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Prospective Undergraduate Computer Sciences Students

Frequently Asked Questions

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I’m not a current UW student, but I plan to enroll/transfer soon. Can I still be advised by CS advisors?

Computer Science Undergraduate Advisors provide extensive advising resources to current UW-Madison students and transfer students.

If you are in the early stages of considering transferring to UW-Madison or have not yet started your first year on campus (a.k.a., freshman year), we encourage you to access advising through our excellent online resources (i.e., this website) and to email us at Please also consider signing up for a Computer Science Informational Session through the UW Admissions Office.

You will have plenty of time to talk with us once you arrive on campus as a first year student. We look forward to supporting you in learning about and thinking through all your options!

How can I visit campus?

UW-Madison provides prospective students with a number of opportunities to visit campus and learn more. Choose the visit that matches your academic interests!

Where can I find information about applying to UW?

For specific applications and deadlines visit the Office of Admissions and Recruitment.

Is Computer Sciences in the School of Computer, Data Science & Information Sciences (CDIS), the College of Letters & Science or the College of Engineering?

The Computer Sciences Department and its academic programs are in the College of Letters & Science. If you are applying to UW-Madison and have an interest in Computer Sciences, you will apply to the College of Letters & Science. The School of Computer, Data Science & Information Sciences (CDIS) is an administrative partnership among these three departments to strengthen collaboration and industry opportunities. CDIS is housed within the College of Letters and Sciences, and this does not change any major/degree requirements needed for Computer Sciences.

What happens once I’m admitted?

There are several ways that students can learn more about campus and the Computer Sciences Department.  Your UW Day is a full-day program designed to give admitted first year students all the information and campus perspective that you will want in order to make a final college selection. Students also interested in Computer Sciences can attend one of our prospective informational sessions.  Please also consider signing up for a Computer Science Informational Session through the UW Admissions Office.  SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration) will be your first step as a UW-Madison student.  During orientation, you will learn about campus life, degree requirements and how to register/enroll in courses.  In addition, CS advisors will be at the Majors Fair to talk with you about any questions that you have.

I am an incoming student. Which classes should I take?

Most first-semester students who intend to major in Computer Sciences will take one programming course and one mathematics course. Because all students enter UW-Madison with different academic backgrounds, your advisor at SOAR (Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration) will help you determine the best courses for your first semester here.

What if I have substantial programming experience but no college credit?

Substantial means:

  • You have written programs that have dozens to hundreds of lines over multiple files
  • You have defined your own object types (classes)
  • You have experience reading data from a file or writing data to a file
  • You have experience handling exceptions
  • You are confident in your development skills: testing, code tracing and debugging

If you can say yes to all of these, you should enroll in CS 200 and contact Computer Sciences advising at for details about enrolling in CS 300.

How will I receive credit for AP or IB tests I took?

Please consult this site from the Office of Admissions and Recruitment.

What kind of laptop should I buy?

Students are not required to own a computer, as it is possible to complete all work in on-campus computer labs. However, most students find it convenient to have a laptop. The Department of Computer Sciences does not recommend any specific manufacturer or model, though we do suggest you consider the following when making your purchase:

Weight – A computer that is less that 3-4 pounds will be less burdensome to carry around.

Display – For programming, a larger screen makes it possible to see more of the code at once. A screen that is at least 13-14 inches diagonally is ideal.

Storage – Speed can be important, so consider a laptop with a solid-state drive (SSD). Laptops with only a hard drive, while they may store more files, can feel very slow. While 256GB is a common size, many students find it helpful to have more space. External hard drives are not needed; however, cloud storage is a recommended as an alternative.

Memory – Minimum 8GB. Some students find that a laptop with only 4GB of memory feels slow, and it can be very difficult to add memory later.

Processor – Consider a Core i3, i5, or i7 processor from Intel or AMD Ryzen 3, 5, or 7. Some students find that Intel Pentium and Celeron processors feel slow.

WiFi – Make sure your laptop has a built-in wireless network so you can be mobile and access WiFi from anywhere on campus.

Operating System – Windows, Mac OS, and Linux will offer the most flexibility. Some students find that they are unable to run specialized software for their courses on ChromeBooks/ChromeOS.

Longevity – Some laptops at the lower end of these recommendations may start to feel slow after a few years. Computers that exceed these recommendations are likely to be usable for longer.

Optional Features – Depending on how you plan to use your computer, you may find a touch screen, enhanced graphics (for gaming), or support for a pen input (for note taking) particularly useful.

Cost – Most computers that meet these recommendations will cost between $600 and $1500. We suggest that all students consider what is important to them, shop around for a good price, and find a balance between cost and features that you are comfortable with.

What is the difference between Computer Sciences and Computer Engineering?

  • Computer Sciences is the study and application of computation and programming theory. CS places a greater focus on software . Computer Scientists, for example, build the OS and apps that make the iPhone run.
  •  Computer Engineering (CMPE) is the study and application of computers, computing, and computer-based systems. CMPE places a greater focus on hardware. Computer Engineers, for example, build the physical iPhone.
  • There is a lot of overlap between these two fields. Many students double major in CS and CMPE.

What residence hall do CS students prefer to live in?

There is no preference. CS classes (and all other classes) are held in buildings across all of campus, so it does not matter where you live.

Prospective Undergraduate FAQ Document

Find more information regarding the Computer Sciences Department, the Computer Science Major and other related topics in this document: Prospective Undergraduate Student FAQs