About the Information Systems (IS) Major
What exactly is an information system? What would I need to know to be a successful IS professional?
An information system combines five key elements: people, hardware, software, data, and telecommunications networks. The purpose of an information system is to solve business problems. Successful IS professionals have technical competency (e.g., hardware, software, networking), business competency (e.g., managing people and projects, social skills, verbal and written communication), and systems competency (e.g., systems integration, critical thinking, problem-solving).
Will the IS major turn me into a programmer?
Not directly. The IS major requires you to complete several technical courses, some of which include programming; however, we are not in the business of churning out programmers. The major will teach you what programmers and other technical staff do so that you are better able to work with or manage them. Depending on your interests, some roles may require or benefit from more technical expertise. If you are interested in digging deeper into technical concepts, you should take additional IS elective courses, take complementary courses within other disciplines, and participate in the Business & IT Society (BITS) student club.
Will the IS major turn me into a technical geek?
Not directly. The IS major will introduce you to a wide array of technical concepts and jargon so that you will be able to understand what the geeks are talking about. This may even spark your curiosity to dig deeper. If you start off the major as a geek, the IS major will teach you how to be understood by technically-ignorant business users and managers, so that you will combine your knowledge in technology with your new found business knowledge.
I just want to be an accountant, marketer, manager, etc. Why can't I just leave all this technology stuff to the technical staff?
Technology is a key strategic resource for organizations. Technical staff often do not understand the business side of things well. If you were a manager or executive, would you want to leave key strategic decisions to these technical staff? Professionals who understand technology and how it may be effectively used for competitive advantage will themselves have a competitive advantage in the employment market. Furthermore, performing analysis on data sets has become part of many jobs for marketers, managers, accountants, etc. Having fundamental data analysis and visualization skills are crucial to good decision-making.
Since technology rapidly changes, won't the major's content be obsolete by the time of graduation?
No. The IS major teaches you the theory, concepts, and business of technology which changes much more slowly. It also focuses heavily on problem-solving and critical thinking. The information and skills you acquire will still be viable when you graduate. Additionally, as part of the major, you will learn how to learn about technological advancements, so you will have the skills to keep up with future developments. Successful IS professionals are adaptable to change, resourceful, and able to self-learn.
What are the best electives for IS majors?
Some recruiters want to see many technical courses in your experience; however, some others want to see extracurricular activities that show leadership and personal skills. Selecting your electives largely depends on your desired role, and if known, the companies for whom you wish to work.
Can I get a combined BS/MS degree?
Yes! Many students apply to the Plus 1 program where you can earn a dual BS/MS degree in only one additional year or less. Master's degrees most compatible with the IS major are the MS in Information Systems and MS in Business Analytics (On Campus), or MS in Business Analytics (Online).
Comparing Computer Science (CS) and Information Systems (IS) Majors
What is the difference between career opportunities for CS and IS majors?
Both majors have excellent career opportunities. Students who take advantage of Smith's Career Services are more likely to have a job offer before graduation. IS majors are most likely to go into job positions in information services for companies or consulting, while CS majors are most likely to go into product development or software engineering for computer companies. IS majors often accept jobs with consulting firms, which is not as common for CS majors. You can also view some example careers' entry-level positions and hiring companies for IS majors. Some students choose to complete a double major in both CS and IS. Alternatively, many CS students declare a Business Analytics minor.
What are the differences in entry-level jobs for CS and IS majors?
Some graduates go into the same type of programmer-analyst positions, but most CS majors accept jobs that are much more technical and less involved with people than positions accepted by IS majors. Sometimes titles differ, such as "Programmer" rather than "Consultant" or "End-User Support Staff". Sometimes the title is the same, but the responsibilities differ.
What is the difference in coursework between CS and IS majors?
IS majors must take a series of lower and upper level core business courses in addition to the minimum of 18 credits of IS courses. Unlike CS, many IS courses require significant group projects. Business analysis, project management and people issues are emphasized in IS courses more often than in CS, which has more technical depth, especially on topics such as operating systems, computer architecture, and programming languages.
Getting into the Information Systems (IS) Major
I am a student in Smith, but I already have a major that is not IS. Is it possible to double major with IS?
Yes! While the major can stand alone and offer an excellent education, many Smith students add-on the IS major because they have a passion for technology and see how the major will add to their personal brand. Instructions for declaring or changing your major are available in the Smith Undergraduate Virtual Handbook. Once you have declared the IS major, consider applying to the Information Technology and Business Transformation Fellows (iTBT) Program.
I am a student in Smith. When should I declare the IS major?
As early as possible! While you can declare an IS major fairly late in your time at UMD**, the earlier you can declare the major, the more time you will have to complete the courses required for the major and take full advantage of the opportunities provided to IS majors. Declaring early has the added benefits of setting you up for IS-related internship opportunities and a pathway to the Plus 1 program where you can earn a dual BS/MS degree in only one additional year or less.
** Discuss any desired major changes with your advisor to see your specific options.
I am a high school student/prospective freshman. How can I apply to Smith and declare the IS major?
Smith offers information for prospective freshmen. There is no separate application process for IS majors. Once you have been admitted to Smith, you may declare a major in IS. You should consider attending a Smith Friday session. You should also consider applying to the Information Technology and Business Transformation (iTBT) Fellows Program.
I am a current UMD student. How can I transfer into Smith and declare the IS major?
Smith offers transfer information for current UMD students. There is no separate transfer process for IS majors. Once you have been admitted to Smith, you may declare a major in IS. You should consider attending a Smith transfer information session. You should also consider applying to the Information Technology and Business Transformation (iTBT) Fellows Program.
I am a non-UMD student, but am interested in transferring to UMD. How can I transfer into Smith and declare the IS major?
Smith offers transfer information for non-UMD students. There is no separate transfer process for IS majors. Once you have been admitted to Smith, you may declare a major in IS. You should consider attending a Smith transfer information session. You should also consider applying to the Information Technology and Business Transformation (iTBT) Fellows Program.