A Guide to Applying for Computer Science

Computer Science is an increasingly popular degree subject that involves the study of computers and the theory, development and application of software systems. If you enjoy Mathematics, are interested in existing and future technologies, and love working with data and problem-solving, this is the subject for you.

Computer Science and Computing courses are some of the most competitive degree programmes in the UK, with applications rising by 12.8% between 2021 and 2022 (according to UCAS). Thus, applicants to Computer Science courses are typically required to achieve high grades and submit applications that stand out to top universities.

If you want to know more about how to do that, then you’re in the right place. This guide includes what a Computer Science degree actually involves, what the entry requirements are for top universities (including admissions tests and interviews), what you should include in your application, and top tips on how to stand out from The Profs’ Head of Consulting, Joseph Robbins.

The Profs’ admissions team are experts in helping students get into even the most competitive of courses. 90% of our undergraduate and postgraduate students get into their first or second choice university and our Oxbridge acceptance rate is more than three times higher than the average. If you need support, get in touch with our team today.

What is involved in a Computer Science degree?

Computer Science and Computing degrees involve the study and operation of computers and computational processes. Computer Science tends to refer to the study of the principles and use of computers, while Computing refers to the actual use and operation of computers, however each course specification is relatively similar. All Computing-based degrees are heavily quantitative and require strong mathematical skills.

Both undergraduate and postgraduate Computer Science degrees look at the theory, development and application of a range of software systems in depth, however different university courses will cover different specificities. Some of the modules you might cover include:

  • Calculus or Mathematics-based modules
  • Design and analysis of algorithms
  • Functional programming and imperative programming
  • Computer architecture, graphics and networks
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Machine learning
  • Computer/cyber security
  • Quantum Computer Science
  • Probability and probabilistic model checking

Which courses are similar to Computer Science?

There are a range of other Computing-based degrees that cover similar topics to Computer Science and Computing courses, but have a different focus or application. These include:

  • Data Science
  • Game Development/Design
  • Software Engineering
  • Electronic Engineering
  • Information Technology

Joe’s tip: Some of these courses may be less competitive or have lower entry requirements than Computer Science courses, so it is worth researching them. If you find a course that looks interesting, you may choose to include it as a ‘safer’ option on your UCAS form to give yourself the best chance of an offer.

What are the entry requirements for Computer Science?

Undergraduate and postgraduate Computer Science courses are offered by almost all of the UK’s top universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London (all three of which are ranked in the top 20 in the world for the subject). However, the specific entry requirements differ between universities and it’s important to know what you are aiming for before applying.

Undergraduate

Undergraduate Computer Science and Computing courses are extremely competitive and entry requirements tend to be higher than for other subjects. Almost all of the UK’s top universities require applicants to have at least one A*. Many courses also require high grades in specific subjects – most commonly an A or A* in Mathematics or Further Maths.

Some universities will also require applicants to pass in the practical element of any science A levels. Always check with the university you’re applying for directly to ensure that you know exactly what is required for entry.

The table below shows the top universities in the UK for Computer Science – according to the QS World University Rankings (2021) – and the A level entry requirements for each. If you’re applying to university with alternative UK or international qualifications, make sure to check the course page for the equivalent entry requirements.

UK rankingUniversityEntry requirements (A levels)
1OxfordA*AA
(Must include at least an A in Mathematics, with the A* in Mathematics, Further Maths or Computing/Computer Science.)
2CambridgeA*A*A
(A level Further Maths is very strongly encouraged.)
3Imperial College LondonA*A*A-A*AAA
(An A* in Mathematics is required.)
4University College London (UCL)A*A*A
(An A* in Mathematics is required.)
5EdinburghA*A*A*-AAB
(An A in Mathematics is required.)
6King’s College LondonA*A*A
(An A in Mathematics or Further Maths is required.)
7ManchesterA*A*A*
(Must include an A* in Mathematics and a minimum of one Science subject in the remaining A-Levels at A*.)
8WarwickA*A*A
(An A in Mathematics is required.)
9LancasterAAB
10BristolA*AA
(An A* in Mathematics is required.)

Does LSE offer Computer Science?

London School of Economics (LSE) is not included in the table above because it does not offer Computer Science or Computing. However, LSE does offer a competitive and highly-ranking Data Science course at both undergraduate and postgraduate-level. LSE’s Data Science courses combine aspects of computer science, machine learning, statistics and mathematics but have a social sciences focus. LSE requires AAA (with an A in Mathematics) for undergraduate Data Science and a 2:1 degree in a relevant subject for its postgraduate course.

Postgraduate

Postgraduate Computer Science courses usually require a 2:1 degree in Computer Science or a similar, quantitative subject (such as Mathematics or Science). Top universities including UCL, Lancaster and Warwick all require applicants to hold a 2:1 degree in a related subject.

There are a few universities that require applicants to have a first class degree. Imperial College London requires a first class degree in any subject for its postgraduate Computing course. Oxford, on the other hand, requires applicants to hold a first class degree in Computer Science or Mathematics, while Cambridge considers applicants with first class honours in Computer Science, Mathematics, Engineering, Science, or another numerate degree.

Which admissions tests are required for Computer Science?

Most undergraduate and postgraduate Computer Science applicants will not have to sit an admissions test to apply for their chosen course at university. However, some of the most competitive universities, including Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial, do require undergraduate applicants to take the following admissions tests:

  • Cambridge – TMUA (Test of Mathematics for University Admissions), which is scheduled for the 2nd November.
  • Oxford – MAT (Mathematics Admissions Test), which is scheduled for the 2nd November.
  • Imperial – Internal, online admissions test which will assess applicants’ “logical, reasoning and problem-solving skills.”

Which universities require an interview?

Undergraduate

Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial all require undergraduate Computer Science applicants to attend an interview if they perform well in their respective admissions tests and their application satisfies the entry requirements. Oxford and Cambridge both use traditional panel interviews, while Imperial may ask you to participate in a range of online activities as well as attend a one-to-one interview with a lecturer.

Postgraduate

Many postgraduate courses require applicants to attend an interview. This could be an interview with a member of admissions staff or alumnus, or alternatively an online video interview. Interviews for Oxford’s MSc in Advanced Computer Science, for example, are generally conducted by telephone or by Skype by a member of the admissions committee.

Joe’s tip: Postgraduate Computer Science courses are extremely competitive at the top universities. For example, Oxford only interviews around a third of applicants to its MSc in Advanced Computer Science.
When it comes to studying at postgraduate level, you are not limited to the number of courses you can apply for (unlike during the undergraduate UCAS application process), so try not to be disheartened if you don’t get accepted the first time. You can apply to lots of universities as ‘back ups’ and, if you are set on one of the most competitive universities, you can always try again the following year!

What should you include in your Computer Science application?

Due to the competitiveness of Computer Science degree courses, your A level grades (or equivalent) and performance in any admissions tests and interviews will be key deciding factors in whether or not you are offered a place. However, there are many other things that can help to make your application stand out, such as:

  • Learning coding or programming languages
    Any proactive learning you have done outside of school can help to show universities that you are self-motivated and well-suited to independent, university-level study. Learning a coding or programming language in your own time will help your application to stand out from other applicants.
  • Making your own website or coding a computer game
    Making a website, coding a computer game, or taking on another project will show that you are not only able to learn new skills, but apply them as well. It doesn’t have to take long; programmes such as Game Maker Studio can allow you to drag and drop your first game within a few hours.
  • Volunteering to help people with computer skills
    Similarly to work experience, volunteering shows that you are passionate and committed to your subject area.
  • Participation in relevant competitions, clubs or challenges
    Cambridge University recommends participating in Maths competitions such as UK Maths Challenge as a great way to help your application stand out and prove that your academic ability goes beyond the school setting.
  • Having a career plan
    Research a couple of roles or companies that you would be interested in pursuing after graduation. Universities want candidates who are going to easily get a job after university and showing that you have a realistic plan (not necessarily one you must stick to!) and that you know your industry is a great way to demonstrate this.
  • Researching details about specific modules
    Whether you’re applying for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree course, researching the modules on the course you’d like to study will help to show your diligence as a student. Choose two or three modules in particular and discuss what you would like to learn from them and how they will help you in your future career.
  • Work experience at a computing-related company
    This shows that you are motivated and dedicated to the subject area outside of a school setting. It also gives you real-life insights and experience of what a career in Computer Science might involve and which skills are important to succeed.

Note that all students applying to university for 2023, 2024 or 2025 will still be required to submit a UCAS personal statement as normal. However, from January 2025 onwards (October 2024, for Oxbridge applicants), there will be changes to the UCAS application process and students will no longer be required to write a personal statement. Instead, all applicants will answer a series of shorter, more tailored questions provided by UCAS.

How can we help?

The Profs’ consultancy team have many years of experience advising students on how to get into some of the most competitive universities and degree programmes in the UK. More than 95% of our students get into their first or second choice university, and our Oxbridge acceptance rate stands at 55% – three times the national average.

Our dedicated undergraduate and postgraduate admissions consultants help you at every stage of the application process, from choosing the right universities for you to preparing for admissions tests and interviews. Our network of Computer Science tutors can also help you get the A level grades required for entry and stay on top of your studies once you’re at university.

Whatever support you need, we’ve got you covered – get in touch with our team today to start preparing.