Prologue: Getting into UW’s CSE program

2 years ago, I set (what everyone said was) an ambitious goal for myself: I wanted to attend UW’s CSE undergraduate program. I start here because I want to say one thing, right off the bat:

This baby knows what I’m talking about.

This is for those of you that really want to get in, and have to listen to a bunch of people discouraging you. I remember. I can’t tell you how many people told me that I wasn’t going to get in (because they hadn’t, I assume, since they didn’t know anything about my qualifications).

If you’ve been academically successful so far, maintained a good GPA, went beyond the minimums required to get by, you’ve got a decent shot* at getting in. Roughly 30% of people are accepted. That’s definitely competitive, but it isn’t one in a million, you know?

This question comes up all the time on /r/udub, Quora and the like: “What are your stats, folks who got into the program?” (If you’re reading this and you were accepted to the program, consider sharing your own answer in the comments?)

First off, I am a transfer student. I can’t speak to the requirements for admission within the university. I got my AS from NSC, which has a fantastic math/science faculty–especially my faculty mentor, Capt. Barbara Goldner (that’s right–she was a ship’s captain before she became a professor, and she’s every bit as bad ass as you’d expect) and my calculus professor, Dr. Denise Brannan. By the end of the series, she knew me well enough that she would give me crap for dumb mistakes. That might sound harsh, but in reality it made me a lot more confident. Now I don’t care about being wrong in class.

Anyway, the stats:

  • GPA – 3.95 (Everything I took was 4.0, aside from a couple 3.8s in non-major classes)
  • CS Club president
  • Two quarters as a TA (One quarter I was a grader for CSE 143, another quarter I was a lab tutor in a CSE 110 class)
  • Independent study in Swift development
  • Most importantly, to me anyway, was a year spent as an development intern at the Institute for Systems Biology, working with Dr. Brady Bernard (Senior Research Scientist, who would probably laugh if he saw all this pomp). I’ll talk about that project in a future post.

The CSE advisors claim that research doesn’t have much weight in admissions decisions. And I’m sure that Prerequisite GPA is the biggest factor–but how can research experience not be an asset at a research institution? In a sea of 3.8-4.0s, the way to stand out is to have something significant beyond your coursework that demonstrates your dedication to the program. Demonstrate that you’re not just interested in the major for the money. (That’s not your primary motivation, right?) Demonstrate that you’re a person who will contribute to the academic committee. That’s how you can stand out.

It’s not that hard to find research or other extracurriculars, you just have to be willing to put in the effort. The first place to start is with your CS faculty. If you’re at a community college, you might have RST, a NSF funded program which supports STEM transfer students. You can also go hunting on your own. I heard about mine through a calculus study partner. What area of CS do you want to work in? Look for local research institutions. Many of them have educational outreach liaisons. Email them! Don’t take no for an answer! 

Okay, that’s all for now. Next up, I’ll be talking about my first week in the program!

*A small dose of reality, though: if you’re aren’t getting mostly 4.0s in your programming or calculus classes, you should consider other programs. UW CSE is, by all accounts, extremely rigorous, and those courses are considered weeder courses. Admissions aside, if you aren’t excelling at your current institution, you have to keep in mind that UW will be an order of magnitude more challenging. There are a number of good schools here in the Seattle area that will get you into the field. UW-Bothell, UW-Tacoma, Seattle U… complete one of those programs and you’ll have no problem finding a job. (Of course, most of those programs are still competitive — UW-Bothell’s minimum competitive prerequisite GPA is, for instance, 3.7 now.) Some people also apply to alternative majors at UW-Seattle: HCDE, Informatics, Electrical Engineering, AMCS are all popular choices. They’re all going to lead to employability within the industry. But, of course, they are all becoming more competitive as well. 

13 thoughts on “Prologue: Getting into UW’s CSE program

  1. Hey, I am applying as a transfer student to CSE department this Fall (2016).
    I am completing my AS at South Seattle College ( taking one class at North campus too).
    I’d like to ask you some questions (if you do not mind) :
    by the time you submitted the application, how many credits did you have? what was your GPA at that time?

  2. Hi there! I applied to the department during the quarter in which I completed my AS, if I remember correctly. My GPA when I graduated was 3.94–I’ll just give you that number, because I had to send my Spring grades with my departmental application. My non-4.0 grades were mostly not related to the major, although I got 3.9s in the last two quarters of Calculus.

    Good luck!!

    1. Hi Lauren,
      Thank you for replying that quick!
      It means you did not complete your AS at the time you applied? Did they ask you to update your transcript? I mean before you knew that you got accepted.
      And may I ask how do you know your personal statement is strong? I still doubt about my personal statement.
      And sorry if I asked too much! I feel so stressed of waiting.
      Thank you!

      1. Haha, no problem, my brain needs a break from this project 🙂

        So, they actually changed the transfer process mid-application cycle during the period when I applied. It used to be that you’d apply to UW earlier in the year, and then department applications were due at the beginning of summer. So I had completed my AS before I applied to the department, and they had me include an unofficial transcript.

        However, they changed the process and now the department doesn’t evaluate transfer students’ applications–the main admissions department does. I do know (from speaking on a transfer student panel for a conference of advisors last week) that the reason they wait so long to is because they want to see the spring grades.

        I’m not really sure how to quantify what makes a personal statement good, to be honest. Things that come to mind: demonstrating a genuine passion for CS, highlighting relevant experience, giving examples of your perseverance in achieving your education, etc. It definitely needs to be edited well for spelling and grammar. For what it’s worth, I feel like I kinda phoned my personal statement in. It was during a busy time and it was my main UW personal statement, which at the time I didn’t really think was going to matter much–I was told that I’d have to submit a separate departmental essay, and I figured that was the important one. It’s not like UW was going to reject me if CSE accepted me. But then they changed the process and I didn’t actually get to write the second one. So that was pretty scary.

        I totally feel your pain. The waiting is *super* stressful. Personally, I think that’s something that could use some evaluation, but I don’t have a good answer for what would be better.

  3. Hi, Lauren. Can I ask you a quick question? Typically, when did you get the decision? I’m currently apply as a transfer student from Seattle Central College. I got 3.8 in CSC 142 and 3.9 in CSC 143 at my school. I did quite well in all my math classes. Do you think I have a good chance to get in? Thanks

      1. Not yet. It takes forever. I have been waiting for 5 months. This also causes me a lot of troubles since the other school wants me to send them my Sevis (I’m an international student).

  4. Hi Lauren,
    I got into the CSE department this Fall!
    Could you please guide me what classes I should take in my first quarter.!
    I am so nervous now!

    thank you,

        1. It would be nice if I can have your email address or some ways that I can contact you. I also applied to CSE this Fall as a transfer student. I feels really nervous.I just want to ask some questions. I promise I will not spam your inbox.
          Tri Pham

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