How Can A High School Student Best Prepare To Major In Computer Science

A lot of high school students are interested in computer science (CS) careers. Undergraduate enrollment in CS programs increases every year, for example, and as of 2016 these programs were granting degrees to 568,000 graduates annually.

But getting into a good computer science program can be difficult. For instance, based on what we’ve seen while helping hundreds of students apply to UT Austin over the past 11 years, the acceptance rate for prospective CS majors there is below 10%. To get into the right CS program and take their first steps on the path to a career in the field, high school students need to go beyond taking the right courses and getting good grades and high test scores. To really stand out, they need to show true passion for CS, well-roundedness, and facility communicating and working with others. 

What it takes to get your college application to stand out

Because computer science is one of the top five prospective majors among students we work with at College MatchPoint, we understand what admissions offices are looking for in applicants as well as the skills applicants will need to succeed in school and in their career. For a recent article of tips for CS grads entering the job market, for example, Bob identified three types of skills that command a premium from employers: human or soft skills, digital building block skills, and business enabler skills

In our experience, students who want to strengthen their applications should show they’ve been doing the following:

  • Participating in extracurricular activities that highlight your passion for computer science, like coding and math clubs, robotics teams, STEM summer camps, coding contests, and hackathons

  • Taking classes (e.g., online) in machine learning and AngularJS in addition to popular building-block languages like Java, C, and C++

  • Building a robust code repository and completing freelance projects during high school

  • Showing your well-roundedness by demonstrating interest in activities and subjects outside of CS (e.g., playing sports or music, participating in social activism or student government, working on the student newspaper or school yearbook, learning a language, volunteering in the community…)

  • Developing non-technical skills that employers value highly in CS grads, including soft skills like communication, collaboration, and relationship-building as well as business-enabler skills like project management

To really stand out, you can also do things like modifying GitHub projects, creating an online portfolio, and get experience deploying large-scale applications in the real world.

But first, before applying, take some time to make sure make sure CS is is right for you. To start, get a better understanding of your skills and motivations and learn whether they make you a good fit with computer science.

The next step: getting the inside scoop

For many students considering CS, a good starting point is conducting informational interviews with software developers, engineers, and others in the field. In them, you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions about how they got interested in the field, what kinds of technology and languages they need to know in their job, how CS works with other parts of their business, and what steps they would take in your shoes. Not only will you learn more about the field and what it will take to succeed in it, by gaining confidence in networking and interviewing you’ll be gaining an advantage that can pay off big-time when it’s time to enter the workforce.

Want to improve your chances of getting into the right CS program? Start getting the information and developing the skills you’ll need today.