When I came to UBC, I thought that I would be pursuing a Computer Science degree in a breeze. Well, I was naive. Too naive. Looking through the requirements to major in Computer Science, I thought I could major in it just like that as long as I get certain grades in certain courses. Although that's basically true, things got more complicated for me than I thought it would be.
If you are not too familiar with the process of majoring in Computer Science in UBC, read here:
- 4 Main Pathways to Major in Computer Science at UBC (to be updated on 2–3 March 2021)
Essentially, the two main requirements to major in CompSci through the BA degree at the time was that:
- I had to get a minimum average of 70% across CPSC 110, CPSC 121, and CPSC 210.
- I had to have a decent average across all courses I have taken at UBC to make the cut-off into the major—this cut-off average may change every year depending on the number of applicants and the number of seats available in the CompSci major.
I took CPSC 110 on my very first term at UBC. Still learning how to navigate around the university bureaucracy, the standards held by the university, on top of being new to the city... Long story short, I failed CPSC 110 and it put an end to my attempt to pursue a CompSci degree.
It IS a Big Deal to Fail CPSC 110
Some people say, "Oh, it's not a big deal to fail a course."
I agree to some extent, but at the end of the day, it depends on the course. If you fail one elective in your university career, yeah, it is not that big of a deal. If you fail one core course in your major but you are already in the major, well, it might not still be that much of a deal. If you fail an upper-level core course and you want to go into graduate school in a similar discipline, it may or may not be a big deal, but it's probably still salvageable.
But if you want to get into a UBC Computer Science major and you fail CPSC 110, I personally think it IS a big deal.
I got a 45% in CPSC 110. This was the grade I got because only because of the fail-final-fail-course policy, where 45% was the maximum grade I could get because I failed the final. Had the course not adopt such a policy, I definitely would have passed. I'm not here to argue the validity of such a policy (I can understand why it's implemented), but it's just that this single 45% in my very first term at UBC stonewalled me in a number of ways that led me to decide that I would no longer pursue CompSci as my major.
The Importance of Grades
Note Requirement #1 above. I needed an average of 70% across CPSC 110, CPSC 121, and CPSC 210.
A 45% in CPSC 110 would mean I need a 95% in CPSC 121 to get an average of 70%. Well, I did pass CPSC 121 and I did okay, but I certainly did not get a 95%. Moreover, CPSC 110 is a prerequisite to CPSC 210, so I could not take CPSC 210 unless I had passed CPSC 110 first.
Couldn't I Just Retake the Course?
At UBC, retaking a course does not replace your grade. Both attempts will be listed in your transcript.
After I failed the course, I had a few questions (as I listed below) when I was contemplating whether to take the course again, but it's not easy to answer them as there's no clear-cut way to know how exactly applicants to the major are considered by the department.
Will having failed CPSC 110 even if I pass it when retaking it the second time disqualify me from majoring in it?
Considering the number of applicants to the major and the limited number of seats, unless I pull a, let's say, 90% in my second attempt, I seriously think I stood very little chance. Even if I were to get a 90%, my average for CPSC 110 would only be at 67.5%.
What was the exact average across courses I needed to get to fulfil Requirement #2?
There is no public information made available on this. After some digging I found out that >80% was needed at the time for students in the Bachelor of Arts degree, but there's no actual confirmation.
If an >80% average across a certain number of courses was needed, and I had a smack from the 45% I got in my first term, I would need to score 85% in at least 7 other courses to bring my average up to 80%.
That is before considering CPSC 110 is a 4-credit course, other courses I have taken which I did not get at least 85% in, and the viability of actually getting 85% in at least 7 other courses some time soon.
Couldn't I Just Transfer to Another University?
Nuh-uh, not that easy. Once I failed CPSC 110 with a 45% printed on my transcript, how simple do you think it would be to transfer to another university just like that?
I tried. I forked out a couple hundred bucks to apply to some other programs in another university (somewhat but not directly related to CS), but whether because of competitiveness or the dent in my transcript, I didn't get in. One program I got into was a non-CompSci program that didn't interest me that much, in which case, I might as well remain at UBC.
Even if I could transfer to some other universities, I still had to consider whether they had their own streams that I had to go through all over again in order to just TRY to get into their Computer Science major.
I scoured the web again and again, thinking and thinking what I should do.
Then I realized, perhaps Computer Science isn't for me. Now I didn't jump to conclusion, I realized this after months of extensive contemplation.
Aren't I Giving Up Too Easily?
Am I, though?
Perhaps yes. But as I outlined above, I explained how that single 45% had stonewalled me from the few viable options that I had.
If I had insisted on doing a Computer Science degree no matter what, yes, I could try hammering it away at UBC and try again and again with the very little chance I have just from having failed CPSC 110 once, and risk my academic standing, or take years longer to graduate, or I could transfer to less-known universities. There are certainly many ways to get a CompSci degree had I persisted, but are they... realistically viable?
Regardless, my decision to steer away from Computer Science eventually drove me to a major that I love (and I'd say I have decent grades since then). The major I am in probably doesn't share the same prospects that CompSci majors have, but if I excel in this major, while getting some actual and relevant work experience, is it really that bad after all?
What Advice Would I Give to Prospective CPSC 110 Students (who have no programming experience)
CPSC 110 is often branded as a course that those without any programming experience could manage.
Do not believe it.
I may be wrong and totally biased, but whatever the case...
As a student, it is TO YOUR BENEFIT to treat CPSC 110 with skepticism so that you tread on it carefully.
Don't be me. Don't be like many other students who also had their UBC Computer Science dream stonewalled just because they failed this one course. You don't have to fail if you prepare excessively before taking the course.
I will compile a more general list of advice in this post linked below.
Over and Out
I did not create this post to scare people away from taking the course, but rather giving them a perspective that they may not have considered.
I took this course with naivety, deluded by the brand of the course that it is a course that can be taken by those without programming experience. It is safest if students don't think about it that way. I'm only trying to urge them to be more prepared, considering the competitiveness it takes to be admitted into the major.
- If you have taken CPSC 110 at UBC, what was your experience like? How much do you agree or disagree with this post?
- If you are planning to take CPSC 110, what questions do you have?
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