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#1 onefutui2e  Icon User is offline

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getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 31 March 2012 - 09:45 PM

hey guys, first time i've really been on this forum and this is also my first post. i'm coming here because i can't seem to be able to find too many answers talking to some of my old teachers and peers.

i'm currently 25, and i finished my undergraduate degree studying finance. however, i've always had an interest in computer science from when i was a child, even taking a few courses offered at my high school. however, somewhere along the way i lost it all. it was probably around the dot-com bust and i guess i got swayed by a lot of people to steer away from that path. i was 13 at the time and susceptible to things like this, i guess.

it wasn't until i was a college intern working under a director that showed me some of his code that i really picked up an interest again. and this time it didn't shake. he started me off simply, showing me some code he was working on, how it worked, and everything came back to me. unfortunately, by this time i was finishing up college and i wasn't keen on setting myself back by switching majors. i split the difference and took a programming course during my final semester.

it's been 2-3 years now, and i've decided to go back to school for computer science once my consulting gig is up. unfortunately, as the title says, i have little in the way of a formal background outside of a couple of classes, whatever i taught myself, and some more sprinkled into my work experience. and i want to aim high into a good/great program. my question is, what do the chances look like for someone of my profile (no formal background, but with some experience and knowledge gleaned from work and self-study) getting into a good program, say, Stanford or NYU?

i also read that freelancing for a few projects will boost your profile as well. where's a good place to start looking? and are there other ways to make yourself stand out a bit more?

thanks in advance for any answers!

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Replies To: getting into graduate school without formal background...

#2 cfoley  Icon User is online

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 01 April 2012 - 04:11 AM

I was in a similar position to you. I always had an interest in programming and, apart from a short hiatus in my stroppy teenage years, always had it as a hobby, but I didn't want my hobby to be my job. How one-dimensional is that? So I did a degree in Chemistry, which I also loved.

After finishing, I realised that working full time leaves little time to fit in programming alongside a job, social live, relationships, etc. I had to choose between medicinal chemistry and programming and programming won hands down. The catch was that apart from a few electives I picked up in my degree, I had no formal education (sound familiar?)

My solution was to apply for a PhD in bioinformatics. My niche is theoretical (computational) protein topology. You don't have to write software to work in bioinformatics, but my tiny niche had none available. The best part is that I have supervisors in both departments: Chemistry and Computer Science. When I graduate, I will have some sort of a certificate from a computer science department.

I know PhDs aren't universally respected in the software industry so I'm doing some freelance work on the side and am putting together a portfolio which will contain some of my PhD code and some side projects of mine.
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#3 SpartanGuy07  Icon User is offline

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 02 April 2012 - 07:09 AM

I am currently in the same situation as the OP. I am taking courses at community college to act as a bridge to a Master's Comp Sci program (from a physics undergrad degree). I decided to do this after talking to some of the admission counselors at the school's where I was looking for a Master's. I showed them the courses offered and asked if that combined with my undergrad coursework would be sufficient background for their program, and most of them said yes that would meet the requirements.

You could also follow cfoley's advice. You should have no problem finding a business major that also involves computer science!

So I would say look at the colleges you want to apply to, talk to some people in the admissions offices, and work from there. Maybe you can find a program that would be a smooth transition. Maybe you can take 2-3 courses at a local college and then enter a comp sci program. It's really up to you how you want to do it, but I think there are several ways you could reach your goal.

This post has been edited by SpartanGuy07: 02 April 2012 - 07:12 AM

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#4 time4f5  Icon User is offline

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 04 April 2012 - 04:25 AM

Again, similar situation. I have a BA, but loved programming and decided to get MS in it. Most schools will allow it but most of the good ones require formal prerequisites. I'm on the east coast so Johns Hopkins was the one I was looking into, they require 5 classes or so depending on your previous math background. your situation isn't as unique as you may think and colleges understand that. Assuming you have the aptitude and diligence to get the formal prereq classes, you shouldn't have a problem.
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#5 time4f5  Icon User is offline

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 04 April 2012 - 04:25 AM

Again, similar situation. I have a BA, but loved programming and decided to get MS in it. Most schools will allow it but most of the good ones require formal prerequisites. I'm on the east coast so Johns Hopkins was the one I was looking into, they require 5 classes or so depending on your previous math background. your situation isn't as unique as you may think and colleges understand that. Assuming you have the aptitude and diligence to get the formal prereq classes, you shouldn't have a problem.
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#6 time4f5  Icon User is offline

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 04 April 2012 - 04:25 AM

not sure what happened there with duplicates.

This post has been edited by time4f5: 04 April 2012 - 04:27 AM

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#7 onefutui2e  Icon User is offline

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:03 AM

View Posttime4f5, on 04 April 2012 - 04:25 AM, said:

Again, similar situation. I have a BA, but loved programming and decided to get MS in it. Most schools will allow it but most of the good ones require formal prerequisites. I'm on the east coast so Johns Hopkins was the one I was looking into, they require 5 classes or so depending on your previous math background. your situation isn't as unique as you may think and colleges understand that. Assuming you have the aptitude and diligence to get the formal prereq classes, you shouldn't have a problem.


thanks for the replies, everyone! a lot of helpful insights and tips here. it seems like there's no real easy way and indeed, getting into any of the higher tier schools seem to require at least a series of pre-requisite classes. i did some research and on the east coast i know that NYU and Poly Tech both have a "conditional admissions" of sorts, where someone with the right background but lacking in formal experience can take a year-long pre-program prior to taking the actual MS.

i've been thinking about what others said regarding alternative fields that i have a proper background for with a heavy programming component or otherwise supplements computer science well (thinking something like statistics). Something else to consider, but I've always been under the impression that CS is more than just "programming".
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#8 SpartanGuy07  Icon User is offline

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:04 AM

View Posttime4f5, on 04 April 2012 - 07:25 AM, said:

Again, similar situation. I have a BA, but loved programming and decided to get MS in it. Most schools will allow it but most of the good ones require formal prerequisites. I'm on the east coast so Johns Hopkins was the one I was looking into, they require 5 classes or so depending on your previous math background. your situation isn't as unique as you may think and colleges understand that. Assuming you have the aptitude and diligence to get the formal prereq classes, you shouldn't have a problem.


So how are you getting the prereqs?
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#9 time4f5  Icon User is offline

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Re: getting into graduate school without formal background...

Posted 04 April 2012 - 07:56 AM

I took a few at the local community college and Also found that they would accept transfer credits from DeVry (they have 8 week classes) so I could get a lot done quickly. I am finished up my 4th graduate class. and yes, CS is a lot more than programming. It involves programming, but in a different light. I took Java and C++ classes at undergrad level and we learned the language. my classes now deal with artificial intelligence, distributed systems and multithreading, but it is good.
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