How To Get Into Vanderbilt’s Computer Science Masters Program

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BY Nicole Gull McElroy04 October 2022, 14:08

Vanderbilt students in September 2022 at FirstBank Stadium in Nashville. (Photo by Michael Wade—Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Not all students enrolled in Vanderbilt University’s online master’s in computer science program have followed a traditional path in the industry. Degree candidates come from a wide variety of life experiences and professional backgrounds: the automotive industry, banking and finance, music and entertainment, education, engineering, and more. Still, the Vanderbilt admissions team is looking for computer literacy, an undergraduate degree, and proven achievement in a given field.

“People in our program who don’t have a strict computer science background have worked in an industry and have been successful in it before,” says Jules White, associate dean of strategic learning programs at Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. “It’s very competitive. The worst thing we can do is let in someone who is unprepared.

The program, which ranks #1 on Fortune’s list of the best online masters in computer science programs, accepted 52% of applicants for the 2020-2021 academic year. It currently has between 110 and 120 students per class, offering up to 10 elective courses each semester.

Through interviews with two Vanderbilt administrators, this article will walk you through the steps you’ll need to take to get into this top-notch computer science program:

  1. Make sure you’re ready for a rigorous program.
  2. Focus on building a complete app.
  3. Think about what sets you apart from the pack.
  4. Be flexible in your application.

1. Make sure you’re ready for a rigorous program

Going back to school for a master’s degree pays off for thousands of students every year, but it takes a commitment of time and money. Vanderbilt’s MSc in Computer Science is a robust program, requiring up to 20 hours per week outside of the classroom in related work. The online program is a direct mirror of what is offered to students who attend in person on campus.

“There’s an average of eight years of experience in the program,” says White, noting that Vanderbilt courses are aimed at meeting the needs and experience level of an experienced student body. “They are older and looking to take the next step. We have a really superb set of students.

In the classroom, Vanderbilt faculty aim to provide students with hands-on learning through the school’s 30-credit program over three to six terms. Courses on cloud computing, computer science theory, software engineering, cybersecurity, etc., allow an interdisciplinary approach with high-level professors in a highly academic setting.

Additionally, Masters in Computer Science students should be prepared for additional commitments outside of the classroom. Vanderbilt’s program hopes to help students create a network and peer group to foster the sharing of ideas; job search assistance after graduation; and further develop the Vanderbilt alumni community.

2. Focus on building a complete app

Like many graduate programs, Vanderbilt requires several items in the application, including letters of recommendation and essays. Although the school’s selection process is not based on GRE scores, it does require a solid 3.2 GPA in undergraduate work for admission, but life and work experience also carry tremendous weight.

“If someone’s the CTO of a big company, I don’t care what their GPA was,” White says. “There is always a balance in comparing age groups, experiences and education levels. We’re trying to find people who will commit, and it’s the right time and the right person.

Overall, Vanderbilt seeks students who have a solid education, life experience, and a clear idea of ​​where to go in their career.

3. Think about what sets you apart from the pack

To get an acceptance letter from Vanderbilt, it is important to focus on what makes you a unique asset to the program. Applicants come from all age groups, industries, and experience levels, so being able to share research, side projects, or internships during the application process helps potential students connect. stand out from the competition, according to White.

Demonstrating an innovative or entrepreneurial spirit can accomplish the same thing. “If someone hasn’t had a strong college education or internship, having entrepreneurial experience is another thing,” White says. “They go beyond what they learn or take what they learn in the classroom and apply it in unique and new ways; it is an excellent indicator.

According to Joanne Wang, associate dean of professional and external education programs at Vanderbilt, more and more students are coming to the online program from non-traditional and unconventional professional and academic backgrounds. “The online program gives people an opportunity they wouldn’t have had,” she says. “Maybe they know how to code or have done a boot camp. It gives them the opportunity to formalize their degree.

That’s why, adds Wang, it’s increasingly important to be able to show your way of thinking, the types of projects you’ve worked on, and how you solve problems in the application process.

4. Be flexible in your application

People pursuing a career in IT need to be comfortable with the continuous learning inherent in this field – and your application is a good opportunity to demonstrate your flexibility.

“As a computer scientist, there’s one thing I can guarantee you: the specifics, the languages, the technology, it will be completely different in 10 years,” says White. “You will have to relearn if you want to stay relevant. You will need to retrain to progress.

Leveraging your essay or letters of recommendation to show how you learned and capitalized on new skills throughout your career or undergraduate work will show the Vanderbilt admissions team that you can no only manage the rigor of learning new skills in the program, but that you will continue this effort over time as technology and innovation continue to shape the industry as a whole.

White says computer scientists who have progressed over time in their careers are already at an advantage. “If you see someone progress professionally, it’s unlikely you can’t handle that,” he adds. “There is always the person who is a 10x software engineer. They are still retraining but also understand the fundamentals. This type of person does very well in this program.

See how the schools you are considering fared Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health and business analysis, as well as the best doctoral programs in education and MBA programs (on time part-time, executive, full-time, and online).


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