Applying as a CS Major: Part 1


It’s no surprise that so many students in the Silicon Valley hope to major in computer science in college, and if you’re reading this, maybe you do too! Perhaps you’re in it for the money, or your parents are software engineers and you hope to follow in their footsteps, or maybe you just love coding. For many people, it’s a combination of these as well as many other factors. In this post, I will include a brief overview of CS majors as well as give some tips to make you stand out among the thousands of CS applicants that college admissions officers see each year. In my next post, I’ll discuss specific considerations you should keep in mind when applying as a CS major in greater detail, so stay tuned for that!



What is computer science?


First, let’s quickly cover exactly what CS is and clarify the difference between CS and other majors which may sound more or less the same. Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems, and it includes programming languages, algorithms, theory, and architecture. Most computer scientists end up working as software engineers in tech companies and spend most of their time writing or testing code. Many high schoolers are often confused about the difference between computer science and computer engineering. The truth is, they are in fact quite similar and very much related! Computer science mostly focuses on computer software, but computer engineering is a combination of both computer science and electrical engineering, which deals mostly with the hardware aspect of computers (such as building chips or processors). There’s a lot of overlap between the classes that CS and CE majors take, and graduates from both of these majors often end up working similar jobs. If you are debating which major to apply to, think about which aspect of computers intrigues you the most. If you’re really into software, you might choose CS, while those who are into hardware may choose EE. If you’re still undecided, you might consider applying for CE!



How to stand out as a CS applicant


In this portion, I’ll talk about what you can do to stand out as a strong computer science applicant in the admissions process. While not required, most colleges like to see a demonstrated passion for the subject in your high school years. Some ways you can show your passion for coding are by taking additional online coding courses, attending CS camps or summer programs, competing in hackathons, or coding your own projects. CodeAcademy and MIT OpenCourseWare offer free programming courses, and Udemy and Coursera provide some pretty good courses too, although you will have to pay. You can also register for classes at a community college, but be sure to do it right when registration opens since CS courses tend to fill up quickly. Another great way to improve your coding skills is by attending hackathons. Many schools throughout the Bay Area (including Paly) host annual hackathons, where you can work on a project by yourself or in a team. Hackathons are also a great way to learn, even if you don’t know much coding, and you can talk to other coders and feel what it’s like to be an environment in which everyone is working tirelessly on their computers for hours on end. They also provide free food! Internships are also a great way to stand out and gain valuable experience. Lockheed Martin has a special partnership with PAUSD for juniors at Paly and Gunn to intern at and work with a mentor, and many companies also provide internship opportunities for high schoolers. Another thing you can do is build a website. It’s actually not as hard as it seems and there are many tutorials online that show you exactly how to do it, and you can customize your website however you like. Many colleges specifically ask if you keep an online presence, such as a website, so sending them the URL can definitely impress them. Admissions officers also especially look at your grades in STEM classes at school, including any CS, math, and science classes. They want to see that you are taking challenging classes while also excelling in them, so make sure you are doing your best to maintain strong grades!


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