Computer Science Grows by Leaps and Bounds

Leah Brumgard '19 and Jeff Novak '18

Leah Brumgard '19 and Jeff Novak '18 are among 70 students dual majoring in computer science and another subject this year. (Photo credit: Jessica Griffin)

Philadelphia Inquirer: Hot major on campus? At schools big and small, it's computer science

Leah Brumgard ['19] majors in studio art at Swarthmore College, Jeff Novak ['18] in math, and William Colgan ['19] in biology.

But all three have a second major: Computer science.

The trio is far from unusual. More than 70 students are dual majoring in computer science and another subject this year at the prestigious liberal arts college in Delaware County, and more than 50 have selected computer science as their sole major.

Computer science has become the second most popular major on the 1,620-student campus, behind economics. It’s a far shift from as recently as 2010, when there were fewer than a dozen computer-science graduates.

Across the country, the number of computer science majors at doctoral institutions has more than tripled in the last decade. It’s much hotter than it was during the dot-com blitz in the late 1990s, according to the national Computing Research Association.

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alt text William Colgan '19, a double major in biology and computer science, hopes to combine the two as a research biologist. (Photo Credit: Jessica Griffin)

“Math used to be the language of science, and now computer science is becoming another language of science, and not just science, but social science and humanities as well,” said Lisa Meeden, a computer science professor at Swarthmore. “Everybody feels that they need some computer science knowledge.”

Nearly half of all students at Swarthmore take intro to computer science. Many hadn’t been exposed to it in high school or if they were, only in a limited way, professors say. So when they take that course, their interest is sparked.

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Novak, 22, of West Chester, said he had so much fun in the intro class that he decided to major in it.

“You kind of explore this creativity and small problem solving,” he said.

But it’s not just fun that is attracting students.

The plentiful — and in many cases lucrative — job prospects also are a lure.

“There’s going to be so many options after you graduate,” said Brumgard, 20, a junior from Hanover in York County. “It’s not like you’re destined to just sit at a computer every day in an office and write code. There are a lot of different paths that you can take with it.”

Students are being recruited by Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other high-tech companies, as well as financial firms.

Colgan, 21, a junior from Montvale, N.J., hopes to become a research biologist and use his computing knowledge in his research. Other Swarthmore graduates have gone on to such jobs as clinical research associate for a Seattle hospital, project manager for Facebook, and software development engineer for Amazon.

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