Guide for Incoming Freshmen

Introduction

If you're a high schooler considering to study Computer Science at a 4-year institution, you have a large decision on your hands. Where you decide to go is a pretty major decision in your life - you're committing the next several years to studying and developing your skills at one particular place. Your connections, job opportunities, and enjoyment of the college experience are all major things to consider when deciding between schools.

In this guide, we'll try to give a brief rundown of what to consider when choosing a CS program, and then give you some nice Pitt CS-related advice for our Panthers who are reading this. This will be spoken through the lens of a Pitt student, but these tips apply to anyone considering any program.

Should I study CS?

Try to take one class of Computer Science in high school and see if you enjoy it. If you enjoy it, the best thing you can do is take AP Computer Science and get a 4 or 5 on the test - it'll give you a nice level of confidence when coding and should adequately prep you for an introductory course in CS or the next level up (if your school accepts the AP credit).

Our advice - study what you think you'll enjoy or study what you'll enjoy at least a little - there's too many people in this field studying CS purely for the money and getting burnt out by the (rapidly increasing) level of competition in the field. By taking a class in high school, you'll have a better understanding of whether you like it or not. Taking CS 0401 (Intro to Programming) and deciding if it's for you also won't hurt if you're an undecided major.

Why ___ CS? Why Pitt CS?

A massive thing to consider when choosing a college/university is how much debt you'll incur from tuition and room/board. In general, there is a very fine line between a school being "worth it" and a school being a waste of money. Here's some pointers to determining if a school is worth it or not. In our opinion, if you work hard and join our active CS community, then going to Pitt is certainly worth it.

  • Is the school's ranking good? Is the school's CS ranking good?

    • This is less important, but it's still a factor to consider. If your school has some name brand recognition, this is all you need, in all honesty.
    • Pitt's name recognition is improving rapidly within the industry, although it still has lots of room to grow, and the School of Computing & Information (SCI) is still young.
  • Who's recruiting from the school?

    • If you know what kind of companies you want to work at or have an idea of a field you want to break into, see who's showing up to career fairs, who's sponsoring events, and who's working with student organizations. See which industries are big near your school - these tend to be companies that will recruit from your school.
    • Pittsburgh, for example, is an Autonomous Vehicle (AV) company paradise. Uber ATG recruits heavily from Pitt and CMU, and Argo AI was even founded by a Pitt alumni!
    • The Pitt CSC has worked with several tech companies + the school is sponsored by several large Finance/Trading/Tech companies.
  • How's the social life there?

    • As a CS major, this should be less of a priority jk.
    • This is a very underrated aspect of attending a school. Whether you're interested in a cultural club or have any special interests, it's important to see if your school has other people interested in what you're doing.
    • Pitt has lots of clubs, cultural associations, fraternities, and more, and it's relatively easy to form one if you're not satisfied.
  • How's the CS community?

    • Toxicity is a massive issue plaguing CS programs nationwide. Making sure that the CS community at your school is open and friendly is a good way to ensure you'll enjoy working and hanging out with fellow classmates/student org members. Keep in mind, you're there to develop your skills. If you're surrounded by those who continue to push you and work with you in a non-toxic way, you'll improve a ton and learn a lot.
    • Pitt CS is experiencing a golden age of students coming in and helping strengthen the CS community. This wiki is a good example of current students giving back and improving the next generations of Pitt CS.
  • How's the research?

    • If you're interested in research, look up professors who study certain topics, and try to take a class with them or stop by office hours to get to know them better! A good professor can serve as a mentor and a valuable recommendation letter if you're interested in grad school.
    • Pitt's CS research is actually quite good - you can search up specific area strength in topics in CS on csrankings.org. For example, Pitt is #4 in AI paper output nationwide.

Assorted Questions/Tips for Pitt CS

  • Can I graduate in 3 years?

    • You certainly can - there's lots of ways you can graduate in 3 years, but the quickest way to knock off credits is to take lots of AP/IB classes/tests in high school, OR do a community-college/high school mixed program so you can get general education requirements waived. While graduating in under 3 years is definitely possible, we'd suggest not going under 3 years, as you're missing a lot of your college experience while also putting way too much unnecessary stress on yourself by taking lots of hard classes at once.
  • What's a good place to meet upperclassmen and get into the Pitt CS community?

    • Joining student orgs, TA'ing, and being friends with your classmates is the quickest way to get ingrained into Pitt CS. You'll find a tight-knit core of students who are eager to help new students and make an enjoyable Pitt CS experience.
  • Why Pitt over Penn State?

    • While Penn State is a great school, they're also our sports rivals, so pick us. In all seriousness, Pitt's still a large school that isn't massive like Penn State, meaning you still have a chance to get to know your professors and fellow students well. Pitt also has a more active base of CS student organizations and has better recruiting prospects for CS careers (in our opinion).

Related Resources

Last updated: Jul 14th 2020