Computer Science Regains Its Traction

The Jobs-Zuckerberg effect.

As early-decision deadlines loom at universities across the country, high school seniors are showing renewed interest in computer science as an undergraduate major — and colleges are preparing for a surge in applications.

“It’s pretty clear that computer science is on the rise again,” Mark Stehlik, assistant dean for undergraduate education at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science in Pittsburgh, told told Network World. “Most of the U.S. economy is stagnant, but computer-science grads are getting hired and at pretty good salaries. Computing is much more powerful and much more pervasive than it was 10 years ago.”

Officials at Carnegie Mellon expect to receive 4,000 applications this academic year, but will accept only 400 and enroll around 140 next fall. The school received 3,500 applications in 2011 and 3,200 in 2001.

It’s not only the hip-major factor. In a gloomy economy, it’s smart bet in a still-expanding field. “One hundred percent of our seniors were placed last year,” Stehlik says. “About 15 percent went to graduate school. The rest had jobs. We saw the return of the six-figure offer.”

It’s not just something that’s happening at Carnegie Mellon. At Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., applications were up 15 percent last year. It accepted 21 percent of its 3,144 applicants. Up the coast at Stanford, the number of comp-sci majors has increased by 83 percent over the last three years. Stanford has 400 undergrad computer science majors, and some 90 percent of the university’s 6,940 undergrads now take at least one comp-sci course, even though it’s not required.

Nationally, the number of U.S. undergrads pursuing computer-science degree rose 10 percent in 2010, with the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded up 9 percent, to 12,500.

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