Frequently Asked Questions

Questions frequently asked by prospective Computer Science students.

What languages will I learn?

Most programming in our lower level computer science courses is done in Python (CSCI-1100), C++ (CSCI-1200 and CSCI-2300) and Java (CSCI-2600).  You will also learn such languages as C, Assembly, Scheme, Perl, PHP, and others.  However, the study of computer science is much more than just learning languages.  In many of your courses, learning a new programming language will be incidental to the content of the course.

How does computer science differ from computer engineering?

Computer science is primarily the study of what can be accomplished by computers and how to accomplish it efficiently.  In addition to learning good programming practices, students are exposed to such applied areas as robotics, databases, programming language design, and operating systems.  Computer engineering is more concerned with the design of computer hardware and circuit design.  Computer engineers also take traditional engineering courses, including Chemistry of Materials, Engineering Design, and the like.  Regardless of your choice of major, you can take courses in either program; engineering students can take computer science courses, and computer science majors can take engineering courses.

How does computer science differ from Information Technology (IT)?

The IT major is an interdisciplinary degree that focuses on the use of computers and computing to solve problems and the broader environment in which this is done.  IT majors take some of the same courses as CS majors (e.g. Computer Science I and Data Structures), along with courses from HASS and Management.  IT majors also elect a concentration area in which to focus their study of IT.  All of Rensselaer’s academic schools offer concentration choices for the IT major.

I have taken the equivalent of Computer Science I at another college. Can I transfer the credits?

Yes.  You need to complete a credit transfer form that you can get from the Registrar.  A course will be considered to be equivalent to CSCI-1100 (Computer Science I) if it is an introductory programming course using C, C++, Java or some other prominent programming language.

I have a lot of programming experience. Can I skip CSCI-1100?

Yes.  Students may go directly into CSCI-1200 (Data Structures).  In place of CSCI-1100 (Computer Science I), students must take any other 4-credit computer science course at the 2000 level or above.

I have no programming background at all. Will I be behind?

No. Our first course, Computer Science I, assumes no prior programming experience. More information about our introductory course can be found at

What do I need to get AP credit in Computer Science?

If you get a score of 5, you get credit for CSCI-1100 (Computer Science I).

Can I have a dual major?

Yes, computer science students often dual major with Mathematics, Biology, Computer Systems Engineering, Electronic Media Arts and Communication (EMAC),  Cognitive Science, Philosophy, Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS) or Management.  You must meet all of the requirements of both degrees, but you can “double count” courses.  The large number of free electives in the Computer Science program enables students to complete dual majors with most departments other than engineering in 128 credits.  The dual major with Computer Engineering can be done in 134 credits.

Can undergraduates get involved in research?

Most Rensselaer faculty have an active research program, and participation in research by undergraduates is encouraged.  Rensselaer has a program to support undergraduate research for either credit or money (URP).  Active research areas include computer graphics, computer vision, robotics, database systems, distributed systems including grid and cloud computing, sensor networks, scientific computation, machine learning, social networks, semantic web, artificial intelligence, large-scale data visualization, software development and verification, and software projects with the Rensselaer Center for Open Source Software (RCOS).

Are there certification programs?

In general, our courses do not involve certifications; however, we offer several courses on networking that use state-of-the-art Cisco equipment and can lead to Cisco CCNA, CCDA, CCNP, CCDP, and Security certifications.

Are there part-time jobs available to undergraduates?

Yes, many departments on campus need part-time computer help.  Some students work in the campus computer center as consultants.  There are also numerous companies both large and small within the region—many started by RPI faculty, staff, and students—that offer part-time work and internships involving software development.

Are there co-op opportunities for computer science majors?

There are many co-op opportunities available to computer science majors.  Students typically work for a semester and a summer with a large firm such as IBM, GE, Microsoft, Google, or Cisco, assisting in their software development.  This is a popular program because, on top of earning money, it allows students to apply their classroom knowledge to “real-world” problems.

What is the job market like for computer science majors?

The job market is strong for computer science majors.  The average starting salary for the class of 2014 was $114,343 (between $60,000-$164,000), the highest among all the majors in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Where do Computer Science majors go after they graduate?

Most graduates work in some form of software development, while some become system designers, administrators or network managers.  Many of our students also go on to graduate school.  Those entering industry may work for large high-tech companies, including Microsoft, IBM, Google, Cisco, and GE.  Some may work for large consulting, aerospace, and finance companies.  And some may work for smaller firms, locally, nationally and internationally.