Computer Science @ University of St Andrews

University of St Andrews crest

Prospective undergraduate FAQ

  • Academics in robes with Vint Cerf
  • Lecture on web technologies
  • First year lecture
  • MSc students in the lab
  • MSc students in the lab
  • Undergraduate tutorial
  • Lecture
  • MSc students enjoying a sunny day
  • MSc students at the summer BBQ
  • First year students in a lab-based exercise class
  • MSc students in the snow after November graduation
  • MSc students after graduation
  • Undergraduate students after summer graduation
  • Blue sky thinking
  • Lecture
  • The Jack Cole building
  • Staff discussion

Here are some common questions that are asked of us by applicants (last updated 27/09/2016). We have divided these into three topics:

Applying

Do I need to have already studied Computer Science?
No, we cater for students with no previous experience, though we do expect basic IT literacy. You do not need to know how to program, and our first-year module CS1002 assumes no prior programming experience. That said, the course is designed to appeal to both experienced and non-experienced programmers. Project modules such as CS1006 are extensible and open-ended, with tasks such as developing a Connect 4 or Othello game providing a challenge to all of our students, regardless of their level of experience.
What should I put in my personal statement?
Your personal statement is personal to you, so we cannot answer this. We do, however, provide some advice, and some phrases to avoid.
What level of Mathematics do I need?
We require a post-16 Mathematics qualification. This can take the form of an A in the Scottish Higher or A-level, or a 6 in Maths in the IB. Note that if you are taking a BTEC, HNC or HND, you still require a Higher or A-level in Maths. In addition to this you would still need to meet the rest of our minimum entrance requirements.
Do I need to take all of my exams in a single sitting?
The University's Undergraduate Admissions Policy states that we "will normally consider only those results that have been achieved at the first sitting and in a single diet of examinations. Grades achieved across more than one diet, or through resits, will only be considered where there are mitigating circumstances. " In other words, an applicant with Scottish Highers would be expected to gain AAAB or above in S5. This may not be possible for all candidates, and any mitigating circumstances should be explained in the personal statement or reference. In particular, we do not expect Gateway programme applicants to have necessarily taken their exams in a single sitting.
If I apply for BSc Computer Science, can I switch to MSci Computer Science later?
You can switch between the BSc and MSci at any point until the end of the third year, so long as your performance in certain specified modules meets the MSci minimum requirements. You can also switch back from the MSci to the BSc at any point until the end of the fourth year. Note that University policy is to make one offer per applicant, so please do not waste a UCAS slot by applying for both the BSc and MSci in Computer Science.
If I apply for the Gateway programme, do I get a "Gateway degree"?
No, you graduate with one of our standard Single Honours degrees (BSc or MSci). The main differences between the Gateway and standard programmes are the increased level of support, but once you are in Honours, all students are in the same programme.
Do I have a better chance of receiving an offer if I apply early?
No. All applicants who submit an application by the UCAS deadline of 15 January will be processed according to the Undergraduate admissions policy. It is, however, in your best interests to prepare your application early, to ensure that your application is complete and submitted before the UCAS deadline.
Are there fixed quotas for single and joint honours applicants? Is it easier to obtain an offer for joint honours entry?
There are no separate quotas for our different entry routes; all applicants for single- and joint-honours Computer Science degrees are considered together. It is not easier to apply for a joint honours degree. If anything, it is more difficult, since an application for joint honours will have their application considered by two Schools, and need to be accepted by both Schools.
Is direct entry to second year possible?
Yes, for suitably qualified applicants. Please examine our entrance requirements and contact us if you are interested in this option.
Where can I find information on entrance requirements for international students, especially those with different school qualifications such as SATs or a high school GPA?
Some information is available on the main University web pages, but you are also advised to contact the Computer Science Admissions Officer to discuss your individual circumstances.
I am studying at another university. Can I transfer to St Andrews?
We do accept the occasional transfer student, although places are very limited. Information on how to apply can be found on the main University web pages. Note that we do not accept transfer students into the final year of a degree.
I am interested in applying to St Andrews, but I am unable to attend any of your visiting days. What should I do?
The University organises a number of visiting days throughout the year and you are strongly advised to attend one of these if possible, as there is a full day of events and many staff and students will be around to answer any questions that you might have. If you are unable to attend one of these, then you can arrange an individual Talk and Tour. Once you have arranged such a visit you can contact the School to arrange a visit, but please be aware that it may not be possible to meet with staff or students.
I have applied through UCAS, but you rejected my application because it "was not completed with sufficient detail to allow us to consider your application." What does this mean?
We receive many qualified applications for each of our available places. Unfortunately, some applications do not contain enough information for us to determine whether the applicant is indeed sufficiently qualified. Common mistakes are not listing all of the subjects being taken at school, or not supplying predicted grades for examinations yet to be taken. If the application does not contain sufficient information for us to determine whether you meet our entrance requirements, then it is not possible for us to make an offer.
It all sounds too good to be true. I don't believe any of it! Where can I find out the truth about St Andrews?
If you don't believe us, then you can ask our students. Start by asking the Computing Society through their active Facebook group. Or you could try The Student Room or The Sinner Internet forums.

Our degree programmes

What is the workload like in the first two years?
In first year you spend at least one third of your time studying Computer Science in the compulsory modules CS1002 and CS1003. Typically you have at least four hours per week of lectures and hands-on exercises, one hour tutorial, three hours lab work, and four hours private study. You may also wish to look at the reading lists for CS1002 and CS1003 to get some idea of the material being covered. In second year the proportion of your time on Computer Science rises to between half- and full-time, with a corresponding increase in hours.
How much does the workload increase in Honours?
Overall, the amount of time that you spend studying remains more or less the same, though for Single Honours students that time is now entirely devoted to Computer Science.
What other subjects can I study in the first two years?
More or less anything you like, so long as two thirds of the credits that you gain during that time are in Science subjects.
What if I do not want to do anything other than computer science?
The other modules can be chosen in related fields, such as mathematics, and physics if you are interested in the physical aspects of computer hardware. There are also some optional modules: CS1005 which covers a broad range of computer science topics from our everyday lives, and CS1006 and CS2006 which allow you to engage in some substantial programming projects.
How much choice do I have in picking the modules I want to study?
In first year Computer Science students must take 2 modules in Computer Science, plus another 4 in CS or other subjects. In second year, CS students take between 2 and 4 CS modules, plus up to 2 in other subjects. In Honours the programme is fairly flexible and you have the choice of around 20 Honours modules, in addition to compulsory project modules in both Junior and Senior Honours. Gateway and second-year direct entry students have slightly less choice, and are effectively tied into a Computer Science Honours programme. The restrictions of these programmes should be considered when making your application.
What programming languages do you teach? Are there opportunities for learning other languages during the course?
We teach Java, C and JavaScript in the core modules in the first two years, and Python and Haskell in the optional CS2006 module. In Honours, various other languages are used as needs arise, for example functional and logic languages. In general we view programming as a core skill that underpins a broader Computer Science curriculum, rather than an end in itself. We expect any of our graduates to be able to pick up a new programming language pretty quickly should they need to do so.
What sort of projects do students do, and when?
In the first and second years most modules include a practical coursework element, typically involving weekly or bi-weekly programming assignments. Many Honours modules also have two or three pieces of associated coursework, due throughout the semester. The optional subhonours modules CS1006 and CS2006 include a variety of small programming projects, some of which are completed in pairs or groups of three or four.

Two major projects are completed during the Honours programme. The 15-credit Junior Honours project is a groupwork exercise in which students work in teams to design, implement and test a solution to a specified problem. Usually the systems produced by the teams must inter-operate with one another, meaning that a good deal of inter-group negotiation and diplomacy is required to establish common standards. Examples of recent Junior Honours projects include a robotic order fulfilment system, mobile software agents, cooperative dancing robots, online stock trading, and a networked adventure game. The 30-credit Senior Honours project is carried out individually, with each student working closely with an academic supervisor to research, design, develop and test a major piece of software. Often topics are allied with supervisors' research interests. Examples of recent Senior Honours projects include a web service coordination system, a wireless network visualisation system, application of natural language processing to Ancient Egyptian, an emulator for wireless sensor processors, application of constraint solving techniques to an arcade game, and automatic classification of faces in a video stream. The 60-credit MSci project is similar in structure to the Senior Honours project, with the extended weighting allowing even greater depth.

Is the course just building software, or do students learn about building hardware as well?
The first year focuses on fundamental software development skills. Various modules in second and higher years study aspects of hardware design, but we don't offer practical coursework in building hardware. Having said that, the degree programme covers much more than software development. That is an important core skill, but the broad programme also includes theoretical aspects of computation, principles of databases and operating systems, networks and communications, graphics, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, multimedia, as well as a strong emphasis on transferable skills such as verbal and written communication, group work, and professional and social aspects of computing.
Is it difficult to do joint honours? How many students choose to do joint honours, and what combinations are possible?
The total number of hours of study is the same as for single honours. Currently, about 1 out of 5 students do joint honours. Joint degrees are available with Economics, Logic and Philosophy of Science, Management, Management Science, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, and Statistics.
What is the percentage of female students in the total intake?
Over the last five years (2012/3 - 2016/7), the average percentage of female students taking our first year core Computer Science module was 26.12%.
How many students sign up for CS? How many actually get to do the first year? How many students do the second year of CS? How many honours students are there?
In 2016/17, there are about 170 first year students, 95 second year students, and around 50 honours students per year. Note that these numbers decrease in each year because first- and second-year numbers include students taking other subjects, while the Honours years only include those students who have chosen to concentrate on Computer Science as a single or joint honours degree.
What research is going on in the school?
Our principal areas of interest are artificial intelligence and symbolic computation, human-computer interaction, networked and distributed systems, and systems engineering. See our research pages for more details.
How much research do undergraduates get to do?
Senior Honours projects, carried out under supervision of an individual member of staff, are often heavily influenced by, and contribute to, staff research interests. Excellent projects will often result in peer-reviewed published papers. We also offer several summer internships to both sub-honours and honours students who wish to work on research projects with members of staff.
Do you offer industrial placements?
We do not offer a sandwich course or other placements. Instead, our four-year degree length and the structure of our course, which intertwines theory and practice, allows students to take one, two, or even three summer internships during the course of their degree. Recently, our students have been found in industrial internships at Accenture, Adobe, AIG, Amazon, Credit Suisse, Facebook, Google, McLaren, PlanForCloud, Skyscanner, Thales and elsewhere. Other students did research internships within the School which led to papers at international research conferences. You can find some interviews with student interns on the Careers web pages. MSci students may further spend a semester in industry if this is suitable for their semester-long advanced project.
Where can I go on study abroad?
You can find a list on the Study Abroad web pages. Most of our students go to North America. One of our Admissions Officers is from Singapore and urges our students to go there!
What do the CS buildings look like?
You can see the buildings in this Google Map. The John Honey Building is on the left and the Jack Cole Building is on the right. As you can see, although we are spread across two buildings, they are not very far from each other!
Where do students live?
Information on accommodation can be found on the main University website. All first-year students are guaranteed accommodation in halls of residence. St Andrews is very small and all of our halls are within walking distance of the Computer Science buildings.

After St Andrews

How many students go on to do postgraduate study?
In a careers service survey, in 2013/4 20% of undergraduate respondents went on to do postgraduate study. In 2014/5 the figure was 19%.
Which companies employ St Andrews graduates?
Recent employers have included Accenture, Adobe, Amazon, CloudSoft, Deloitte, Google, IBM, Sky, Dresdner Kleinwort, JP Morgan, KPMG, RBS, Thomson Reuters, Logica, Wolfson MicroElectronics, Metaswitch Networks, SkyScanner, and the Ministry of Defence. Other students have chosen careers in teaching, or to start their own companies. You can also find some more information at the University Careers Centre.