU, past admission thresholds by major are shown on their web site: Freshmen Impaction Results | Admissions

There are 2 Cal poly’s, Pomona and SLO. SLO CS is probably the toughest admit for all applicants, while CPP (Cal Poly Pomona) is a slightly easier admit and still has a very good CS program.

Cal States also give priority to local service area applicants so using the links below you can target your local Cal State as a possible safety. Impacted majors at your local Cal state however are not a guaranteed admission.

Link for local service area: https://www2.calstate.edu/apply/freshman/documents/csulocaladmission-serviceareas.pdf

Link for impacted campuses and majors which could change by the time your student applies: https://www.mjc.edu/studentservices/counseling/cdtc/transfer/impactedprogramsmatrix.pdf

ABET accreditation although not as important for Engineering but something to consider for Computer Science, since it can assure that a college or university program meets the quality standards of the profession for which that program prepares graduates.

https://www.abet.org/accreditation/

My younger son attended SDSU as a CS major and got a great education so have your son
consider some of the CSU’s for his major.

Regarding EC’s, my son did several on-line CS programming courses through Coursera while in HS.

You can also browse through the UC Stats only threads to see the type of EC’s that admitted students were involved for more ideas.

https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/how-to-apply/applying-as-a-freshman/how-applications-are-reviewed.html

that’s the list of UC admission criteria so you can see exactly how they evaluate applicants.

If he maintains his current GPA, he’ll have a good shot at UCM, UCSC and UCR. UCD, UCSB and UCI will probably be a coin toss and the others less than 50/50. He should apply to all of the UCs he’s interested in. He should also apply to several CSUs and even a few privates. CPSLO will be a coin toss, but SDSU, CPP and LB are highly likely admits. A few privates - LMU, USD and Santa Clara for example - weigh ECs more and will probably offer merit aid.

If you look at the SJ admit data @ucbalumnus links above you’ll see and compare prior years (linked on the left) you will notice that the CS threshold varies year to year, its a really tough to forecast. They are one of the few CSUs that consider alternate major so that’s something to consider if he loves the school.

Thank you.
Do the CSUs only allow CS if declared as their major (I assume since so impacted you can’t ever transfer)? Is there a way to take the pre-reqs for the CS major, getting the required gpa and then being able to declare?
Did your son declare as CS? Did he have trouble getting his classes? I’ve heard of CS classes being so impacted.
I know UCB has the L&S option where you can take pre-reqs and get the qualifying GPA and then declare CS (is this guaranteed?). Though I don’t know how hard it is to get those classes or to get the grades. I would not have my son declare into EECS as that seems even more unlikely.

For UCD, is it easier to get into theL&S CS major than the engineering school? Is there the UCB option ( taking the pre-reqs and then being able to declare if achieve the right gpa)?

I thought I read on this board of someone with a 4.4 gpa or something similar that didn’t get into UCSC CS (Hopefully, I’m wrong) or maybe they were waitlisted? That was eye opening!

It is possible, but not assured (usually contingent on college grades / GPA). In addition, getting into the prerequisite courses as a non-CS major or undeclared student may be more difficult if the school gives declared CS majors priority in registering for them.

For example, here is SJSU’s policy on changing into the CS major: Computer Science Change of Major Policy | Department of Computer Science

Thanks for this!- I will look into the LMU, USD and Santa Clara esp if they give merit aid. I’ve only heard of Santa Clara bc of its proximity to Silicon Valley but haven’t heard anything about the CS programs of any of these schools or know anyone who has gone there. I will try to look up employment info (is this type of thing published by major for the schools?).

I really have to have my son take a closer look into UCR and UCM and how their CS depts are regarded, employment data, etc.

UCB L&S CS is described here: Computer Science Bachelor of Arts | EECS at UC Berkeley . Note that the GPA threshold is sometimes changed to manage demand. It was 2.0 some years ago (after the tech bubble crash in the early 2000s), then 3.0 (starting early 2010s?), and now 3.3 (but over a smaller number of prerequisite courses) since 2015.

It is not clear what selectivity differences there are at UCD based on division or major. Page 25 of https://admission.universityofcalifornia.edu/counselors/files/quick-reference.pdf indicates that UCD admits directly to major, so there presumably are selectivity differences. Page 26 says that engineering majors and CS are the most selective there.

For current UCD students changing their major to CS or CSE:

I was waitlisted to UCSC for CS with a 4.5 GPA, 1510 SAT, and 800 math 2. Plenty of classmates with similar stats also got waitlisted to UCSC for CS. I’m not sure why people keep saying that UCSC is a safety school when it clearly isn’t anymore.

4.5 GPA by what calculation?

4.5 was my weighted GPA and 3.96 was my UW GPA in high school. My college counsellor told me my UC Capped GPA was 4.33.

I think it’s important to understand that “all these kids” isn’t really as large a number as the hype seems to suggest. I added up the Freshman enrollment of the USN T20 at one point and it was something like 30,000 students. There aren’t that many kids winning real national competitions.

Beware the hype machine. I could spin the Machine Learning article my daughter “published” to sound like something amazing. The reality is a bit less.

Does a local CC offer CS/software courses? My D is looking there for an advanced math class (rather than the $$$$ “pre-college” money makers at prestigious universities).

For many of the Impacted CSU’s, you are admitted as a Pre-major like SDSU. You then need to take the pre-req courses and maintain a minimum GPA to declare the major. The GPA threshold is a C average 2.0 to declare the major. You are admitted into the Pre-Major so you do get priority on scheduling your classes.

He had no difficulty in getting any of his CS or major related courses. 2 GE’s which were requirements, he was waitlisted but eventually got in.

Note that while the college GPA minimum to declare CS at SDSU is currently 2.0, it may change in the future if the major becomes more popular relative to department capacity, and other majors may have higher minimum GPA requirements.