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Undergraduate Program

Computer Science and Information Technology

How should we guide students in choosing between an Information Technology (IT) major and a Computer Science (CS) major? The question has already arisen during Freshmen Orientation and will arise more frequently in the future. A simple and obvious answer is that students interested in the technology itself should choose a CS major whereas students wishing to focus more on applications, especially when having a particular application in mind, should choose IT. A glance at the curriculum reflects this answer. The CS major requirements emphasize computing technology, whereas the IT major requirements emphasize less technology and add emphasis on the broader context (through the humanities and management courses) and on an applications (through the second discipline).

A closer look blurs these distinctions. During their professional careers CS majors will almost surely work on applications oriented projects and IT majors will often need programming and system analysis skills at the level of sophistication of a computer scientist. On the curriculum side, CS students should understand the context of the technological revolution underway and therefore should be encouraged to take the IT humanities and management courses. Many are interested in other disciplines and take one or more minors or a dual major. Both are easily done through the numerous free electives in the computer science curriculum. Conversely, IT students should be encouraged to take extra technically oriented courses. They can do this through their choice of second disciplines and through free electives.

Thus, while the initial distinction is probably the only one that can be drawn --- CS stresses technology, while IT stresses context and applications --- it is important to keep in mind that the distinction is only a matter of degree.

Finally, what about a CS/IT dual major? One answer, reflecting the distinctions made above, might be that a dual major makes little sense. A better answer is that, understood in the above context, a CS/IT dual major is a powerful combination. A CS student obtains a broader background by adding the IT curriculum, especially with a non-CS second discipline. An IT major shows more technical depth with the added CS curriculum.

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