Computer Science Recruitment Strategies

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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 Groups

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. Order free brochures to share with students.
  • 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.

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 hosts 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.

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 the 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.

Direct Students to the Most Appropriate Course

While Computer Science A and CSP both teach fundamental coding skills, these two AP courses have plenty of differences:

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.

References

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.
  • (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.