FAQ about IST | College of Information Sciences and Technology
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FAQ about IST

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Want to chat directly with a current IST student? 

If so, email our IST Diplomats. An IST student will be happy to follow up with you directly and help to answer all of your questions. For more information about the IST Diplomats, please visit their website and check out their student blog.

To help you better understand the programs and services offered in the College of IST, please review common questions asked by prospective students and their families:


Questions about Academics/Curriculum

An IST education provides students with a multifaceted education and versatile skills. Typically, students will choose majors in psychology, sociology, political science, foreign language, risk management, public or foreign policy, and science.

Most classes are around 30-35 students, though your first few entrance to major courses may have nearly 100 students. As you progress through your undergraduate career, classes will get smaller as the course content becomes more focused on your major.

The IST major offers three options to focus your study: Design and Development; Integration and Application; and People, Organizations, and Society. The SRA major offers one option: Intelligence Analysis and Modeling. The Data Sciences major offers three options, each of which is run by a different academic college at Penn State: Applied Data Sciences (offered by the College of IST), Computational Data Sciences (offered by the College of Engineering), and Statistical Modeling Data Sciences (offered by the Eberly College of Science). The Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations major does not offer any options. Students must select a major and option, if applicable, by the end of their second year. Learn more about our majors and options by visiting our undergraduate degrees webpage.

Generally speaking, the Design and Development option in the IST major focuses on the development and application of technology, whereas Computer Science focuses heavily on discrete mathematics and computer science theory. IST students will learn programming languages and focus on programming software to meet the needs of different organizations. The Computer Science curriculum prepares students to solve computational problems. Both offer rewarding career opportunities in a variety of fields.

Students will often research each option by talking to students and faculty who focus primarily on those options. Once you know which option you want to choose, you will meet with your academic advisor and request placement in a particular option. Students must select a major and option by the end of their second year.

Absolutely! We encourage students to take courses from a broad range of fields, which will build versatility and lead to exciting opportunities in the workplace. For example, pairing a foreign language with an IST degree can make you more attractive to corporate recruiters who have work overseas.

No. It certainly helps to understand code prior to entering Penn State for an IST degree, but you don’t have to have taken any coursework prior to enrolling.

Not necessarily, but it does help to be familiar with how the logic of code works when learning other programming languages. A few of our majors like the Cybersecurity Analytics and Operations major and the Design and Development option in the IST major focus more heavily on coding. So, if you like coding, those majors might be a good choice for you.

Most IST faculty have active research projects, and many offer opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in their research. While some of these opportunities are publicly advertised, others come by getting to know the faculty and seeing how you can get involved.

There are over 300 study abroad destinations students can visit while furthering their education. Students can also travel abroad by participating in service projects for underdeveloped communities, such as learning how to use technology as a means to enhance living conditions.

Students interested in an honors program experience at Penn State are encouraged to apply to the Schreyer Honors College. Schreyer scholars take honors classes, conduct research and write a thesis, and graduate with the highest honors at Penn State.

Visit our campuses page for a complete listing of which Penn State campuses currently offer IST programs.

Not all campuses currently offer the required entrance to major coursework for IST programs. For a listing of which campuses offer IST entrance to major coursework, visit our campuses page.


Questions about Internships and Careers

From small startups to Fortune 500 companies, our graduates are working for organizations like Verizon, GE, Ernst and Young, Deloitte, Johnson and Johnson, General Motors, Anthem, and Vanguard to name a few. Twice each year, our Careers Solutions office hosts a career fair for IST students to network with employers and make connections for internships and jobs. Learn more about these events by visiting our career fairs webpage.

IST students have lots of options when they graduate. Many take on careers in a variety of industries – government, business, healthcare, entertainment – while others pursue graduate education, non-profit work, or start their businesses. You can view a brief listing of the kinds of jobs our students have recently earned here

Yes. Although only one internship is required for graduation, many IST students complete two or more. Because of this, our students are being offered jobs before completing their senior year of college.

Thanks to our Career Solutions office and Penn State’s alumni network, students have many avenues to find internships through our job and internship posting system, two annual career fairs, and a variety of networking and recruiting events held throughout the year. Also, if you have connections for a possible internship through family or friends, you can work out those details with the Career Solutions office ahead of time to earn academic credit for that experience.

While students can complete their internship at any point during their time on campus, most students complete their internship between their sophomore and junior years.

It’s difficult to characterize the difference since our students end up doing so many different things with their degree. Generally speaking, many IST graduates work in business doing consulting, software development, or enterprise architecture. SRA graduates often work for the government or in defense contracting. You can view a brief listing of the kinds of jobs our students have recently earned here.


Questions about student life in/out of IST

IST students are hard workers but realize the importance of have a balanced life, and part of that balance might be to join one of the 16 clubs and organizations hosted by IST, including but not limited to the IST Consulting Club, Competitive Cyber Security Organization, Diversity Network, and Women in IST. Students can join clubs that pertain to their specific area of study or they can explore different areas of interest. Although the College of IST is a close knit family, students are encouraged to join one of the 1200 clubs and organizations that belong to the Penn State community as a whole.

We tell our students that they should consider their academic coursework to be a full-time job. Everything else is extra, or icing on the cake, so to speak. Like most things, it comes down to time management, and there are lots of people in IST who can help students figure out how to gain this skill if needed, or fine tune their organizational skill set.

This is a hard question to answer since every student is different. But, I would suggest you check out our student blogs to get a sense of what this might look like for you.


Questions about applying/admissions

No. All are welcome to apply, provided they meet specific academic criteria determined by the Undergraduate Admissions office. For further information on what is required, please see this website - http://admissions.psu.edu/apply/requirements/