Just as a background which is very relevant to my question, I am a Master's degree student in the field of computer science in my last semester. I have already started looking for entry level work because I have no professional experience in the field. I have been very successful in school and expect to graduate suma cumlaude from the university. I have an undergraduate degree in the field of Political Science and International Relations.

The question which I cannot seem to give a good answer for is "What made you change from the social sciences in your undergraduate degree to computer science, this is a very large switch?"

The truth is that my family back in the day picked my major for me and I really did not have any choice if I did not want to pay for college myself. I have tried giving this answer but I feel that the truth is really irrelevant because it may be looked down upon.

I have also given the answer that I have always been interested in software but I also have other interests. At the time I really enjoyed looking at world problems and attempting to find the most sensible solution while looking at the different outcomes that come about because of the proposed solution. This answer usually leads to a followup question so why did you actually switch which I really cannot give a good answer.

I have an interview with a big company on Monday and I believe this question will be asked again, could you please help me with the best way to answer such a question without feeling uncomfortable and not having to lie. I do personally believe that my outlook on the big picture is what makes me stronger candidate.

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    You don't want to lie. So perhaps phrase it in a way that does not put the blame on anyone, something that illustrates that you "entered university studying X, but found that computer science interested you more because Y." This allows you to transition to why you are interested in your field as well. – kirkpatt Jun 24 '16 at 22:39
  • After reading your story I still don't understand why you switched your major. – Brandin Jun 24 '16 at 23:47
  • The change was actually really natural when I moved away from my family I started taking classes to satisfy the requirements and than got into graduate school. The reason for the switch is because I like programming more and I feel I can actually solve problems unlike politics which is a field where you may not end up solving anything! – Alex Top Jun 25 '16 at 1:10
  • So why can't you say that? – keshlam Jun 25 '16 at 1:33
  • I can I just feel for some reason that this answer does not provide an explanation that some companies are looking for! – Alex Top Jun 25 '16 at 2:02

"My family was very vocal that I pursue the social sciences. I enjoyed and still enjoy them, but computer science and software development are my passion. So, I changed my focus."

As a hiring manager, I would really like that.

  1. You know what you want and will work/fight for it.
  2. You're passionate about computer science.

When you're hiring new college grads, one of the risks is that they aren't going to love development after doing it 40+ hours per week for a year or two (hey, that's me!). Your experience helps mitigate that risk.

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  • Thank you Chris I really like the answer, basically reassuring the employer that this is really what you want to do because you have read other different things! – Alex Top Jun 25 '16 at 18:04

Don't worry too much, I'd just say my interests changed and I focused on my strong points. This question may come up, but it's not a make or break question, it's just asked for background.

There is nothing wrong with focusing on what you feel is your strengths.

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"I was not quite an adult when I entered college, and perhaps too easily swayed, so I majored in Political Science and International Relations as suggested by my parents. Now I'm an adult who is responsible for and capable of making decisions for myself, so my master's degree is a better representation of my skills and my interests."

You can augment the above with additional information that is provided not in the question.

  • Why did your parents suggest (or perhaps demand) that you major in that field?
    Perhaps one or both of your parents graduated in that field and has been very successful in their professional life. Or perhaps you partied to much while you were in high school and your parents didn't think you would cut it in a technical field where you needed to spend your Friday and Saturday nights catching up on homework and programming assignments. Or lots of other reasons. You need to know why they made that decision for you.

  • Did you take computer science classes in high school or in college?
    I would assume that you did; graduate programs are even more leery of someone making a big jump than are employers. If these classes were what made you want to switch to computer science, say so.

For example, suppose your father majored in that field, and even though he is not a politician, a campaign manager, or a diplomat, he feels that that degree was what led to his success. He gave you a free ride through college (note well: this requires a good amount of financial success in the US), so you felt obliged to major in his chosen field. It wasn't your chosen field, and because you took a few computer science classes on the side, you knew that that was your chosen field. It's not so hard to say that, is it?

Finally, you can turn your undergraduate degree into a big plus rather than a potential minus. You have skills that most of your technically educated cohorts do not have:

  • You can read and comprehend written material very quickly. Good luck with that for most of your technically-educated cohorts; our technical education taught us to read technical materials very carefully and very slowly. There are times when that slow reading is detrimental.
  • You can sense the politics in requests for proposals (which are often laden with politics).
    As an example, there are some contracts that are not worth pursuing because they are "locked in" for some specific organization that will inevitable win the contract. If your employer is not that one pre-selected organization, it's best to move on to something else.
  • You can write coherently (good luck with that for most of your technically-educated cohorts).
    There are so very, very many areas in technology where the combined abilities to comprehend the technology and to write well are absolutely critical. Your future employer needs you!
  • You are multilingual (also good luck with that for most of your technically-educated cohorts).
    Note well: You cannot claim to be multilingual if you satisfied your foreign language requirements with classes in classical Latin and classical Greek.

Full disclosure: I put all three of my children through college in the US. I felt it that doing so was one my key jobs as a parent. This required a certain amount of financial success on my part. I also felt it was my job as a parent to give hints regarding the fields in which they should major. However, I never demanded they follow my hints because each my three children were so very different from one another. Only one of my three children followed my "hints", and that was because my hints did indeed coincide with his skills and interests.

Also full disclosure, I am apparently the first to use the word "poetry" at this site. I majored in hard technical fields (physics and computer science) because that was where my skills and interests almost coincided. I also took classes in biology, poetry, history, English, law, and foreign languages because my interests were more varied than the typically narrow perspective of education in a technical field.

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  • Thank you for the advice I feel that my undergraduate is not a crutch but an advantage. I learned many social skills, I also learned how to write and communicate effectively and I am multi langual which means I can speak read and write languages of 3 European countries. In addition to this critical thinking was very important for the University I went to which I believe is a huge plus! Thank you very much! – Alex Top Jun 25 '16 at 18:02

Leave the family history out of it. The only reason they are asking this question is because you have no work history. Once you establish yourself in the field, no one will care. And talking about family dynamics can only cloud your answer. So give an answer that is both truthful but discrete, and makes you look good.

"You know, I studied Political Science as an undergraduate, and found it to be an interesting and fulfilling course of study. However, I've always had a passion for computer science. So when it came time to choose a graduate program, I decided that while I had enjoyed my undergraduate major, I really wanted to expand my CS skills and master my craft.

"Although my approach may have been atypical, I find that my political science / international relations training has given me a perspective and soft-skills that many CS grads may lack at the beginning of their careers. I understand what makes people tick, and have a big picture perspective that gives me maturity, and helps keep me grounded."

That was just what I came up with in 30 seconds. Modify to fit your taste.

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