Northeastern Data Science vs. Computer Science major at Khoury

My Northeastern incoming freshman has already switched between DS and CS majors 3 times, and might switch a few more times before classes start! :crazy_face:

My question is: for kids who don’t know enough about either major (especially DS), or what they might enjoy more, how do 17-yrs olds decide which major to pick?

Can someone please provide some nuance, specifically at Northeastern?

They may not have to decide right now, but hopefully, understanding what’s involved, how the 2 majors differ, and what type of student is better suited for one or another might help them mentally prepare for what’s ahead.

Thank you!

MOST freshmen change, usually to a close “neighbor” of their previous choice and sometimes… not at all. Or they decide to combine, major/minor!
What you and they need to check is how easy it it to switch majors and have a major/minor combination.

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@PengsPhils will be able to help.

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You’re right, many are going to change majors. Mine is planning a combined major. NU makes it easy to switch majors right now, and from what I understand it’ll be fairly easy to switch even after they start.

I think that my question has value. Data Science, especially, has different flavors, depending on the school.

I’d love to hear from NU folks about their insights with the curriculum in the 2 majors, anecdotal experiences, and any advice they may have to offer for incoming freshmen.

I’m hoping @PengsPhils will!

He’s been very helpful with our college decision (and you’ve responded to me before too), and my teen is truly excited to attend NU!

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yes your question has value! :slight_smile: I didn’t mean to imply it didn’t, but rather, that when a student hesitates, it’s perfectly normal for them to do so, and very common if they decide then change their minds.

Data Science has more math and data mining.
CS has concentrations and requires cybersecurity courses.
The combined degrees are different.

@PengsPhils ?

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The kid wasn’t a “techie” at school despite taking AP CS, one other CS class, and science/math classes. So I can sense an ambivalence now, trying to visualize which major might be a good fit.

I think making it to easy to switch majors also can make it even more confusing sometimes. It’s tempting to give up when you have to work hard in a weed-out class, especially for kids who haven’t had to struggle academically in HS.

So, it might help to get a good understanding of the majors now and commit fully, knowing well that if it doesn’t work out there are other options.

The major has changed so much over the years. There was no cyber security in my CS core curriculum eons ago! :slight_smile:

My response times might be overestimated here with 3 mentions in less than 8 hours :joy:

First off, switching between CS and DS is drop dead easy, and many classes are shared, so the good news is that indecision is very much okay here! I’d say that the “how” of this will likely be covered in the second and third semester sof classes more than anything I or anyone else can say on this forum!

For Northeastern specifically, there are actually two DS intro paths, and one shares with CS, so no matter what, make sure to start there with CS2500 (Fundies 1) which is a unique course in the curriculum (see Developing Developers) for more on why. The DS path would be for someone who knows with 100% certainty they want to do DS. So in terms of coursework, there will literally be no difference in the first semester.

Even within the CS degree there are different concentrations (AI, Systems, Theory, Software) though there’s a lot more time to choose there. The cybersecurity program is actually its own degree rather than a concentration, though it shares a good deal of classes.

With that said, here’s how I’d personally differentiate:

CS is for people who like building things, whether that be apps, platforms, operating systems, tools, etc. You will likely want to have some product interest in what that thing you’re building is.

DS is for people who like to study things to draw conclusions. It uses programming, but mainly as a gateway to math and statistics work that then informs the decisions that CS (or people in general) use to make decisions. It’s less about making the decisions than providing the best information possible to make the best decision.

At the technical level, DS is more mathy / conceptual and CS is more about “design”. So stronger math students will probably enjoy DS more, speaking in generalities.

With those, it’s really just guess and check. I wouldn’t be worried about the flexibility leading to giving up given that the starting path is what’s actually shared, and neither path is easier than the other objectively. You’ll really only know for sure by doing. The program is not designed to weed out either. You may even find doing a co-op in each is worthwhile to see! Doing extracurriculars in both is another good way to try and see what fits best.

I do generally recommend people start with CS though, as it’s the “umbrella”. It’s a bit easier as you go down the path to go CS to DS than DS to CS from a mental perspective IMO. Same goes with CS to cybersecurity. IMO those immediate specializations are for people who are confident in it. The mere sign that the flopping has happened to me is a sign to stick with CS for now and then let it take its course from there :slight_smile:


Lol! I might have as well tagged you in my original post, but I felt bad to ask yet another question!

My teen read your detailed reply (thank you!) and will stick to CS. I said the SAME thing early on during the first flip-flop - to start with CS and then switch to DS, but they had to hear it from someone else!

Thank you, this is indeed very helpful, and I hope it helps others who’re searching for the same information here.

I would recommend your child switching to the explore program! I was in the explore program (for undeclared students) at NU and I couldn’t recommend it more. It’s still very beneficial even if your child is debating between a few different majors. You will get an Explore advisor, and that advisor will teach a seminar your first semester (1-hour class a week) with 20 other Explore students. They do tons of fun activities just bonding and lots of activities with career service advisors, and other things to help you figure out what your strengths/weaknesses are, what you’re interested in and how that can translate into a major and a job. There’s lots of events for Explore students to go to, such as the Meet the Majors fairs where professors join in the ballroom and you go around and have time to speak with professors and students from all different majors and you get a sense of what types of classes are offered, what types of co-ops would be available, etc. Check out this link to the Explore program’s Instagram:
like I said, I started out at Northeastern in the Explore program and it was amazing!!


Thank you for sharing your experience! I’m glad the Explore program was helpful, and I’m also heartened by your enthusiasm for NU!

My student has narrowed down to technology through a process of elimination of other fields. One of the reasons for committing to NU was the flexibility in switching majors, doing combined majors and adding minors. So, hopefully, floating around in Khoury, and dabbling in CS-Business combined major will be an exploration by itself.

I’ll share your post with my teen. It might still be an option.

Thank you, and good luck to you!

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Of course! I see your username says midwest, so I’m assuming you guys are from the midwest (correct me if I’m wrong). I’m also from the midwest (Wisconsin), so if you or your son has any questions/concerns about moving to Boston feel free to reach out!

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Thank you!! I’ll definitely keep that in mind if there are questions!

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