Computer Science Now More Than an Elective for University of California...

Computer Science

Computer Science Now More Than an Elective for University of California Admissions

By Sydney Johnson     Feb 5, 2019

Computer Science Now More Than an Elective for University of California Admissions

At campuses that teach the subject, computer science is often offered as an elective at high schools in California. But now, for prospective University of California students, that course can count as a science requirement on college applications, too.

The University of California has expanded its A-G application requirements so that approved high school computer science classes can satisfy a student’s third year of laboratory science, or the category “D” requirement. (Applications to UC schools only require two years of laboratory science, but a third year is “recommended.”)

Previously, computer science fell under the elective category, or “G,” for the application requirements. That means computer science was previously recognized and could count on students’ UC applications as an elective. Now, the “D” category has been expanded to accept computer science for their third recommended year of high school lab science as well. Students still must take a traditional lab or integrated science in high school, such as biology, chemistry or physics, to count for the first two years in their application.

“Parents, administrators and teachers were on board with the importance of computer science for a student, but that wasn’t mirrored in the way college admissions thought about it,” says Claire Shorall, who was formerly a manager for computer science at Oakland Unified School District. In 2015, she started a petition that received 18,369 signatures to allow computer science to meet one of the science requirements for college admission in California.

The University of California’s A-G application requirements are closely tied with the state’s high school graduation requirements. But the recent update only directly affects the university system, and for now California high schools can still choose whether or not computer science can satisfy graduation requirements.

Still, advocates like Shorall call the admissions update a victory because now high schools can follow suit to allow computer science courses to satisfy graduation requirements. “A-G is a bar for high school academic programs,” says Shorall, who now works at a technology investment firm called Neo, and volunteers teaching AP computer science in Oakland. “It was basically to create an incentive for schools to offer computer science without a mandate.”

That incentive is boosted by two bills passed just before Shorall launched the petition. In 2014, state lawmakers in California passed SB 1200, which directed the California State University Trustees and UC Regents to create guidelines for high school computer science courses in order to be approved to count towards admission by CSU and UC. Another bill, AB 1764, subsequently gave school district boards that require more than two math courses to graduate the option for students to fulfill one of those math requirements through an approved computer science course.

“While computer science has emerged as a foundational field for all students, most California schools don’t yet offer it,” California Governor Gavin Newsom wrote in a 2015 letter urging the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) to accept rigorous computer science courses in its application. “California ought to be a leader in computer science, and school districts across the state have launched major initiatives to embrace this vital subject.”

BOARS approved the decision to expand the “D” requirement to also accept computer science for the third year of lab science on January 4.

“The electives are important, but by having computer science as an option for the third course under area D, that typically carries more weight with the UC [system],” says Trish Williams, a former member of the California State Board of Education. “This decision will become a really influential policy lever for high schools to want to offer CS courses and students who want access to them.”

This update doesn’t mean that students have to take computer science in order to graduate high school or to be admitted to a UC. Instead, students who take three laboratory science courses, such as biology, physics or chemistry, can now also choose to take computer science and have it count as the third.

While computer science continues to grow as a popular major for college students, only 35 percent of high schools in the U.S. teach the subject, according to, a nonprofit that aims to expand access to coding and computer science education.

Advocates say allowing computer science to satisfy a requirement will encourage more women and students of color to take CS courses early on. found in 2017 that enrollment in computer science courses was 19 percent higher overall in states that allowed computer science to count for graduation requirements. Participation in those states was 48 percent higher for girls in particular and 64 percent higher for underrepresented minorities.

“When CS is an elective, it attracts only the people who have exposure to it or have a home environment encouraging it,” says Ali Partovi, cofounder of and CEO of Neo. For schools with a tight budget, computer science might be defunded or not offered at all. If it counts as satisfying a science requirement then it is legitimized.”

California has been slower compared to other states to allow computer science to satisfy college application and graduation requirements. These days, 42 states allow computer science to satisfy either a math or science graduation requirement. But a few of those states, including California, leave it up to schools to decide.

Partovi thinks slow change can be a good thing. “Education systems by design should be slow to change. You don’t want college and graduation requirements flipping year to year. If I’m a student planning around requirements, and if those requirements shifted, it’s like hitting a moving target.”

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