Frequently Asked Questions

How Does University Work?

I'm not really sure what I am interested in, what do I do?

Many students who are not sure of what they want to do as a career want to explore various disciplines before committing to the level required by Specialization, and especially Honors. The General degree enables you to explore. Students often transfer from General degrees to Specialization. General degrees are managed by the Faculty of Science, but students should still talk to an advisor in our Department for program planning advice.

A General degree consists of a major in Computing Science, where you take from 12 to 16 courses in Computing Science (at least 4 at advanced level), and 6 to 16 in Arts. The major must be combined with either a second major in Science, or with a minor in Science; Agriculture, Life, and Environmental Sciences; Arts; or Business.

I'm planning to go to university. How does a university degree work?
At university, you enroll in a Faculty (like Arts, Science, Engineering, Business, etc.) and then join a Department (like English, Computing Science, Chemical Engineering, Marketing, etc.). You then choose a program, consisting of 10 courses a year, for 4 years, for a total of 40 courses. At the end of your program you graduate with a Bachelors degree in your subject area.
So how long does it really take to get a BSc degree?
The typical program length is 4 years, however, Specialization or Honors students taking the 16 month Industrial Internship Program are in the program for 5 years. Many students do not take the full 10 course per year load, so this increases the time to graduation but enables them to focus on a smaller number of subjects. Many of our students take a reduced course load for family reasons. You have a lot of control over how you pace yourself.
So what degrees are there in Computing Science?

The Faculty of Science offers the Honors , Specialization , and General degrees in Computing Science. These degrees have variations and joint programs (like the Business minor.) After you earn your Bachelors degree, you can also continue on into graduate studies and obtain Masters and Doctorate degrees.

When you graduate with a degree in Computing Science, the people you work with will assume that you actually know how to use computing to solve problems. This is what makes your degree valuable. To help ensure this, the Department of Computing Science approves and monitors your program of study for Specialization and Honors. Most students in Computing Science are in the Specialization or Honors programs.

This might seem dumb, but why does the U of A say "Computing Science" and most other places say "Computer Science"?
The Department of Computing Science at the University of Alberta is one of the largest and oldest computing science departments in Canada, having been established in 1964. At that time there was no clear name for the new discipline. The founders made a deliberate decision to emphasize that our discipline studies more than just "computers". We look at all aspects of computing: hardware, software, human-computer interaction, social issues, and more. In Europe, the name "informatics" was invented for similar reasons.
What if 5 courses per term is too difficult for me?
Full time students can take as few as 6 courses per year, but most take from 8 to 10 (4-5 courses per semester). For many students 4 courses per term is a more manageable workload. Taking less that 8 courses per year can affect your ability to transfer degree programs, and your eligibility for scholarships.

Entrance Into Faculty of Science

Great, but I didn't take the right courses in High School to get into Science. What do I do?
Don't worry. You can often transfer into Computing Science in 2nd year. For example, if you take 1st year Economics, and make sure that you take the 1st year Computing Science and right Math courses, then you will have everything needed to transfer into 2nd year Computing Science.
Is it true that High School Computing Science is now an entrance subject for the Faculty of Science?
Yes, beginning with Fall 2010 admissions, you can now present 5 advanced level credits of Computer Science from the recently revised Career Technology Studies curriculum. These Computer Science credits have the same status for admission as Biology 30, Chemistry 30, Math 31, and Physics 30. That is, to be admitted to science you need to present 2 subjects in this list of 5. Furthermore, Computer Science becomes a Group C subject which can be used for admission to other Faculties.

Choosing Your Path

Ack! I just like doing stuff with computers, how do I choose my path?
Are you interested in everything about the way computing is done, from the hardware all the way to large programs? Are you more interested in the application of computing in general? Do you want to combine computing with another interest? How you answer these questions will determine if you should take a concentrated program in computing science, or a mix of computing science and an another area of interest, or maybe a main area of interest with some computing science. We will help you decide.
Actually, I like how computers are used in games, can I do that?
Yes. You could take a Specialization degree, focusing on the topics needed for gaming. This would include both computing subjects like user interfaces, graphics, programming languages and naturally the games courses. But it would also include topics such as art and design, psychology, and business.
Can I change my mind about my area of study?
Yes! University offers you more choices of subjects than you ever imagined. Many students discover a new passion and switch between subjects and faculties. Computing Science is a good place to start, because computing science is something that you can use in any discipline.
You mean I could study Computing Science and Music?
Yes. Or Humanities Computing, which is the application of Computing Science to the arts, such as literary text analysis, computer augmented performance, archaeology, and so on. Computing science is key to modern Medicine. The possibilities are really only limited by the the subject you want to combine with Computing Science. The more unusual the combination, the more you need to discuss your program with an undergraduate advisor.

Honors Program

OK, I really like everything about computing. Is Honors for me?
The Honors program is for exceptional, highly motivated students. It is very flexible, and assumes that you will take responsibility for your studies. Honors students must be comfortable with mathematics, be able to communicate well, and enjoy challenge and intellectual risk.
What does the Honors program look like?

You can see what the Honors program looks like in the University Calendar here.

Specialization Program

Hmm, maybe Honors is a bit much. What does the Specialization program look like?

You can see what the Specialization program looks like in the University Calendar here.

I really like the business aspects of computers, what should I take?
Consider the Specialization with Business Minor if you who want a career that combines Computing Science and Business. Computing is constantly introducing new ideas into business, such as using the buzz on the web to predict movie success. Ideas from business find application in computing, for example by using investment decision theory to decide what parts of a software system should be worked on next.
I've heard about the Science Internship Program (SIP) . What is it?
SIP is a 4,8,12 or 16 month paid work term between third and fourth years. You work in industry as a junior Computing Scientist. You then return to complete your fourth year with more experience in how computing is actually applied, a better idea of what you really want to do, and connections in industry for future job prospects. Since SIP students are paid at industry market rates, students can graduate debt-free. SIP is available to all registered Faculty of Science students.
Too much choice! I really like everything about building software, what should I take?

The BSc in Software Practice is just for you. You are required to take a broad range of courses to develop depth in programming, algorithms, hardware, software design, user interfaces, project management, and business issues. Even then, almost half of your courses are options.

You can see what the Bsc in Software Practice program looks like in the University Calendar here.

The key part of the Software Practice program is the Industrial Internship Program.

Other Routes

I took a few post-secondary school courses already, how do I get in?

If you take more than three post-secondary courses, then you are admitted differently than if you had applied from high school. There a various processes you have to follow, depending on how many courses you have taken, and whether you are interested in General, Specialization, or Honors. In the most common situation for students who have not had a full year at university, you are admitted to the General degree, and then apply during your first year to the Specialization or Honors.

If you take 3 or less post-secondary courses while in high school, you still get admitted as if you are a regular high-school applicant. Thus you can take computing courses through a distance education school, like Athabasca University, if they are not available at your local high school.

What about Computer Engineering, don't they do computing?
Yes indeed, a four-year program in Computer Engineering is offered jointly by the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Engineering. Students in the program are registered in the Faculty of Engineering, and this program enables a student to obtain certification as a Professional Engineer. You have fewer and more restricted options in Computer Engineering because of the professional certification requirements that require a common body of knowledge among engineers. For example, the Computer Engineering program only permits a student to exercise limited flexibility in their entire studies by selecting 5 technical options and 5 courses from outside of Engineering. Computing Science degrees offer considerably more choices of technical courses and options in other disciplines.
What about the 2-year program I can take at a technical institute?
Many post-secondary technical institutions offer a 2-year diploma in information technology. Because of their short length, these programs can only focus on a few specific aspects of computing science. They also tend to be more applied, with emphasis on using existing tools and technology. In contrast, a 4-year BSc program gives you a deeper appreciation of the foundations of computing science. This enables you to easily learn, and even invent, the new technology that is constantly appearing in computing science. Many students who take a 2-year diploma later go back to school for a BSc because they realize they need a deeper education.
What about the 4-year Bachelor of Applied Information Systems Technology at technical institutes?
These degrees typically build on a 2-year diploma with an extra year of courses, plus a year of work experience. Again the focus is more on applications of existing tools and technology than on the abstract foundations. A student with a 5-year University degree, (that is a 4-year BSc degree plus Industrial Internship), will take both deeper courses in computing, as well as broader courses in other disciplines in Science, Arts, and other faculties. The increased depth and breadth is what distinguishes a university degree. It gives graduates the skills to see how their specialty can be applied to solving problems for people in brand new situations.

Explore Computing Before University

But I'm still in High School. What can I do now?

Consider applying for our High School Internship Program. It's a great way to spend the summer learning computing science, having fun, making new friends and earning money. Plus you will have a great job to include on your resume. We choose students based on their grades, interests and their qualifications for the work needed in each research area.

Take the Iverson Computing Science Exam to test your computing skills.

Where can I get more information?

Check out our Explore CS section for K-12 students, find us on Facebook to keep up with department news and events or just come in and talk to us.