Computer Science is one of the more popular intended majors of incoming first-year college students. But the number who enter college intended towards the Computer Science majors at most colleges is far smaller than the number who declare the major in the sophomore year. The expectations of the freshman were not close to the reality they saw in their classes. To be fair, this is also true of many first-year college students who began their college education interested in the sciences or engineering.

Computer Science is one of the more difficult majors in college because the required courses in the major go in sequence—the knowledge gained in each class builds up from the prerequisite taken before—and because the required courses outside the major in areas such as Calculus or Physics do, too. It’s very easy for a prospective Computer Science major to become discouraged if s/he had far less enthusiasm for these subjects in high school.

The answers to these five questions below may help the prospective Computer Science major who is still in high school to consider whether it is the right major to pursue in college.

  • Do you prefer to work with hardware or software? Those who prefer to work with computers and systems have the option of earning certificates that could lead to lucrative jobs in less time than it takes to earn a college degree. Hardware enthusiasts might also prefer to study in an engineering program where they could learn more about the principles behind building computers or systems. Those who prefer to program could code and land positions as programmers or technicians who tinker and debug existing software packages or write code of their own.
  • Do you tinker with hardware or software in high school? The most selective schools that consider prospective a prospective compute science major like to see not only excellent grades, but demonstrated enthusiasm through part-time work or extracurricular activities. FIRST Robotics teams are one example, as is a passion for electronic music.
  • How are your Math and Science grades and test scores? A four-year college will expect excellence in these subjects if admissions to the Computer Science major are highly competitive or “capped.” A good admissions office that works at a school with such a program is going to favor the applicants who are most likely to succeed in the pre-requisite courses, and later be admitted to the major. While a computer programmer or systems analyst does not really need four semesters of Calculus, as one example, to be a successful professional, the pre-requisite is not going away from many degree programs in Computer Science.
  • How do you learn these subjects? The best programmers and system developers have strong intuitions. They often learn on their own with little to no help from others, unless they are required to be part of a team at school or at work.
  • Do you have other interests besides computers? The people who have the most rewarding careers around hardware or software tend to have a second interest that helps them to succeed in internships, co-ops and full-time employment. That second interest might be in business, finance, biological sciences, music or public policy, among other subjects. The most successful computer science professionals are lifelong learners not only in computing, but also in that second interest.

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” but the student has a passion for computing, it would be a good idea for the student and their parents to seek tutoring or consider a Computer Science program that offers a more direct path than a traditional college degree, or consider a school where s/he can minor in Computer Science and choose courses that are complementary to other academic interests.

If the answer to all of these questions is “no,” then consider another major.

Need assistance in considering Computer Science and other college majors? Contact me at stuart@educatedquest.com or call me at 609-406-0062.

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