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Department ofMathematics and Computer Science

Studying Math and CS at CAS

Since the departments in the College of Arts and Sciences are almost entirely undergraduate, faculty devote their attention to undergraduate students. Regular faculty, not teaching assistants, provide all instruction. Class sizes are relatively small. Lower-division sections tend to have fewer than 40 students, and most upper-division sections fewer than 20. It is generally agreed that liberals arts programs (whether majors or minors) prepare individuals for life-long learning and to be adaptable to changing situations, rather than merely focusing on skills for the first job.

Mathematics has long been part of a liberal arts curriculum. It is the "language" of science and other technical fields, based on logic and abstractions, and focuses on problem-solving techniques. As such it prepares students for careers not only in mathematical education and scientific or other technical fields, but also careers that require analytic skills and the ability to solve various types of problems, such as careers in law.

The mathematics major at SCU has the option to declare an emphasis in applied mathematics, or an emphasis in financial mathematics, or anemphasis in mathematics education. A list of recommended courses is available for those interested in careers as actuaries.

Computer science programs taught in Colleges of Arts and Sciences tend to focus more on algorithmic and theoretical aspects of computing rather than on hardware, technical details, or specific currently-popular software.

At Santa Clara, the computer science major is distinguished from the computer engineering degree by a departmental emphasis on the use of computers and computing as a means to, and a subject of, scientific inquiry and problem solving. The curriculum has been crafted in light of national curricular recommendations for computer science programs in liberal arts schools and provides numerous free electives over a four year period to enable a student easily to minor in a related discipline or even, perhaps, to double major. (National guidelines for undergraduate CS programs are available at

The computer science major at SCU must choose upper-division courses in one of five emphases: algorithms and complexity; data science; security; software; individual. By taking a prescribed sequence of upper-division courses, someone with a specific emphasis will be gaining more depth in an area of choice.

  • Anyone interested in pursuing undergraduate studies in any field should contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions for further information [Email:]. The Undergraduate Admissions Office (and not individual departments) processes all applications and answers any questions regarding applications procedures and transfer credit.

People sometimes wonder about the difference between different programs related to studying computing. Since both the theoretical and practical sides of the world of computers changes daily, it is difficult to give clear answers to all questions. At Santa Clara, there are, in fact, three different departments that sponsor computing majors: Mathematics and Computer Science in the College of Arts and Sciences (sponsoring a major inComputer Science), Computer Engineering (sponsoring majors in Computer Science and Engineering and Web Design and Engineering in the School of Engineering), and Operations and Management Information Systems (sponsoring a major in Information Systems in the School of Business). The link provides comparisons of requirements of the different majors.

Many universities struggle with explaining the differences particularly between majoring in Computer Science and Computer Engineering. One fine explanation is provided by the University of Maine which in many ways also explains what occurs at Santa Clara. (The main difference is that "Software Engineering" at SCU is part of the offering in the School of Engineering.)