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Non CS major - Master in CS application


gopi
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Hi,

I am a graduate of IIT Madras (Biotechnology, B.Tech, and M.Tech, 7.56 cgpa), India. During college, my focus was on medicinal biology. I found the subject interesting and I kept working on it till my last year. Later I realized it was not what I wanted to do. I was intrigued by computer science and how computers do what they do. Since I was from a Biology background, I applied from Bioinformatics Masters abroad (US). Unfortunately, I did not get through any college. I landed in a software development job and it's 2 years now. I want to do a Masters in Computer Science. I am caught between applying for Computer Science or for Bioinformatics. I am also not confident if I will be able to get an admit in both cases. Please help me get some clarity about the issue.

Thanks

Gopi

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Hi Gopi!

I'm afraid I can't offer any insight as to whether you should pursue a masters in CS or Bioinformatics, but I wanted to share my story because it's similar to yours, and hopefully it will encourage you to not let fear of being rejected hold you back from applying!

I did my undergraduate degree in molecular, cell, and developmental biology (B.S.). My first two years, my grades were not the best, but my final two years of undergrad, I was able to bring my overall GPA up to 3.60 (3.97 GPA for last two years). I was also in the same position as you in that I enjoyed my degree, but realized it wasn't what I wanted to do (or at least I didn't know what I wanted to do). I actually took a gap year after graduating and it was a whole year of nothing- no internship, no job, no school, no volunteering, etc. After that year, I went back and took some higher math classes (multivariable calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, and discrete math) and a number of lower and upper division computer science and physics course, starting from the very bottom in CS with intro to programming classes up to the upper divisions. In total, I had spent 1.5 years of relevant coursework to apply to computer science graduate programs, and I only took the leap because I have met two other people who have made very unconventional academic transitions- one went from biology B.S. to physics PhD and the other from history B.A. to geology PhD, both of which told me they returned to school after their undergrad to take remedial courses in the field they were interested in, which is why I did this. Over the last few months while taking some classes, I also started participating in research with faculty. There was at least one person who didn't look at my application and see "B.S. in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology" or my completely empty gap year and toss my application out the window, because I have been accepted to two programs so far, when I truly did not think I could get into any program at all.

The point of this post: don't count yourself out of either option because of your irrelevant academic background, especially since it seems like you did your undergrad in biotechnology, which is much more related to CS than my degree. I can't speak to why admissions committees may have turned down your applications before, and am no expert on expectations of international applicants (GPA, test scores, etc.), but I have had no work experience or research experience until being hired in November as a research assistant at my university. You said you have 2 years of actual real world experience under your belt, which can go a long way, and I would definitely showcase that in an application. Also, I found that making an unconventional academic transition (biology to CS) can make for a pretty unique statement of purpose- use your non-traditional CS background to your advantage, in conjunction with your work experience. Also, if possible, I highly recommend taking and doing well in some core computer science courses at a university or community college. I think many programs want to see academic proof of your knowledge. Additionally, if you aren't interested  in research-oriented masters programs, there are so many programs that are more geared towards professionals who want their M.S. to be more real-world application focused and want to work in industry.

TLDR: Don't let your non-CS academic background hold you back, maybe try to take a few computer science courses at a college or university, and use your non-traditional background and real-world experience as much as you can to your advantage to stand out in your SOP.

I wish you the best of luck, and am happy to answer any other follow up questions.

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