Computer Science Degree Guide
thebestschools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Are you ready to discover your college program?
Majors in Computer Science
Earning a computer science degree can help professionals enter the booming tech industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for computer and information technology professionals to grow 13% from 2020-2030. Computer science degree-holders may work as software developers, information security analysts, or computer scientists.
This guide covers everything you need to know about computer science programs, including degree options and potential concentrations. The final section includes an outlook for computer science degree jobs and an interview with an industry professional.
Questions About Computer Science
Q. What is the difference between computer science and computer information systems?
Computer science emphasizes computing theory. Computer information systems focuses more on applied technology. Information technology also emphasizes practical over theoretical topics.
Q. What is the difference between computer science and computer engineering?
Computer science largely focuses on operating systems and software. Computer engineering emphasizes hardware and the interface between hardware and software.
Q. What jobs can I get with a degree in computer science?
Common computer science degree jobs include software developer, web developer, and information security analyst. Graduates may also work as database administrators or computer network architects. With a graduate degree or experience, tech professionals can move into leadership roles.
Q. How do you become a computer scientist?
Most computer scientists hold a graduate degree in computer science. Graduate-level training prepares learners to create new uses for algorithms or develop new programming languages.
What is Computer Science?
Computer science explores computer systems and computational methods. Computer science professionals develop new programming languages and uses for algorithms. They also design software applications, manage databases, and build computer hardware. Related fields include information technology, computer engineering, and information systems.
Computer science programs train students in the theoretical and practical applications of computer science. Earning a computer science degree requires strong analytical, problem-solving, and logic skills.
Bachelor's degrees cost an average of $35,330, according to EducationData.org. An online computer science degree may cost less. An online format lets degree-seekers attend the most affordable program without relocating.
What Kind of Computer Science Degrees Are There?
Colleges offer computer science certificates and degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Each program trains majors for different careers after graduation.
Generally, professionals with higher degrees earn more money. For example, bachelor's degree-holders make $27,000 more annually than high school graduates. Doctoral degree-holders earn $30,000 more annually than professionals with only a bachelor's degree.
Read on to learn about the different types of computer science programs schools may offer.
Certificate Program in Computer Science
A certificate program introduces learners to core concepts and programming languages. Learners can complete these programs in about 12 months. Some accelerated programs require less time. Many colleges offer certificates in focused areas like web development or software development. Students can also earn a graduate certificate that includes graduate-level coursework.
Certificate programs can lead to opportunities as computer programmers or web developers. Students may also transfer credits into a degree-granting program.
Associate Degree in Computer Science
An associate degree in computer science includes foundational coursework in computer systems, information technology, and programming. Degree-seekers strengthen their programming skills. They learn about operating systems, web development, and database administration.
Students can complete an associate degree in two years. Associate degree-holders may work as computer support specialists. The degree also helps graduates transfer into a four-year school.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
Bachelor's degree-seekers learn foundational computing skills while taking upper-division coursework in their focus area. Students may take classes in network administration, database management, and software development. Full-time enrollees can earn a bachelor's degree in four years.
A bachelor's degree meets the entry-level education requirement for most computer and information technology jobs. Software developers, information assurance analysts, and computer network architects earn median annual salaries above $100,000.
Master's Degree in Computer Science
Master's programs provide advanced training in areas like computing theory, systems architecture, and software development. Most programs offer concentrations that include managerial coursework. Learners can typically complete a master's in two years.
A master's degree helps professionals move into roles with increased responsibilities. Some employers prefer master's degree-holders for roles like lead software developer or senior software engineer. Computer and information research scientists typically also need a master's degree.
Joint MBA/MS in Computer Science
Combining computer science with business training can lead to lucrative careers. Many business schools offer an MBA that includes a concentration in IT or computer science. Learners can also enroll in joint MBA/MS programs. These programs typically take 2-3 years to complete.
Degree-seekers take classes in computer systems management, leadership principles, and operational management. Graduates may work as computer and information systems managers.
Doctoral Degree in Computer Science
A doctorate in computer science is the field's terminal degree. Doctoral degree-seekers take advanced classes and complete a dissertation. After meeting coursework and doctoral examination requirements, they defend their dissertation and earn their degree.
With a doctorate, computer science professionals may work as computer scientists, researchers, or academics. Computer science professors generally need a doctorate.
Computer Science Concentrations
Many computer science programs offer concentrations that prepare enrollees for specific careers. Some schools call them specializations or tracks. During a concentration, majors take specialized classes that strengthen industry-specific skills. By adding an internship within the concentration, students can gain valuable hands-on experience.
See below for some common computer science concentrations. Keep in mind that options vary by program. Learners should check with their prospective schools for available tracks.
The cutting-edge field of artificial intelligence (AI) requires specialized training. In an AI concentration, learners explore human-computer interactions, natural language processing, and machine learning. They also learn about AI principles and how to program AI software.
The concentration prepares enrollees for jobs in software development, software engineering, and AI engineering. With a master's degree, AI specialists may work as computer scientists. These professionals earn a median $126,830 annually, according to the BLS.
A game design concentration focuses on video game development and planning. Students take classes in game programming, graphics theory, and game design. They also learn how to manage the game development process and work closely with a team of game designers.
The concentration prepares graduates for roles like game designer, game developer, and software developer. These professionals earn a median $110,140 annually.
The growing field of robotics trains students in theoretical and practical skills. Majors study robotics principles, control systems, and machine learning. Some classes cover topics like engineering and programming.
A robotics concentration prepares graduates for roles like robotics engineer and software engineer. Graduates may also work as hardware engineers. These professionals only need a bachelor's degree and earn a median $119,560 annually.
Information security, also known as information assurance or cybersecurity, trains learners to protect sensitive information systems and networks. Students in this concentration examine cybersecurity principles, the theory behind information assurance, and the process to build secure systems. Common classes include information security policy, digital forensics, and cryptography.
Computer science bachelor's degree-holders with a security concentration may work as information security analysts. These professionals earn a median $103,590 annually.
Software engineering students learn how to create software systems with engineering approaches. Beyond the programming level, software engineering encompasses the larger system and process of creating software.
During the concentration, learners take classes in program analysis, the software process, and testing methods. Majors also learn how to manage the development process.
A software engineering concentration prepares learners to work as software developers or software engineers. These professionals earn a median $110,140 annually.
Accreditation for Computer Science Programs
Accreditation recognizes schools and programs that meet high standards. Colleges receive accreditation after undergoing a rigorous review. Independent, nonprofit accrediting bodies evaluate schools on their student learning outcomes, academic mission, and faculty qualifications.
Accreditors also examine the institution's fiscal health and improvement plans. Schools that exceed the accreditor's standards receive accreditation. Accredited institutions regularly repeat the process to maintain their status.
Individual computer science programs can pursue programmatic accreditation. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits computer science programs. Students who choose an ABET-accredited program can feel confident that their program provides a rigorous, relevant curriculum.
Students can check their prospective schools' accreditation status by visiting the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation database.
Top Industries for Computer Science Majors
Computer science graduates work in many different fields. Tech companies like Apple and Google hire these graduates. The government also relies on computer science professionals to secure sensitive information and manage databases. Government agencies need computer network architects, programmers, and computer systems analysts.
Many computer science graduates work in the healthcare industry. Data management makes up a large part of modern healthcare. Computer science professionals create databases, analyze patient data, and secure private medical information.
Financial services, education, and agritech companies also hire computer science degree-holders. Most roles only require a bachelor's degree.
Computer Science Career and Salary Outlook
The BLS projects high demand and reports above-average wages for many computer science degree jobs. The field may add more than 667,000 new jobs for computer science professionals from 2020-2030.
Earning an in-person or online computer science degree prepares graduates for careers in high-paying fields like cybersecurity, software development, and data science. The following table lists the median salary, projected job growth, and degree requirements for some of the many computer science career paths.
|Career||Median Annual Salary (2020)||Projected Job Growth (2020-2030)||Degree Required|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||$131,490||22%||Master's|
|Computer Network Architects||$120,520||5%||Bachelor's|
|Information Security Analysts||$102,600||33%||Bachelor's|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$99,270||7%||Bachelor's|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrators||$80,600||5%||Bachelor's|
|Web Developers and Digital Designers||$77,200||13%||Bachelor's|
|Computer Support Specialist||$57,910||9%||Associate|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Interview With a Computer Science Expert
Alejandro Cantarero builds data-driven products. He works as Nami ML's CTO, helping companies with apps create happy customers through their subscription experiences. His previous roles include VP of data at Tribune Publishing and the Los Angeles Times, where he led teams of analysts, data scientists, consumer researchers, and engineers in building data products to improve the digital news experience. Alejandro holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from UCLA.
Preferred Pronouns: He / Him / His
What Certificates or Degrees in Computer Science Do You Hold?
A bachelor of science. I also have a bachelor of science in applied mathematics, a master of arts in mathematics, and a doctorate in mathematics.
Why Did You Choose to Study Computer Science?
Initially, I enjoyed the problem-solving nature of programming. As my studies continued, I got very interested in how to apply math to solve real-world problems.
The first spot I encountered this was in a required linear algebra course for all computer science majors. The class had an option to complete a project in image processing, where I learned to write programs to automatically find and extract objects inside of images. After completing this project, I shifted my computer science focus to numerical computation and took more courses in applied mathematics.
Did You Specialize?
My focus was numerical computation with an emphasis on numerical linear algebra and computational differential equations. I focused on two different application areas: image processing, including deblurring, segmentation, compression, and building 3D simulations of solid materials, including skin and muscle tissue.
What Do You Do for a Career?
I left academics shortly after finishing my Ph.D. I now build data-driven products for companies. I'm currently CTO at Nami ML.
I've also worked in the data science field, most recently as VP of data at two different journalism companies. I built tools to increase engagement with digital news products and accelerate the transition of subscribers to the online news from the print paper.
I also worked at Timeline Labs, building algorithms to detect breaking news on social networks before it was reported by the news networks.
What Advice Would You Give Someone Considering a Computer Science Education?
Study what you love. Many courses in school do not translate directly to on-the-job skills, and that's okay. School, more than anything, is about learning how to learn.
This is especially true if you go on to get a master's or doctorate. If you do not love what you are studying, it can be hard to finish your degree. While some coursework might help you land that first job, after your first job, no one is going to ask to see what classes you took again.
If you have an interest in math or statistics, adding this coursework to your computer science studies can open a lot of doors, especially with the explosion of data science as a field.
What Degree Do You Recommend for People Interested In an Entry-Level Computer Science Career? And for People Looking to Advance Their Careers?
If you are looking to get a job as a developer at most tech companies, a bachelor's is all you need. Skip the Ph.D. unless you are looking for a job as a researcher. It is a long commitment, and a bachelor's or master's is more than sufficient to land an interesting job.
If you are looking for a job with more of a data focus, getting a master's degree and taking coursework related to data science and statistics can help with getting that first job.
If you only have a bachelor's degree and really want to work in data science, find a kaggle.com dataset that you are interested in. Kaggle runs data science competitions and provides data sets to work with. It is not so important to compete, but make a solution, present your work in a Jupyter notebook, and upload it to your personal Github account.
If you have no experience as a data scientist, this gives job recruiters something concrete to review, and it can often help land that first entry-level job as a data scientist, analyst, or machine learning engineer.
What Value Do International Programs Offer Students, In Your Opinion?
International programs can really help you land that first job (both in industry and academics) in a country or region where you do not have citizenship.
If you know you want to work in Asia or Europe, complete a program at a school in that region. Career fairs and academic conferences will introduce you to people hiring in those regions. Oftentimes, you can get a work visa. This will enable you to get that first job if you completed your degree in the country you want to work.
The Optional Practical Training Extension for STEM Students program in the United States is a great example open to computer science students who are not authorized to work in the U.S.
Resources for Computer Science Students
Prospective and current computer science students can use the resources below to find the right program and launch a tech career.
Best Computer Science Programs
- Best Online Associate in Computer Science
- Best Online Bachelor's in Computer Science
- Best Master's in Computer Science
- Best Computer Science Programs Worldwide
Getting Into a Computer Science Program
Paying for a Computer Science Degree
- How to Find Scholarships for College
- Financial Aid for Online College
- What You Should Know About Student Loans
Careers for Computer Science Graduates
- Computer and Information Research Scientist
- Computer and Information Systems Manager
- Computer Engineering
- Software Engineering
- Web Development
- Software Development
- Information Technology
Header Image Credit: SolStock | Getty Images
Popular with our students.
Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.
Take the next step toward your future with online learning.
Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.