By: Shmuel Newmark  | 

Frustration in YU’s Four-Year Computer Science Programs

The Yeshiva University Computer Science department dates back over a quarter of a century. In recent years it has grown considerably in popularity. Last year there were over 150 students taking Computer Science classes or about one-third of all of Yeshiva College. With growth came change. The most recent major change happened in 2017 with the creation of two new four-year Bachelor of Science tracks, a significant addition to the long-existing three-year B.A. program.

The two B.S. tracks each focus on different specialties. The first is called Artificial Intelligence or the AI track. Its focus is machine learning and artificial intelligence. The second is called Distributed Systems or the DS track. Its focus is on designing and architecting complex systems.

Enrollment is approximately equal in each of the four-year programs. The graduating class of this year has roughly 15 students in both AI and DS. The three-year program had just five students. This disparity is largely due to the encouragement of the YC CS department which strongly recommends the four-year program.

The online recommendation page sent to all CS students states that whereas the Distributed Systems track is for students who “enjoy building” and the Artificial Intelligence track is for students who “enjoy analyzing,” the three-year track is only for students who are “in a rush to finish college and [are] definitely going to graduate school.” To that idea, it further states that for three-year students “going to graduate school is necessary to get, and keep, great jobs.” By contrast, the recommendations stress that for four-year students no further education is required.

Students in their freshman year are largely enthusiastic about the promises of the four-year program and many students sign up viewing the extra year of college as worth waiving the need for later education. By far the biggest concern of any college student is career trajectory, so the promise of guaranteed post-graduation momentum is alluring. Amongst students interviewed, nearly all attribute their decision to go with the four-year program to concerns about acquiring and keeping a job. 

Unfortunately, for many students, the promise and reality of the four-year program are quite different. Many found that the 4th year classes are of questionable importance. Students described the classes as “filler” or “half-baked.” Of course, to others, this is a plus: “Senior classes are very chill. I’m not so worried about finals for once,” as one AI student summarized. “Still, I’m not so sure it’s worth the price tag,” came the conclusion.

The largest disappointment however comes in the form of job offers. For YC CS students graduating in 2024, only ~65% have job offers, compared to ~90% in previous years. Much of this is attributed to a chill in the software engineering job market which saw mass layoffs in 2023. The administration, for their part, has attempted to address this shortcoming. Professors have been in close contact with students, forwarding job offers and helping them polish their resumes. Emails from the department head regularly share job news and links to apply for new positions.

However, for many students, these efforts are not enough and feel contradictory to the claims of the program. For example, in an email sent to seniors last fall, the head of the department sent links for several master’s programs encouraging them to apply as a “backup plan” emphasizing that they do not want to be “empty handed” and “stuck with nothing after graduation.” To many students who decided to stick through the four-year program, this feels like the exact opposite of what was promised to them. One student remarked that the whole program felt like a “bait and switch.”

By contrast, recent graduates of the three-year program seem to be faring far better. When polled, over 50% of seniors in the four-year program said that given the opportunity to do it over again, they’d have selected the three-year program. If all students who regretted the four-year program instead                      chose the three-year program it would go from the smallest to the largest track, totaling over 20 students. One three-year graduate who is currently working a full-time job as a software engineer explained his decision, “The three-year program gave me enough of a foundation that I felt like I could self-learn better on the job. Already in classes, I felt like I was teaching myself the material so I didn’t feel like an extra year of lectures was worth the price of tuition plus the opportunity cost of a year’s salary.” The hardest part for them was pushing past some of the perceptions surrounding the shorter program, “The administration strongly discouraged going for three years, I think if it was up to them they’d maybe get rid of the program altogether.”

For other students, the four-year program was fine, just not right for them. One student in the Distributed Systems track said they felt the material “could be useful but seemed unnecessary” for their personal career choices. “The four-year program is really more for students that are trying to push themselves, the trouble is it’s treated as the default,” they elaborated.

Many students feel like the four-year program was still the right decision. The biggest advantage shared by nearly all is the additional summer opportunity for internships. In software engineering and data science, return offers are critical and an extra summer to apply for internships is invaluable.

Indeed, of the students with job offers lined up for next year, nearly all received them as return offers from a previous summer’s internship. Several students credit their current job offers exclusively to the extra summer. One student in the AI track went so far as to suggest that alone should be the determining factor for whether the four-year program is right for you. “If you can get an internship in your second summer you should go for the three-year program, otherwise it’s worth sticking out the 4 years.”

Despite mixed feelings about the four-year program, nearly all students expressed support and admiration for Yeshiva College Computer Science as a whole. Most widely complimented were the professors. As one student remarked, “The professors in YC CS are all very knowledgeable, and seem deeply concerned with all students’ wellbeing.” Another student noted that a specific professor seemed “knowledgeable and had extensive industry experience they were eager to share with their students.”

To their credit, a recently hired computer science professor was announced this year’s “Yeshiva College Professor of the Year” in recognition of the extraordinary effort he put into teaching. All students interviewed described the professor in question as always “going above and beyond” and “deeply committed to ensuring students understood the material.“ The positive perceptions of professors and administrators in the department are nearly universal. Even students who regret taking the four-year program still stressed that they’d recommended YC to all students looking for a CS degree. 

For students unsure about which program to choose, seniors and alumni encourage future years to consider several factors: the most relevant consideration is determining for yourself whether you’re really interested in staying in college for 4 years. If your only motivation is career trajectory it’s often more worthwhile to go with 3 years instead. Additionally, it’s worth reviewing the course catalog for all sections and assessing whether the additional classes for the relevant track are worth the extra year. The conclusion: “Reach out to past years and weigh the pluses and minuses for yourself. Ignore the pressure that insists the four-year program is the only correct path.”


Photo Caption: Despite mixed feelings about the four-year program, nearly all students expressed support and admiration for Yeshiva College Computer Science as a whole.”

Photo Credit: Tim Gouw / Unsplash