Computer Science for Non-Techies at UPenn
Sep 28, 2022
5 mins read
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
💼 Master's Student
⏳ Aug 2021 — May 2024
University of Pennsylvania (UPenn)
💰 100% Financial Need Met
🤓 22,000 Students
🌏 24% International
I have been interested in programming since early teenage years. I developed a few websites, participated in local competitions, and made a few computer game add-ons as I was learning how to code. However, when it was time to graduate from high school and pick a college major, I decided to go to medical school (probably due to watching too much House MD and following the family tradition :P).
I travelled abroad to study at Marmara University in Turkey (I am originally from Azerbaijan) and later worked in Istanbul for a few years as a licensed physician. Quickly after starting to work in clinics, I realized that medicine may not be what I truly longed for as a profession. I was more interested in "building" rather than "fixing" and desired solving more technical problems rather than interviewing and treating patients. Luckily, I won a Green Card to the United States in a Diversity Visa Lottery and earned a chance to move to the US as a permanent resident.
As I travelled to the United States at the turn of 2020, I had already decided to change my career path and enter the computer science industry, but I did not yet know how.
Learning about the MCIT program at UPenn
When searching for options to transition to computer science, I was trying to find a way to break into the tech industry without having to go back to college and complete a 4-year Bachelor's degree. On the other hand, I wanted to get a comprehensive and robust education in computer science to be able to have a competitive edge in the software development market. An ideal option for me would be a Master's degree, which is shorter than a traditional Bachelor's, yet very comprehensive and demanding in terms of the curriculum. The problem was that, as you probably know, most computer science Master's programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in CS (which I obviously lacked). But what I found out surprised me (in a great way!).
I found out that there is a number of Master's programs in computer science in the US that are specifically geared toward non-CS professionals. In other words, they are designed for and admit applicants that have no previous background in computer science. And some of these programs are among the very renowned, prestigious universities in the country (here is the list of such programs!). I applied to these schools, hoping to get into University of Pennsylvania's MCIT (Master of Computer and Information Technology) program. UPenn sounded like a dream, being an Ivy League university with a top-notch engineering faculty, and I was very eager to get in.
The application process was quite standard, but I will tell you about the specific requirements, how to fulfill them, and my personal experience applying to UPenn.
Current admission requirements for international applicants include:
Personal Statement - here you will speak about your motivation to get into computer science and your qualifications, i.e. what projects, jobs, volunteering experiences you have had in relation to CS.
Letters of Recommendation - the recommenders should ideally be people who can speak to your technical abilities, such as a math or computer science instructor, a previous laboratory supervisor, or a colleague.
Transcripts - the admissions team wants to see your transcripts in order to see if you have taken any quantitative or programming classes (although none are required!) and see your GPA (you should aim to have a GPA higher than 3.0, or ideally 3.5).
Application Fee - usually between $70-100.
GRE - no hard requirements, but generally scores of Q160+/V160+ are reported among admitted students.
TOEFL/IELTS - a minimum score of 100/7.5 is currently recommended.
Although I have had no professional training or work experience related to computer science, I had a few projects tied to CS, which I included in my personal statement and asked my referees to talk about in their recommendation letters. Specifically, I told the admissions officers that I have been interested in computer science since early teenage years, wrote several software programs and designed websites as a hobby, did an internship at the Computational Cognitive Neuroscience lab in the US as a med student, developed a smart health device startup in Turkey, initiated a collaboration between our neuroscience lab and the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics lab at UMB, and built a program that distributes experimental animals into treatment groups according to weight, place preference, and other parameters.
When it came to recommendation letters, my referees were my laboratory supervisor at UMB, the person we did a collaboration with at the AI and Robotics lab, and an entrepreneur/mentor I had when I developed my health tech startup. I asked them to write about the specific experiences we had together and the qualities they saw in me. In order to give them some prompts, I provided them with some reminders of what I had achieved.
My med school GPA was 3.25 and my GRE scores were Q166/V163. I applied early decision to increase my chances of acceptance, and am happy to say I was admitted to my first-choice program!
Financing the MCIT program
When it comes to financing your education as a Master's student at University of Pennsylvania, the tuition and fees make a considerable sum. Unfortunately, there are no grants for the on-campus MCIT program, so most students either pay for tuition and living expenses out of pocket or by taking a student loan. There are luckily plenty of student loan options by private companies that are available for foreign students in the US. I recommend this article on NerdWallet to help you decide on the best options for you. I, myself, took out a student loan, which, after doing some calculations, was totally worth it, considering the salary that is reported by the graduates of the program on UPenn's career services page.
Studying at University of Pennsylvania
So far, I have completed one semester at MCIT and can't speak more highly about the program. UPenn is truly a world-class institution with an urban campus located in the city of Philadelphia, state of Pennsylvania. It was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740 and remains one of the oldest institutions in the United States. The notable alumni of the university include Elon Musk, Warren Buffet, and former US President Donald Trump. The spirit of academia and wit of some of the sharpest students in the world can be felt flowing through the roads of the campus. It is truly an experience to study at UPenn!
The courses I have taken include Introduction to Programming and Math Foundations of Computer Science, both of which were very instructive, challenging, and engaging. I am yet to take more advanced compulsory courses in the second semester, as well as elective courses in my second year. There are also numerous academic and non-academic clubs, internship opportunities, and social causes, which make college experience even more fulfilling.
Overall, I highly recommend University of Pennsylvania and the MCIT program to everyone who is looking to transition to computer science from another discipline. There are several more analogous programs in the US and UK that accept students from other backgrounds, but UPenn was my first choice, and it has definitely lived up to my expectations. For reference, other options for studying computer science as a non-CS major in the US include second Bachelor's degree, Post-Baccalaureate programs, Bridge to CS programs, and online Master's programs for non-CS majors. There are also excellent joint MBA/MS in CS programs in the US for those who are interested in business, management roles in tech, and tech entrepreneurship.
That's it! I am happy to answer any comments or private messages about breaking into tech from other disciplines and wish luck to everyone who is on a similar journey!