Getting Started in CS at Carleton College

Welcome to Carleton, and welcome to Computer Science at Carleton! Whether you're totally sure that you want to be a CS major, or if you're just thinking about maybe possibly taking one course to see what it's about, we're delighted that you're here and we're delighted by your interest.

What do I do if I've never studied CS before?

Almost all students who come to Carleton (whether they'll eventually study CS or not) start with no specific experience in computer science. Our curriculum is designed for exactly that kind of background in CS—that is, no background! If that is your situation, then you should start your exploration of computer science in CS 111 (Introduction to Computer Science) or another 100-level CS course (which we offer from time to time). Check out the CS course listings for the current term and see whether there's an introductory CS class that fits your schedule. We look forward to welcoming you to the field soon!

What do I do if I have some background in CS/programming?

Although most of our students come in without any CS/programming background, some students have had some prior exposure to the field. We are currently piloting a placement exam for incoming Carleton students who have some background in computer science. The goal is to make sure that students end up in the right first CS course at Carleton. Because this is a pilot program, there are no official college deadlines, but the sooner you complete this exam, the sooner we can help with placement.

For almost all incoming students, the right place to start is in CS 111 (Introduction to Computer Science), but for students with some experience with CS/programming, more advanced courses may be more appropriate places to begin. The placement exam here is intended to help determine whether CS 111 or CS 201 (Data Structures) is more appropriate. (Occasionally students with more background may start in CS 202 (Mathematics of Computer Science) or CS 208 (Computer Organization and Architecture) instead.)

The Placement Exam

We encourage you to attempt this placement exam if you are at all unsure about your background. It will help both you and us understand how you can best start studying computer science at Carleton!

What Happens Next?

After you've submitted your solution, contact the CS Department (you can email us at We'll generally need about one to two weeks after you've submitted a solution to be prepared to discuss your particular situation. Most commonly, we'll arrange a time to meet during new student week to discuss your background and your choice of a first CS course, but in certain circumstances we'll be able to have that conversation by email before you arrive in Northfield.