undergrad computer science

I’m aware that the major “computer science” is very generic and can mean many different things, and almost every school has that major these days. My son is confident that he wants to go into that field, although he can’t be more specific yet. Can anyone provide advice about how to go about choosing the right set of schools to apply to that will give my son a full breadth of understanding about the field? He is an above average student (3.8 GPA, 1400 SAT), lots of AP level classes including AP Comp Sci, from a very competitive high school. Wants to stay on the East Coast or close enough. Not too worried about climate or size of school. Thank you in advance for any help!

I would start off with a couple of the better rankings charts just to get a flavor for the better CS schools. At 3.8/1400 it’s probably unlikely he would get into the tippy-top ones, but you can go a pretty long ways down and still go to a good CS school.

Try these first:

if you use East Coast as a parameter, some target schools to consider: UMD, Penn State, Rutgers, UMass-Amherst, BU, Pitt, Stony Brook, RPI, North Carolina State.

For CS, the better schools a lot of the time tend to be larger state schools, privates are usually not that keen wrt Computer Science, with some notable exceptions of course.

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Thank you Professor Plum! The links and school suggestions are a great help.

The first major decision about CS majors is whether or not to major in CS in a A&S College or in an Engineering School. You can’t really explore that after admissions. If he’s not 100% sure about Engineering school then A&S is a safer choice, offers more flexible classwork in general, and easier admissions. I do not agree that private schools are not good at CS, though certainly publics are fantastic too. To the list above I’d second UMD, Pitt, RPI, and add GWU, Brandeis, and if he’s into Coop maybe Drexel and Northeastern. All these are expensive though. Good luck and if you have any other questions about specific CS programs I’d be happy to help if I can (BS and MS in CS and a hiring manager for CS, husband is also CS hiring manager.) Demand for CS is very high, pay is high, but there are programs out there that don’t deliver-- check out accreditation and placement stats. Compare undergrad curricula to those at top tier CS programs (CMU, UIUC, UC Berkeley, Stanford, JHU).

I agree with what @Techno13 said. My son started off as a CS major at RPI and switched to Information Technology and Web Science without any hassle. Both programs at RPI are highly regarded.

I think that if you give us your home state this may help us give better advice. Your approximate budget might also help.

30 years ago I was seeing a lot of very good software engineers graduating from MIT and Stanford. Now I am seeing a lot of very good software engineers graduating from in-state public universities. U.Mass Amherst, U. of Michigan, U.Wisconsin, and various Universities of California (not just Berkeley) are some schools where I have seen very good software engineers come from. At one point I knew several who had graduated from Rutgers. There are quite a few other public universities that are very good for CS, including the ones that others have mentioned above. Of course there are also a lot of very good software engineers who did their undergrad in their home country and then came to the US for a master’s degree.

The first thing to do might be to evaluate the strength of the program at your in-state public universities.

As the parent, your most important task is doing the financial evaluation and planning so that you know what you can contribute for his college (and that of any other kids). Make the cost constraints clear to him and run the net price calculator on the web site of each college that is mentioned.

Our home state is PA. Pitt is on his list…any sense of the caliber of their program compared to the others your mention? Especially Pitt versus UMD ? Thanks for your help!

Techno13 - Pitt, Maryland, Northeastern already on the list. Will check out the others you mention. For sure he will not go the engineering route. Will also compare curricula to the top tier schools - great idea.

Pitt and PSU. Maybe Case or Ohio State. Bucknell, Lehigh, Lafayette if he likes smaller. His SAT is kind of on the bubble. Good score but another 20-30 points or more would help with merit. What’s your budget?

Case is the poster child for my point about a lot of private schools that are good schools, but not necessarily being good in CS. Case falls into this category.

UMD is one of the top CS programs in the country, certainly in the Top 10-20. Pitt is not there, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a good school. It’s probably very advantageous from a recruiting standpoint that CMU is in the same city, as many employers can do 2 for 1 shopping. Northeastern is also very good for CS, probably a borderline top 20 CS school depending on which ranking you are looking at. If he’s truly interested in Northeastern, he should apply for ED or EA for the school in order to maximize admissions chances.

Please try not to get too caught up in CS rankings. Most CS rankings are based on graduate programs, where things like research and number of publications matter. Those don’t directly apply to undergraduate programs, where teaching should be the main concern. When it comes to the job market, if there’s a field where your own skills and abilities count more than the prestige of your school, it’s CS.

What I would do is look at different programs and see if any offer any kind of specialty or track that looks interesting, e.g., computer games, computer graphics, cybersecurity, AI. And for some people, things like class size matter a lot. Some do fine with big lectures, while others do better in smaller classrooms with maybe 20-40 people. Since it’s unlikely your son went to classes in high school where he sat in lectures halls with hundreds of other students, it’s hard to know beforehand how well he’ll do in those kinds of classes, but he ought to give it some thought.

If your son is interested in smaller schools on the East Coast, look at Marist and Union. Years ago I worked at IBM in the Hudson Valley, and Marist and IBM had a close partnership. From what i can tell, that still exists. I mentioned Union because it has a strong CS program (at least in New York) in relation to most other liberal arts colleges, and I’ve worked with a few excellent programmers who came from there.

“CMU is in the same city”

more like across the street.

Thanks everyone for your truly helpful comments!

I have a question. My son wants to study Computer Science. He was accepted to CS at UMASS Lowell. Although he was accepted to UMASS Amherst, he was not accepted directly to CS. Should he attend Amherst and try to transfer to CS, and he’s not able to, then transfer to Lowell? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

^ Have you talked to any current students or faculty members about the chances of later admission to a UMass-A CS program? One hears about very overcrowded entry level college CS classes. And yet at UMass-A, only about 3% of recently graduating seniors were CS majors. I suspect many 1st year students have little idea what they’re getting into, then wind up switching out.

We are thinking for applying for my Son he is Junior. May I know your Son SAT/ACT scores and GPA please

We are thinking for applying for my Son he is Junior. May I know your Son SAT/ACT scores and GPA please

Does anyone have a good resource for exploring CS majors?

I’m asking becuase my son is firmly interested in CS but more in software programming than hardware engineering. He is a creative thinker, very strong in LA and fairly strong in math but not tippy top in math. There are a few schools on our list that offer A&S CS degrees and we anticipate that it would be easier to get into that college at some moderately selective schools but we are a low tech family and pretty clueless about all this. TIA