Computer science is a broad field, covering multiple overlapping disciplines such as programming, networking, and information technology (IT). If you have a lot of patience, a good eye for detail, and you enjoy work that requires a high level of precision, a computer science degree might be right for you. A computer science degree can open pathways to several well–paying careers, including software developer, computer engineer, web developer, and information security analyst.
A computer science degree develops the skills and knowledge required to design, develop, test, and produce computers and their subsystems. If you decide to earn a computer science degree, you still have many more decisions to make. You’ll need to choose between an accredited degree program or a coding boot camp, or perhaps both. You’ll also have to determine if you will need a secondary computer science degree in a field such as business or healthcare administration, whether you’ll be best served by an undergraduate or advanced degree, and which specific certifications you'll need to land your dream job in the field of computer science.
Computer science careers include pioneering work in financial tech, programming language skills, video game design, electronic music engineering, and mobile app development. The right degree or certification in computer science can give you the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to take the next step.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- There is one additional form of accreditation that is distinct from regional accreditation and national accreditation. Regional and national accreditation are institutional forms of accreditation. By contrast, programmatic accreditation is typically given to specific departments, colleges, or degree programs within a broader institution. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, this form of accreditation is totally distinct and separate from institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation will often coexist with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter into professional practice.
Computer science is a unique discipline when it when it comes to accreditation. Independent technical certifications and computer programming boot camps can actually carry a lot of merit. These programs are not always affiliated with accredited institutions, but can still offer valuable practical computer programming, mathematics and science skills. In fact, some programming boot camp programs can be downright necessary even for students who have already earned bachelor’s degrees.
Like accredited degree programs, the reputation of your programming boot camp does matter. Find online reviews, consult prospective employers, and conduct research before enrolling, but don’t let a lack of accreditation frighten you away from this kind of educational option.
If you plan to pursue an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science—either online or through a traditional institution—look for the stamp of approval from one of the above–noted regional associations.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Computer Science Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Computer Science
An associate degree in computer science can be a good first step into an eventual career in programming, development, or IT. Typically a 60–credit or two-year course of study, the associate computer science degree program will provide introductory-level instruction in a number of key foundational computer science skills, including the use of programming languages, databasing, and algorithms. You will likely also be required to complete some discrete mathematics courses, as well as a parallel course of study in the humanities and social sciences. While an associate degree in computer science will provide you with some basic skills in the field, you may be at a disadvantage when competing with computer science bachelors in the job field. This is usually an efficient and affordable way to get started on the path to an eventual bachelor’s degree in computer science.
What Computer Science Courses Will I Take in an Associate Program?
- Applications Programming
- Database Fundamentals
- Game Programming
- Information Systems Management
- Introduction to Computer Programming
- Introduction to Operating Systems
- Network Fundamentals
- Web Development
Bachelor of Computer Science
A bachelor of computer science is among the most popular and competitive degrees in the job market. For many aspiring IT and programming professionals, this degree is the basic threshold for entering into the job market. Typically 120 credits, this course of study will generally take a minimum of four years to complete. However, depending on your concentration and the number of advanced math and science courses required, it’s not uncommon to spend six years in pursuit of your computer science degree. In addition to introductory level subjects like programming languages, algorithms and databasing, you’ll also have a chance to study more advanced subjects like calculus, data structures, and online network architecture. It’s also important to begin to whittle down your focus as you advance in your course of study.
One important note for all prospective computer science majors: much of what you’ll learn in this course of study will form the foundation for your skills, but college computer science degree programs are often just a few years behind the most current and cutting edge developments in the field. If you are approaching completion of your bachelor of computer science degree, it’s not a bad idea to look for a coding bootcamp pertinent to your concentration. This will help you to bridge the knowledge gap between your degree program and the innovations happening in real time today. Coding boot camp can be a great way to supplement your knowledge and your qualifications. The same is true of programming certifications, which we’ll address in the Certification section hereafter.
What Computer Science Courses Will I Take in a Bachelor’s Program?
- Computer Networking
- Data Communication
- Data Structures
- Information Theory
- Software Engineering
- Systems Operation
- Theory of Computation
What’s the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Computer Science?
For the most part, the bachelor of arts (BA) in computer science and the bachelor of science (BS) in computer science enjoy a similar reputation. Most employers are not likely to differentiate between the two. The major difference is that your pursuit of a BS in computer science will be far more math– and science-intensive. If this is the path you choose, be prepared for a more advanced and demanding level of mathematical engagement. If you anticipate a career that merges computer science with engineering, aeronautics or another math-intensive field, this may be the path for you. By contrast, a BA in computer science is a great option if you see yourself advancing as both a technical professional and an organizational leader. You may be well suited for a minor in business alongside your computer science major.
Now that you know a bit more, check out:
Master’s in Computer Science
You should really only pursue a master’s in computer science if you plan to enter a profession where an advanced computer science degree is considered essential. Some employers may consider the master’s in computer science an important threshold, particularly in contexts where machine–learning, artificial intelligence, or other emergent R&D initiatives take center stage. It’s also true that if you intend to channel your computer science knowledge into a teaching degree, you’ll likely need to earn your master’s. If you plan to become a professor, this will be an important steppingstone on your way to a Ph.D.
Some of the more advanced computer science programs—like MIT’s, for instance—allow you to bundle your bachelor’s and master’s degrees into a single five or six year program. This is a great option if you have access. However, a master’s in computer science is not a necessity for all professions. Most of the basic skills that you’ll need in programming and algorithms will be completed during your undergraduate studies. A master’s program can offer an opportunity for greater depth in these areas, as well as forays into subjects like machine–learning. On the other hand, it can be costly, and not every job offers a return on this extra investment. If you have the skills to enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, perhaps consider a coding boot camp instead. You can complete that in two weeks, as opposed to two years.
If your career aspirations demand a master’s in computer science, be sure that you are investing in a competitive and reputable institution.
What Computer Science Courses Will I Take in a Master’ Program?
- Artificial Intelligence
- Big Data Technologies
- Compiler Construction
- Fundamentals of Algorithms
- Machine Learning
- Modern Web Applications
- Software Architecture
- Web Application Programming
Now that you know what to look for, take a look at:
Ph.D. in Computer Science
Just as the master’s in computer science is reserved only for those with certain career aspirations, the same goes doubly for a Ph.D. in computer science. This path is only for those with the intellectual curiosity to achieve a deeper understanding of computer science through research and the confrontation of unresolved questions. You could spend anywhere from four to seven years in pursuit of this advanced degree, and much of it will be dedicated to conducting research on a topic or challenge of your choosing.
Your goal will be to demonstrate your knowledge of conventions in the field of computer science, while also addressing areas still ripe for exploration. If you plan to become a professor of computer science, computer engineering, or another related field, there’s a good chance a Ph.D. is a job requirement as well.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification do I Need?
Certifications are uniquely important in the fields of computer science, programming, and IT. Whether you plan to become a network administration, a webmaster, a security specialist, a video game designer, or any number of other exciting professions in the field, there is likely a certification (or several) that applies directly to you. As you advance in your concentration, you can speak to fellow students, academic advisors, or even future prospective employers to find out which certifications are required for your profession as well as those that might make you a more competitive candidate in the computer science job market.
For more information about the IT certificates, check out The Best Online IT Certificate Programs.
Below are a few of the most important (and highest–earning) certifications in computer science and IT.
- CompTIA A+ Technician
- Sponsored by CompTIA, an organization comprised of industry participants, this is a globally-recognized, entry-level certification in vendor-neutral PC technology. It is an advisable certification for computer service and repair technicians.
- CompTIA Network+
- Also sponsored by CompTIA, Network+ is a globally-recognized, vendor-neutral networking certification qualifying the professional skill set to design, configure, manage and troubleshoot any wired and wireless networks.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional
- Granted by the ISC2, the CISSP is a globally recognized standard in cybersecurity certification and is even considered the baseline certification in IT security for the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Security Agency.
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control
- This certification is issued by ISACA, an independent, nonprofit association providing advocacy for information security, assurance, and risk management professionals. According to ISACA, the CRISC is “the only certification that prepares and enables IT professionals for the unique challenges of IT and enterprise risk management, and positions them to become strategic partners to the enterprise.”
- Certified Information Security Management
- Also issued by ISACA, CISM certification “promotes international security practices and recognizes the individual who manages, designs, and oversees and assesses an enterprise’s information security.”
- Certified Information Systems Auditor
- Another ISACA-granted certification, the globally-recognized CISA demonstrates audit experience, skills and knowledge, as well as the capacity to assess vulnerabilities, report on compliance, and institute controls within an enterprise.
- Cisco Certified Network Association
- Granted by Cisco, the CCNA Routing and Switching certification provides knowledge of foundational technologies and the relevant skill sets needed for the adoption of next generation technologies.
- Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer
- A vendor-specific (Citrix) certification, the CCEE is recommended for “experienced IT professionals who combine the coordination of operational planning efforts with tactical design expertise and integration know-how for Citrix XenServer, XenDesktop, and XenApp products across Citrix Delivery Center virtualization solutions. Individuals who hold a CCEE have the knowledge and experience to build optimal Citrix environments that include datacenters, private clouds, and desktops.”
The above is really just a small sampling of certifications in the field of computer science. The certifications that apply to you will depend in large part on your intended career path. It is always a good idea to seek advice from those who have already traveled down a similar path. And, as always, before entering into a certification program, be sure that it is awarded by a reputable association or group. Most associations or groups will require you to complete an education program or workshop to earn your certification.
What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?
Do you find yourself asking, “What can I do with a computer science degree?” Automation, information technology, game design, and cybersecurity are just a few of the rapidly growing fields that call for an education in computer science or a related discipline. Your computer science degree degree could open the door to an enormous array of opportunities. Below are a few of the leading Computer and Information Technology Careers that could begin with a degree in computer science:
- Computer, ATM, and Office Machine Repairers
- Computer and Information Research Scientists
- Computer and Information Systems Managers
- Computer Hardware Engineers
- Computer Programmers
- Computer Support Specialists
- Computer Systems Administrator
- Computer Systems Analysts
- Database Administrators
- Graphic Designers
- Information Security Analysts/Web Developers/Computer Network Architects
- Multimedia Artists and Animators
- Network Systems Administrator
- Software Developers
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Computer Science Degree?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides data on the potential earnings for some of the leading jobs in the computer science and IT fields. The following data reflects median annual salaries as of 2018.
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||$118,370|
|Computer Network Architects||$109,020|
|Information Security Analysts||$98,350|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$88,740|
|Network/Computer Systems Admins||$82,050|
|Computer Support Specialists||$53,470|
Are There Professional Computer Science Degree Associations or Societies I Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for computer science, IT, or cybersecurity associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration. Below are a few of the leading associations in the field of computer science:
- Association for Computing Machinery
- “The world’s largest educational and scientific computing society,” the ACM “delivers resources that advance computing as a science and a profession” and “provides the computing field’s premier Digital Library.”
- Computing Research Association
- The CRA’s “mission is to enhance innovation by joining with industry, government and academia to strengthen research and advanced education in computing. CRA executes this mission by leading the computing research community, informing policymakers and the public, and facilitating the development of strong, diverse talent in the field.”
- IEEE Computer Society
- The IEEE Computer Society is “the leading provider of technical information, community services, and personalized support to the world’s computer science and technology communities,” and is "recognized for the contributions of technical professionals in developing and applying technology to improve global conditions."
- Institution of Engineering and Technology
- The IET works “to encourage a pipeline of future engineers” by delivering “a range of services and scholarships to support engineering and technology students throughout their educations.”