Princeton University Department of Computer Science

Undergraduate Certificate Program in
A p p l i c a t i o n s  of Computing

Director: Szymon Rusinkiewicz
406 Computer Science Building, 35 Olden Street
telephone: 258-7479; email smr+pac at cs princeton edu
Program Coordinator: Colleen Kenny-McGinley
210 Computer Science Building, 35 Olden Street
telephone: 258-1746; email ckenny at cs


The Program in Applications of Computing is an interdisciplinary program designed for Princeton undergraduates who want to combine the study of computing and computers beyond an introductory level with another academic concentration, but who are not majoring in Computer Science. The program welcomes students in all disciplines, including both areas traditionally making heavy use of computation (such as engineering, the physical sciences, economics, and mathematics) and emerging application areas (such as biology, cognitive science, graphic arts, music, history, philosophy, politics, sociology, literature, and so on). Many students have found this program an effective way to apply computer science to their own specialties, and to understand how computing concepts and technology are changing our world.

Admission to the Program

The program is open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors who are majoring in a department other than Computer Science. The prerequisite for admission is successful completion of COS 126 or ISC 231-234, 5 on the AP Computer Science AB exam (the Computer Science A exam is, unfortunately, not accepted), or instructor's permission to take COS 217 or 226.

To apply to join PAC, please fill out the online worksheet. If you have any questions, email the program director (smr+pac at cs).

Course of Study

A certificate candidate's courses and thesis must form a coherent plan of study that fulfills both the program requirements and the requirements of the candidate's major department. This planning is done in consultation with the program advisor and the student's academic advisor in the major department. The following are the requirements:

  1. Prerequisite: COS 126 or equivalent.
  2. Two courses from among the following three: COS 217, COS 226, and/or COS 323. If placement is granted beyond the 217/226 level, then additional COS departmentals must be taken instead.
  3. One COS departmental at the 300- or 400-level, not including 39x or 49x. If requirement (2) is satisfied with COS 217 and 226, then COS 323 does count towards this requirement.
  4. One additional 300- or 400-level course with substantial computing content. This may be either a second COS departmental, or an outside course including but not limited to:
       CBE 442, 448;
       ELE 375, 381, 463, 464, 475, 481, 482;
       MAT 305;
       MAE 345, 412;
       MOL 457;
       ORF 301, 307, 311, 417, 467;
       PSY 322.
  5. A senior thesis on a topic that makes significant use of some aspect of computer science. The intent is that this thesis satisfy the requirements of both the program and the student's major department and is thus necessarily interdisciplinary. A wide range of thesis topics is possible. In the last few years of the program, students have earned certificates with a variety of majors, including anthropology, chemistry, classics, economics, electrical engineering, history, philosophy, and psychology.

    A list of recent thesis and project topics is here.

    The thesis work is coordinated through the student's thesis advisor in the major department. When this is not possible, the student may instead complete one additional 300- or 400-level computer science departmental.

P/D/F policy:   Limit is one P/D/F from among the courses used to satisfy the program requirements.

Majors in departments with computer-related concentrations:   Non-Computer-Science majors whose departmental concentration is in an area related to computing (such as Electrical Engineering) can participate in the program if the two 300/400-level courses used to satisfy the PAC requirements are disjoint from those used for their departmental concentration, and are in a different area of computer science. In particular, ELE 306 / COS 206 is not accepted for the program for ELE majors. For ORFE majors, ORF 307 is accepted for PAC.

Sample Interdisciplinary Tracks for Non-Engineering Majors

As mentioned above, we want to extend a warm welcome to students in disciplines in which extensive computer application is either relatively new or nontraditional. To be more concrete, here are examples of course choices that might be appropriate for a few such areas:

Artificial Intelligence / Cognitive Science

How can computers be made to behave intelligently? How can the brain be modeled from a computational perspective? These two questions are emerging as central challenges in this century. A student following an artificial intelligence / cognitive science track might take COS 402 (Artificial Intelligence), plus one of the following courses:

COS 429 Computer Vision;
ELE 481 Machine Vision;
MAE 345 Robotics and Intelligent Systems;
MOL 437 Computational Neurobiology and Computing Networks;
PSY 330 Introduction to Connectionist Models: Bridging between Brain and Mind.

Students interested in this track for the certificate should see Professor Rob Schapire.


With increasing amounts of data being generated in a variety of genome-wide biological studies, modern molecular biology is rapidly becoming an information-based science. Now biology can be studied at the level of systems, be it systems of interacting proteins in the cell, intercellular signaling, organ-level interactions, or whole organisms. This modern biology requires a new generation of scientists who are proficient in computer science, statistics, and mathematics, as well as biology. We thus recommend the core sequence COS 226 and COS 323 (for the two-out-of-three), plus two of the following courses:

COS 340 Reasoning about Computation;
COS 551/MOL 557 Introduction to Computational Molecular Biology;
COS 557 Analysis and Visualization of Large-Scale Genomic Data Sets;
ORF 309/MAT 309 Probability and Stochastic Systems.

Students interested in this kind of track for the certificate should see Professor Thomas Funkhouser or Professor Olga Troyanskaya.

Computational Social Science

With the proliferation of large data sets and high-speed computing, social scientists have increasingly come to rely on computational tools for analysis. The track in computational social science addresses such applications as (a) computational modeling and simulation (the use of "intelligent agents" equipped with particular capacities, preferences, and behavioral routines to model large-scale social systems); (b) computer-based natural language and text processing; and (c) statistical computing (with particular reference to the refinement of econometric, sociometric, and psychometric algorithms). Prerequisites for a certificate would typically include COS 126 (Introduction to Computer Science); COS 226 (Algorithms and Data Structures); COS 323 (Computing for the Physical and Social Sciences); and appropriate courses in Sociology, Economics, or Politics. Students interested in this track for the certificate should see Professor Paul DiMaggio.

Digital Media

Digital media, including both graphics and sound, have become central both to our culture and our science. There are (at least) three general areas that might serve as a focus for certificate students interested in these computer applications:


Courses for a graphics media track might include COS 426 (Computer Graphics) or COS 429 (Computer Vision), plus COS 436 (Human Computer Interface Technology) or COS 479 (Pervasive Information Systems). The choices are wide and will vary with the student. Those interested in a graphics track for the applications certificate should see Prof. Adam Finkelstein.


The collaboration between Music and Computer Science at Princeton has a long and rich history. Specific cross-listed COS/MUS courses include MUS/COS 314 (Introduction to Computer Music) and COS 325/MUS 315 (Transforming Reality by Computer). A music track for the certificate might include one of these two, plus COS 436 (Human Computer Interface Technology) or COS 479 (Pervasive Information Systems). Again, a wide range of choices is possible.

....Policy and Intellectual Property

The legal and political aspects of digital media are becoming increasingly important in our society. A track for the certificate that focused in this area might typically include COS 491 (Information Technology and The Law), plus any one of many other possible courses, depending on the student's particular interests. Those interested should see Professor Edward Felten.

Interdepartmental Committee

Joel Cooper, Psychology
Bradley W. Dickinson, Electrical Engineering
Paul J. DiMaggio, Sociology
David P. Dobkin, Computer Science
Henry S. Farber, Economics
Adam Finkelstein, Computer Science
Thomas A. Funkhouser, Computer Science
James L. Gould, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Gilbert H. Harman, Philosophy
Alain L. Kornhauser, Operations Research and Financial Engineering
Paul Lansky, Music
Andrea S. LaPaugh, Computer Science
Sharad Malik, Electrical Engineering
Luigi Martinelli, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Robert Schapire, Computer Science
James L. Seawright, Visual Arts
Jaswinder Pal Singh, Computer Science
Robert F. Stengel, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Olga Troyanskaya, Computer Science and Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics

Last update 2014-01-14 16:30:22