Here is a thought: one of your goals with this essay is to write it as a "counselor-friendly essay". Do you feel like it is as friendly as it could be?
I think there is tremendous value in being able to explain technical concepts to non-technical people, and a skill that is worth practicing. Iterate on this essay! Or write more of them! How would you "tell a story" while conveying this information? Is that even possible? Or even worthwhile? Tinker with it.
The one thing I really liked about your essay was the end: "To reliably solve this sort of problem, I’m told, I’d want to [use fancy computer science terminology]. So, UChicago, shall we revisit this question in CMSC 35400 (Machine Learning) or CMSC 35500 (Computer Vision)?" It ties this back to your own personal goals and how they mesh with the university.
I hope he gets accepted! I tip my hat to the author.
Best of luck my friend! And ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org to say hi or if you have any questions. Cheers :)
That doesn't necessarily discount your point about frustration, but my impression is that the situation has 'improved' (I'm not one to make normative claims though). In any case, as a math-disinclined hacker, I've been very happy with the courses I've taken.
Aside: I encourage you to drop by a hack night and see what's going on if you find yourself in Chicago on a Friday evening. We love having alums visit and talk about what they are doing!
I graduated from the U of C in '97. Did the startup thing for a while, then went on to Yahoo & Google. In my early career, I used to lament the fact that the U of C hadn't taught me various "practical" things. I was shocked the first time I heard a coworker mentioned they had a class on just a programming language.
Eventually, I grew to appreciate that those "practical" things both change & are relatively easy to learn on your own. Whereas an academic environment is a much easier place to learn things like theory.
Not to say they need to be mutually exclusive, just to say there is value in the emphasis on theory.
All that said, and as much as I love the U of C, I'd tell a high school kid interest in Comp Sci to go to Stanford, U of I, or CMU.
Thanks so much! This is why I love HN. I will definitely be in touch.
I wish there was a degree path in "software" rather than "computer science", since that's what a kid like this needs. Turning algorithms into code is clearly solved for him. But I bet a few years of turning "nothing" into "shipping software" would be a lot more useful (or at least a lot less of a waste of time).
That may be true at some places, but certainly not in the intro curriculum at the UofC. The intro course for majors with no background uses the Scheme-based How to Design Programs curriculum, which doesn't even _have_ a for loop :-)
The honors intro, which I assume this student would enroll in, is a quite challenging curriculum, expecting students to learn scheme, haskell, perl, bash, and some basic parsing tools over the course of a quarter. And do reasonable things with them.
So, while I'm certainly biased as a grad student here at the UofC, I could promise the student they won't be getting slowly spoon-fed language features. Even if they took the intro CS curriculum for non-majors in the sciences.
Every class, every project, every assignment I felt damn I already know all this.
It also makes team work a torture. I didn't want to ruin other people's experience by being the know it all guy.
So I just avoided teamwork as much as I could because pretending that I'm challenged by the question/project
got even more depressing.
Having to pay thousands of dollars for it makes it even harder (I simply had to do it as I'm not a citizen).
I'd think man there's so much more that I could do with this money I'm paying for something I already know.
That's not to say I think I know a lot, in fact I think I know very little but just that the college wasn't providing anything new for me (and yes it was one of the top ones).
I'm learning more by reading books and posts on the internet, hacker news, etc... and by doing actual work in the industry.
Although there should be a way to skip the intro courses. But stuff does get interesting later, I got to write a compiler, write the same program in 4 different languages, learn how a CPU works and is designed, program in COBOL, functional languages and write software to interact with hardware. I would never have done that without Uni.
I'm not sure what your "turning algorithms into code" comment means. If you're trying to say that he should skip the beginner courses, then sure. But I don't see how that relates to software engineering versus computer science.
Even if there were separate software engineering and computer science tracks, you can't say which one the author should be in. That depends on what he wants to do after college: be a professional software developer, or do computer science research?
In the last 5-7 years, the English curriculum in US schools has changed significantly in an effort to improve NCLB reading scores. One part of the curriculum that had to get trimmed down was writing composition.
These days, unless you were home schooled or attended grades 9-12 at a quality private school, you probably won't be taught how to write a proper essay until college.
That being said, I don't find anything wrong with his writing, especially since he is writing a short technical explanation rather than a reflective memoir.
Chicago is not known for letting people in because they are athletes...
>80%+ of people who are admitted into the University of Chicago know how to write a decent essay
Actually, as an '06 U of C grad, I was a little bit shocked at how poorly the majority of the first years wrote. I say this without praising my own writing abilities as necessarily better. If the students represent some of the best in the country (they probably do), it doesn't say anything positive about writing eduction in the country.
As for the second point, obviously your experience is purely anecdotal, which is hard to refute (other than dismissing it as anecdotal). I suspect that this opinion might be biased by our tendency to view things relatively rather than objectively - someone in the 75th percentile would see that most first years write poorly compared to him/herself, and thus might conclude that most first years are poor writers in general, when objectively that is not the case.
I love the U of C, great school but not necessarily an easy place to go to school. The CS people are one of the few bastions of SML among CS depts.
I've been doing it for a couple of years now and I'm amazed how often professors complement the layout, structure and readability. Of course, the actual content matters to... But in fact, for a report written using LaTeX vs. Microsoft Word, in my experience the LaTeX version would certainly receive a higher grade.
Every institution that uses the Common App also has their own supplement and I have seen them very varied in complexity: from simple one-page form with no additional essays to much more involved ones with three essays. The supplement is now the place where the institution can show how "special" they are and how rigorous their admissions process is.
I wish all colleges went the Common App route.
 I didn't go to college in the United States, so I didn't really have any idea how complex this process is until now.
And, frankly: this essay knocks it out of the park. My essay (which, I'm convinced, got me into the school) was similarly off the wall.
Remember that the point of a response like this ... in addition to being well-reasoned, thought-out, and written ... is to leave a unique impression in the reader's mind ... one where, after they've read a gazillion apps that day, makes them say "admit the waldo programming kid!"
Edit: looks like you already submitted the essay. Oh well. Good luck :)
Of course, someone with your amount of skill and drive will be successful no matter where you go to school.
Related video: Werner Herzog reads "Where's Waldo", it's a really chilling story! http://youtu.be/EvWh6PMi9Ek
But seriously though, good job, and best of luck!