Safety/Match/Reach?

This is a question about going for a degree in Computer Science when one has great grades in high school computer science, good grades in Physics/Chem/Biology and mediocre grades in math. Here are some statements I’ve come across while perusing this site :

-Avoid large public universities that weed students out. Questions: do public universities really do this more than privates? Do large schools (public or private) do this more than smaller schools? p.s. I’ve read the New York Times on this subject. It has the scary info about weeding, but does not specifically mention the type of school, with regards to it.

-Go to school where comp sci’ is not in the college of engineering. Questions: 1) are colleges of engineering truly harder to get into than getting into the arts & sciences and then trying to transfer to engineering? 2) Do employers look down on programs where the Comp Sci major is not within the school of Engineering? 3) Can you offer a list of schools where this is the case? ( a description of my son’s stats is at the end). 4) What about going to a lower tier school and being accepted into engineering?

-Aim for a school that is below the level of your stat profile. (i.e. make sure that even the weakest aspects of your profile are above average within the program you attend). This doesn’t just help you get in, but also succeed. Questions: 1) Which looks better to employers, a better school with good grades in comp sci courses and barely scraping by in math or a school a tier down where the comp sci grades will likely be even higher and more decent math grades? (he has zero idea if a graduate degree is in his future, so we have to operate with that as an unknown).

-math classes in college are more difficult than their counterparts in high school. Question: true or false (assuming you go to a school on par with your stats)?

-if you declare your interest in computer science, admissions will look more closely at your math grades. Question: is this only the case when applying to an Engineering College?

Additional questions:

How important is it to do well on the AP computer science test? Obviously, it’d be great to do well, from a financial standpoint. But, does it look bad to have taken the class, gotten a good grade, and then do so-so (say a 3) on the test?

What about pursuing a BA in comp sci, rather than a BS? I’ve seen it described that the BA might be more for students who are looking to have careers outside of the world of computer science, but where some computer science is necessary. In comparing the BS to the BA degree at schools that have both, however, it looks like the BA makes more room for liberal arts and science classes (by having fewer math and CS requirements), BUT it doesn’t stop you from using the majority of your electives to take most of the same CS courses as someone with a BS. Question: How would that go down with employers? If it depends on the discipline within the field of computer science, which ones might care the least?

Here are my son’s stats (he’s a junior at a good public high school). :

Freshman year: CP Geometry, B+. Honors Physics, B. (does the algebra 1 grade from 8th grade matter?). Overall weighted GPA 3.47 (would have been a 3.76, had he not completely bombed music!).

Sophomore year: CP Algebra 2, B+. CP Chemistry, A-. Honors Comp Sci A+. Overall weighted GPA 3.82.

Junior year thus far: CP precalc, C+. Biology, A (plans to take AP bio next year). AP Comp Sci, A. Honors Networking, A. Overall GPA 3.8-would be a 4.0, if he could get precalc to a B

As you can see, his math and science grades are quite reasonable, but they are in CP level and his grade in precalc is not promising.

Also, his SAT math is 640 (verbal 710). Meh.

He is not very motivated to work harder to get his math or SAT score up (grrr); therefore, we need to operate within the above parameters in our college search.

I welcome help with any or all of my questions. Obviously, there are a lot. The college search just feels overwhelming with all of these unknowns. Thanks in advance.

Look at each individual college to see whether it has secondary admission to the CS major that requires high college grades or GPA. Do not generalize about public versus private, although it is most common to find higher secondary admission criteria at large universities that are selective like popular state flagships. Such secondary admission requirements exist because the number of interested in capable students exceeds the capacity of the CS department to handle.

Some universities do admit some CS students directly into the major, but CS may be more selective than the university overall.

  1. At a university where the engineering division is more selective for frosh admission, changing into it later after enrolling will require a secondary admission process that may require high college grades or GPA.
  2. No.
  3. Lots of colleges. Some larger universities offer CS both in the engineering and arts and science divisions. A few universities have CS as its own division (e.g. CMU, UCI).

Engineering-based CS majors typically require more math and non-CS science courses, but check each college for the specifics.

Note that more selective colleges tend to have higher grade inflation, so it is not assured that a student’s college GPA will be higher at a less selective college.

Employers commonly have cut-off GPAs as part of how they select college applicants for interviews. The most common cut-off GPA is 3.0. So the difference between 2.9 and 3.1 may be a lot bigger for getting interviews out of college than the difference between 3.1 and 3.4.

College generally requires the student to do more of one’s own self-motivation and time management; students who need close supervision in high school to stay on track may have difficulty in their first semester of college.

College math courses cover material faster than in high school, unless the student has taken calculus BC over one year immediately after completing precalculus (i.e. not a two-year calculus AB-BC sequence).

It depends on the college.

The college’s AP credit policy will show whether the student gets advanced placement.

Do not worry about the degree title BA versus BS. Consider the actual required courses and elective space.

Regarding stats and grades, unweighted GPA in academic courses is more useful for others to help you determine reach/match/likely/safety.

Also, as the parent, have you done the financial planning for paying for college, and run net price calculators on the web sites of various colleges that may be possible (e.g. your in-state public universities and any private schools of interest)?

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I agree with the above. Will your S also have 4 years of SS, English and FL? What math class will he take next year?

If you give us his unweighted core course GPA, budget, state, and desired college qualities (geography, size, etc.) posters will be able to give you a good college list, categorized by reach/match/safety.

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You say, Meh, with these scores, but almost all students at my high school would love to have them. We have students with scores like this (or lower) who do well in CS. It almost doesn’t matter which school they go to. They seem to have a lot of knowledge and insight about computers before going in and just continue at whatever school (small LAC to large U). Often there are high 5 and lower 6 digit job offerings for those who are good.

One school coming to mind that is often a choice is RIT - though that school is pricey so see if it fits your budget. It’s a Co-op school. Drexel is too, but from our area not so many students like where Drexel is. I mention those two, but seriously, students have gone to so many places and it just doesn’t seem to matter all that much from my POV.

With any school, ask where recent CS majors have been hired. If you like what you see and can match their CS knowledge/accomplishments, one should be fine.

Those who choose CS without talent for it often don’t do so well, so keep that in mind. Ditto that for engineering or whatever. Just because a a job pays well doesn’t mean “anybody” can do it enough to get hired for well paying jobs.

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All large public universities with well-regarded CS programs have special entry barriers to the CS major. Some courses that have been considered weed-out courses aren’t necessarily intentional and they’re just part of their CS cores. Some private univesities with highly asymmetrical student interest in CS (e.g. CMU) also adopt similar practices.

Whether the CS department at a university is in the engineering division or liberal arts division (or both) has often to do with the history of the department. If CS department started primarily by the math department, it’s likely in the liberal arts division (othewise in the engineering division). The core CS curriculum is usually similar regardless of which division the CS department is in. However, the engineering division typically has its own requirements in addition to the CS core (such as physics and basic engineering courses). The liberal arts division may have its own breadth requirements (such as language courses).

The math requirement tend to be similar for a CS degree (whether BA or BS) in either division (i.e. the same math courese as required by the CS core). However, different subfields of CS have very different additional math “requirements”. These “requirements” are implicit and one can look up these “requirements” by checking the prerequisites of the courses in those subfields.

I agree with ucbalumnus to not generalize public vs private or large vs small in terms of “weed out”. My D’s large public flagship has a ton of academic supports for students, especially the first year courses. Students need to avail themselves of the help but there are tutoring rooms in all of the dorms, review sessions, office hours both for profs and TAs, etc… My advice to students is always to go to everything, even if you don’t think you “need it.”

“Are colleges of engineering truly harder to get into than getting into the arts & sciences and then trying to transfer to engineering?”

At many schools, the CS department is in the A&S or CoS and can be even more competitive to get into than engineering. Totally depends on the school. And as noted but UCB…it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible to change major/college later.

“What about going to a lower tier school and being accepted into engineering?”

CS and Engineering students are in high demand. Schools like Clarkson U are less selective for admission but have fabulous career outcomes. I’d encourage you to look at the first destination surveys of the schools you are exploring. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcomes/salaries.

IMO, your safety schools should be set by using the weakest part of your student’s application and should be at schools with +70% acceptance rates. You can’t be “too safe” with your safety schools. Without them, your student could be left with no acceptances. I wouldn’t worry about the tier of the school and employment. You want a school where your child is going to succeed.

-math classes in college are more difficult than their counterparts in high school. Question: true or false (assuming you go to a school on par with your stats)?

In my D’s experience yes, college math was, much harder than HS. The pace is much faster and it’s much much more in depth. Remember, colleges teach a years worth of material in 1 semester. Much more applied/creative thinking is necessary as well. Exams aren’t regurgitation - it’s take what we’ve taught you and apply it to a novel problem in a short time constraint.

-if you declare your interest in computer science, admissions will look more closely at your math grades. Question: is this only the case when applying to an Engineering College?

Math is going to matter for any STEM subject. There is no way around taking college math if you want to be a CS major, regardless of if it’s offered in college of science or college of engineering. High school math grades are going to be important.

Additional questions:

How important is it to do well on the AP computer science test? Obviously, it’d be great to do well, from a financial standpoint. But, does it look bad to have taken the class, gotten a good grade, and then do so-so (say a 3) on the test?

High grades in the class and mediocre or poor performance on the AP could be a red flag to colleges that your child’s school has grade inflation.

I will add that I have some concerns about your post. This quote in particular was a big red flat to me: “He’s is not very motivated to work harder to get his math or SAT score up.”

Your son will need to work his tail off in college if he’s going to be a CS major. There is no coasting along. The work ethic needs to start sooner rather than later. And it isn’t too late. If he can show improvement this semester and do well first semester of next year, he can prove to colleges that he can do the work.

Why AP bio next year? For a CS major, I think AP physics is going to be more helpful.

Lastly, you need to look at your child’s unweighted GPA. Colleges are going to see your student’s actual letter grades. Cs in math and a low math SAT are going to be issues for entry into CS. CS is one of the hottest majors right now and he’ll be competing with students with much higher grades and higher course rigor.

There will be a college for your child but you need to be realistic.

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-Can I interpret the first part of your answer to mean that it IS harder to do at a large university than a smaller one, but that there are exceptions?
-Does this mean that there are schools that admit students directly into the major, but not by virtue of the major being in their school of Engineering and having to apply to that?

-When it’s in both, is the general rule that the one in engineering is a BS and the one in L A&S is a BA?
-“CMU”?, “UCI?”. Not familiar

  • are employers aware of this and take it into account?
  • what you say here aside, once above the cutoff, do the grades matter all that much?

This will be a huge issue for him then. In fact, he has ADD and very mild Aspergers. I’m looking at schools that have support programs for these issues. I am addressing that in a different post. Where it affects the issues raised in this post is whether to head for a lower tier school when the only area I anticipate his issue impacting him dramatically is math (see his stats below)

-This is not information I’ve been able to find on college websites. Am I missing something or is it a matter of calling each school to find out?

I’m aware of this. My question is more whether it looks bad if the AP test grade is discordant with one’s grade in the class (with the latter being the better one)?

-I’m assuming this means the BS students are given priority over the BA students in cases where a class is required for the major vs not?
-how can I find out whether a school has a good track record in terms of elective space (if it’s a matter of calling the individual schools, would you anticipate their being honest in their respective answers?).

This is actually a question that I’d intended to ask by post in a more general college admissions topic. If the answers of others on Quora preclude weighting the GPA, does this mean colleges do the same? Otherwise, the advice with regards to this question in this forum would not be applicable. Colleges seem to care a lot about the rigor of courses. Wouldn’t weighing the GPA be a function of rigor? Why do it if not?

Also a question for a separate, more general post. I’m trying to focus on computer science here. Picking the best program academically (not only with name recognition, but where he can be successful) is more of a factor than price. Once the list is narrowed down, however, if there are two schools that fit the bill (no pun intended :), finances could be the tie-breaker.

Next year is Calculus. He, right now, has a C+/B- in precalc with a great teacher. The rumor is precalc is harder than Calc at his school, but the teacher isn’t nearly as good. He will Also, this year’s teacher has told me that, because of virtual learning, Precalc is easier this year than typically. Not only do his math grades not reflect how he does in his other courses, but they will have gone down from Sophomore to Junior year and will, potentially, go down further senior year. I’m aware that colleges do not like this.

He will have taken 4 years of all of the above, except foreign language, wherein he’s actually taking it up a notch. He transferred schools between sophomore and junior year and his new school doesn’t offer Mandarin. He is working with his previous teacher outside of school to try to pass the AP Chinese test (unfortunately, however, he won’t be able to take it until the spring of senior year). I’m actually hoping that Chinese is going to be his golden ticket in helping him stand out from less diverse Comp Sci students with better math grades!

Once again, I’m trying to keep this post more focused on CS. That said, he doesn’t have a ton of preferences beyond he doesn’t like the idea of rural or too hot. I’d say south of the latitude of the southern border of Tennessee would, at least, be a tie-breaker and, at most, be a deal-breaker.

-I don’t anticipate that he wouldn’t do well in the actual CS courses, more that schools where he would do well in CS courses wouldn’t let him in or he wouldn’t be successful, because of the lower math grades and SAT scores (eg Rennesalear, Binghamton and Stonybrook) .
-Drexel is lower down, because their math requirements are much heavier than other schools (even if you go for the BA rather than the BS). RIT is pretty up there on our list already (although the male:female ratio is 75:25 and I fear he will never get a girlfriend given his social issues).

This, unfortunately, won’t mean much to me, because I don’t know good companies from bad. My husband might be of help here, but quora answers are welcome, as well.

It is typical for me that answers to questions just open up more questions, so I appreciate anyone who is willing to bear with me! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

Hi, I’ve answered your question within that of my answer to Uculumbus. If you wouldn’t mind checking in there, I’d appreciate it. Maybe you have some input about some other things I’ve asked therein too!

What would be some examples of this (We are looking more in the range of RIT and University of Delaware than anything like Carnegie Melon)?

Can you give a few more examples of this too?

Would doing well in everything but math be considered “unsuccessful?”

I’m going to cry

Because AP Physics would likely be just as hard for him as Precalc/Calc. The honors physics, in which he got a B freshman year, was part of the school’s “Physics First” program. I can’t imagine it was as math heavy as one wherein students have taken more math already and it was REALLY stressful for him

  • Many schools seem to accept Biology for their CS science requirement. Given this, I was hoping maybe schools that offer this don’t care as much about what sciences you take in high school.

but don’t they look at whether it is an honors or AP level as well? Surely a B+ in AP Biology looks better than an A- in regular biology? How do you quantify that in any way other than weighted scores?

Thank you!!1

One thing you really need to take into account is how heavily math based cs is going to be. For a student who doesn’t really excel in math, he may want to explore some other subjects. CS is also super competitive when applying, with it being one of the most impacted majors. Schools may not like seeing a student declining in math who wants to be a stem major. You may want to look at more BA type computer science programs as these can be less competitive admissions wise. You may also want to look at cs adjacent majors like creative computing or information science.

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Agree completely with @ohioansenior2021. CS is going to require several upper level college math classes. They will be much much harder and move several times faster than CP level. I don’t think it is a good fit for a kid who struggles in math. It also may prevent admission as CS programs are often more difficult to get in than the rest of the university and they focus on math grades and scores.

Why is he interested in CS? Most kids drawn to that as a career are great at math. My senior son got an A in BC Calc and announced after it was over that he was very glad he wasn’t going into engineering :joy:. CS is similar with its demands on math. He will also be required to take math based sciences like Physics.

You mention RPI. Look at the math requirements. All will require Calculus and he must take several levels above college calculus. This is typical for CS.

Again I would look at a major where your son will be successful. A weak math student will not do well in CS.

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I think you need to look at schools very specifically. My D attends a LAC that has two different CS majors - CS and CS with Math. The CS major has 5 CS requirements and NO required math classes while the CS with Math has a ton of math requirements (up to Calc 3, number theory, abstract algebra plus another math elective). They do not admit by major so there isn’t a different set of admission criteria but it would be a reach for your S based on his stats anyway. There must be other schools with a similar set up, you just need to find them. This is where if he has a preference for large/small, urban/rural, distance from home, folks here can help find options.

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Very good point. Most tech based schools like RPI will not offer that option. A LAC may be a better way to go.

CS requires a fair amount of math and understanding of math principles. Maybe look at other degrees tied to CS like Information Management or something like Digital Marketing. Some of these types of programs are in the business schools at various colleges.

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There are enough exceptions that making assumptions based on the size of the university is likely to lead to mistakes. It is really necessary to check each individual university to see the following:

  • Whether the student applies to the major, division, or school overall.
  • If the student applies to the major or division, is there the possibility of being admitted to the school but not the major or division.
  • If the student enrolls at the school but not in the desired major or division, what criteria are there for declaring the desired major.
    Note that some universities’ engineering divisions start students at engineering undeclared, first year engineering, general engineering, etc. but have a secondary admission to major process to declare specific engineering majors.

It is sometimes the case the CS in engineering leads to a BS while CS in arts and science leads to a BA, but the degree title should not be considered important.

CMU = Carnegie Mellon University
UCI = University of California, Irvine

In most cases, college GPA is one of the filters to get to an interview; once at the interview, it is performance at the interview that matters. Interviews for computing jobs typically include technical questions.

Less selective universities often have fewer resources for disability support and general academic support, although this type of thing does individually vary across universities.

Many colleges choose not to be transparent about admission policies and procedures.

Such a thing probably reflects poorly on the high school.

Degree title (BS versus BA) is not important by itself, although if BS versus BA students declare major earlier or later, that can matter. What can be important is how the school prioritizes enrollment by (declared) major, class level, or other criteria. Most colleges do not publicly post such information, at least in easy to find places. One example of such prioritization for CS courses can be found here: Getting into CS Classes | EECS at UC Berkeley .

Weighting from your student’s high school may not be the same as the weighting from another high school or the weighting that a university uses when recalculating an applicant’s high school GPA. Unweighted high school GPA is more comparable generally, unless the university in question has a specific recalculation method that you use to compare the student’s high school GPA to the profile of that university.

Not a golden ticket. Might be slightly noticed if he is not a heritage speaker and that is obvious (there are plenty of heritage speakers of Chinese and other foreign languages showing 5 scores on AP tests).

Typical CS major math requirements:

  • Single variable calculus (similar material as AP calculus BC in high school)
  • Linear algebra
  • Discrete math
  • Upper level CS theory courses that are basically like math courses
  • Multivariable calculus (if the CS major is engineering-based or requires calculus-based physics E&M)
  • Optional additional CS theory and math courses for specific areas of CS (e.g. algebra and number theory for cryptography)
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I also think you are underestimating how much math is going to be required for a CS major, regardless of BA vs BS. And as noted, many schools are going to require physics as well. Taking physics in HS over the course of the whole year will help your child have a better foundation for the material when they get to college.

Math is a foundational course for CS. My D’s university and many others we looked at specifically said they looked more closely at HS grades in math and sciences.

What state do you live in? If you have regional universities in your area, look into their programs. Many offer solid programs and could be good safety schools. There is a thread somewhere on CC that another poster started for finding CS/Engineering schools for a student with less than perfect stats. I wish I could find it to link for you but I struggle with the search engine here.

Certainly an honors class is going to look more rigorous than a regular course but that will be listed on the transcript. It will say “AP bio” along side the grade.

Using weighted GPA is meaningless because every HS has their own weighting scale. At my D’s school a 92 was a B+ and there was no extra weight for an AP class over honors. That’s why colleges request the school report along with the transcript to see the grading scales, grade distribution, etc…

Does your school use Naviance? If so, ask for a meeting with your guidance counselor and see where students with stats similar to your son have been accepted for CS.

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Out of curiosity, might I ask where your D goes to school?

Look at Informatics or Computing rather than CS.

Examples

https://www.uc.edu/programs/program.html?cpp=18BC-IT-BSIT-IT-NS
https://ist.psu.edu/prospective/undergraduate/academics/sra

https://ist.psu.edu/prospective/undergraduate/academics/cybersecurity

https://ist.psu.edu/prospective/undergraduate/academics/eti

All of the above majors require much less math than CS but do require a lot of technical classes.

Those CS majors have less math than usual ==>

Unless his math placement test places him in college algebra, his first college math course will be equivalent to calculus AB except compressed into 4 months instead of 9. And at big universities this will be weedout, meaning it will be designed to fail or result in a D or C for a certain percentage of students. So, you want to strengthen his math reasoning skills and precalculus/calculus background as much as possible. The 5 CS programs would be appropriate for students who have a math background similar to your child’s.

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She goes to Colgate University.

@OliveLewis consider a safety like Capitol Technology University

Your son likely would get merit$. Lots of hands on learning. Lots of paid internships.

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