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 HonorsSpecialization, 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.
  • How related do the X and Computing Science have to be?

    The point of computing and X is that the subject X is either enhancing your study of CS, or CS is enhancing your study of X, or ideally both. X should not be viewed like options, which are intended to give you breadth. But this does not prevent you from using your options to take more X, or for courses in X to satisfy your Science and Arts options requirements. So you have to think about how you can combine CS and X.

    For example, if you are interested in computing, and want to work in the Japanese software industry, then your X might be the study of Japanese language and culture. Or perhaps you are interested in working with both users and developers to define what the software should do. In that case you might want X to be many possible introductory courses in a wide variety of subjects so that you have the broad background to talk to many different kinds of users.

    This is why it is important to talk to an advisor and have your program approved.

  • What about a combination not mentioned above?
    This is the whole point of Computing and X, choose your X. There are far too many combinations of students and interests for us to invent and define programs of study. We will help you build your own.
  • What do you mean by "Computing and X"?
    Computing is no longer restricted to science, engineering and business. It appears everywhere and in many roles. It is now so broad a field that students can only master part of it in a 4 year degree program. Some students prefer the complex technical details that form the foundation of computing, others prefer the challenges that occur at the interface between people and computers. Many want to use computers to amplify their talents in different disciplines, from anthropology to film to medicine to zoology. Our degree programs let students decide the X that they want to combine with Computing Science.
  • 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?

    It is very loose, which is why you need to design your program of study with an advisor and to have it approved:

    • 2 required CS courses (CMPUT 274/275).
    • 2 required English courses.
    • 10 CS courses at the upper level.
    • 12 Science options.
    • 4 Arts options.
    • 10 additional options in any Faculty.
    • weekly Honors seminar.
    • annual approval of your program.
    • minimum 3.0 continuation average (B)

Specialization Program

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

    The Specialization program is designed to provide a core body of Computing Science that you use to build your own program. A typical 4 year program looks like this:

    • Year 1: 2 CS (CMPUT 274/275 strongly suggested if you have high school CS), 2 Math, 2 English, 4 options.
    • Year 2: 2 CS, 1 Math, 2 Statistics, 5 options.
    • Year 3: 4 CS, 6 options.
    • Year 4: 4 CS, 6 options.

    Specialization programs need to be approved, and continuation requires a minimum 2.3 average (C+). With 21 options available you can pursue a program of study that combines computing with any other field.

  • 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.

    • Year 1: 3 CS, 2 Math, 2 English, 2 Science options, 1 any option.
    • Year 2: 4 CS, 1 Math, 2 Statistics, 2 Arts options, 1 any option.
    • Year 3: 3 CS, 2 CS options, 2 Business, 1 Arts option, 2 Science options.
    • Year 4: Science Internship (SIP)
    • Year 5: 4 CS, 1 CS option, 2 Business options, 1 Science option, 1 Arts option, 1 any option.

    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