How to Get into a Top-Tier Computer Science Program

Prepare for College as an Aspiring Computer Science Major

At Juni Learning, our goal is not only to provide our students a structured computer science curriculum that is fun and effective; our mission is to expose and prepare students for exciting careers in software engineering, data analysis, artificial intelligence, mobile and app development, and more. A common step on the path these careers is attending a university with a top-tier Computer Science department.

We consulted with Agnes Chen, Owner of Lucent Education and Stanford University graduate, to gather research on steps that your students can take to be competitive for admission into the top Computer Science universities in the U.S. Agnes’ team offers focused coaching to help students get into their reach schools, such as Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

Develop Passions Early

Educational Psychologist Jacquelynne Eccles says that the years between early adolescence and middle school is a time of significant developmental advances that establishes a child’s sense of identity and long-term interests.

In these years, it is important for parents to observe the natural talents their children possess and the activities in which they show a natural interest. From such observations, parents are encouraged to involve their children in activities that lean into those very interests.

Below is a guideline for steps you can take to provide quality exposure in content areas to your children.

Ages 5-11

Introducing your children to coding games, toys, apps, and videos in their formative years can help stimulate a curiosity for Computer Science. Interactive, hands-on experiences and challenging problems motivate children to want to learn and grow. Some activities to promote a Computer Science education include:

In learning Computer Science early on, children develop a knack for computational thinking. The principles and concepts behind programming promote students to break down problems into manageable parts, observe patterns in data, identify how patterns are generated, and develop step-by-step intuition for problem solving.

Such exposure will help your children filter and refine their interests and hobbies as they progress into middle and high school.

Ages 12-16

According to Agnes, college preparation can and should start as early as middle school. By age 13, middle school students should embark on new hobbies and explore their natural aptitudes. Agnes gives some proactive suggestions below:

  • Speak to a guidance counselor to help you choose high school-level classes
  • Explore dual-enrollment courses at local universities
  • Attend or arrange a Computer Science Career Day
  • Launch a Computer Science club
  • Begin preparation for USA Computing Olympiad (USACO)

Through consistent exposure to both academic and extracurricular activities, a natural chosen focus will likely emerge. Whether it is coding projects or robotics, a student should have completed a few significant projects in a focused area by the end of middle school or at the beginning of high school.

Juni Students

At Juni, majority of our students begin coding with Scratch in elementary school and move on to Python in middle school. With these programming languages, students are able to build their own websites, animations, video games, and complex projects.

By the 8th grade, Juni students with enough experience are primed to begin preparation for the USACO Bronze division, and further progress through divisions over the years. While USACO is traditionally a competition for high schoolers, often the students who have been coding since the age of 9 and up are the ones who really excel in their competitions.

The same age range applies to the AP Computer Science A course and exam. Because many schools do not offer the AP course, or even CS introductory courses, middle school students interested in computer programming often look outside the classroom for a Computer Science education.

Studies have shown that the students who have taken coding classes outside the classroom are sufficiently prepared to take the AP Computer Science A course in their Freshman or Sophomore year of high school.

High School Steps to Get into a Top-Tier University

Though there are a variety of paths, lesson plans, and extracurriculars aspiring CS students can take to Get into An Elite Computer Science University, below, we explore a sample high school career that has proven success for students pursuing a Computer Science degree.

As first-year high school students, it is critical to explore a variety of Computer Science programs and extracurriculars. This includes participation in:

  • School clubs
  • Local community involvement
  • Leadership opportunities
  • Volunteer work

By Sophomore year, students should have a targeted sense of direction as to what they would like to study to further progress their professional development. A student should then seek leadership opportunities in their designated areas of interest.

By Junior year, students’ development of “passion hobbies” should culminate in competitions and meaningful projects that have significant weight. At this juncture, students should also be placing focus on:

  • Researching desirable university CS degree programs
  • Refining their professional relationships that will yield promising letters of recommendation
  • Writing personal statements and college admission essays

In Senior year, students’ primary focus should be:

  • Visiting college campuses
  • Weighing the differences between college CS undergraduate programs
  • Researching specialized CS professors and classes to pursue
  • Exploring ways to get involved in the CS community through on-campus college organizations

College advisors, like Agnes, consult students about long-term goals, schools that feed into their interests, and career trajectories beginning as early as middle school. To ensure progress continues in an upward trajectory, it is not uncommon for students and advisors to meet for ongoing coaching throughout the four years of high school.

Sample Computer Science Track

A sample grade-level plan for a student who is interested in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Game Design, or Information Science may look like the following:

Middle School: Explore a variety of extracurricular activities

  • Research college advisors to see if this path is right for you and your family

Freshman Year: English, Math, History, Biology, 3 Electives

  • Join a robotics or coding club; upload programming projects to the web and create an online portfolio
  • Volunteer at a local recycling plant to learn how electronics are disassembled
  • Join “unplugged” clubs, such as debate, chess, dance, or drama

Sophomore Year: English, AP European History, Math, Earth Science, Foreign Language, 1 Elective

  • Compete in local hackathons and/or robotics competitions; Google Code-In competitions
  • Participate in Hacktivations – build technology for nonprofits and social ventures

Junior Year: AP English, AP Chemistry, Trigonometry/Pre Calculus, AP Computer Science Principles, Foreign Language, 1 Elective

  • Compete in ACSL and USACO
  • Start drafting personal statements and other college admissions essays
  • Visit the schools you wish to attend

Senior Year: AP English, AP Calculus, AP Physics, AP Computer Science-A, 2 Electives

  • Lead school programming club and mentor other students starting to compete in programming competitions
  • Letters of recommendation (2 months prior to submission)
  • Apply to schools

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