Computer Science

What to Expect


Sunil Shah


My background


  • Maths
  • Further Maths
  • Economics
  • Physics
  • Computing
  • Studied Computer Science at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
  • Worked/interned/volunteered at:
    • Barclays Capital
    • One Laptop Per Child
  • Starting at UC Berkeley in August

Nature of the Course

What to expect on a Computer Science course

Course Structure

  • Usually 3 years for a Bachelor's, 4 years for a Master's
  • Most universities offer a Master's degree, highly recommended to do the fourth year if you can - most students will do this.
  • Some universities offer joint degrees with business, management and economics. However, students from these subjects tend not to work in technical jobs after graduation.

Course Content

Can be quite practical depending on the university you go to. Typically 15-30% of the grade will be from coursework.

Usually have significant group and individual projects where you build something. These can be quite academic in nature or can be very practical.

First & Second Year

  • Several mathematical topics / course:
    • discrete maths
    • statistics
    • linear algebra (e.g. matrices)
  • Computer science fundamentals:
    • introductory programming
    • programming courseworks
    • introduction to computer security
    • data structures and algorithms
    • databases
    • distributed systems
    • software engineering
    • computer architecture

Third & Fourth Year

  • Significant group and individual projects.
  • Advanced courses with more choice including subjects such as:
    • artificial intelligence
    • natural language processing
    • parallel processing
    • quantum computing
    • logic
    • business studies
    • research topics
  • Occasionally will require students to undergo a 6 month placement.


Application advice

Ideal Applicant Background

  • No requirement to have any programming experience, but it will help
  • Demonstrable interest in computer science and technology (through reading, side projects, extra curriculars)
  • Strong mathematical background

Type of Applicant

  • Creative
  • Enjoys problem solving and logical thinking
  • Interest in technology

Interview Preparation

  • Know yourself inside out
  • Practice logical problems
    (e.g. Oxford's website, Maths challenge, etc.)
  • Revise your maths and physics (if applicable)
  • Research the course that you're applying to and be able to explain why you applied
  • Warm up before the interview with sample problems

During the Interview

  • Share your thought process with the interviewer
  • Ask questions if you need to
  • Try to pick up on hints given by the interview
  • Always start with the simplest 'base' case
  • Once you have a solution, think of edge cases that could break your solution

Typical Offers

A* in Maths A-level. As in other subjects.

Careers & After Graduation


  • Graduates work in all sorts of industries from aerospace to financial (technology and front office) to consulting to software development.
  • Typical path post-graduation is to join a graduate scheme at an established company or, with enough experience, informally to a smaller company.
  • Salaries in technology are decent and jobs are plentiful.
  • UniStats:
  • Higher Education Career Services Unit:


  • Can continue on to do a Master's and then a PhD or can apply straight to a PhD program.
  • PhDs vary from highly theoretical to very practical.
  • PhDs are highly hireable. Unlike other subjects, a PhD in CS is very valuable to employers.

Career Advice

  • Aim for a 2.i minimum, tougher at some universities than others.
  • Get as much relevant work experience as you can, even if voluntary.
  • If you want to do a PhD (or are not sure), try and get an undergraduate research internship.
  • Much easier to get a job offer via an internship.

Further Materials


Presentation is online at