Target Schools For Computer Science: The Ultimate Guide

Getting into a top computer science program can be extremely competitive. With acceptance rates at some of the best schools hovering around 5-10%, you’ll need to make your application stand out from the crowd.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about target schools for computer science.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: the top target schools for computer science are MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Caltech, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Georgia Tech, and UT Austin.

Look for schools with top-ranked CS programs, strong tech recruiting, and generous financial aid policies.

We’ll cover what makes a school a target for CS, rankings of the best programs, how to strengthen your application, insider tips on admissions, and much more. Whether you’re a prospective student or parent, read on to learn all about target computer science schools.

What Makes a School a Target for Computer Science?

When it comes to choosing a school for pursuing a degree in Computer Science, there are several factors that can make a school stand out as a target. These factors can greatly influence a student’s learning experience, career prospects, and overall success in the field.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key elements that make a school a top choice for Computer Science enthusiasts.

Highly-ranked CS program

One of the primary considerations when targeting a school for Computer Science is the quality and reputation of its program. A highly-ranked Computer Science program indicates that the school has a strong curriculum, experienced faculty, and a track record of producing successful graduates.

Rankings and reviews from credible sources such as U.S. News & World Report can be helpful in evaluating the strength of a school’s Computer Science program.

Strong tech company recruiting

Another important factor to consider is the level of industry engagement and job placement opportunities offered by a school. A target school for Computer Science often has strong connections with leading tech companies, which can lead to internships, co-op programs, and job placements for students.

Schools that regularly attract recruiters from companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are highly sought after by Computer Science students seeking valuable networking opportunities and potential job prospects.

Generous financial aid

Finances play a significant role in the decision-making process for many students. A target school for Computer Science may offer generous financial aid packages, scholarships, or grants specifically for students pursuing degrees in STEM fields.

This financial support can make a significant difference in reducing the burden of tuition costs and making education more accessible to a wider range of students. It’s worth researching and comparing the financial aid options available at different schools to find the best fit for individual circumstances.

Top 10 Target Schools for Computer Science

1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is renowned for its excellence in computer science education. With world-class faculty, cutting-edge research facilities, and a strong emphasis on practical experience, MIT offers students a comprehensive education in computer science.

The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including algorithms, artificial intelligence, data structures, and computer systems.

2. Stanford University

Stanford University boasts one of the top computer science programs in the world. With a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation, Stanford offers students a unique learning experience. The curriculum includes courses in machine learning, computer graphics, software engineering, and more.

Stanford’s strong ties to the tech industry also provide students with valuable networking and internship opportunities.

3. University of California – Berkeley

The University of California – Berkeley is known for its rigorous computer science program. Students at Berkeley have access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a diverse range of courses, including computer architecture, programming languages, and database systems.

The program also emphasizes problem-solving and critical thinking skills, preparing students for success in the field.

4. Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University is a leader in computer science education. The program at Carnegie Mellon focuses on both theory and practical application, allowing students to develop a strong foundation in computer science principles while also gaining hands-on experience.

Students can choose from a variety of specialized tracks, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and human-computer interaction.

5. California Institute of Technology

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) offers a highly selective computer science program. With a low student-to-faculty ratio, Caltech provides students with personalized attention and mentorship.

The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including algorithms, cryptography, and computer networks. Caltech’s strong emphasis on research also allows students to engage in cutting-edge projects.

6. Harvard University

Harvard University offers a comprehensive computer science program with a focus on both theory and application. The curriculum covers a broad range of topics, including computer systems, artificial intelligence, and computational biology.

Harvard’s strong ties to industry and research institutions provide students with ample opportunities for internships and collaborations.

7. Princeton University

Princeton University’s computer science program is known for its strong theoretical foundation. The curriculum includes courses in algorithms, theory of computation, and complexity theory. Students at Princeton also have the opportunity to engage in cutting-edge research and collaborate with faculty members on innovative projects.

8. Cornell University

Cornell University offers a comprehensive computer science program with a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration. The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and computer vision.

Cornell’s strong ties to industry and research institutions provide students with valuable networking opportunities and access to cutting-edge projects.

9. Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is known for its top-notch computer science program. With a strong focus on practical application, Georgia Tech offers students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through internships and co-op programs.

The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including software engineering, machine learning, and computer networks.

10. University of Texas at Austin

The University of Texas at Austin offers a highly regarded computer science program. With a diverse range of courses and research opportunities, students at UT Austin can tailor their education to their interests and career goals.

The program emphasizes both theoretical knowledge and practical skills, preparing students for success in the field.

How to Strengthen Your Application

When applying to target schools for computer science, it’s important to make your application stand out from the rest. Here are some tips on how to strengthen your application:

Take the most rigorous CS courses offered

Admissions officers want to see that you have a strong foundation in computer science. Take advantage of advanced placement (AP) or honors courses in high school to demonstrate your commitment and passion for the subject.

Not only will this show your dedication, but it will also help you develop the necessary skills for success in college.

Get involved in coding competitions and hackathons

Participating in coding competitions and hackathons not only allows you to showcase your coding skills but also demonstrates your ability to work in a team and under pressure. These experiences can be valuable additions to your application, as they show your real-world problem-solving abilities and your passion for computer science.

Complete impressive CS projects

Creating and completing impressive computer science projects can be a great way to showcase your skills and creativity. Consider developing a mobile app, building a website, or contributing to an open-source project.

These projects can serve as tangible evidence of your abilities and dedication to the field.

Get strong letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation play a crucial role in your application. Seek out teachers or mentors who can speak to your strengths, work ethic, and passion for computer science. A strong letter of recommendation from a respected individual in the field can greatly enhance your application and give admissions officers a deeper understanding of your potential.

Excel in math and science courses

Computer science is a discipline that requires a strong foundation in mathematics and science. Make sure to excel in these subjects, as they are often closely related to computer science concepts. A high GPA in math and science courses can demonstrate your ability to handle the rigor of a computer science program and can set you apart from other applicants.

Remember, it’s important to tailor your application to each target school. Research the specific requirements and preferences of each institution and highlight the experiences and achievements that align with their values.

By following these tips and showcasing your passion and dedication for computer science, you can greatly increase your chances of getting accepted into your dream school.

Insider Tips for Admissions

Aim for a 4.0 GPA

One of the most important factors for admissions into top computer science programs is your GPA. Aim for a 4.0 or as close to it as possible. Admissions officers want to see that you have excelled academically and have a strong foundation in core subjects like math and science.

Maintaining a high GPA demonstrates your ability to handle the rigorous coursework that computer science programs entail.

Score high on SAT/ACT exams

In addition to a strong GPA, high scores on the SAT or ACT exams can greatly improve your chances of getting into your target computer science schools. These standardized tests measure your aptitude in critical reading, writing, and math.

Spend time preparing for these exams, as a high score can set you apart from other applicants. Consider taking practice tests, enrolling in preparatory courses, or hiring a tutor to help you achieve the best possible scores.

Highlight your passions in essays

When it comes to writing your admissions essays, it’s important to showcase your passion for computer science. Admissions officers want to see that you have a genuine interest in the field and are committed to pursuing it.

Use your essays to discuss your experiences, projects, or research that have fueled your passion for computer science. Be sure to also mention any leadership roles or extracurricular activities that demonstrate your dedication to the subject.

Apply early action if available

If your target schools offer early action admissions, consider applying through this option. Applying early can give you a competitive edge, as it shows your strong interest in the school and your commitment to attending if accepted.

Early action deadlines are typically in November or December, so make sure to plan ahead and submit your application materials early. Keep in mind that early action is non-binding, so you still have the option to apply to other schools.

Looking Beyond Rankings

When it comes to choosing the right computer science program, it’s important to look beyond rankings. While rankings can provide a general idea of a school’s reputation, they should not be the sole factor in your decision-making process.

Instead, consider the following aspects to ensure you find the best program fit for your needs.

Find the right program fit

Instead of relying solely on rankings, focus on finding a program that aligns with your interests and career goals. Look for schools that offer a wide range of computer science courses and specializations, allowing you to tailor your education to your specific interests.

Consider the faculty’s expertise, the research opportunities available, and the overall curriculum structure.

Consider location and environment

While the academic program is important, don’t forget to consider the location and environment of the school. Think about whether you prefer an urban or rural setting, the proximity to tech industry hubs, and the availability of internships and job opportunities.

Additionally, consider the campus culture and the resources available to support computer science students, such as clubs, hackathons, and networking events.

Research career outcomes

One crucial aspect to consider when evaluating a computer science program is the career outcomes of its graduates. Look for information on job placement rates, average starting salaries, and alumni success stories.

This will give you a better understanding of the program’s ability to prepare you for a successful career in the field. Websites like PayScale and Glassdoor can provide valuable insights into the career prospects of graduates from different schools.

Factor in costs and financial aid

Lastly, it’s essential to consider the financial aspects of attending a computer science program. Look into the tuition fees, the availability of scholarships and grants, and the potential for financial aid.

Consider the return on investment of your education and weigh it against the cost of attendance. Websites like Federal Student Aid and can provide valuable information on financial aid options.

By looking beyond rankings and considering these factors, you’ll be able to find the right computer science program that aligns with your interests, goals, and budget. Remember, it’s not just about the name of the school, but rather the quality of education and opportunities it can provide for your future in the field of computer science.


Gaining admission to elite computer science programs can seem daunting, but with strategic planning, stellar academics, and a standout application, it’s possible. By targeting the right schools, showcasing your skills, and putting your best foot forward, you can end up at one of the top programs in the country.

Use this guide to focus your search, strengthen your candidacy, and find the target computer science program that’s right for you.

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