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Help: making the (career-changing) jump to CS


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I'm 26 years old so time is a huge factor. I graduated with a BS in biochemistry from USC. I realized computer science is very interesting after working in a comp. biology lab for 3 years.


If my end goal is a PhD in CS, I understand that getting an MS (over a BS) in CS will open some doors. That said I will need to build my background in CS before applying.


My question is, can I take courses at a community college instead of a 4-year institution without jeopardizing my chances at a MS program? Does GPA matter more than the school where I took my CS courses? I ask because cost of attendance is drastically higher for the 4-year institution.


Additionally any advice for a career changer with hopes of getting a PhD will be greatly appreciated. Thank you guys.

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I'm going through some of the same things you are. I did take some CS classes in undergrad but wasn't a CS major. I've been taking classes as a non-degree student at the local university, but I've done about as much as I can there. I still need 2 more classes (3 would be nice) before applying, and I'm headed across the country to take one of them this summer (it's hard to find upper level classes in the summer). Luckily the cost of this isn't a real issue for me.


I doubt you can take much more than basic programming, data structures, and so on at CCs. I also wouldn't recommend taking anything more than programming or discrete math at a CC (not even data structures or algorithms). I've been taking classes at a lower-tier school (not a CC), and the classes I've taken are legit, but many of their classes are very soft. For example, they have an Intro to Software Engineering class, and it's really just an easy OOP class. They have an OS class I couldn't get into, but I sat in on it for a week anyway, and it was literally the 2nd half of my Computer Organization class (same textbook, same projects, etc.) which I took during undergrad at a mid-tier school. Not saying that book can't be used for an OS class, but this class was clearly weaker than adcom professors might hope for. I can only imagine CC classes would be even weaker.


You can take classes as a non-degree student at many schools, but the main problem is you can't typically register until August (for fall semester), probably December for spring semester. CS has gotten ridiculously popular the last few years (at my small school for undergrad for example, their Principles of Programming Languages class had around 45 students last year, but when I was a student there, they only had 15-20 students in that class, and basically the same growth is consistent at schools all across the country), and it's extremely difficult to get into the classes you need. The other problem is dealing with all the red tape (showing you have the pre-reqs, and sometimes the basic programming classes that are pre-reqs don't match up 100%, so the advisors in the CS department will give you trouble). This all takes a lot of time. After spending the better part of 2 months and talking to probably a couple dozen schools across the country, I've only found 3 schools where you can register as a non-degree student at a reasonable time (i.e., no later than May for the fall semester).


As someone your age, it also gets kind of awkward spending a year or longer in undergrad classes with 20 year olds. Even if you take a grad class, they're typically only 22, and it still gets strange.

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