Byte-ing Off More Than I Can Chew?: A Personal Tale of Becoming a Computer Science Major

MIPS code, the siren call of the potential CS major
MIPS code, the siren call of the potential CS major

Switching majors may seem like a relatively simple thing to do, seeing as how so many students do it, but as I have come to discover, switching into a highly competitive program is anything but simple.

Over the last two years I came to the realization that my current major, Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering, was not for me. I had enjoyed programming in my high school AP Computer Science class, and after doing some more research and asking friends in the major here at U of I, I decided I would make the transfer into the Computer Science Department.

Thinking it would not be too difficult of a process, I went in to talk to the adviser of the Computer Science Department and researched how to transfer. Boy, was I wrong; not only were there high GPA requirements and transfer essays to write, a student intending to transfer must take two courses in the Computer Science Department here at Illinois and receive a B or higher in each before even applying to transfer.

While it is understandable that they do not want to accept students whom they don’t feel will succeed in their major, I find it discouraging that students must take at least two classes before even applying to transfer. This is because nearly all of the required CS classes are restricted to CS majors until a date far after initial student registration. Therefore, it is almost impossible for anyone not in the CS Department to register for CS classes, and thus transfer into CS. And although it is possible that the process may have been simpler for other students, unfortunately, it has been a stressful and time-demanding process for me.

Jump two semesters back, when I first tried attempting to register for CS classes. I had wanted to take two of them but did not get into either of them, even after the first week of classes, due to them being full with Computer Science students who were able to register at the normal time of registration. Eventually, I did get into one of the classes thankfully, but the other I still was unable to take here at Illinois.

Having it be a prerequisite for any higher-level CS classes, I needed to take it that semester if I wanted to have the chance to take any other CS classes the following semester. Thus after much stress and research, I found an equivalent course offered online through Parkland College, a community college in the Champaign-Urbana area, which had transferrable credit. Now, by the end of that semester I had completed two CS courses, but one of them was not at Illinois, therefore I STILL could not even apply to transfer.

Fast forward one semester, to Fall 2013. When registering, I encountered the same trouble as before, and did not get into the two CS classes I had hoped and needed to take. Again after making countless appointments with advisers and figuring out my options, I eventually just had to keep attempting to pick up a spot if it opened. Luckily, I was one of the few people to get into the classes successfully after waiting a week into the semester for people to drop the courses.

This semester, the two CS courses I am enrolled in have been extremely difficult and much more demanding than other courses I have taken. Although they force me to work hard, they have been extremely enjoyable and made me realize I made the right decision in attempting to transfer majors. Programming is a very challenging thing, but the challenge pushes me to try my best and each day I learn more and more.

Siebel Center at the Illinois campus
Siebel Center at the Illinois campus houses the Department of Computer Science, as well as great classroom technology and computer labs.

The technology surrounding me is what drives my passion. Here at Illinois, over 260 general assignment classrooms have technology in them, which faculty, staff, and students rely on everyday. And there are many computer labs available, staffed with helpful lab assistants at all hours of the day. The CS Department does an amazing job keeping the technology up-to-date and teaching its students what will be important for their future jobs in programming.

With the technology in classrooms and computer labs, professors can teach large amounts of students the difficult and demanding course work, while giving each student the chance to work on the computers themselves, a great benefit to those who cannot afford or would prefer to not buy their own laptop or computer.

Spending much time in these computer labs over the past few semesters, I have surrounded myself with brilliant like-minded people who have supported and assisted me in my transition. If accepted into the CS program, I know a large weight will be lifted off my shoulders and I hopefully will never have registration issues such as this ever again. And so with my two courses at Illinois nearly completed, as of now I have my application submitted and I am waiting to see if I will be accepted into the program with fingers crossed and hopes high!

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