Why Students Should Consider Majoring in Artificial Intelligence

And find out where they can do so
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Headlines related to artificial intelligence are ubiquitous in 2019 — automation displacing workers in industrial settings, self-driving cars on the cusp of taking over our roadways and machines diagnosing diseases in patients with a higher rate of accuracy than even the best-trained physicians. AI is just as omnipresent in our daily experiences, whether it’s Netflix telling you (with alarming accuracy) what you would like to watch, Amazon knowing when you are out of dog food or Spotify recommending what turns out to be your new favorite band. Examples are endless — for more, just ask Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant. Given AI’s increasing role in the world, those intent on majoring in engineering or computer science may want to seriously consider specializing in AI. 


Where Can a Student Major in AI?

Carnegie Mellon University, one of the nation’s top engineering schools, just launched an undergraduate degree program in AI in 2018-19. The Milwaukee School of Engineering followed CMU’s lead, announcing the formation of its own Computer Science/AI program shortly after. Many other elite universities do not offer full-blown AI majors, instead only granting degrees at the master’s and doctoral levels.

Fortunately, for those seeking to tackle AI as an undergraduate, many other top tech institutions do offer a track or concentration in AI as part of a computer science degree. For example, AI is one of the nine tracks that students majoring in computer science at Stanford University can select. Caltech offers students majoring in computer science a similar track in Machine Learning and AI. Non uber-selective schools like UNC-Charlotte, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Oregon State University also offer similar tracks/specializations in AI.


Courses in an Artificial Intelligence Bachelor’s Program

To earn a degree in AI, your student can expect to take a core of computer science classes covering topics such as imperative computation, functional programming, sequential data structures and algorithms, and computer systems. Math requirements will involve coursework in areas such as differential and integral calculus, matrices and linear transformations, modern regression, probability theory, and integration and approximation. You
can expect to take AI-specific courses with titles like Machine Learning, Decision-Making and Robotics, Perception and Language, Human-AI Interaction, and Ethics and AI. 


What High School Courses Should Your Student Take?

For starters, high schoolers eyeing entry into a top AI program should take a full order of honors/Advanced Placement courses in physics, chemistry, biology, calculus, trigonometry, geometry and statistics. Additionally, students should take discrete mathematics, since this is the foundation of modern-day computer science and includes topics such as combinatorics, probability, number theory, logic and graph theory. If your high school lacks a robust Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate program, it’s imperative that your student seek out high-level math and science options via dual enrollment at a local college.


Jobs/Salary Outlook

Average salaries for AI jobs are estimated to be upwards of $140,000, according to college resource website CollegeHippo.com, making it as lucrative a field as one could hope to find. Forbes.com reports in a Jan. 12, 2018 story by Louis Columbus that the number of jobs requiring AI knowledge has grown by 450 percent since 2013. And as of 2018, according to March 9, 2018 statistics published by Adobe, only 15 percent of enterprises were using AI but 31 percent were expected to use its capabilities in the next 12 months. Computer science jobs as a whole are expected to grow 19% from now until 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You get the idea — AI is about as in-demand a skill set as one can find. 

Some would argue against over-specializing during  undergraduate study given how rapidly technology develops. While this is, in many cases, a wise course of action (shed a tear for VCR repairmen and telephone booth makers), AI programs still provide students with a sufficient dose of general engineering and computer science coursework to prepare them for any type of career in the tech industry. Additionally, it seems almost certain that AI’s involvement in our lives will only expand and deepen in the coming decadess.


Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at collegetransitions.com.


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