Tech companies have become the most valuable companies by market capitalization. These companies offer lucrative career prospects with high starting salaries, making them a popular choice for many high school students aspiring to work in the tech industry. But which college should one attend to maximize their chances of landing a job in Silicon Valley?
A recent study conducted by College Transitions provides us with some insight. College Transitions analyzed data from over 70,000 entry-level engineering and IT employees at 12 large companies, including Alphabet, Airbnb, DocuSign, HubSpot, LinkedIn, Meta, Microsoft, Snapchat, Salesforce, Stripe, Twilio, and Twitter, to identify which colleges they attended.
Which are the top 30 feeder schools to Silicon Valley?
In terms of the number of people employed by the aforementioned 12 companies, national computer science powerhouse Carnegie Mellon University takes the #1 spot. California intellectual powerhouses University of Southern California (USC) and University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) take the #2 and #3 spots respectively while engineering powerhouses in the South, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), and in the Midwest, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), take the #4 and #5 spots respectively.
As the demand for computer science (CS) majors far exceeds the capacity of some colleges, they have implemented enrollment limits for the CS major. Certain colleges, like Carnegie Mellon and Georgia Tech, require applicants to apply directly to the CS major or engineering school. If a student is not admitted directly to the major as a freshman, it is unlikely or impossible to be admitted later on.
For colleges that require direct admission, one should expect the acceptance rate for the CS major to be much lower than the university-wide acceptance rate. For example, Carnegie Mellon's university-wide acceptance rate was 13.5%; however, the acceptance rate for its School of Computer Science was less than 5%. This difference is even more prominent in flagship state schools. For instance, UIUC’s university-wide acceptance rate was 59.7%; however, the acceptance rate for its computer science program was only 6.7%!
Implications for College Application Strategies
Look for the hidden gems
As you scroll down the list, you may be surprised to find regional universities that are not necessarily nationally known for their computer science programs appearing in the top 30. Examples of such universities are San Jose State University (#17) and North Carolina State University (#24). Although these colleges did not publish their admit rate to their computer science major, it is safe to assume that it is not as low as 5% like Carnegie Mellon.
The proximity of colleges to Silicon Valley appears to be a significant factor. California-based colleges dominate the top 10 list, accounting for half of the top 10. Furthermore, over one fourth of the top 30 list comprises colleges in California. Notable institutions in California that made the list include USC (#2), UC Berkeley (#3), UCLA (#6), UC San Diego (#8), Stanford (#10), UC Irvine (#16), SJSU (#17), and UC Davis (#23).
Consider schools that don’t require direct admission to the computer science major
Out of the 30 schools, one thirds actually don’t require direct admission to the computer science major. This means, your choice of computer science won’t impact your chance of admission. It also means you can apply as a different intended major and switch to computer science after you have matriculated.
Among these ten schools, four have double digit acceptance rates - University of Wisconsin, Madison (60.3%), New York University (21.1%), University of Virginia (20.7%), and University of Michigan (20.2%).
Consider majors similar to computer science
If you have your eyes set on colleges that require direct admission to computer science, consider majors similar to computer science instead. Those alternate majors may have much higher acceptance rates.
For example, UIUC’s CS Engineering major and the CS + X major share a common computer science core curriculum. The “X” represents another major. CS + Economics is offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and CS + Advertising is offered by the College of Media. UIUC’s admit rate to the Grainger College of Engineering, which offers the computer engineering major, and CS + X major are 23.0% and 25.4% respectively, which is over three times higher than the admit rate to the computer science major!