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I have been wondering recently about how graduate schools and in general anyone who reviews my academic record views coops. By coop, I mean a semester taken off from undergraduate studies to work in a related industry. If the student takes more than 8 semesters to graduate, is it a problem? Should the student (if they can) extend their studies by an additional semester so that they graduate in the spring, or is a fall graduation equally acceptable. Do grad programs accept students to start in the spring, or only the fall?

I tried to keep the question above general pursuant to the guidelines in the FAQ, however I will appreciate anyone who is willing to review my specific case.

I am a sophomore in CS at a strong US engineering school. I have 2 summer internships, and now a coop under my belt. My problem is, I do not like any of the work I have experienced. I don't mind programming, but it is not something I can do for 40 hours a week without getting really bored. I only really enjoy the difficult math problems, which don't come up that often for most CS jobs,and I absolutely hate wires, soldering, network-admin and low-level computer work.

I want to switch to Math and pursue a graduate degree in either data science or applied math. I can graduate on time by dropping to a math major and a cs and stat double minor, or I can add a semester and get a double major in math and cs or stats, or take graduate classes. I should also mention that my GPA is currently at 3.2 largely because I have tried to alter the CS curriculum to incorporate the things that interest me (a realistic expectation is a 3.4-3.5 graduating GPA). My final consideration is that the math dept at my school is somewhat low on most academic rankings, whereas my CS dept is in the thunder-weight category trailing the likes of MIT. It would not be hard for me to find research opportunities in either department, which I intend to do either way.

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I have been wondering recently about how graduate schools and in general anyone who reviews my academic record views coops.

Coops are fantastic. Especially for programs in computer science / applied math / data science, relevant industry experience is a strong advantage in graduate school applications.

If the student takes more than 8 semesters to graduate, is it a problem?

No. Nobody cares. Even if someone on a grad admission committee noticed, the longer time would quickly be explained by your coop semesters and your change in majors.

Should the student (if they can) extend their studies by an additional semester so that they graduate in the spring, or is a fall graduation equally acceptable.

Acceptable to whom? If you mean graduate admissions committees, then I repeat: Nobody cares. In particular, graduating in the spring is no barrier to starting a graduate program the following fall. (Of course, you have to eat, but that's a separate issue.)

Do grad programs accept students to start in the spring, or only the fall?

Some do, some don't. Every grad program is different.

One last point: You mention coops, GPAs, and program reputation, but those are not the most significant bits. Graduate admissions committees at top departments are primarily looking for strong evidence of research potential. Assuming my quick Google search correctly identifies your university, you should have lots of opportunities for undergraduate research experience with world-class faculty. Take advantage of them! Start now!

  • Thank you JeffE. Your answer takes care of my major concerns, I am planning on starting a serious research position once I return. – Quantum Spaghetti Apr 18 '13 at 22:02
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    -1 for "nobody cares." Admissions committees might not care, but the undergraduate institution might, particularly with respect to financial aid. Check with your school before deciding to extend your study time beyond eight semesters! (My undergraduate institution, for instance, refused to allow students extra semesters, whether it was for coops, internships, study abroad, or almost any other reason beyond serious medical or financial problems.) – aeismail Apr 19 '13 at 11:19

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