Computer Science Recruitment Strategies
Computer Science Is for All Students
Students may think that they need special skills or equipment to study computer science. This isn’t the case for AP computer science courses: Students don’t need any coding experience to take either subject.
Students from groups traditionally underrepresented in computer science may be hesitant to enroll in AP courses for various reasons. AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) was designed specifically to attract these students to the field. While AP Computer Science A is a more traditional coding-based class, that doesn’t mean that diversity is any less important.
To create a diverse AP class, make an extra effort to recruit girls and underrepresented minorities. Your encouragement will spark new pathways for these students.
The evidence-based strategies below will help you recruit all students.
Recruit students from groups that represent your target demographic populations. Look to sports groups, clubs, or other courses to find students who will enroll and provide social support to one another in the classroom. For example, the girls’ basketball team, the Spanish club, the Black Student Union, or the AVID program.
Invite Students Personally
AP computer science teachers can visit algebra classes to invite all students to enroll in their class the following year—once students complete an algebra course, they’ve met the recommended prerequisites.
In your school’s presentation and handouts:
- Describe the course’s key topics and computational practices, including creativity, programming, and the internet. Share free brochures with students—you can order these or download them on the Recruitment Toolkit page.
- Show how students in the class collaborate and build creative artifacts such as apps, digital music files, and animation.
- Explain how learning computer science can lead to many majors and career fields—for example, graphic design, medicine, political science, and engineering.
- When possible, let prospective students observe your classroom so they can learn more about the course and see their peers working on computing assignments.
Visit our Recruitment Toolkit page for videos of real AP Computer Science Principles students talking about how taking the course benefited them—share these with students to encourage them to sign up for computer science courses.
Ask Current or Former AP Computer Science Students to Share Their Experience
Current students can be great peer advocates for AP courses in computer science. For example, during Computer Science Education Week (which usually takes place in early December) and spring enrollment weeks, you can arrange for students to showcase their computing projects and talk about their experience in the course. It’s a good idea to take videos of students’ projects for future recruitment.
You can also schedule a middle school demonstration and have current or former high school students present their work and talk about the course.
Our AP CSP student site and our Recruitment Toolkit page host a number of videos in which real AP CSP students talk about their experience in the course. Share these testimonials with your students.
Reach Out to Parents
During family-oriented school events and in letters home, provide a single-page course information sheet that features:
- Key questions and topics that drive the courses
- Potential community applications of computer science
- Information about higher education computing majors and pathways
- Information on potential scholarships
- Information about jobs in the industry, including salaries
Letters and course information sheets should be available in multiple languages.
A simple one-page overview of the course and its benefits, written for students and families, is available in English- and Spanish-language versions on our Recruitment Toolkit page.
Reach Out to Counselors
Make sure counselors understand the courses' focus on creativity, communication, and collaboration. Use the suggestions below to help counselors think about which students would benefit most from taking AP courses in computer science.
- Explain that students do not need previous computer science experience to take these courses and that Algebra 1 is the only recommended prerequisite.
- Explain that AP CSP was designed by the National Science Foundation and College Board to engage a diverse group of students—like those at your school—in computer science.
- Include information about interdisciplinary computing majors.
- Provide information about jobs in the industry, including salaries.
- If your school offers AP CSP and AP Computer Science A, help your counselor understand the difference between the courses and how to guide students into both.
Brochures aimed at educators, students, and families can be ordered or downloaded on our Recruitment Toolkit page. Counselors could also use the videos of real students on that page to encourage and inspire students to take computer science courses.
Direct Students to the Most Appropriate Course
While Computer Science A and Computer Science Principles both teach fundamental coding skills, these two AP courses have differences:
|Computer Science A||Computer Science Principles|
|The course teaches the fundamentals of programming and problem solving using the Java language.||The course explores the basics of computing, like problem solving, programming, cybersecurity, and working with data. Teachers can select a programming language of their choice.|
|Students build skills for future study or a career in computer science or other STEM fields.||Students broaden their understanding of computer science for use in a variety of majors and careers.|
|AP score comes from one end-of-course exam with two sections: multiple choice and free response.||AP score comes from completion of the Create performance task students work on during the course, and the end-of-course multiple-choice exam.|
Make sure students understand the differences if your school offers both courses and encourage them to enroll in the course that is right for them.
Create Enrollment Policies for Equity and Diversity
All students should have equitable access to the course, and your AP computer science classroom should be demographically representative of the school’s population. We encourage you to create policies that promote diversity in the course and that do not create barriers that discourage underrepresented groups from participating.
The research-based strategies outlined here were compiled by Joanna Goode, of the University of Oregon, coauthor of Stuck in the Shallow End.
- Aschbacher, P. R., Li, E., & Roth, E. J. (2010). “Is Science Me? High School Students’ Identities, Participation and Aspirations in Science, Engineering, and Medicine.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(5), 564–582.
- Google (2014). Women Who Choose Computer Science—What Really Matters. Retrieved from https://static.googleusercontent.com/media/edu.google.com/en/pdfs/women-who-choose-what-really.pdf (.pdf/216KB).
- Goode, J. (2008). Increasing Diversity in K–12 Computer Science Education: Lessons from the Field. Proceedings of the 38th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 40(1), 362–371.
- Goode, J. (2007). “If You Build Teachers, Will Students Come? The Role of Teachers in Broadening Computer Science Learning for Urban Youth.” Journal of Educational Computing Research, 36(1), 65–88.
- Goode, J., Estrella, R., & Margolis, J. (2006). Lost in Translation: Gender and High School Computer Science. In W. Aspray & J. M. Cohoon (Eds.), Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation (pp. 89–113). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Margolis, J., Estrella, R., Goode, J., Holme, J. J., & Nao, K. (2008). Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
CSP Recruitment Toolkit
Explore our collection of videos and downloadable resources to share with students, families, and educators to explain the benefits of the course.