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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The quickest answer is that CIS is more applied and CS is more theoretic in nature. CIS for example has one class, System Software, which looks at assemblers, loader/linkers, operating systems and compilers. It’s a 30,000 foot view of these topics. CIS folks come out and have a rough understanding of how these items work. CS students, on the other hand, will have one class dedicated to hardware and assemblers, another class on operating systems and a third class on programming languages. CS students will obviously know considerably more about those topics in greater detail than their CIS counterparts. The knowledge is good and it’s the underpinning of how modern computers work. If you’re going to work for a Microsoft, Apple or Oracle type of company (they build compilers and operating systems), this knowledge is highly valuable in practice. On the other hand, if you end up with a day-to-day job in a typical business (say a hospital’s IT department, a manufacturing firm’s IT department, an insurance company or bank), those detailed topics will not be the bread and butter of much of what you do.

In the latter case, a CIS student’s understanding of how businesses operate and how the software being used and developed contributes to a company’s mission statement will be more beneficial. If you work for a Google type of company, then CS will provide you with more abstraction and beneficial knowledge for that work environment. Here’s another example to try to illustrate the difference between CS and CIS: both degrees have a networking class required. CS will worry about how a data packet is generated, learn to do the math on network latency/data loss, et cetera and so forth. CIS will still learn the fundamentals of networks: what a packet it, what latency/data loss is and what causes it and what can be done about it. CIS will skip the low-level detail and math and instead learn to write programs that will implement the common network protocols. This is like CS providing a “law” and CIS saying “what can I do with it?” CS has developed all the theory about data packet exchange whereas CIS will write a program that will actually implement the SMTP email protocol so that a business application has the ability to send out email. Theory vs. application…it’s much the same distinction as physics and engineering; one determines the rules and the other considers how to get useful work done using the rules.

There’s is no easy answer for this question. Part of an answer may lie in how strong your math skills are. If you are fairly math adverse, you may find the CIS program a better fit. Do you plan on going on to grad school to pursue an advanced degree in CS or engineering as soon as you are done with your undergrad? Is so, then CS may better prep you in those areas.

The computer science and computer information systems (CSIS) programs at SVSU both focus on computer programming. It’s important to note that the emphasis is not networking, not information technology, not computer engineering, not chip design and not architecture; there are other degrees that specifically deal with those disciplines. First and foremost, CSIS teaches program coding. Our graduates are among the best programmers in Michigan. Everyone who holds a CS or CIS degree from SVSU can code well and knows multiple programming languages. That's our claim to fame.

CS 116 and CS 216, the first two programming courses, can be intense if you have never coded before. Very few students ever say that CS 216 was easy. These two courses constitute our "boot camp." The men and women who complete these courses together share a bond similar to that of soldiers who went complete their basic training together. After these classes are complete, the pressure eases up a bit because by then students are prepared for almost anything they will see in their programs. To learn more about specific course offerings, check out the course catalog for the two programs.

That depends on where you see yourself career-wise. We have students who have high paying jobs with just a 4 year degree ($70,000 or more). We also have students who decide that they want to go into research, so they plan on going to grad school straight out of undergrad. A sizeable portion of our students start out with their 4-year degree and go directly into industry. After 5 years or so, they decide they wanted to get into IT management or project management and return to school for an MBA or an analytical business master’s. Some decide to pursue an advanced technical degree in CS, CIS or engineering. Others plan on continuing in their initial career until retirement. There’s not a single “right” answer as to what you should do. It depends on where you see yourself going at the end of your undergrad degree. Do you see yourself working in industry? Do you want to eventually teach college (that means grad school by the way)? You may be very surprised how your career track turns out. About the best advice you can be given is to decide what you want to do at the end of your bachelor’s degree. Do you want to go to work and start making money? Do you want to go for more schooling so you can work at a company doing more R&D type work? Do you want to start up your own company? The answer you come up with is where you should focus for now. You may even change your mind along the degree path. The bottom line is that if you really enjoy computing and learn all that you can in your classes, there are tons of opportunities out there. This field is growing exponentially and the jobs are continuing to boom because we’re implanting computers everywhere; there’s really no way you lose as long as you’re good at what you do and have the knowledge and skills to back it up.

First of all, one degree doesn’t make you “smarter” or “better” than the other: they both have their place in the world. As far as employers go, most don’t care if you have a degree in CS or CIS. Part of the problem is that fewer schools offer degrees in CIS whereas everybody has heard of CS as a major. The other issue is that a lot of schools make CIS more of an MIS (management information systems) degree. Our CIS program is highly technical; in fact that’s really what differentiates SVSU from our competitors. Other CIS programs have you take lots of business courses and then one or two that teaches programming. SVSU is exactly the opposite: we use programming as the vehicle to teach you concepts and you’ll have lots of classes that use programming and are technical in nature. You will take only a couple of business courses in our CIS program. So one degree is not necessarily preferred to the other for industry, especially if you’re an awesome coder, requirements engineer or systems analyst. We have more CIS graduates working at Ford Motor and DynaTrace than CS. Most of the roles at Ford are highly technical coding/developer positions. DynaTrace has a mix of both developer and analyst/consultant positions. These are huge multinational companies – so our CIS program is definitely preparing students and Ford and DynaTrace come back to recruit from us every year. Now if you are planning on going to

grad school, the grad degree makes a difference. If you are planning on earning an MBA, MIS or project management master’s, CIS probably preps you better than CS (since you would have taken some business classes for the CIS major). If you are going after a technical degree like a master’s in engineering or CS, then the CS undergrad with more math would better prep you than CIS. However, how well you do in a master’s program is more about your drive and commitment. If you earn an undergrad in CIS, there’s certainly nothing stopping you from earning a master’s in CS. You would have more courses to take to “catch up” on some of the things you didn’t see in undergrad, but that’s not a show stopper. Finally, know that both our CS and CIS can earn a technical master’s degree in Computer Science & Information Systems right here at SVSU.

We have graduates from both CS and CIS filling roles with the following titles: software engineer, programmer, developer, web developer, webmaster, systems administrator, database administrator, hardware/software support, systems analyst, requirements engineer, security administrator, technical lead, and many more. A lot of the jobs you would be skilled for depends on how diligent you are about learning the various techniques, methodologies and skills that you are taught over your 4 years at SVSU. The other piece that is critical to take away is that you need to be a lifelong learner, especially in this discipline. You should be prepared to continue learning and reading about new technologies and ideas. If you stop learning at any point, your computing knowledge and skills will stagnate very quickly. This is a dynamic and challenging field and if you want to stay at the top of your game, you need to keep learning new things!

The CS capstone projects tend to be smaller in size and duration than the CIS projects. On the CS side, students are working in groups of 3 to 4 and each group is responsible for carrying out a different project. Not all of the projects are industry based, e.g. there’s no external partner who the students are developing for. In addition, a large majority of the project work is done in the Winter semester.

CIS projects are different: (A) the whole class is developing on a single project, so it’s relatively large in size and complexity; (B) there is always an external client – we find a company/non-profit who really needs and will use the software that’s built and (C) the project work spans an entire academic year so that students have the opportunity to see every facet of software development. It’s what will be often encountered in industry.

The student chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the largest of the CSIS related clubs. In fact, it’s one of the top clubs university-wide. ACM has so many activities it's hard to list them all. Employers constantly visit the ACM club meetings to talk about IT related subjects at their companies, as well as the latest technologies that the companies are deploying. ACM's big event every year is a programming competition for high school students where SVSU undergraduates serve as the

judges. It's like FIRST Robotics for coders and is well attended. Schools from across the state participate and there are usually more than 150 contestants. This contest has been going on for over 20 years now. The ACM undergrad students also compete themselves in regional collegiate programming contests.

Besides the ACM, there are Cryptocurrency (Bitcoin), Virtual Reality and a bunch of informal gaming clubs. If students want to connect with other students who enjoy computing, the clubs provide that opportunity. We also host CardinalCon, a free hackathon with prizes provided by Dow and food provided by Meijer and our own catering services. We also seek undergrad students to help out in the annual Hour of Code and other CSIS related coding camps for middle and high-school age students.

Whenever you are considering taking classes outside of SVSU and intend to transfer them in, you want to do some homework first. For general classes, you can contact the Admissions Department and speak to someone in Transfer Programs. It’s possible that there is a course equivalency set up for some of the classes you may be considering taking outside of SVSU. In any case, if you are enrolled at SVSU and plan to take a class out you should meet with your advisor in the CSIS Department to see whether or not the external class will be accepted as an SVSU equivalency. Note that the CSIS Department can only approve CSIS courses; the department does not have the right to grant credit for another department’s course. You should bring a copy of the course description for the external course along with a copy of the course syllabus when you meet with your CSIS Department advisor. If you are told that the course will be accepted, get an email or something in writing from your advisor so that there is not an issue down the road.

Likewise, if you have attended another school prior to enrolling at SVSU, make sure that you meet with your advisor in the CSIS Department before signing up for your first set of SVSU classes. There may be cases where you have taken coursework at another institution which didn’t automatically get “recognized” as an equivalent course. Your CSIS Department advisor can examine your previous coursework and determine whether or not the prior coursework should have been counted.

Absolutely not! You will not graduate in four years if you take all your GE courses in the first one-and-a-half to two years and then decide to start taking the courses in your major. Both the CS and CIS degrees require that you take some CSIS-specific coursework every year to graduate on time.

While you can go to Academic Advising for help on general issues such as what GE courses are available and the like, you need to come to the CSIS Department for all of your major advising. We’re the experts on the programs. We know when the courses will be offered (not all courses are offered every semester) and we know the order that you need to take things in. That’s why every student has an assigned CSIS Department advisor. Your advisor is based on the first letter of your last name and your major. If you haven’t picked between CS and CIS yet, you can see either advisor who takes care of the group your last name falls in.

In the earliest semester you are at SVSU, you should take both CS 105 Introduction to Computers and CS 146 Visual Basic .NET Programming. The next semester should have you taking CS 116 Computer Programming I. You should then take CS 216 the following semester. These courses must be taken sequentially and they will block you from taking upper division classes until they are completed. Only CS 105 and CS 146 can be taken concurrently. If you didn’t take CS 105 your first semester, get into that class as soon as possible. You can take CS 146 along with CS 116 or CS 216 if you didn’t take it in the same semester as CS 105.

You also want to make sure that you are working on completing your math requirements as soon as possible. Some of the CSIS classes have math prerequisites, so you could be blocked from enrolling in courses if you haven’t finished up the math pieces. The CSIS website’s FAQ page has links to files that show the prerequisites to courses as a flowchart as well as a tentative four year plan of the coursework to take each year.

A lot of local employers hire from SVSU, so it’s not surprising that they also offer co-op and intern opportunities. Dow and Nexteer are the largest ones, but other Saginaw area employers also have some of these types of positions available. There are also summer internship/co-op offerings at companies in the Detroit area including Quicken Loans, Ford Motor Company among others.

During the academic year, most employers will have their students work 15 to 20 hours per week so that students are able to attend college full-time and keep up with their studies. Students who take summer internship opportunities usually work 40 hours per week. These paid positions are fantastic ways to gain practical industry experience before graduation. The knowledge and skills learned on the job, coupled with a bachelor’s degree, help students build a solid resume that will separate them from their peers and prepare them for the industry.

Many of the faculty in the CSIS Department has active research programs and are happy to involve students. Our students have co-authored papers, attended conferences and even participated in presentations in foreign countries. For students who plan to go on to graduate school, this type of activity helps gain entrance into advanced programs and prepares students to be able to work independently on new avenues in the computing discipline.


If you are transferring from another school, you can find which courses transfer here:

If you are a current student and you want to see how which courses are available for registration, view one or more of the following lists.

If you discover a course is full, before you ask to be overloaded, please submit a course request.

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Department Chair

Dr. Scott James


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