Breaking into tech at undergraduate level

By David Tian

(Admissions Consultant at The Edge Learning Center)

The number of college students majoring in or who intend to major in computer science has skyrocketed in the past, more than doubling since 2013. Indeed, the major has become so popular that some of the top universities for computer science – including the University of Michigan, UIUC, and UT Austin – will not even allow students to switch into the major if they weren’t accepted for it right from their freshman year. 

With the lure of high-paying jobs, the possibility of remote work (you do not have to be in an office to hammer out lines of code on your computer), and a flexible work-life balance, it is little wonder that students are drawn to the major in droves, and colleges are having a hard time keeping up with demand.

As recently as just a decade ago, having demonstrated a passion for computer science and programming during high school was likely enough to give an applicant a leg up in the application process. Nowadays, students with extensive experience in programming and coding are common, and it will take a lot more to stand out than ever before. 

You might be wondering what we can do to help you or your child create a strong application for the computer science major at various universities. 

Before getting started, I would like to clear up a common misconception that non-CS majors seem to have about the field: It does not take a genius to learn computer science fundamentals. So long as you have the determination and grit, there really is nothing in a standard computer science undergraduate curriculum that you cannot learn. That said, though it is not as wildly difficult as some perceive it to be, it is not a cakewalk either, and you should expect to work extremely hard to succeed.

First, try out the field of computer science for yourself to see if you even enjoy it before committing to it. Nowadays, there are no shortage of ways for students to learn computer science at the university level before setting foot on campus, including various online platforms. My personal favorite is Coursera, which offers an extremely popular specialization called Python for Everybody, offered in partnership with the University of Michigan. There are five courses in the specialization, which in their totality cover approximately the same amount of material as an introductory course in college for those with no background in Python whatsoever. You can even get each course for free by clicking “Financial Aid Available” on each course’s webpage. The courses are extremely well taught and are what I used to start learning computer science. Bonus: you can earn certificates that you can put on your eventual application to college! That’s exactly what I did for my application for graduate school, and I am now getting a master’s in computer science from an Ivy League university.

Next, if you already have the rudiments of programming down and are certain you want to go into it as a career, keep practicing it regularly, and look beyond “just coding.” Developers don’t just make programs for no reason; they make programs to solve problems. To truly stand out in your application to universities, it would benefit you to have an end-goal in mind for your coding. As an example of what that looks like, check out this article from the New York Times, which mentions a student from Mongolia who wanted to use technology to develop a garage siren system to warn children playing in apartment driveways of incoming cars. Another example would be a student who uses his or her knowledge of computing and engineering to build a robotic hand that can help interpret spoken language for Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Certainly, both of these examples are very unusual achievements (and admittedly, are more computer engineering than pure computer science) and well above the average applicant, but with competition to top universities as stiff as it is these days, you really will have to go that extra mile to stand out.

Finally, look beyond the Ivy League and other universities whose brands are household names. Many high-achieving students who work with The Edge consultants vye for the usual suspects – Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Cornell, etc. But the beauty of computer science is that in general, where you go matters less than what you are able to do. The field of software development is not like other subjects, in which brand name matters that much. In particular, there are many excellent public universities that offer top-notch programs in computer science. Georgia Tech is a particularly good one, as are Purdue University, University of Maryland – College Park, and Virginia Tech. Still, top universities are renowned for a reason, and they may offer better facilities and a more vibrant peer group to study with.

Overall, if you are looking for a rewarding and lucrative future career while having the opportunity to impact thousands if not millions of lives, computer science might just be the major for you.

For more guidance on how best to prepare for these programs, simply give us a ring or contact us today to book an initial meeting with David! 

About The Edge

Established in 2008, The Edge Learning Center has grown into a premier one-stop provider of educational services for Grade 7 through Grade 12, targeting students who intend to pursue overseas education. Our three departments – Academic Tutoring, Test Preparation, and Admissions Consulting – offer a broad range of educational services spanning from SAT and IB Test Prep to colleges and boarding schools application counseling. The Edge Learning Center operates in multiple regions including Hong Kong, China, and Vietnam.