A Live Developer Journal

Applying for a masters in comp sci WITHOUT a related undergraduate degree

Should you Apply to do a Master's Degree?

 About a week ago, I received an offer to study a master's in Computer Science (Software Engineering) at Aberystwyth University. I do not have a degree in a related subject, and I do not know programming languages like Java, C or C++ (yet). Both of these were listed as essential criteria for getting onto the course, and yet I was still offered a place.

 Many people in my situation would look at those essential criteria, and see them as insurmountable barriers to entry. Which is why I am writing this post, to show that if you want to do something badly enough, there are ways to make it happen. If you get a 'no', don't interpret it as a negative result. Instead proudly wear the 'no' as a badge. It is evidence that you took the initiative to test boundaries. That makes you amazing.

 If you want to get a yes, you have to know your abilities well enough to convince yourself and others that you will be able to handle the work load. You do not want to be paying thousands for a course that you're not going to complete. More importantly, you do not want to invest your time, energy and mental health into something that is going to harm you in the long term. So make sure your reasons are motivating enough to see you through the challenging times.

 Two mistakes that many people make is assuming that a master's degree as a sure fire way to getting a high paying job at the end of it. They also like the idea of having a master's degree to demonstrate that they are successful in the eyes of a society who equates higher education and material wealth with self-worth. If these are your reasons for applying, re-evaluate them, and remember that you do not need to prove anything. You are enough exactly as you are.

 Okay, so here is what I did to secure my place.

  1. Call the University and Explain Your Situation.

     I started by calling up the department of Computer science and asked if anyone was available to talk to me about applying for a master's degree. I was put through to the head of computer science. I explained that I had been teaching myself full-stack web development for the past two years whilst working as a cashier. I asked for more information about each of the modules listed on the course requirements page, and asked for a few examples of work that I would need to be able to do. The head of computer science was incredibly helpful, and advised me to do Data Science as she believed it would match my capabilities more. I thanked her and took a few months to really think about my decision.

  2. Respectfully argue your case in writing.

     After a couple months of thinking about whether or not I really wanted to do this course, I sent the following email to the department of computer science arguing my case. I made a point of not being forceful or begging for acceptance. I simply stated my case and thanked them for their time and consideration. If they have given you any advice during your phone call, show that you took it seriously.

    Dear (Anonymised),

    A few months ago I contacted you to talk about applying for a Master's degree in Computer Science, where you mentioned the Data Science degree.

    I am going to apply for the Computer Science Degree because my goal is to be a Software Engineer. Data Science looks like an incredible course, but misses a few modules from the Comp Sci course that I would love to do, including the Object-Orientated Programming Paradigm, Agile software Development and mobile Solutions.

    I am confident that I would be able to secure funding for the degree. However, I am worried because the programme asks for a degree in a related subject, whilst my degree was in Criminology. I understand that this requirement is to demonstrate that we are capable of handling the type of work within the degree, as it can be very different from a social science way of thinking.

    The last couple of years teaching myself has shown me that I can do well on this course, because I have built enough full-stack projects to feel confident that I can match the steep learning curve. Another reason I want to apply is because I really want to be around people who are as excited about programming and Software Engineering as I am.

    So what I am asking is, is there anything I can demonstrate in my personal statement that can help me secure a position on this master's course?

    Thank you for your time.

    Kindest regards,

    Rebecca Williams.

  3. Consider the advice you are given, decide whether to apply.

     I was lucky enough to receive an incredibly thoughtful response to the email I sent above. It gave me a solid frame of reference for deciding whether or not I was ready to apply for the course. E.g. Was I prepared to read up on Object-Orientated programming and agile development over the summer? Did I feel capable of completing the sample assignments attached to the email? My answer to the above questions was yes, with the condition that I would have to ask for help to understand the assignments better. The quality of communication from the university confirmed in my mind that help would be there when I ask for it.

    Hello Rebecca,

    My main reservation (and the reason for the requirement to have programming experience) is that I really don't want to set anyone up to fail on the MSc.

    If you are absolutely set on doing Software Engineering, then you could use the summer to start learning programming. The OO programming paradigm assumes you can already program, but not necessarily in a language like Java or C++ or C#.

    You could also read up on agile development, to prepare for the semester 2 agile group project.

    If you send in the application for Software Engineering... [Identifying information removed]... In the normal course of events, we would say 'yes' but would send the applicant some sample coursework, to give them an idea of the expected level of programming before they commit a lot of time and money to a course where it isn't clear that they have a decent chance of success.

    Anyway, the attachments are added to this email. Take a look, see what you think, and we'll take it from there.

    Best regards,


  4. Apply

     After you have reached out to the university, really thought about whether this course is the best decision for you at this stage in your life, then hit the apply button. If you decide to do so, please let me know so that I can cheer you on.

  5.  In the next article, I will tell you more about the registration process, and also go through each of the module options contained on the course. If you would like live snapshots of university life/software engineering thought bubbles. Follow me on twitter (and check out the people I follow, they are all incredibly inspiring, encouraging and motivating.

     In the meantime, happy Saturday!