A Glance at Upenn Computer Science Program

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of UPenn sign

A Glance at UPenn Computer Science Program

The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is a storied institution with a long and storied history that dates back to its founding by Benjamin Franklin in 1740. Initially conceived as a place to prepare leaders in business, government, and public service, UPenn has evolved over the centuries into a comprehensive, multidisciplinary research university that stands among the Ivy League. One of the top degrees offered at this university is the Upenn Computer Science program.

Notably, UPenn is renowned for its School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), officially established in 1852, making it one of the oldest engineering schools in the United States. The school has been spearheading the integration of education, research, and innovation, consistently producing graduates ready to make significant contributions to engineering. The Computer and Information Science (CIS) Department is among the school’s diverse departments.

It is a hub of cutting-edge research and high-quality education dedicated to advancing the field of computer science. Established in the mid-20th century as the field of computing began to take shape, the CIS Department at UPenn has grown to become an internationally recognized center for computational research and education.

It offers comprehensive programs across all levels of study, providing students with a strong foundation in the principles of computer science and the necessary skills to apply these principles in practical, real-world contexts. The CIS Department’s focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration, innovative teaching methodologies, and research at the forefront of technology consistently ensures it is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in computer science.

University of Pennsylvania Department of Computer and Information Science

Overview of the CIS department

The Department of Computer and Information Science at the University of Pennsylvania is a leading computing research and education institution. The Department offers a diverse range of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs, each designed to equip students with a firm foundation with regard to computer science principles and practical applications.

The department is distinguished by its world-class faculty, many renowned experts in their respective fields, and contribute to advancing knowledge in artificial intelligence, data science, cybersecurity, and more.

Cropped picture of students using computers in a classroom

With state-of-the-art facilities and a collaborative learning environment, the CIS department is committed to fostering innovation and preparing students to become leaders in the rapidly evolving field of computer science.


The faculty of the Upenn Computer Science department is a distinguished group of scholars and researchers, many of whom are recognized globally for their contributions to the field of computer science.

These faculty members bring their wide-ranging expertise to the classroom, providing students with invaluable insights into theoretical foundations and current trends in computer science. The notable faculty receive prestigious awards and recognitions such as the Turing Award, Guggenheim Fellowships, and memberships in the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences.

The department’s faculty members have significantly advanced in numerous research areas, including artificial intelligence, data science, machine learning, cybersecurity, computer graphics, programming languages, software engineering, and computational biology. Their ongoing research often results in groundbreaking innovations, contributing to the department’s reputation as a leading computer science research and education center.

Infrastructure and facilities

The Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania is housed in state-of-the-art facilities that foster an environment of innovation and discovery. The department’s primary location, Levine Hall, features technologically advanced classrooms, research labs, and collaborative spaces designed to encourage interactive learning and research.

The building also houses the Singh Center for Nanotechnology, which provides students and faculty access to cutting-edge nanotechnology equipment. Additionally, the department maintains high-performance computing clusters, offering students the computational power needed for advanced research in specific fields like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analysis.

These facilities, combined with a robust digital infrastructure that supports online learning and remote collaboration, allow the CIS department to provide a comprehensive, high-quality computer science education that prepares students for the demands of the modern tech industry.

Diversity and inclusion efforts within the department

The Upenn Computer Science Department is deeply committed to fostering an inclusive and diverse academic community. Recognizing that diversity fuels innovation and enriches learning experiences, the department actively works to recruit and support students, faculty, and staff from various backgrounds, including those traditionally underrepresented in computer science.

This commitment is reflected in initiatives such as scholarship programs for underrepresented groups, mentorship programs, and partnerships with organizations that promote diversity in tech. The department also offers faculty inclusive curriculum and pedagogy workshops to ensure an inclusive learning environment.

View of UPenn building

Furthermore, student organizations within the department, such as Women in Computer Science and the Underrepresented Groups in Computing, provide supportive networks and resources for students from diverse backgrounds. Through these ongoing efforts, the CIS department continually strives to create a unique culture of inclusion where all members can thrive and contribute to the field of computer science.

UPenn Programs

Undergraduate Programs

The Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania offers various undergraduate programs designed to cater to students’ interests and career aspirations in computer science. The Bachelor of Science in Engineering (BSE) in Computer Science program is a rigorous program that provides students with a deeper and comprehensive understanding of the core principles and methodologies of computer science, along with the engineering skills necessary to design and implement computer systems.

On the other hand, the Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Computer and Cognitive Science is an interdisciplinary program that bridges computer science and cognitive science, allowing students to explore the intersection of these fields and understand how computation can be used to understand and simulate cognitive processes.

Additionally, the CIS department offers dual degree and interdisciplinary programs, including the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology and the VIPER (Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research) Program, among others. These UPenn Programs allow students to combine their computer science studies with other disciplines, providing a broader perspective and enabling them to solve complex, real-world problems.

Graduate Programs

The Upenn Computer Science Department offers robust graduate programs to provide advanced study and research opportunities in computer science. The Master’s programs include the Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) in Computer and Information Science, a research-oriented degree providing depth in computational theory, software systems, and computational applications.

The department also offers a Master of Computer and Information Technology (MCIT), a program specifically designed for students without a computer science background, aiming to provide a foundation in the field and the ability to use and develop new technologies. Beyond the Master’s level, the CIS department offers a Doctoral (Ph.D.) program.

This highly selective program is intended for students who would like to work in research, either in academia or industry. The program emphasizes original, independent research in various areas of computer science, including artificial intelligence, data science, graphics, information systems, and more. Students in the doctoral program work with faculty advisors, contributing to the advancement of knowledge in their chosen field.

Online learning and MOOCs

The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) strongly advocates online learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), recognizing their potential to extend educational opportunities to a global audience. The department offers a variety of online courses and MOOCs through platforms like Coursera, edX, and others.

These courses cover various topics, from fundamental computer science principles to specialized areas like artificial intelligence, data science, and cybersecurity. Additionally, the department offers online degree programs, such as the Master of Computer and Information Technology (MCIT), designed for students from non-computer science backgrounds who wish to gain a more impactful understanding of the field.

These online learning opportunities provide flexibility for learners and allow the department to reach a diverse group of students, furthering its commitment to accessible, high-quality computer science education.

Summer programs for high school students

The Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania recognizes the importance of fostering interest in computer science among young learners. As part of this commitment, the department offers a variety of summer programs designed specifically for high school students.

These programs allow students to explore computer science principles and applications in a university setting, often working alongside faculty and university students. Programs may focus on various aspects of computer science, from coding and software development to robotics, artificial intelligence, and data science.

These summer programs aim to inspire and prepare the next generation of computer science professionals through hands-on projects, interactive lessons, and mentorship from faculty and university students. By offering these programs, the CIS department contributes to the broader goal of promoting STEM education and careers among young people.

Upenn Computer Science Curriculum

Core courses

The core curriculum of the Upenn Computer Science Department is designed to give students a solid foundation in computer science principles and methodologies. These core courses cover various fundamental topics necessary for any computer science professional.

a computer scientist reporting in front of his colleagues

Students begin with introductory courses in programming, data structures, and algorithms, where they learn to write, analyze, and debug programs and understand how data is organized and manipulated. Other core courses delve into topics like computer systems, where students learn about computer systems’ hardware and software components, and discrete mathematics, which provides the mathematical foundations necessary for computer science.

Additional core courses may cover operating systems, computer networks, databases, and software engineering. This well-rounded core curriculum equips students with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills needed to excel in advanced study and professional work in computer science.

Elective courses

Beyond the core Upenn Computer Science Curriculum, the Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania offers a wide array of elective courses that allow students to delve deeper into specific areas of interest within computer science. These electives cover various advanced and specialized topics such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, data science, computer graphics, human-computer interaction, and more.

The department also offers courses in emerging areas like blockchain technology, quantum computing, and bioinformatics. These electives allow students to gain in-depth knowledge and skills in areas that align with their career goals or academic interests. By offering this extensive range of electives, the department ensures that students can tailor their education to their individual needs and aspirations, preparing them for diverse career paths in the rapidly evolving field of computer science.

Coursework related to emerging technologies (AI, blockchain, cybersecurity, etc.)

The Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania is committed to spearheading technological advancements, and this commitment is reflected in its coursework related to emerging technologies.

The department offers several artificial intelligence (AI) courses, where students learn about machine learning algorithms, neural networks, and AI applications. Blockchain technology is another emerging area covered, with courses exploring decentralized systems, smart contracts, and the implications of blockchain on various industries. Cybersecurity is a vital field of study, and coursework delves into topics like network security, cryptography, and ethical hacking.

a computer science professor demonstrating

Other courses may cover areas like data science, quantum computing, and bioinformatics. These courses give students an understanding of the latest technologies as well as equip them with the skills necessary to apply this knowledge in practical, real-world contexts, preparing them for the ever-evolving landscape of the tech industry.

Internship and co-op opportunities

Recognizing the value of practical, industry-based experience, the Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania provides students with various internship and co-op opportunities. Through partnerships with leading tech companies, startups, and research institutions, the department facilitates internships where students can apply their knowledge to real-world challenges.

These experiences help students develop technical skills and give them a deeper understanding of the professional environment, teamwork, and problem-solving in a real-world context. Additionally, the department offers co-op programs, which are typically longer in duration than traditional internships, allowing students to gain substantial work experience while earning academic credit.

Both internships and co-op programs provide invaluable networking opportunities, often leading to job offers post-graduation. The department’s dedicated career services team supports students in finding these opportunities and preparing for them effectively.

Capstone projects and thesis

The Upenn Computer Science Department strongly emphasizes the integration of theory and practice, as exemplified in the capstone projects and thesis opportunities offered to students. Capstone projects are often undertaken in the final year of study, allowing students to apply their knowledge and skills to a significant, real-world problem or create an innovative solution within their chosen area of interest.

These projects encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and often involve working closely with faculty advisors, industry partners, or research institutions. For graduate and doctoral students, a thesis is an essential component of their academic journey. The thesis is a culmination of the student’s research efforts, demonstrating their ability to contribute original and impactful work to the field of computer science.

Whether through capstone projects or theses, the department fosters an environment where students can showcase their creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills while making meaningful contributions to the ever-evolving world of computer science.

Upenn Admissions

Overview of the admission process

The admission process to the Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) at the University of Pennsylvania varies depending on the level of study—Undergraduate, Master’s, or Doctoral—. Still, all processes seek to identify students with exceptional potential for computer science success.

For undergraduate admissions, students apply through the Common Application or Coalition Application, providing academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, standardized test scores (where applicable), and personal essays. The department particularly values students with strong backgrounds in mathematics and science, though a previous background in computer science is not required.

For graduate programs, applicants submit an online application including academic transcripts, GRE scores (if required), letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose detailing their academic and research interests, and a resume or CV. The Upenn Admissions Committee reviews all applications holistically, considering not just academic achievements but also personal qualities, leadership, creativity, and potential for contributing to the field of computer science.

International students may have additional requirements, including English language proficiency tests. Prospective students are encouraged to review each program’s specific admission requirements and deadlines on the department’s website.

Admission requirements for undergraduate and graduate programs

Admission to the Upenn Computer Science program is competitive and considers various factors to ensure a comprehensive review of each applicant.

For undergraduate programs, applicants must submit their high school transcripts, standardized test scores (if applicable), letters of recommendation, and personal essays through the Common Application or Coalition Application. While a strong background in mathematics and science is preferred, prior computer science experience is not required.

a male computer science intern working on a computer

For the graduate programs, including both master’s and doctoral degrees, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. The application requirements typically include:

  • Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended.
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • A statement of purpose detailing the applicant’s academic and research interests.
  • A resume or CV.

For some programs, GRE scores may also be required. International applicants who are not native English speaker must demonstrate English proficiency, typically through a TOEFL or IELTS score. Specific requirements may vary between programs, so applicants are encouraged to look into the admission guidelines provided for each program on the department’s website.

Financial aid and scholarships

The University of Pennsylvania and its Department of Computer and Information Science (CIS) are committed to making education affordable for all students, offering a range of financial aid options and scholarships. The university follows a need-based financial aid policy for undergraduate students, with packages that may include grants, work-study opportunities, and loans.

The university also offers several merit-based scholarships, some specific to the School of Engineering and Applied Science students. For graduate students, funding options may include fellowships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships, often providing a stipend and tuition remission.

Side view of a woman typing in her laptop.

Additionally, external scholarships and grants are available from organizations outside the university. Prospective students are encouraged to explore all potential funding sources and apply for financial aid and scholarships early. The department and the university’s financial aid office provide resources and guidance to help students navigate the financial aid process.

Now that you have an idea about the University of Pennsylvania Computer Science program, your college admissions to that university should be next on your mind. To ensure that you get into UPenn, you can get help with AdmissionSight. With ten years of experience with college admission experts, AdmissionSight can help you get into the University of Pennsylvania. You can talk to our experts today to get an initial consultation.

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