MAKING THE CUT FOR UW COMPUTER SCIENCE
SCC students looking to get into the computer science major at the UW may find it to be much more difficult than expected.
As the demand for tech talent increases around the world, the desirability of computer-related degrees has impacted enrollment college computer science and engineering programs all over.
In the case of the UW’s computer science and engineering (CS/CSE) majors, admission to the program has become selective, with only one-third of applicants being accepted.
The program is almost comically competitive, as can be seen on the UW’s unofficial (but official by numbers) Facebook meme page, UW Teens for Boundless Memes, where people often make posts poking fun at incoming CS-hopefuls and the all-too-common CS reject.
Competitive applicants for computer science and computer engineering should have “earned nearly perfect grades in their prerequisite courses,” according to the school’s website, but even then admission isn’t guaranteed.
Former SCC student and current UW student Leon Chandra applied as a transfer student to CS at UW Seattle for 2016. He had taken all the prerequisite courses and graduated from SCC with a cumulative GPA of 3.98, but in the end, he was unable to gain admission to the program.
“I realized it was competitive but I didn’t know to what extent,” Chandra said. “None of my friends are in it either.”
To him, his near-perfect GPA wasn’t much to brag about in the world of UW CS.
“That’s the average here,” he said. “It’s nothing special.”
Chandra is currently in the UW’s applied and computational mathematical sciences (ACMS) program, a popular alternative to the coveted computer science major. But even in his last year, he’s still trying to gain admission to the major — he’s applied twice already and plans on applying again for his last quarter in fall 2018.
He said he believes the key to getting in lies not just with good grades, but with the extras you’ll bring with you upon entering the program.
“You can’t just focus on school,” he said. “You have to make yourself special.”
Chandra said he didn’t get too involved with extracurriculars at SCC. Instead he chose to focus on schoolwork, but he thinks the department is looking for more, especially with so many applicants sporting perfect grades.
“You realize that these people (in the major) are much more talented than you, so you just have to be at their level,” he said.
Meanwhile, Siyu (Pansy) Pan, who transferred in 2017, was admitted into the major straight out of SCC. Like Chandra, Pan also had a near-perfect GPA and said she was not as involved in extracurriculars outside the classroom. However she believes it was her grades that got her into the program.
“I think the toughest part for me was not getting into CS program,” she said. “It’s surviving the CS program.”
Even after being admitted into the program, it still remains competitive, especially as a transfer student, according to Pan.
“As soon as you get in, you’re told that you need to go to career fairs, you have to find internships, a lot of people do research,” she said, “and then you’re, like, I just got out of class, I barely know anything about CS.
“You’re surrounded by all these people who have done, like, one or two internships and know all this stuff and you feel like you’re the dumbest person in the world,” she continued.
Both Pan and Chandra were in agreement that the CS curriculum at SCC didn’t prepare them as much for the rigor and environment of CS at UW.
“To be honest, the CS classes at (SCC), they’re not very good,” Pan said. “The classes at UW are really different … so it was tough for me at first to adjust to the pace of the UW.”
There’s more emphasis on group work and projects of a larger scale at the UW, said Pan. Also, according to both students, the curriculum of the introductory courses don’t exactly line up, meaning students who transfer into the CS program often have to play catch-up to their peers in order to reach the same level of understanding.
However, this may be changing with computer science instructor Crystal Hess spearheading shifts in curriculum at SCC. Hess, who started teaching at the college at the beginning of the school year, said students who take the equivalents to UW introductory CS courses at SCC now should have no trouble taking their knowledge over when they transfer.
“I’ve worked really hard to make sure we are doing the same (thing),” she said. “We’re using the same book, we’re using the same tools, we’re very much in line like that.
“The difference is that at (SCC), you have a connection to your instructor so you have the ability to get more support and more help,” she continued. “But the rigor and the difficulty of the classes are pretty similar.”
Still, Hess acknowledged that students most likely need to maintain near-perfect or perfect grades in order to gain admission to UW Seattle’s CS program. But she said it’s not the end of the world if they don’t get in.
“You can go another path and you can still be just as successful,” Hess said. “Computer science is an industry where you get a job based on performance. … They don’t just look at your transcript and say, ‘Oh, you’ve got a 4.0 from UW, you’re in.’”
However, for students still looking to gain admission to the program, Hess suggested they look for ways to show that they’re well-rounded as applicants. This can be done through a variety of ways, like having a job or being involved in student leadership or any other student organizations, she said.
“Really (figure) out what is your thing, how do you stand out and then (make) sure that you write about it,” she said. “(And) get people to look over your applications.”
As advice for those preparing to enter the major, current UW CS student Pan, said to be prepared to make sacrifices.
“Be expected to give up a portion of your social life if you want to (be in) CSE because that happens for everybody,” she said. “You just don’t have as much time as before for other stuff and it’s going to be tough, but I think it’s worth it.”
Meanwhile, Chandra, who regularly petitions to enroll in upper-division CS courses so he’s up to speed if he ever gets in, is preparing his third and final application to the program after having completed many of the graduation requirements for the degree. He’ll be graduating this fall with a degree in ACMS regardless of whether he’s admitted this time around, but he still wants to try again.
“If you graduate from UW with a computer science degree, you can go anywhere,” he said. “I applied two times already, so what’s wrong with being rejected again?”
And if he isn’t admitted this time around, he said he doesn’t blame the program.
“I think it’s fair,” he said. “It’s just ridiculously hard.”
By Areeya Tipyasothi,