Undergraduate FAQ

You may also find it useful to look through the UMass Registrar's FAQ on grades and classes.

General Questions

Q: Is there a particular computer I need as a student in CS?
A: 
Having a personal computer is helpful for being a student in our program, and the overwhelming majority of students do own a computer. We do have a few rooms that contain high-end computers for students to use to complete assignments, and OIT has many more rooms with computers for students to use. You do not need the latest, fastest computer: the programs you'll be writing for classes will take longer to program than to run. The operating system (mac, linux, windows) does not matter either. It must be a full computer though; a tablet computer (ipad, android, etc) will not be sufficient. The biggest decision is whether to purchase a laptop or desktop. Laptops have the obvious advantage of portability. They can be taken to the library, cafes, or to your professor and TA. They are more expensive, and have a habit of being dropped accidently. They also are difficult to upgrade. In short, they don't last as long in general. Desktops tend to be more powerful per dollar, and they can host a monitor that will be useful for years after you replace the desktop machine. They are easily upgraded and typically not dropped. They are more comfortable in terms of programming for long hours.

Q: How do I receive permission to enroll in more than 19 credits in a single semester?
A: 
You can appeal for "credit overload" to the college's academic advising office

Q: What are the requirements for a high school senior who is enrolling in Computer Science at UMass Amherst?
A: 
You first need to be admitted to the university and express an interest in the major.  The admissions
department then decides whether to admit you directly into the major -- usually this requires that you
do well in high school precalculus as well as meeting the general requirements for admission to the
university.  Once you are here, we figure out whether you are ready to take calculus (at the engineer's
level) and Java programming.  Even if admissions does not put you directly into the major, we will accept
you in if you do well in calculus and programming (and acceptably in your other courses), but you must apply and be admitted to the major. That is, you can enroll in these classes without being in the major. The admissions process for the BS and BA degrees are the same. Note that students are by default put into the BS program, but can switch immediately to the BA when they arrive on campus.

Q: I have AP credit from high school. How do I figure out what courses at UMass I can get credit for given the exam score?
A:
 UMass has a standard list of AP equivalencies that you should check.

Q: I have taken, or would like to take, some classes at another university and I would like to transfer the credit to UMass. Is there a list of classes that are already approved?
A:
 Yes we have a short list for colleges that are nearby. If there is a course you have taken, or a university or college that is not listed, contact us and ask for course approval. See a question below on just how many courses you can transfer in. It differs for the minor and BS degrees.

The CS Minor

Q: I am interested in the computer science minor. How much math experience do I need?
A: There is no specific mathematics requirement for the computer science minor, but all the courses require R1 proficiency (such as MATH 104). It's true that CMPSCI 240 and 250 require MATH 132 as a corequisite or prerequisite. MATH 131 and MATH 132 are thus recommended, but students without those math courses can still complete the minor by taking other "core" CS courses CMPSCI 220 and CMPSCI 230.

Q: Is the minor really only 5 classes? I thought it was 10 classes?
A: It used to be 10 classes, but we revised the program. If you are in the old program, in almost all cases, it's strictly easier to complete the 5-course minor.

Q: Can I take classes in another department to complete the CS Minor?
A: Yes and No. You may transfer in equivalent courses for 121 or 187 taken at another university. But the three upper-level (200+) courses of a minor must be courses taken in our department. Classes taken at the Five Colleges do not count towards this residency requirement.

The BS degree

Q: I know there are now two rules for completing the BS: The OLD RULES and the NEW RULES. If I complete one or the other, will my diploma be any different?
A: Both are a "BS in Computer Science" and the same diploma. If you complete a specific track (also called a "subplan") in the new rules, it will appear on your unofficial transcript, but not on your diploma.

Q: The Department's web pages state that I need two science classes, but Spire says that I need three. What's going on?
A:
Students must take three science classes to meet the University's General Education requirements. Those classes can be just three credits each, do not have to include a lab, and do not need to count towards any department's degree requirements. However, our BS degree requires two science classes that are 4 credits, have a lab component, and count toward some department's degree program; by completing those two classes, students complete two of the three classes required for GenEds with one more remaining.

Q: How many classes can I transfer into the BS?
A: In the old BS rules, 5 of your 9 classes taken at the 300-level or above must be taken in our department (not including 305). In particular, classes taken at the Five colleges do not count towards this 5-class residency requirement. In the new BS rules, 5 of your 8 electives must be taken at UMass. Again, classes taken at the Five colleges do not count towards this requirement.

The CS Science Requirement for the BS

Q: Can the two 4-credit "science" classes that I need to take be in two different departments.
A: Yes. For example, you can take Chem 111 (4cr) and Physics 151 (3cr) and Physics153 Lab (1cr) for a total of 8 credits. GeoSciences is also a popular option. We are looking for a class that is in the sciences, that has a lab, and counts towards that other department's major. If you want to suggest a new class, ask us (ahead of time) and you will find that we are flexible.

Q:  If BIOL 151 can be used to satisfy one of my CS Science Requirements, then why can't I enroll?
A:  There are only certain majors allowed to enroll in BIOL 151/152 and unfortunately, CMPSCI is not one of them.  The CS Curriculum and Undergraduate Program Committees agreed to allow BIOL 110 (spring term only), else in order to get a lab for Biology, students need to take BIOL 151, 152, and 153 (lab) which is 9 credits.  Please note that Biology courses are not required for the CS Science Requirement, but are options to satisfy it.

Eligibility restriction on BIOL 151 on SPIRE for Spring 2014:  Open to the following majors: Animal Sci, Biology, Biochemistry, Envir-Sci, KIN, Microbiology, NRC, Nutrition, Psychology, Pre-Medical, Pre-Dental, and PLSOILIN and Stockbrdge.  This course was formerly Biology 100.

Unless CS Majors seek permission of the Biology Dept to allow enrollment in BIOL 151 (via an override if this option even exists), then CS majors should look into BIOL 110, or some of the other courses that satisfy the CS Sci Requirement.

Q:  I entered UMass starting in Fall 2014, but my ARR doesn't show any Biology courses acceptable for the CS Science Requirement, but the CS web page says I can take BIOL 151/152/153 (9 credits) for two CS Science Requirements.  Why does my ARR not show these courses as options for the CS Science Requirement?
A:  Students must take BIOL 151, 152, and 153 (lab) for a total of 9 credits, to satisfy two CS Science lab courses. Students need to email upd@cs.umass.edu to request an ARR Exception to update the ARR.

Q: What courses can I use for the science requirements for the BS?
A: Science requirements for the BS degree must be 4 credit courses that:  (1) count toward major requirements in the sponsoring department; and (2) includes a laboratory component.  Courses that meet this requirement are listed on the B.S. Requirements page. Students normally select two courses from this list---mixing departments is acceptable. Petitions for variances in the science requirement require the student to submit documentation to the UPD that demonstrates that the alternative courses meet the science requirement.

The new BS degree requirements

Q: How do I switch to the NEW RULES if I'm an existing student in the major?
A: There is a form that you need to fill out in the main office, but it won't affect what you can register for during pre-reg. If you want to graduate this February, it is urgent that you switch right now. Otherwise, you should do it soon. Note that once you switch, you can't go back.

Q: If one wants to move to the new degree requirements, would that paperwork need to be done before add/drop ended or could it be done at anytime?
A: Please do this soon, and not just before you graduate. It takes a few weeks for the university to process the paperwork and we don't want your graduation to be delayed. Additionally, we schedule classes partly on the basis of the number of students in each program and what they need to graduate.

Q: A class I need for completing a Track isn't offered next semester. What do I do?
A: During this transition period between the two rules, it's hard to offer everything that students need to graduate. If you are stuck, please email upd@cs.umass.edu.

Q: If I finish two subplans (tracks), would they both appear on my transcript?
A: Only the registered subplan will appear on your transcript. A student can put on their resume anything about their degree that is true. So "BS in computer science, software engineering track, also filled all requirements for the networking track" would be fine.

Q: I am in the BS using the new rules. SPIRE says that I don't have a subplan and it appears none of my classes count towards the degree. What's going on?
A: Until you chose a subplan, your degree audit will show you as having a missing subplan. While GENCOMPSCI is not a default for SPIRE, we request the Registrar to update all incoming students to GENCOMPSCI so your Academic Requirements Report (ARR) is more meaningful.

QI'm interested in getting into the gaming industry. What track should I join?
A:
We do not have a specific track in gaming, however, a number of our students have gone on to work in the gaming industry. Gaming is a broad collection of CS topics, and fortunately, we do offer the right courses to cover them. You should complete the set using the General Computer Science track. Specifically, we suggest: CS 320 Software Engineering, CS325 Usability, CS377 Operating Systems, CS383 Artifical Intelligence, CS453 Computer Networking, CS 473 Computer Graphics, and CS529 Software Eng Project Management. Also Physics 151 and 152 as your science requirement. There are usually other relevant courses offered as well. We've also recently offered Programming on the iPhone, and have had courses in Flash and multimedia topics. We also suggest minoring in Art (contact  Prof Galvis-Assmus) or at least taking Art Dept courses in digital graphic design.  

The old BS degree requirements

Q: I am in the BS using the old rules, but I want to take a 300-level course to fulfill my electives. Can I do that?A: Yes, but they have to be 300-level classes in the CS department and count towards the major. The course description will tell you.

Q: I'm in the OLD RULES for the BS and I need to take two semi-elective classes to graduate. It seems only 453 and 401 are available in spring 2010. Is there no other option?
A: Yes there are two other options. First, 535 is being offered, but it is re-named 391IB. If you take 391IB, it fulfills the 535 requirement. Second, we are accepting 446 Search Engines as a semi-elective.

Q: I'm in the OLD RULES for the BS. Can I use 300-level CS classes to fulfill the electives I need to graduate?
A: Yes there are two options! Both 365 Digital Forensics and 391IB Inside the Box count towards the requirement. Spire will tell you that you need a 400-level class, but we will override this requirement upon graduation.

The Foreign Language Requirements

Q: I took the language placement test in language x. How do I find out my grade? Whom do I contact to interpret what the grade means?
A: You can check your grade on Spire once it is available. Or call the New Students Program for your score, and you should talk to the x department about what course would be appropriate to start in.

The Integrative Experience Requirement

Q: I read that CMPSCI 326 satisfies the IE Requirement, yet it's not showing this on my ARR.  Why?
A: The Faculty Senate approved CMPSCI 326 to satisfy the IE Requirement beginning with the Spring 2014 offering.  If you took it before this semester, then it does not satisfy IE.

Q: Can I count either CMPSCI 320 or 326 as both IE and toward an upper level CS Elective?
A:
 Yes, but 326 only satisfies IE if taken Spring 2014 or later.

Graduate School

Q: I am interested in graduate studies in Computer Science. How do I find out more?
A: A good first step in finding out about graduate school in Computer Science is to visit the new website on undergraduate research and graduate school for students, mentors, and advisors. After reviewing this site you should make an appointment with you advisor for guidance on how to apply and which graduate schools would be suitable for you.