Can I visit the department?

Yes. Please see this page for more info.

I will be joining the department next semester. Where do I get more information on what I need to do?

Please see the web pages on Getting Started in CS at Mason.

I am a student in XXX. Can I switch to CS?

The requirements for switching to the BS-CS or BS-ACS programs are listed on this page.

Where can I get more information on financial aid and scholarships?

Please see this web page.

What is the difference between the BS-ACS and BS-CS?

The BS in Applied Computer Science was created as an inter-disciplinary program that allows CS students to study CS + a second discipline (e.g. Biology or Geography) while still being able to graduate in four years. In 2007, the program was expanded to include a concentration in Computer Game Design, which is an inter-disciplinary area that requires knowledge not only of computer science but also animation and other artistic elements of game design.  In 2008, a concentration in Software Engineering, which is an emerging area of computing,  was added to the program. At present, most BS-ACS students are in the Computer Game Design and Software Engineering concentrations.

Are you accredited?

The BS in Computer Science is accredited by ABET

Can I switch between BS-ACS and BS-CS?

The BS-ACS and BS-CS programs have the same foundational and core courses, so students can switch between the programs easily during their first two years. Switching between programs in the junior and senior years is still possible, but students doing so may need to take some additional courses since the programs start to diverge (especially in the selection of senior electives that are available to students).

What is the difference between the BS ACS (Computer Game Design) and the BFA in Computer Game Design?

The BFA degree focuses on the artistic components of game design. The BS ACS Game Design program is a more technical degree. It has the same foundation as the BS CS degree, resulting in both a broad and deep understanding of computer science. It also has more rigorous math and science requirements than the BFA degree. The core of the BS ACS Game Design concentration focuses on providing students with the skills and experience necessary to design and develop games, including an understanding of the artistic processes related to game design.

What is the difference between the CS and Computer Engineering and IT (Information Technology) majors?

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)  published a very helpful document (Computing Curricula 2005) that includes definitions of various sub-disciplines of computing, such as Computer Science, Computer Engineering and Information Technology.

Quoting directly from that document:

"Computer engineering is concerned with the design and construction of computers and computer-based systems. It involves the study of hardware, software, communications, and the interaction among them. Its curriculum focuses on the theories, principles, and practices of traditional electrical engineering and mathematics and applies them to the problems of designing computers and computer-based devices.  Computer Engineering study may emphasize hardware more than software or there may be a balanced emphasis."

"Computer science spans a wide range, from its theoretical and algorithmic foundations to cutting-edge developments in robotics, computer vision, intelligent systems, bioinformatics, and other exciting areas. We can think of the work of computer scientists as falling into three categories.

  • They design and implement software. Computer scientists take on challenging programming jobs. They also supervise other programmers, keeping them aware of new approaches.

  • They devise new ways to use computers. Progress in the CS areas of networking, database, and human-computer-interface enabled the development of the World Wide Web. Now CS researchers are working with scientists from other fields to make robots become practical and intelligent aides, to use databases to create new knowledge, and to use computers to help decipher the secrets of our DNA.

  • They develop effective ways to solve computing problems. For example, computer scientists develop the best possible ways to store information in databases, send data over networks, and display complex images. Their theoretical background allows them to determine the best performance possible, and their study of algorithms helps them to develop new approaches that provide better performance."

"In academia, information technology refers to undergraduate degree programs that prepare students to meet the computer technology needs of business, government, healthcare, schools, and other kinds of organizations.  Today, organizations of every kind are dependent on information technology. They need to have appropriate systems in place. These systems must work properly, be secure, and upgraded, maintained, and replaced as appropriate. Employees throughout an organization require support from IT staff who understand computer systems and their software and are committed to solving whatever computer-related problems they might have. Graduates of information technology programs address these needs."

I am interested in cyber-security. What should I major in?

Undergraduate students interested in studying cyber-security at Mason have three different choices.

The Volgenau School offers a BS degree in Cyber-security Engineering whose graduates are engineers who have understanding of cyber-security issues that arise in cyber-physical and engineering domains.

The BS in Information Technology has a concentration in information security. 

While the CS department does not offer an undergraduate degree or concentration in cyber-security, we offer multiple courses in the area of computer and network security (e.g. CS 468 and CS 469). BS-CS and BS-ACS graduates who have taken CS courses on operating systems, networks, and security will be well qualified to work as cyber-security professionals in industry, or go on to graduate study in cyber-security (e.g., in the department's M.S. in Information Security and Assurance).

To understand the different goals and emphases of the various programs, it is helpful to look at the sample schedules of students in the programs.

Students in the BS CS program take multiple courses on computer programming (including low-level programming and systems programming)  - CS 112, CS 211, CS 262, CS 310, and CS 367 -- leading up to the courses on operating systems, networks and security. 

Students in the BS in Cybersecurity Engineering take the same programming courses (CS 112 and CS 222) that are taken by Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering students. The core curriculum includes engineering courses and several courses covering a variety of cyber-security topics.

Students in the BS-IT concentration on Information Security also take several courses on security of various systems while taking the programming courses required for IT students (IT 106 and IT 206) as well as other core courses in IT.