October 16, 2013

Universities don't help you to stay foolish - My experience with unhelpful admissions at Manchester University

“I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics. Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

- Steve Jobs

Let's be honest; not everybody gets university right the first time around. I enrolled on a total of 4 degree courses (including Physics, Chemistry and Art) before finally graduating with a degree in Architecture after 7 years at university.

I used to be ashamed of my indecisiveness but now I wear it with pride. I can't claim to be a complete master of anything but that's how I like it, I'd rather know a bit about a lot rather than a lot about a bit. I think the turning point was when I heard Steve Jobs deliver his Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005. I realised that it didn't matter that you were putting energy into different things, it wasn't a waste, as long as you were putting energy into something, and staying hungry, you could join the dots later.

Throughout studying architecture I retained a strong passion and interest in the sciences and especially in programming. So much so that when I got my hard earnt Architecture degree, I decided to turn my back on it and go with my rediscovered passion in computers.

I decided recently that I'd like to study Computer Science at degree level, mainly to help fill gaps in my knowledge but also to experience the academic side of the subject.

I recently applied to study a part-time foundation MSc in Computer Science at The University of Manchester and I was shocked by the restrictiveness of their admissions policy and the unhelpfulness of the admissions officer at the School of Computer Science.

The course I applied for was a Foundation course designed to help non CS graduates get into CS. On the face of it, it sounds exactly designed for people like me - The indecisive but motivated.

Unfortunately, they only let science or engineering graduates onto this course and they dismiss any other supporting evidence that you could be suitable for the course, including your degree (in other unrelated subject) and any professional experience you may have.

Needless to say I was rejected. When I asked how I could prepare myself for reapplication:

As your academic background is not suitable for the programme then it is possibly unwise to reapply ... however if you can gain a good degree (2i) in a Science or Engineering subject then please do so.

- Admissions officer for Computer Science

In other words, don't bother. And if I were to go back and do a undergrad degree in Science or Engineering, would I not just do it in Computer Science?

The admissions officer also refuses to answer some of the valid questions I have around appeals and the relevance of my experience.

I'd really like to see universities offer more options for disillusioned but capable graduates to take side-steps in their career rather than having to start from square one, which is impossible for most.

I've posted the full correspondence with the university beneath.

My original message:


I completed your online application for late admission to the Foundation route to Computer Science Msc.

I'm just wondering what will happen next and if I was too late for this year. I'm very keen to join the course if there's a place.

I've been working as a developer for some years and have good knowledge of the material in all the modules for this year so I think I wouldn't be too hindered if I've missed some material.

I notice the track system says my application has been 'processed' but I haven't heard anything.

It'd be great if you could provide some information or an update.

Kind regards,

Matt Harrison

The reply:

Dear Matt

Unfortunately your academic background is not suitable for the Foundation Route to MSc course ... the entry requirements are 2i degree in The foundation route is specifically for students who have a good degree (2i) in a Science or Engineering subject but little formal training in Computer Science at degree level.

Thank you for your interest in the School of Computer Science,

yours sincerely

[name removed]

My reply:

Hi [name removed],

Thanks for your email. That is disappointing.

Would it be possible to appeal against this decision?

I did read the entry requirements and I thought my position was strong based on the following:

If this isn't possible, could you please provide details about how I can prepare myself to apply for this course next time.

Kind regards,

Matt Harrison

Her final reply:

Dear Matt

Thank you for your email.

As your academic background is not suitable for the programme then it is possibly unwise to reapply ... however if you can gain a good degree (2i) in a Science or Engineering subject then please do so.

yours sincerely

[name removed]

PGT Admissions Officer

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