There are always more qualified applicants than space available in our CSE programs. Therefore, our process is competitive, and we have to deny admission to some students with good academic records. We typically have space for approximately one third of all students who apply. All applications are reviewed by the CSE Undergraduate Admissions Committee, comprised of faculty and advisors. Committee members read applications prior to an all-day committee meeting where all applicants are discussed.
We use an evaluative, rather than a quantitative, process in our admissions review. This means our decisions are based on more than simply which applicants have the highest grades. We do not tally up points; rather, we form an overall evaluation based on academic background and other factors, such as outside interests and activities, evidence of leadership and a sense of direction, and life experience. We do not expect all students to excel across the board, but achievement in relevant academic areas or evidence of overcoming hardships can strengthen an application.
Even when taking all these factors into consideration, it sometimes proves difficult to provide specific feedback on why a student has been denied admission. This section provides information that may help you better understand our decision-making factors, how you can strenghten your case with a strong personal statement, and your options if your application is declined.
Factors in Admissions Decisions
Here are some points to keep in mind about the CSE admissions process:
- Our goal is to have as complete a picture as we can of your activities, experiences, and academic performance.
- In evaluating transcripts, we look not only at your grades, but at how many courses you have taken each quarter; circumstances, such as employment or activities, that may limit the number and types of courses taken, and the difficulty of each quarter as a whole (insofar as we have access to that information). For example, do you take balanced yet challenging course loads? Are you pursuing honors courses? Negative elements might include a pattern of repeating classes, multiple dropped, withdrawn, or S/NS courses, or selecting schedules with overlapping content.
- We look for breadth in prerequisite coursework as well as in general education classes. For instance, courses in English and Speech Communication can be important to our majors. Many of our upper-division courses demand presentation skills and an ability to communicate among team members. Also, your choice of courses gives us a glimpse of what interests you.
- Your personal statement is an opportunity for the committee to learn more about what is important to you and why computer science/engineering is of interest.
Personal Statement Guidelines
Evaluations of personal statements are subjective. Since each application is read by at least three committee members before the admissions meeting, we can rarely provide specific feedback on an applicant's personal statement. However, we provide below an overview of what we ask you to discuss in the personal statement:
- We are most interested in hearing why you have chosen computing and CSE, what most interests you about this field, and what your long-term goals are at this point. Please discuss how you think a CS or CE degree will help you reach your goals.
- We would also like to know what interests you have outside of CSE. Although a strong academic background is important, we are also committed to maintaining a rich, diverse student population. We would like to hear about your activities both in and outside of school. These may include involvement in student organizations, volunteer work, hobbies, employment, etc.
- If you have applied previously to our department, please point out what has improved since your previous application.
- If you had to overcome significant obstacles, difficulties, or challenges to reach where you are now, please discuss them and how they have affected the person you are today. Keep in mind that hardship itself is not a positive factor; overcoming hardship to demonstrate academic success can be.
- If special circumstances have negatively affected your performance in a course or academic quarter, you may include a brief explanation. We don't need many details; disclose only information that feels relevant and comfortable to you. Information about a difficult personal circumstance can provide context for a grade or academic term that seems uncharacteristic of your overall record.
- If you wish to transfer from another four-year institution, tell us why you wish to transfer to UW.
- If you plan to pursue more than one major, explain why both majors are important to your goals. If admitted, advisors in your other major will need to approve of your plan to declare a double-major or double-degree.
- The UW’s Standard Satisfactory Progress policy requires graduation by the time you earn 210 credits. If you expect to earn more than 210 credits, please tell us why and briefly discuss your plan for graduating. If admitted, you will need to discuss your plan with a CSE advisor (and your other departmental advisor, if you pursue more than one major).
A good essay conveys important information clearly, but is still concise. Expect that writing your personal statement will take time: start thinking about your essay and writing drafts well before the application deadline. Plan to have your essay reviewed by a mentor/teacher, parent or friend.
Here are some resources to consult to ensure you submit a statement of the highest quality.
- List of Writing Centers at UW
- UW Writing Resources for Undergraduates
- Webster's Dictionary
- The Elements of Style
- Paradigm Online Writing Assistant
- Common Errors in English
If You Are Not Admitted
Students applying to the Allen School should consider alternative degree options as well. UW offers many other excellent computing-related majors that are far more than "back-up" plans. Choose a major you enjoy and that will help further your personal, academic, and professional goals. Students in any major may take a non-major CSE course to build technical skills.
For some students who are denied admission to CSE on their first application, applying a second time may make sense. Reapplying does not automatically improve your chance of admission. You must identify what specifically kept you from being competitive the first time, and resolve these issues. Note, however, that the primary reason most students are denied is that space is limited; the Allen School denies many very strong applicants and sometimes there is no specific issue.
For students who decide to reapply, here are some things to consider:
- If your grades in a key area (math, science, English, or CSE) are below the range that is typically competitive for CSE, you might improve your application by taking more-advanced classes in the same area. If you have not maintained consistently strong grades across multiple quarters, evaluate the options you have to create stability and work hard at maintaining strong grades. If you tend to pay attention only to the courses that interest you at the expense of everything else, focus on taking a more balanced approach to your coursework.
- Most students planning for a second application will take additional challenging courses in math, science, English, or computer science. Keep in mind that although it may seem appealing to take a non-major CSE course, these classes do not count toward CSE major requirements. Applicants should speak with a CSE advisor before taking a non-major CSE class.
- Consider general requirements needed to graduate instead of just courses needed to apply. For example, finish your math and science courses, work towards a minor or another major, and complete your general education requirements.
- Ask for feedback on your personal statement. You might ask friends or family if it captures the most interesting and important details of who you are. Be open to making changes. Also, address what has changed since your first application. Spend time proof-reading. Remember that it is more important for us to hear what you are doing presently and hope to accomplish in the future, rather than details about the first time you sat in front of a computer or played your first video game.
- If you have trouble taking tests or organizing your time, consider talking to a counselor at the Counseling Center about test-anxiety, test-taking tips, or time management.
- If you would like to speak to an advisor, there are two pre-major advising centers available to you: Undergraduate Academic Affairs Advising in Mary Gates Hall and pre-engineering in Loew 301. You may also attend drop-in advising hours for the Allen School.