computing lab

Why study Computing?

Computing is a creative and wide-ranging subject. It's about combining theoretical understanding, sound engineering practices and clear logical thinking to build systems that really work and are fit for purpose.

Computing is a relatively new profession within a fast-changing industry. It retains an informality and an openness to fresh ideas and practices. There are fewer barriers of age and gender, and the industry is leading the way in flexible working practices and career planning. Constant updating of knowledge is essential. A good computer scientist does not just have core technical and transferable skills but is also able to adapt to technological change, with its challenges and opportunities.

Imperial’s approach

At Imperial, students learn through problem-solving where the emphasis is on putting mathematical and engineering principles into practice.

First year

The first year comprises of core modules covering foundational mathematics, computer systems, databases and algorithms. There is also a coordinated programme of laboratory-based work centred around programming problems of gradually increasing size and complexity. Each is designed to teach a specific aspect of programming and, at the same time, reinforce some of the material taught in the core modules.

Second year

The second year comprises of core modules focusing on computer and communication systems, language processing and foundations of computation There are also follow-on modules in algorithms, mathematics and reasoning. As in the first year there is also a coordinated laboratory programme centred around three major projects: an operating system, a compiler and a user-centric application design exercise. Each project is undertaken in small groups.

Third year

The third year is made up mostly of optional elective modules, allowing you to specialise in those topics that are of interest to you, or, if you are enrolled on the MEng, which are core to your specialism.

You will also undertake a major group project, which will exercise your ability to work as part of a larger software development team. This may also involve working with an industrial partner, as many of the group projects are proposed by our industry collaborators.

If you are enrolled on a BEng degree then you will also undertake a major individual project (see below).

If you are enrolled on an MEng programme then you will spend 6 months (4 months for JMC) on an industrial placement. These involve working on one or more technical projects in an approved organisation as part of a team. The placement gives you the opportunity to apply what you have learned in the degree so far to real-world engineering problems. It also gives you invaluable experience of industry working practices. You also get to earn money and many students use the income to help fund their final year of study.

Fourth year

As with the third year, the fourth year of each MEng programme comprises advanced elective modules, some of these are compulsory for particular specialisms, and a major individual project (see below).

Final year projects

In the final year (third year for BEng, fourth year for MEng) you will undertake an individual project spanning around eight months. This presents an exciting opportunity for you to apply the technical skills you have learnt throughout the course, including also research, project management and presentation skills, under the supervision of an academic adviser. The topics covered by individual projects vary enormously, from the very theoretical to the very practical. Many projects address topical research problems and involve working closely with one of the Department’s research groups.

The best student projects from Imperial are among the most impressive of any academic institution in the world. It is quite common for project work to be presented at top international research conferences and/or published in academic journals. You can see some of our best student project work on the Department's Distinguished Projects pages.

Our teaching approach

We use digital technology to bring further benefits to our education programs, drawing from investments made and skills gained during the pandemic. We deliver our education as a useful blend of face-to-face and digital learning. This will also prepare our students well for a more hybrid work culture of the future.

Is Imperial right for you?

Imperial’s engineering focus means that you will be expected to work closely with fellow students at certain times, particularly when undertaking the group work outlined above. The programme is also more intensive than most, so you will need to be well organized and able to adapt to fluctuating demands on your time.

We do not require you to know how to program in advance, but programming forms the core of all of Imperial’s Computing programmes and is an important skill that you will need to master early on. If you’ve not programmed before you are advised to try teaching yourself some of the basics before applying, for example by following one of the many free introductory programming courses or tutorials available on-line. If you find that you enjoy programming, regardless of your level of experience, and problem-solving more generally, then Imperial may be a good choice for you.

You are also advised to read the Department’s Competence standards when considering whether to apply.