What's the best part of being a CSE major, and what can you do to succeeed in the toughest classes? When should you apply for internships? Can you still have fun while balancing class, research, and work? Everyone's experience is different, but one thing is clear: CSE majors get the most out of their time here when they're involved in the many opportunities available. Below, current students offer their own advice for success in CSE.
"The CLUE tutoring center in Mary Gates Hall ... particularly because of the late hours it was open."
"The undergraduate labs. All the tools you need will be set up on the computers. Half of the people in the room will be working on the same thing you are, and the other half will have taken the course."
"Great professors and TAs who are always willing to help, awesome advisors, a huge community of groups and activities. I joined an awesome fraternity. This is an awesome place to spend your undergraduate years. The trick is actually taking advantage of the resources available and moderating the temptations of college life (while still having fun!)."
"Hidden resources. A great one is the UW Surplus Store. You can get all kinds of stuff really cheap."
"Advisers, advisers, advisers! Go to the source for the real low-down. Also, make sure to sign up for the mailing lists. It could help you find the perfect summer job or a great lecture on a topic you are dying to learn about."
"Job fairs and on-campus interviews are huge if you're trying to get an internship, which everyone should, even freshmen."
"Don't cram homework in the labs at 4 am and expect people to do your work for you. But DO spend time in the labs, get to know people, ask questions, and have fun. ... You take classes with the same group of people anyway, so make life easier and help each other out."
"Make use of Office Hours! Profs and TAs are exactly that because they know their stuff, and they're extremely willing to help you out. Get familiar with Linux as fast as you can. It'll help you. Look over and/or start homework assignments early -- you'll be better able to anticipate any problems you might run into as crunch time approaches.
"Working collaboratively with other students is what really got me through the program and taught me a great deal (asking other people for help in the labs is also how I got to know people in the department)."
"Find a study partner. At this level of academics, it becomes virtually impossible (if not inevitably less productive) to tackle the course material on your own. By explaining yourself, you simultaneously solidify your own understanding. Other times the reverse is true, and you become thankful for having someone there to help you."
"Perserverence, and taking breaks. These may sound contradictory, but they are not. It's very important to recognize when you're no longer getting anywhere and take a break. Yet it's equally important to actually get back and finish a project."
What mistakes do CSE students make, and what would you recommend to new students so they can avoid common mistakes?
"Do not start your assignment 8 hours before it's due! Treasure your late days for later projects (they're likely to be harder)."
"Don't plan on taking more than two CSE classes at any given time, and not more than one project-based class at any given time. If a topic really interests you, consider taking only that CSE class that quarter [plus non-CSE classes] so you can really focus on it."
"Explore CSE beyond your coursework. There's a lot more to the industry than what you see in class."
"Don't assume that everyone is a super genius and is smarter than you. Don't assume that you are a super genius and are smarter than everyone else. Be somewhere in between."
"If projects or homework are taking a long time, tell your professor; chances are other students are having the same issues"
"My biggest mistake as a new student was assuming everyone in the department was smarter than me and that I didn't know enough about computers. Yes, a few individuals are exceptionally good with computers, and come off as very intellectually intimidating -- not everybody! Most students are just as confused as you are. ... Professors would rather teach students with a "clean slate" than teach to students who are overconfident with what they think they already know about computers."
"Don't wait to apply for internships. Your first one can be extremely hard to get, so you need to get your resume everywhere starting at the beginning of the year. You may still be sending everyone a copy of your resume until the end of the year, but don't stop until you get that internship. After your first internship, getting another is A LOT easier."
"I made the mistake of not taking any 400-level classes until I finished with my 300-levels. I really should have...started balancing 300 and 400 level classes at the same time."
"Not every student can take this advice, but some students shouldn't hold themselves back. Everyone says taking a lot of 'hard' courses is a bad idea and that 'now that you are in CSE you can't do that any more.' That isn't true for everyone."
"Business has helped me view things in a different light, and I definitely recommend classes like Econ 200, 201, 301; Accounting 215, 225; Marketing 301; Finance 350. These classes give us the ability to apply the CS knowledge in a practical way ... the ability to give a profitable form to the brilliant creative ideas."
"Improve your writing past the English 100-level. Consider a class like Writing for Mass Media from the Communication department. Philosophy and Communication offer classes that let you look at Computer Science from a different angle."
"Many business-oriented classes in the Information School will prove beneficial to your career. It's not enough just to know how to program. You need to understand how technology, people, and especially business fit into where you want to be. Any classes opposite of CS are beneficial in stretching the way you think. CS requires analytical skills as well as artistic. People-oriented classes are a good balance to studying about machines."
"I was born in Germany and have interest in completing a minor in German Language & Linguistics. That has been a highly rewarding decision. I've also taken some linguistics and lots of math and science (good for critical problem-solving skills)."
"Taking EE courses is beneficial to understand where the basis for the current computing machinery."
"The CSE classes have given me a way to think through problems and situations in a logical manner."
"The people in the department seem to have fun together. The department brings together people who know what it's like to be bit geeky. If you feel out of place in other parts of college, you might fit in more with people in the department."
"Finding a job has to be the most rewarding part of CSE because the department provides so many opportunities to meet various employers from various industries all year long."
"Knowing that I am part of one of the best CSE programs in the world has been a powerful force that has motivated me to do much of what I've accomplished. You can get that feeling at few other places."
"Working with students and teachers that are some of the best in the nation."
What extracurricular activities, events, organizations, resources, and entertainment would you recommend to new students? How have you made your time at the UW enjoyable and interesting?
“The IMA is great. It, in itself, offers a ton of activities.”
“If you’ve been admitted to the department, you’re probably already qualified for a co-op or internship. Apply early.” (Adviser's note: you don't actually have to be in the major to apply for co-ops. Visit the co-op link for more info.)
“Find a professor or grad student and participate in their research. You’ll make valuable connections and learn a lot.”
“Husky Marching Band. Everyone (that can play an instrument well) should join.”
“Juggling Club. The rock climbing wall is also a good place to meet people.”
“Go through the list of Registered Student Organizations, pick one that sounds interesting, get over any initial fears you may have of stepping outside your comfort zone, and start attending meetings. I found both the Swing Kids @ UW and Husky Capture the Flag to get involved with, and I have met some of my best friends through those clubs.”
Is there anything else we didn't ask that you think a new or prospective student to CSE should know?
"Data Structures...is fun. Take it with Perkins; he tells funny jokes."
"If you have a problem, bring it up with an advisor. The sooner you do this, the more options become available to you."
"CSE doesn't have to be your only major, and it might be best if it isn't. Consider a major in the social sciences or humanities to achieve balance."
"At first, free food at events is great. But you'll find the serious students getting business cards from presenters. Go whenever the department chair holds a pizza lunch. Give him feedback (even if you only have good things to say) because change will happen and problems will be fixed. He really does listen to us."
"Don't be discouraged by the competitive nature of CSE, especially when applying. Make sure to have back-up plans, and just see where life takes you. Above all, try not to stress too much!"