Possible to major in CS at these colleges, if not initially accepted into CS Dept?

DS21 currently thinks he will major in some combination of math and physics but he is also good at CS and would like to keep that option open. Could anyone comment as to whether or not it is possible to major in CS if one is not initially admitted into the CS dept? We are NC residents.

U Alabama
U Alabama Huntsville
Georgia Tech
U Penn


I suggest checking the web pages of each college or talking with admissions reps.

The scope of your question is pretty broad, and just because it is possible does not mean it is easy. You need to do your own due diligence if you want to be sure your son won’t get shut out of his major or that policies haven’t changed at each college.

I can tell you that MIT will let you major in whatever they offer. Others on your list make you apply to a particular college/department.

Your son needs to do that research by contacting the CS Dept at each school. Be aware that things can change quickly. So are the times. Do not just go by website info.

“just because it is possible does not mean it is easy”


When digging into each department, ask specific questions about the numbers of students/year they accept from outside of the major.

Many schools will say ‘yes’ to the question and give you the GPA threshold, but if the major is closed, it won’t matter.

Tech schools like GA Tech, MIT, and Caltech open up majors to all their students, so that wouldn’t be a problem. All the other schools, you’d have to check individually. Public schools tend to be a lot more competitive than private schools for majors like CS. I know that the schools in AL aren’t terribly competitive like the ones in NC, so it would be easier to switch from there. AL is an underrepresented region, so there’s not as big of a population to contend with.

As an IT professional, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter where he graduates anyway. 99% of what he learns will be on the job. In fact, after 3 years experience, employers don’t even ask about college.

CMU accepts students into specific colleges, and the School of Computer Science is a stand-alone school. Transferring in from another school is extremely difficult.

quote=“coolguy40;c-22910383”]As an IT professional, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter where he graduates anyway. 99% of what he learns will be on the job. In fact, after 3 years experience, employers don’t even ask about college.


Getting that first job to gain those first three years, it certainly does. And having those first three years at Apple/SpaceX/MS, enabled by school/GPA, will make a difference. At least based on my 30 years in the IT industry, the last 15 of which were heavily involved in hiring decisions.

Northeastern does not admit by major although you indicate a major when you apply. You are admitted to the university.

Thanks very much for your help. He feels strongly about sticking with math and physics but I would much prefer him to keep his options open for now.

A private university generally allows students to switch to a different major (including CS) unless it’s housed in a different college or school (such as CMU, UPenn, Duke on your list) within the university. Public universities tend to have barriers to limit the number of students in some of most popular majors (including CS).

It is usually large public schools that are relatively high in admission selectivity that have this issue with CS (and engineering majors), since they have large numbers of students who are interested and academically capable of doing the CS major.

Less selective public schools are less likely to have this problem, since many of the students find CS too hard to want to major in it. Small colleges (public or private) are less likely to have this problem if they have a decent number of CS faculty, since the number of potential CS majors is limited by the overall college size.

But check each college individually before applying to avoid unpleasant surprised after enrolling.

MIT does not admit by major. If you are accepted, then you can major in anything that you want to. You pick your major at the end of your freshman year. They also have a “math with computer science” major in addition to their normal computer science major (which has somewhat more EE than I would have personally wanted). It is of course a reach for the strongest students and out of reach for everyone else.

I expect that some others of these schools do not admit by major, but I could not tell you which ones. It would take some digging on each school’s web site to figure it out (unless someone here can comment for each school).

You may want to seek out the Princeton Review’s college guide, which offers a sampling, “Great Schools for Mathematics Majors.”