At information sessions, college fairs, and high school visits, I often share a short list of popular majors at Tufts. This list usually includes departments like International Relations, Biology, Computer Science, and Biomedical Engineering. When people hear this list, and they hear “Computer Science,” they often follow up with, “I’ve heard that your Computer Science major is offered in both the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering. So… What’s the difference?” I find myself answering this question at least twice a week (rightly so), so I decided to sit down and write this blog post to answer it.
In terms of actual Computer Science courses, these two majors are pretty much identical. Both are going to ask you to take classes like Comp 11 (Introduction to Computer Science), Comp 15 (Data Structures), Comp 40 (Machine Structure & Assembly-Language Programming), Comp 105 (Programming Languages), Comp 160 (Algorithms), and Comp 170 (Computation Theory). This progression will take you from writing your first lines of code (Hello, World!) to learning how computers work (what IS a bit?) to proving algorithmic complexity and NP hardness (I had to consult a Computer Science major for this one). Then, you’ll tailor your major by diving deep into a handful of Computer Science elective courses. This could include anything from artificial intelligence to the structure of the World Wide Web to interactive data visualizations.
So far, both the Engineer and the Liberal Artist (I made this one up) are taking the same courses with the same professors in the same classrooms. The difference really lies in the classes you will take around your major to fill out the base of your academic experience. In the School of Arts and Sciences, you will be taking a set of broad liberal arts distribution courses where you will be asked to build bridges between disciplines and think on a global scale. I always like to say that the world’s problems will not be solved by one person in one place doing one thing. Along the way, you may pick up a second (or third) major, a minor, or just an assortment of fun classes that spark your curiosity.
In Engineering, you will be taking a much more focused curriculum in mathematical and natural sciences with a hint of Electrical Engineering. You’ll still have the opportunity to explore other disciplines outside of STEM through the humanities, arts, and social sciences (HASS) requirement and the breadth requirement that are baked into the major. We’ll ask you to take a couple additional Computer Science electives as well as a year-long capstone course where you’ll work with a team of other engineering students on a project that integrates everything you’ve learned in your four years.
Both majors in Computer Science offer an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach with courses that give students the opportunity to tackle projects in groups.
You may also be wondering about post-grad outcomes (or maybe your parents are). This is a great time to mention that regardless of program (Arts and Sciences or Engineering), students with degrees in Computer Science from Tufts are set up for success in fields ranging from software engineering to design to consulting to data analytics. Either way, you’ll be well-prepared to find a job and/or career that’s exciting and engaging.
So… we’re almost 600 words in, and you may still be wondering, “I can only apply to one! Arts and Sciences or Engineering. Which one do I pick?” If you’re feeling this way, I encourage you to think less about Computer Science and more about what courses you’ll be taking in addition to your major. At Tufts, students find that there are low walls between our Schools of Engineering and Arts & Sciences, so there’s a large degree of mobility baked into the structure of the curriculum. It’s not uncommon to find an Engineering student in a Sociology class or a Sociology student in an Engineering class. If you’re truly on the fence, think about whether you want to take a curriculum that’s going to ask you to build a broad base and then dive deep (Arts and Sciences) or a curriculum that’s going to ask you to focus in on math, science, and engineering (Engineering). At the end of the day, it’s all up to what sounds interesting and exciting to you. I guess this is just a long-winded “it depends,” but I truly believe that there is no “wrong” choice.