These questions below are based on real questions from real people. Please
let us know if they're helpful. Many more detailed questions about
the Computer Science Department
(CS) can be answered by looking around our web pages. The
Undergraduate Admissions Office has a great
web site that can help you with admissions related stuff, and also
with general questions that you might have. And of course there are plenty
of web pages about WPI to browse
Do I have to buy a computer, and, if so, which one?
Which computers can I use, are they free, and how do I get an account?
Are the dorms wired?
Is there wireless access?
We do not require you to buy a particular computer, or even buy one at
all. There are many computer labs that are open to all students for
general use. Other labs are available to support particular CS and/or
IMGD courses that have special needs. For example, the Zoo Lab,
located in Fuller A21 is equipped with 25 high-end PCs. This is
accessible to all students registered for CS courses. In addition,
the IMGD Lab is a 27-seat teaching/research facility that features Mac
and PC workstations equipped with the latest software for building
games and creating art.
computers are appropriate to bring or buy has been provided by WPI's
Services (formerly CCC). All our dorms are wired, along with the
rest of the campus. It is easy to connect your computer to the WPI
Residence Network. That plus campus-wide high speed wireless
networking will give you access to all the computing services on the
Computing and Internet access at WPI is free. You'll be given an
account during orientation when you first arrive on the campus. You
can use it until you graduate and leave.
How large are the CS classes?
- Classes vary in size from about 15 to about 130. Senior level
classes in more specialized subjects, and those about less `popular'
topics, tend to be smaller, while introductory courses, that are also
taken by students from other majors, are the largest.
We try to provide you with lots of additional assistance. Large
classes break out into smaller groups for seminar sessions with
graduate teaching assistants (TAs), undergraduate senior assistants
(SAs) and with faculty. Office hours, and perhaps also help
sessions, are provided for every course. Both faculty and teaching
assistants are available during office hours to provide help to anyone
from the course who wants it.
Help is also available for all courses by email from the course
instructor and the TAs, and usually via
information posted on the web. Every course has a dedicated web
site. Some courses
use the myWPI
web-based course support system.
In addition to the regular instructors, an extra faculty member is
specifically assigned to the introductory courses. Their job is to
help with the coordination of the courses.
WPI's plan of
undergraduate studies also requires students to do projects where
students interact directly with one or more faculty members. This
provides the equivalent of six courses of direct faculty-student
The growth in enrollment for CS programs in the
universities with the best return on investment has challenged all
of us to provide high quality education. Over the years
we have gradually increasing the number of faculty -- making sure we
hire new faculty with a unique blend of strong teaching ability and
high quality scholarship. We are committed to providing a "high
touch" education, where students deal with people who provide
customized care, and do not just interact with technology.
Do you teach a course in C/C++/Java/...?
- Well ... yes and no. None of our courses are intended to just
teach you a programming language. They use one or more programming
languages to teach Computer Science concepts. Once you've learned the
first language and the essential concepts you'll find that additional
languages can be learned more easily. Different languages have
different strengths and can be used for different tasks -- we'll show
In response to changing technology, the needs of industry, and student
requests, we change courses and course content every year. Over time, the
languages we've used in our introductory courses has included Fortran,
Pascal, Scheme, C, C++, and, most recently, Java. We keep evolving.
I'm interested in Databases/Graphics/AI/...
Can I do that here?
- We have lots of advanced courses, so the answer is almost
certainly "Yes". Take a look at the
list of 4000-level CS courses in our Undergraduate Catalog. Other
areas might be covered by combinations of courses (perhaps including
3000-level or even
Do you teach a course on Microsoft Excel, Word or other PC software?
- It is unusual for us to teach the use of specific software, except
when it supports the content of a course. However, the College
Computer Center does offer a training program
for software tools such as Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, and Excel.
Where can I find information about WPI's CS courses on the web?
- For each course you can also see
catalog descriptions, including the recommended background.
All of our undergraduate courses have associated web pages. Our
list of course web pages takes you to the information provided by
the instructors of current and past courses.
Are all courses taught by faculty?
- Courses are never taught by Teaching Assistants: they just "assist". Almost all
courses are taught by regular faculty, with some being taught by carefully
Can I just minor in Computer Science?
How can I combine an interest in Electrical Engineering/Management/... with CS?
Do you have an Information Technology degree?
Can I study Software Engineering?
- If you want to choose
different major, such as Electrical and Computer Engineering, or
Management, and also do a
minor in Computer Science that is certainly possible. You'll need to take
six CS courses for the minor.
Other possible combinations are to do a
double major (i.e., two disciplines), or to major in
CS and add
A good example of an area that can be studied at WPI as a
combination of disciplines is Information Technology (IT).
IT can be defined as the study of the use of technology to store,
communicate or process information. The focus is more on the
information and its uses, than on the technology. WPI has no degree
with that name, and we feel that it is not needed, as the subject is
somewhere between Computer Science and Management. Depending on a
student's interests and abilities, there are several ways that a
degree can be obtained at WPI that covers the IT area.
Software Engineering is both a specialized area within Computer
Science concerned with designing large software systems
3733), and also the general task of producing software. It's what
most of our graduates end up doing, and what most of our courses are
about. We have increasing our course offerings in the specialized
area, in response to recent trends.
What's the BS/MS program?
- The combined
Bachelor's & Master's Program allows undergraduates
to earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree in less time
than would normally be required. This is done by counting some
undergraduate credits towards the master's degree, and overlapping the two
programs. If you're interested, apply at the beginning of the junior
What kinds of Major Qualifying Projects (MQPs) do CS students do?
- WPI students have been doing significant projects as part of theiry
education since 1970.
Support for projects is built into WPI's fabric.
Projects include a senior thesis, called a
Major Qualifying Project (MQP) here at WPI.
MQPs are done in a wide variety of
areas. Topics are suggested by students, faculty members, or by
industry. The Projects Program web
pages allow you to search through WPI's database of project titles and
All MQPs are
presented in public, and most students make
web pages that summarize their project.
Here are some sample MQP titles:
- The Photo-realistic Computer Animation of Combustion
- Dynamic Load Balancing in Java
- Semantics and Structure of Clustered Internet Documents
- MPEG Jitter
- The Java Beans Component Architecture
- Application of Genetic Programming Techniques to Network Flow
- Multimedia Multi-casting
- Computational Graph Theory
- Web Art
- The Use of Intelligent Agents in Newspaper Layout
Do students have opportunities to work with faculty on their
research? On what kinds of problems?
- It is possible for students to work with faculty on their
research. Many faculty take pieces of their research projects and
turn them into MQPs. Sometimes these collaborations result in
conference or journal publications. The range of research areas can
be seen by looking at the list of the CS
Research Groups and by looking at the projects described on those
web pages. Although research group meetings are mainly targeted at
graduate students and faculty, most also welcome undergraduates.
Where do your students go after they graduate?
- Most students go to industry. WPIs
Career Development Center helps students with all aspects of the
job search process. Most major companies come here to interview, or
they can access the web-based resume book.
Some students decide to attend graduate school for a Master's degree
or a Ph.D. at schools such as Stanford, CMU, Illinois, Ohio State,
etc. Some students stay at WPI to take advantage of the BS/MS
program, gaining a Master's degree in less time than it would normally
Can I get good advice about my selection of courses?
- Every student is assigned an Academic Advisor who is a member of
the faculty. They can help with questions about courses,
requirements, and schedules. There are days set aside for every
freshmen and other students to meet with their advisor to plan their
rough plan of your four years in CS is available to help you pick
courses, and you and your advisor can work with a
Program Tracking Sheet to actually chart your progress.
WPI has an Academic Advising
Office that supervises advising on campus, and also helps students
with special academic problems. WPI also has a Committee on Advising
and Student Life, with both faculty and students members, that is
responsible for continuing development of the student advisory and
counseling programs. We take advising very seriously.
Are faculty serious about teaching, or do they just do research?
- WPI is very serious about teaching. We always have been. Faculty
promotion, tenure and salaries really do depend on good teaching, as
well as on research. That isn't true everywhere. Students evaluate
every course, and that
course evaluation information is available on the web for everyone
to see. In addition to student reviews, CS faculty are also peer
reviewed: i.e., we sit in on each other's classes and provide comments
about the teaching. WPI's
Morgan Teaching and Learning Center runs courses and events to
help keep the level of teaching high. The CS department also has its
own discussions and presentations about teaching methods.
Should I take CS Advanced Placement classes?
Will I get credit for them?
If you are taking or have taken advanced placement or accelerated courses in
high school then you are probably qualified to begin your WPI courses with CS
1102 (our first course for experienced programmers) instead of CS 1101 (our
introductory course for novice programmers). If you take the Advanced Placement
Examination and score a "4" or "5" you will receive elective credit at WPI
(does not count towards the CS major). An additional credit for CS 1000 is
granted for a score of "4" or "5" on the AB exam.
You don't have to take the Advanced Placement Examination in order to
select a more advanced-level course. However, you shouldn't select an
advanced course unless you have mastery of the material
that's recommended to come before it.
Do you have to be good in math to do CS?
- You don't have to be good in math to do CS, but it
certainly helps a lot. Mathematics promotes the sort of clear,
logical thinking that is needed to analyze problems and to design and
write computer programs. In addition, mathematics is used in many CS
courses, for example to analyze or predict the performance of computer
programs and computer systems. There's also a formal, theoretical
branch of CS that uses mathematics. So, if you do badly in our Math courses,
you'll probably do badly in our CS courses.
What is WPI's policy with regard to `intellectual property', and who owns the
WPI projects are an important educational experience, and the MQP is a
graduation requirement. WPI owns the rights to the results of an MQP,
unless it chooses to relinquish or share those rights.
Royalties resulting from a patent are shared between WPI and the
inventor, according to the degree of ownership. A sponsor of a
project (external to WPI) will own the rights to a project if the
project was based on proprietary or confidential information supplied
by the sponsor. WPI is not currently in the business of providing
venture capital for start-up companies.
The full, legal details are described in WPI's
Policy on Inventions, Patents and Copyrights.
What's the difference between Computer Science and Computer Engineering?
- There are some overlaps between the topics in the two disciplines.
However, the crude way to distinguish between them is that CS is
concerned with Software, and CE is concerned with Hardware. By
"software" we mean computer programs, and by "hardware" we mean
electrical and electronic devices.
In CS we are concerned with how to
make computers do what we want using software, while in Computer
Engineering they are concerned with designing and building the
computers themselves. However, some topics, such as designing,
building, and evaluating networks of interconnected computers, cross
the boundary. Of course, to find out the details of both disciplines
you ought to attend presentations from both departments, visit the web
pages, and talk to faculty representatives.
Is Computer Science the major for me?
- Different people have different abilities and talents. Until you
try Computer Science it's hard to tell whether you have the right
blend to succeed in this field. However, if you are only interested
in developing web pages, playing computer games, using existing
software, or using computers in support of some other area, then this
might be a signal that you need to reconsider whether Computer Science
is the right major for you.
After high school some of my friends went directly to work as programmers and
they are making big money -- why should I bother with college?
How can you teach me about computers and languages that will only be
invented after I graduate?
- Computer technology changes very rapidly. It's estimated that the
details of what you learn in a B.S. degree may last you about 5 years.
However, we try to prepare you for change by emphasizing CS
concepts that will support you as you continue to learn
throughout your career. If you don't know the full range of concepts,
then keeping up-to-date will be very difficult. With those concepts
you will be able to learn about computers and languages that will only
be invented after you graduate. Computer Science concepts change
In addition, the wide range of courses, teaching techniques, and
projects help you learn `how to learn'. A four year degree
from an accredited program -- we are currently accredited by CSAB -- is the best way to obtain those
essential CS concepts, and to learn how to learn.
Your friends who choose immediate money over an investment in
education are likely to lose in the long run. You'll be able to
continue to learn and adapt to change, allowing your salary to grow
for much longer. Of course, money
isn't the only or even the `main' reason for going to college!
My father says that soon computers will program themselves and nobody
will hire CS people. Is this true?
Everyone agrees that there is and will continue to be a high
demand for computer scientists.
The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the Computer Programmers
section of the 2002-03 Occupational Outlook Handbook, says:
"Systems analysts, computers scientists, and database administrators are
expected to be the among the fastest growing occupations through 2010.
Employment of these computer specialists is expected to increase much faster
than the average for all occupations as organizations continue to adopt and
integrate increasingly sophisticated technologies. Growth will be driven by
very rapid growth in computer and data processing services, which is projected
to be the fastest growing industry in the U.S. economy. In addition, many job
openings will arise annually from the need to replace workers who move into
managerial positions or other occupations or who leave the labor force."
Business Week (21 July 97) says:
"The Information Revolution is racing ahead of its vital raw material:
brainpower. As demand explodes for computerized applications for
everything from electronic commerce on the Internet to sorting out the
Year 2000 glitch, companies are finding themselves strapped for
programmers. In the U.S., alone, which accounts for two-thirds of the
world's $300 billion market in software products and services, some
190,000 high-tech jobs stand open, most of them for programmers,
according to the Information Technology Association."
"And relief is nowhere in sight. Experts predict the gap between computer-science
students and expected demand won't ease for a decade, if then."
The Commerce Department's Office of Technology Policy reports that the
whole IT field was responsible for more than a third of the growth in
the U.S. economy between 1995 and 1997, and that it accounts for almost
half of the nation's long-term growth since World War II.
However, in general, fathers (and mothers!) are usually right. ;-)