Computer Science is a unique field, one that is at once highly accessible and deeply challenging. If you have the patience, precision, and sharp eye required of a computer programmer, there are a lot of educational options that can help you get your career off the ground. Computer programming, computer science, and information technology (IT) form a wide and overlapping set of disciplines as well as an enormous range of fast-growing and well-paying professional opportunities.
But this wide range of opportunities can also make it challenging to find your focus. You’ll have a lot of decisions to make, beyond just finding your place in an extremely diverse job market. For instance, you’ll need to determine: whether you would be best served by an accredited degree program, a coding boot camp, or perhaps even both; if the job you seek calls for a secondary degree in a field like business or healthcare administration; whether your career path demands an undergraduate or advanced degree; and which specific certifications you’ll need to land a great job.
Whether you’re looking to work in a corporate IT department or you hope to do pioneering work in Financial Tech; whether you hope to acquire a broadbased set of programming language skills or you plan to design the next billion dollar mobile app; whether you have a passion for video game design or electronic music engineering, the right degree our certification could give you the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to take the next step.
If you already know what you’re looking for, go ahead and jump to our ranking of The 100 Best Computer Science Programs in the World.
You might also be interested in checking out the The 50 Best Video Game Design Schools or The 20 Best Computational Linguistics Graduate Programs in the U.S.
If you need a little more information, continue on.
Covered in this article:
- What do I need to know about accreditation?
- What kinds of Computer Sciences degrees are there?
- What kind of Licensing or Certification do I need?
- What can I do with a Computer Science degree?
- How much can I make with a Computer Science degree?
- What Professional Computer Science Associations or Societies should I join?
Let’s start with the one thing you absolutely must be sure of before you proceed: accreditation.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
The last thing you want to do is waste time and money on a degree that won’t be taken seriously by future employers. That’s why it is absolutely imperative that you make sure your school has the proper accreditation before you proceed.
Only accredited colleges or universities are eligible for financial aid. Moreover, accreditation typically indicates that an institution is not only maintaining its standards but that it continues to advance and remain current within its field. As you proceed in your search for the right school, you’ll find both institutional accreditation and program accreditation. The former refers to school-wide accreditation and the latter refers to the accreditation conferred upon your specific discipline and degree program.
Computer Science is 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. But more on that later...
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.
On the other hand….
Regional Accrediting Agencies
The institutional accrediting sector is divided into regional and national accrediting agencies. Generally, regional accrediting agencies confer greater credibility and merit. When you’re investigating a college or university, you’ll want to look for the “stamp of approval” from one of the following regional accrediting agencies:
- The Higher Learning Commission
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
If you plan to pursue an associate’s, 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 these regional associations.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice. You can also take a 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?
Now that you get the idea, let’s take a look at some of your degree options.
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 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 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.
What Courses Will I Take?
- Information Systems Management
- Game Programming
- Applications Programming
- Web Development
- Network Fundamentals
Now that you know what to look for, check out The 10 Best Online Associate Degree Programs in Information Technology.
If you think you might want to apply your IT education to the rapidly growing healthcare tech sector, jump to The 25 Best Online Associate in Health Information Technology Degree Programs.
Bachelor of Computer Science
The Bachelor’s Degree in 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 isn’t uncommon to spend six years in pursuit of your 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’s 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 Courses Will I Take?
- Data Structures
- Software Engineering
- Systems Operation
- Theory of Computation
- Data Communication
- Computer Networking
- Information Theory
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 scrutinize one from the other. The major difference is that your pursuit of a BS 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 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 The 20 Best Online Bachelor in Computer Science Degree Programs.
Depending on your intended area of concentration and your eventual career path, you might also be interested in checking out a few more rankings:
- The 10 Best Online Bachelor in Computer Information Systems Degree Programs
- The 10 Best Online Bachelor in Game Design Degree Programs
- The Top 10 Graphic Design Online Bachelor’s Programs
- The 12 Best Online Bachelor in Information Assurance & Security Degree Programs
- The 20 Best Online Bachelor of Information Technology Degree Programs
Master of Computer Science Degree
You should really only pursue a Master’s Degree in Computer Science if you plan to enter a professions where an advanced degree is considered essential. Some employers may consider the Master’s 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 masters. If you plan to become a professor, this will be an important stepping stone on your way to a PhD.
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.
That said, a masters 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. The masters 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, 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 level degree, be sure that you are investing in a competitive and reputable institution.
What Courses Will Will I Take?
- Artificial Intelligence
- Machine Learning
- Software Architecture
- Fundamentals of Algorithms
- Web Application Programming
- Big Data Technologies
- Compiler Construction
- Modern Web Applications
Now that you know what to look for, take a look at The 20 Best Graduate Programs in Computer Science.
You might also be interested in checking out The 25 Best Online Master of Information Assurance and Security Degree Programs or The 20 Best Online Master of Information Technology (IT) Degree Programs.
If you’re interested in a course of study the merges your interests in IT and business, check out The 20 Best Online MBA in Management Information Systems Degree Programs.
PhD of Computer Science
Just as the Master’s degree is reserved only for those with certain career aspirations, the same goes doubly for a PhD 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 while 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 PhD 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 ultimately 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, 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 job market.
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, 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 (CISSP): Granted by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2, 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 (CRISC): This certification is issued by ISACA (formerly the Information Systems Audit and Control Association), 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 (CISM): Also issued by ISACA, “promotes international security practices and recognizes the individual who manages, designs, and oversees and assesses an enterprise’s information security.”
- Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA): 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 (CCNA): Granted by Cisco, the CCNA Routing and Switching certification provides you with the knowledge of foundational technologies and the relevant skill sets needed for the adoption of next generation technologies.
- Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer (CCEE): 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 your field. The certifications that apply to you will depend in large part on your intended career path. We’d advise seeking 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 I do with a Computer Science Degree 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:
What kind of salary can I earn with a Computer Science Degree 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:
- Computer and Information Research Scientists: Median Salary, 2016 — $111,840
- Computer Network Architects: Median Salary, 2016 — $101,210
- Computer Programmers: Median Salary, 2016 — $79,840
- Computer Support Specialists: Median Salary, 2016 — $52,160
- Computer Systems Analysts: Median Salary, 2016 — $87,220
- Database Administrators: Median Salary, 2016 — $84,950
- Information Security Analysts: Median Salary, 2016 — $92,600
- Network/Computer Systems Admins: Median Salary, 2016 — $79,700
- Software Developers: Median Salary, 2016 — $102,280
- Web Developers: Median Salary, 2016 — $66,130
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 your field:
- Association for Computing Machinery (ACM): “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 (CRA): 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 world’s leading membership organization dedicated to computer science and technology,” and it recognized as the trusted information, networking, and career-development source for a global community of technology leaders that includes researchers, educators, software engineers, IT professionals, employers, and student.”
- Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET): The IET is “working to engineer a better world by inspiring, informing and influencing our members, engineers and technicians, and all those who are touched by, or touch, the work of engineers.”
Now that you now a bit more about how to earn a Computer Science Degree, jump to our ranking of The 100 Best Computer Science Programs in the World and find the best school school for you!