NYU, MIT, or Boston College? Maybe none of them, considering their lower and lower acceptance rates!
These days, getting into college is a new level of insanity. From a perfect gpa
to top test scores, the number of highly qualified applicants seems to grow in
leaps and bounds, pushing acceptance rates lower and lower. For example,
New York University's acceptance rate for the class of 2008 hovered around an acceptable 36%.
In 2023, it dropped to only 8%!
Over in the Boston area, it was easier to get into MIT (currently one of
the hardest schools to get into at around 4% acceptance)
class of 2008, than it is to get into Boston College today. That's not
a knock against BC, but it definitely shows a trend, doesn't it?
Building Your "Story"
While there's no easy nor guaranteed way to get accepted into any school's computer science program, there are some things you
can do to differentiate yourself. Most important is always your gpa/grades and test scores -
the top quantifiable numbers are what gets you in the door. Once you're there,
you need what many folks refer to as a "story". Who is the authentic you,
what have you done in high school that reflects your genuine interests and passion?
If you want to study CS, have you done coding contests, taught others to code,
or taken years of coding lessons to show your exploration and progression? Elements like these all contribute to a
story that college admissions officers look for, a story that greatly helps
admissions chances when it aligns with a student's
desired area of study.
How theCoderSchool Can Help Your College Application
We teach kids with a custom curriculum, spanning from learning to code to explaining tech and
even helping with Coder Stories
At theCoderSchool, we're not experts in college admissions, but we ARE experts
in teaching kids to code. Unlike our competitors, our core program focuses on
a small ratio for custom learning and individualized curriculum. With a personal
Code Coach to guide them, kids are more engaged in learning the things that appeal
to them most at the level they're most comfortable with.
Best of all, the flexibility in our mentor-mentee model allows us to guide
students in their Coder Story too. Not near one of our schools? We can
even do it over Zoom. If you're curious about us, drop us your info
and we'll set up a free trial.
We've taught many tens of thousands of students how to code, including
some of whom have gone on to top schools like MIT and Stanford.
With over 1,000+ Code Coaches and staff around the country, we've learned
a few things since we started way back in 2014.
That's why we wrote this guide on ways you can help yourself get into
college as a computer science (or engineering) major. After all, learning to code isn't enough -
kids need a story that matches their passion for coding, and that's what allows them
to stand out from the sea of applicants.
We hope this letter from our CEO and our brief guide to building your "Coder Story" will help you
stand out amongst the many other applicants to computer science programs as you go through your college application journey. Good luck!
A Letter from Our CEO
Maybe I’m biased, but I say CS is one of the best degrees to pursue. Studies have shown it to have one of the best returns and highest salaries of all majors. With artificial intelligence (AI) coming, there’ll be an even greater need for good coders to build and manage it. But getting into a college for CS? Now that’s a whole ‘nother story!
When I founded theCoderSchool way back in 2014, I never thought college applications would get this crazy - especially for computer science. Did anyone?! Since then I’ve gone through the college process twice with my own kids (and one more soon), and it’s an experience to behold (and not in a good way, either!).
One thing I learned is it’s about the gpa and test scores first, but the student’s “story” is a close second. Those who want to study computer science should have what we call a “Coder Story” - a profile that shows a student’s real passion for all things coding.
To help build your story, we’ve put together some options to consider. Remember that there is no single “best story,” your student's best story is the one that fits them most. A story they write about their authentic selves, not a story we parents and teachers dictate to them.
Whether yours will pursue computer science in college or not, we wish all our students the greatest success on their college application journey and beyond. (And to the parents - we wish you the least amount of stress as you guide them!)
Questions to Get Started
What’s a Coder Story?
A Coder Story helps answer “who are you?”, a common question for any college application. It’s made up of all the things a student has done that shows their unique interest in coding, and helps to bolster their chances of acceptance into a CS program. When a college admissions officer knows a student wants to study something in particular, what they want to see is the interest from that student in exploring that topic throughout high school. For CS Majors, that's a Coder Story!
What’s in My Story?
Importantly, there is no “best story.” Each student has their own story; it’s this uniqueness that helps them stand out from a field of other college applicants. Equally important, a student’s story shouldn’t be forced - colleges are looking for a student’s genuine passion, not what their parents asked (or paid for) them to do. Our list of story elements isn't meant to be a checklist. If it were that easy, the acceptance rates wouldn't be so low! Please use our list as inspiration to dig deeper into whatever aspects of coding is most interesting. The best part is coding can be social, technical, research-oriented, or many other things - it's up to you to find out what aspect(s) of software engineering drives you the most.
How Do I Build a Story?
There’s no better way than to try! Just like the younger days when kids tried different activities to see what fits, students should try different aspects of coding to see what they gravitate to. Some kids are competition- focused, others might be web-focused or even game-focused. The key is to show a progression as they continue to code. This progression can get deeper (start with our coding contests, then join more contests) or wider (do many things to show you're exploring), as long as there's more added to the story as you advance in your coding.
How Can theCoderSchool Help?
Our jam is teaching kids to code, that's what we do with thousands of kids across the country every week, and have done with many tens of thousands of kids since 2014. We teach in a very custom
format, and small-ratio, allowing us to individualize the content, including using
the lesson to help with building a Coder Story. It's important to understand we
aren't experts in college admissions, but we do know what is possible in the world of coding.
Some of our suggested options are a part of our program, while others are just suggestions that are driven by the student themselves outside of our school.
What Does It Cost?
If you're currently a student, we can help you build out a story as part of our standard Code Coaching program. Our Code Coaching progam is flexible enough to teach coding as well as provide story guidance. However, note that you may be asked to go to private lessons or a different student pairing, depending on your needs. Private lessons or additional support hours may require additional charges. If you're not a current student, consider joining us! We have locations around the country, and prefer the more intimate setting of an in-person session. However, if you're not near a location, we can provide our services remotely too.
Coder Story Elements
Our Coder Story poster from our schools
So what chapters will make up your story? That's up to you! We've come up with a list below as a starting point.
Remember, your goal is two-fold. First, do the things that are uniquely you, and
authentically interesting to you. Don't do it because it's on a website, and don't
do it because someone said you have to. Although feel free to try anything and everything
to see what it is that drives you - you never know until you try.
Second, embellish and expand on the story.
Our suggested elements are just a starting point - don't just check off the list,
use it as a starting point to dig deeper. The deeper you get, the more you show
college admissions officers who you are, the better the chances of acceptance.
Our suggestions below are in a general progression of skill level and age,
though they aren't strict nor exact. Some are programs that we offer within our schools,
others are here merely as suggestions for something you can try. In any
case, if you are a student with us, we're more than happy to help find your
story as you learn to code.
App Portfolio - Put all your apps in one place so you can find them when painting a story of your favorite coding style and your progression through the years. Start a portfolio as soon as you start coding, so you can describe the coding journey you went through. Even if you're 7 years old and making simple games, it's good to track your entire history. If you're working with theCoderSchool, you can use your Student Portal and App Gallery. If not, you might just capture the link, app description, and date in a spreadsheet or other document. Write down how you felt about the app if you want - think of this as your
ongoing "App Diary". Looking for inspiration? Check out some of our cooler apps in our school
Coder Fairs/App Presentations
- Hone your speaking skills by presenting your app to an audience at our Coder Fairs (what we call our demo days). One of our differentiators at theCoderSchool, our Coder Fairs allow students to work on soft skills to complement their coding skills. Tech skills are great, but without the ability to relate and present to others, a coder can only go so far. The ability to be personable is also an excellent trait to show colleges. Some locations also give prizes for best apps or various categories, which of course look good on a college resumé too.
Work on presentation skills at our Coder Fair
Join theCoderSchool's annual nationwide coding contest and try for first place in your location, or better yet place in a national podium spot! theCoderGames is a timed 45 minute coding
contest where students solve as many problems as they can. Only available to theCoderSchool students, over a thousand kids from across the country participate every year. Because each question has a different difficulty level and point value, part of the strategy is choosing the most efficient questions to tackle, since kids typically do not have time to finish all questions. Consistent annual play and of course high (or rising) rankings will show well on an application.
Coding Competitions - USACO (USA Coding Olympics) and ACSL (Amercian Computer Science League) are two coding competitions that are typically focused more on logical problem-solving than building applications. Individuals (or teams, for ACSL) register for quarterly contests, attempting to score high enough to be promoted to the next level and/or qualify for the Finals. Students as young as 3rd grade can start with ACSL, which has many divisions and has a team aspect, where USACO is a more serious competition for individuals with significant prestige associated with Platinum or Finalist levels. Students registered with theCoderSchool can focus on problem-set practice with their coach to get ready for their contests. As with any other Coder Story element, don't expect to do well without consistent long-term practice!
Language Certifications - Get certified in a coding language from
various institutions like Python Institute
or W3Schools or Udemy. Our Code Coaches are more than happy to help guide and tutor you through the knowledge required to pass their tests.
Like anything else, there isn't a "better certification" -
what you get certified in depends on your interests.
You may even want to ask your college counselor whether some schools might
prefer to see a certification (for example, a more academic school like MIT) or
prefer to see something more creative (for example, a more innovative school like Stanford).
Top App of the Month
- Every month, theCoderSchool receives hundreds of new apps uploaded to our App Gallery from our students. Out of those, some apps are marked by Code Coaches as "Top Apps". Each month, staff from around the country vote on the best Top App of all for that month. Students who win Top App of the Month get an email from our CEO along with a certificate and of course bragging rights for your college application!
Tech Blogs - Select students at theCoderSchool are invited to research, write, and publish regular tech blogs on our website or their own. Topic categories can include Explainer pages (take an advanced concept like Quantum Computing and explain it to the layman), Research (comment on complex algorithm usage such as Poisson Distribution), or any other topic they choose. Students who show high interest should create their own website for all their own blogs. Coaches can support in topic selection and review.
Congressional App Challenge
- Every year, middle and high schoolers around the country
are invited to participate in the Congressional App Challenge, a coding challenge run by the U.S. Congress in partnership with us at theCoderSchool. Winners are invited to the prestigious
House of Code
event at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. with the opportunity to meet U.S. Congress men and women and listen to keynote speakers from the likes of Congressman Ted Lieu, Congresswoman Young Kim, and others including our own CEO, Hansel Lynn.
Submission itself shows desire, and winning (and potentially meeting your U.S. Congressperson) is a prestigious award for any resumé.
Super Apps - Coding and software engineering is all about what you can build! Build a unique app with real-world impact (through usage or revenue) and get a big boost on your college applications. Easier said than done, but a great part of a Coder Story that shows exactly what a coder can do. The range of things you can build is vast, use your creativity to come up with something unique. For example something that helps your community, something that fills a business need, or even something that helps you personally become a better person. In this case, building an app is the easy part - building an app that is actually impactful and not just something you show, is the real challenge.
Teach Others to Code
- Give back to your coding community by volunteering at theCoderSchool and help us teach younger kids. Middle Schoolers can help as interns and assist on various group programs. More advanced coders should apply to be a paid Code Coach. Our high-school level Code Coaches are exceptional kids, and must have received an A on their AP Computer Science A course, and a 5 on their AP test. Of course hiring also requires interviews along with a strong ability to relate and engage younger children, and be responsible in a real paid position.
Recommendation Letter - Colleges typically ask for recommendation letters from a teacher or mentor. While a school teacher is most common, why not stand out by having a general manager or owner of a coding school write a letter too? Reserved for our longer tenured students who have a good relationship with our GM or owners, this is a great way to stand out. Of course, the more we have to write about you, the better. These aren't free letters, they're earned!
Coding Clubs - Form a club at school (or within theCoderSchool, if you're a student) to build a specific app together, or use a unique angle like AI, competitions, or teaching the underprivileged to set your club apart. Students often form clubs and call themselves the president, but that in itself won't cut it. There needs to be an output, a consistency, something that is grown out of the club itself. An empty club with an empty title is easy for colleges to see right through!
Hackathons - Hackathons are coding contests that challenge participants to code something in a fairly short period of time. Some Hackathons are 24 hours, others can be offline with a deadline date. Forming one doesn't necessarily require coding, but can be an amazing experience for other complementary skills like business (Hackathons can be profitable), marketing (how do you get coders to participate?), fundraising (business sponsorships), and even presentations and event-handling (renting space, explaining rules, prize presentations, etc). Need a sponsor? Don't forget to ask theCoderSchool! We might even be able to provide a space to hold the competition.
Real Companies - Connect with real executives at tech companies. You never know how a CEO might respond to a well-written email from an aspiring coder. It may sound like a long shot, but we know of a student who emailed, connected with, and had lunch with the CEO of Intuit (and that student was accepted into UPenn)!
Remember, this isn't a checklist, it's a starting point. It’s up to the students to do the work! We at theCoderSchool are happy to help both teach a student how to code as well as help them develop their unique Coder Story through various extracurricular activies related to coding. If you have a college counselor, we're happy to connect with them as well to make sure your Coder Story is in sync with your application.
If you're ready to give us a try, drop us your info
to get a free in-person (or online) trial. If you're not ready, that's ok too! We hope this guide was helpful and wish you the best of luck developing your own Coder Story. We'll be here if you need us!