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I took an undergraduate degree in Bachelors of Science which did not go over a lot of mathematics. I did not even take calculus. I only took up to the highest level of algebra. Is it not possible for me to get into a grad program for comp sci, or electrical engineering? How is it going to work? Will I have to go back and take calc? I'm incredibly stupid at math, and I'm almost 25 years old. Do I have any chance to even get in? The weird thing is, I actually have produced more tangible things than my friends who have taken Comp Sci. I have made websites, video games, published them, and have even been referred to gaming studios as a software engineer by people who work there at major companies such as Activision. But I don't know calculus and I feel really retarded. What should I do? I want to get into grad school but I'm scared I'm too stupid to do it.

I'm embarrassed to admit that my math skills are maxed out at the highest level algebra. I never took calculus. Am I just screwed?

  • Have you considered trying to teach yourself calculus using online videos, books etc? It may not help with your question about formal prerequisites for getting into a CS grad program, but it could help a lot with your self-confidence. I find it concerning that you describe yourself as “incredibly stupid” and “retarded” due to not knowing calculus. Given what you’ve said about your coding abilities, I think it’s very likely that you will discover that learning calculus is no more difficult than acquiring proficiency in Java, python or any number of other things you may actually be very good at. – Dan Romik May 4 at 1:27
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The only way to know if you can get in is to apply to a few programs and make your best case. There are some aspects of computing that require less of mathematics and others that require more.

But, don't make the mistake of conflating computer science and computer programming. Programming is only a tool, if a necessary one, for more important things. In particular, some of the things you have probably missed are deep study of algorithms and, especially, algorithmic efficiency and complexity. These are pretty much dependent on mathematics. If you were to be accepted into a CS grad program you would be competing with people who have studied this before, never mind graph theory, for example.

There are, however, some aspects of CS that are very tied up in things like human psychology and physiology more than mathematics. There are universities that focus, especially, on human factors. Even language design can learn from such things.

All is not lost, but it would be a pretty hard road even if you are accepted. You will need plenty of other evidence of the likelihood of your success to get in the gate, however. There is a lot of competition and most of it has followed a more standard path, so many graduate programs expect and depend on that background.


As for the usefulness of math in CS, note that discrete math, probability, and logic are more central than calculus, which has some, direct application, but is only occasionally essential (say, in theoretical work).

And for advanced work, Category Theory may be needed. Deep stuff.

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  • Hey Buffy, would you recommend me something I should do? Do you think it would be a good idea to go back to a community college and take those courses which I did not take? What classes do you suggest? Besides Calculus? Discrete systems? Some algorithm classes...? – Ryan Glen May 3 at 18:27
  • Actually, any courses in the math curriculum would be good, along with algorithms. – Buffy May 3 at 18:37
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Start with: Don't be ashamed of your level of education and abilities.

Then, apply anyway. But before the application period, reach out to the department head at your prospect institutions, and schedule a meeting. Explain your situation, and bring a copy of your transcript from your undergrad studies. You may be able to get specific advice of things you could do in your application that will get your application through graduate admissions.

Keep in mind that proving concurrency between institutions is usually much harder to do than it should be, speaking from personal experience, so a lot of coursework coming from another university is evaluated first, and sometimes students are conditionally admitted to a graduate program. Normally there's two ways that happens -- a student is requested to concurrently enroll in required undergraduate level classes, or a student is requested to enroll in those classes in advance, and prove a passing grade. In the case of the second, enrolling in classes in a community college if lower division, or at your original undergrad university through an open university agreement if upper division, and passing the classes, then including that additional transcript with your application, will help your application more than you realize.

EDIT: Wanted to add. Don't skip speaking with the department head. They should be able to give you a list of classes they might see glaringly missing. Because math requirements vary between schools, don't assume you'll have to do several levels of Calculus before you can be competent enough. They'll be able to tell you what is an absolute requirement for the application to be approved and by which means you're more likely to get it evaluated as valid, such as taking the class at their feeder community college, which normally has a transfer agreement with the university and is pre-evaluted.

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