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The computer science field offers many career options and professional pathways. Our guides can help you navigate them.

A degree in computer science trains learners in programming languages, software development, and network architecture, preparing them for a variety of careers working with technology.

Thanks to advances in data science and artificial intelligence, computer science and related job opportunities have come a long way. For example, according to a 2020 World Economic Forum report, A.I. and automation will create 97 million jobs by 2025.

With a computer science degree, graduates can work as information security analysts, software developers, and machine-learning specialists.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science majors study computer systems, design software, and solve problems using computing technologies. The discipline encompasses programming languages, computer networks, cybersecurity, database management, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Every modern industry relies on computer science specialists to manage critical technology needs.

What Kinds of Computer Science Degrees Are There?

Students can earn computer science degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Different degrees prepare graduates for specific career paths. For example, software developers need a bachelor's degree, while most computer and information research scientists hold a master's degree.

In addition to degree-granting programs, learners can also earn a certificate in computer science or attend a coding bootcamp. These shorter programs offer training in programming, web development, and computer systems without including general education courses. However, many employers expect a degree for careers in computer science, so bootcamp and certificate graduates may not have as many career opportunities.

This section explores computer science degrees at different levels, including common courses, career paths, and graduation requirements for each degree. Within a computer science program, degree-seekers often choose a concentration, like one of the ones listed below.

  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
  • Security
  • Data Science/Analytics
  • Software Development
  • Software Engineering
  • Software Systems
  • Computer Networking
  • Information Science
  • Game Design and Development
  • Algorithms, Combinatorics, and Optimization
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computational Biology
  • Information Systems
  • Robotics
  • Cloud Computing
  • Computer Architecture and Engineering


Certificate Program in Computer Science

A online certificate program in computer science offers focused training in a niche area of computer science. For example, students can enroll in a computer programming certificate program or a web development certificate program. These programs train learners in programming languages and core skills needed for careers in tech.

The length of a computer science certificate varies depending on the program and school. Many certificates take one year or less. A certificate can lead to career opportunities as a computer programmer or web developer, though most other roles require a degree.


Associate Degree in Computer Science

An associate degree in computer science introduces learners to foundational concepts in programming. Associate programs incorporate courses in programming languages, computer systems, and databases, as well as classes in statistics, algebra, web development, and operating systems. An associate degree meets the requirement for a career as a web developer or computer support specialist. Graduates can also transfer into a four-year college to earn a bachelor's degree.

Completing an associate degree generally takes two years. During that time, learners take general education courses and classes within their majors. A transfer-ready associate degree often meets the general education requirements for a bachelor's degree, significantly shortening the amount of time required to complete a bachelor's program.


Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science

A bachelor's degree in computer science trains undergraduates in computer programming, database management, and software development. In addition to courses within the computer science major, degree-seekers strengthen their problem-solving and critical thinking skills through general education requirements in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. A bachelor's degree meets the requirements for many careers, including network architect, information security analyst, and software developer.

Earning a bachelor's in computer science typically takes four years for full-time students. Transfer students or those who choose an accelerated program may earn their degrees in less time.

What Is the Difference Between a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BS) in Computer Science?

Some universities offer both a BA and a BS in computer science. The degrees largely overlap in terms of major coursework and requirements. However, a BA requires different general education courses, including a foreign language. In a BS program, undergrads take more math and science courses.

At many schools, a BA allows students to pursue a minor in addition to their major, while a BS may not. Graduates of both programs qualify for entry-level computer science jobs.


Master's Degree in Computer Science

A master's degree in computer science provides advanced training in software engineering, data analytics, and computer systems. Master's students often complete required courses in algorithms, programming, and software architecture. Many programs also offer electives in areas like artificial intelligence, software management, and mobile computing to train learners for specialized career paths.

Completing a master's in computer science generally takes two years, depending on the program and the student's enrollment status. Universities may offer accelerated programs that take as little as one year. Graduates can work as data scientists, computer and information systems managers, and software developers.

Joint MBA/MS in Computer Science

A joint MBA/MS in computer science blends business and computer science training at the graduate level. The dual program shortens the time commitment needed to earn both degrees while also offering technical and leadership training.

Professionals considering supervisory, executive, or management-level roles benefit from the focused coursework of an MBA while advancing their computer science skills. Earning a joint MBA/MS in computer science typically takes 2-3 years.


Doctoral Degree in Computer Science

A doctorate in computer science prepares graduates for advanced research and academic positions. During a doctoral program, computer science candidates complete core courses and classes in a specialization area, like artificial intelligence, human-computer interactions, or machine learning. After meeting coursework requirements, degree-seekers take comprehensive examinations and complete a dissertation.

Earning a doctoral degree in computer science typically takes 4-5 years. Some programs admit doctoral applicants with a bachelor's degree, while other programs require a master's. With a doctorate, graduates can work as computer science professors, computer scientists, and research scientists.

Accreditation for Computer Science Programs

Prospective applicants should always research program and college accreditation when choosing a computer science program. Regionally accredited schools meet the highest standards for educating students and granting degrees. An accredited degree also meets the requirements for more professional certifications, and some employers prefer to hire graduates from an accredited program.

In computer science, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) grants accreditation to programs. ABET sets standards for computer science programs, including assessing faculty qualifications and student learning outcomes. Learn more about why accreditation matters in our accreditation guide.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Computer Science?

With a computer science degree, graduates can work as software developers, web developers, information security analysts, data scientists, and computer scientists. A bachelor's degree in computer science meets the requirements for many of the best tech jobs.

Many industries rely on computer science majors, including the technology sector, government, healthcare, and the communications sector. This section introduces the main industries that hire computer science majors, including common job titles in each industry.

Technology

The technology industry employs computer science majors as computer and information research scientists, software developers, database administrators, and information security analysts. A bachelor's degree in computer science prepares graduates for many of these career paths. Specialized coursework or electives in information security, systems analysis, or data science prepare majors for specific career paths. An internship with a tech company also helps degree-seekers compete on the job market.

Computer science careers in the tech industry:

  • Data scientist
  • Software engineer
  • Network architect

Government

Government agencies like the FBI, the IRS, and the Census Bureau all hire computer science professionals to prevent cyberattacks, design software programs to analyze data, and maintain computer systems and networks. A bachelor's degree in computer science meets the requirements for most government careers, including those at the federal, state, and local levels, though some may require a master's degree. Coursework in criminal justice or cybercrime is usually preferred.

Computer science careers in the government sector:

  • FBI computer scientist
  • Cybersecurity analyst
  • IT project manager

Healthcare

The healthcare industry relies on computer science professionals to analyze data, design secure systems to store medical data, and manage computer systems. In healthcare, computer science majors work as systems analysts, software developers, and healthcare informatics analysts. In some roles, specialized courses in healthcare data analytics give professionals an advantage. A bachelor's degree meets the requirements for most computing and IT jobs in the healthcare industry.

Computer science careers in healthcare:

  • Software developer
  • IT professional
  • Healthcare informatics analyst

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Computer Science Degree?

Computer science professions pay above-average salaries, and many careers offer faster-than-average projected job growth. For example, software developers earn a median salary of over $110,000 per year with 22% projected job growth.

As the data below shows, many computer science careers require a college degree. Salaries vary depending on job title, location, and professional experience. Professions that require a higher degree often pay higher salaries.

Computer Science Career Outlooks
Career Median Annual Salary (2020) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029) Degree Required
Computer and Information Research Scientists $126,830 15% Master's
Computer Network Architects $116,780 5% Bachelor's
Software Developers $110,140 22% Bachelor's
Information Security Analysts $103,590 31% Bachelor's
Database Administrators $98,860 10% Bachelor's
Computer Systems Analyst $93,730 7% Bachelor's
Computer Programmers $89,190 -9% Bachelor's
Network and Computer Systems Administrators $84,810 4% Bachelor's
Web Developers and Digital Designers $77,200 8% Associate
Computer Support Specialists $55,510 8% Associate
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Best Computer Science Degree Programs

Should you earn a computer science degree in the U.S. or abroad? Do you need a bachelor's degree or a master's degree? Find the answers and learn more about the top computer science programs with the following resources.

Best Computer Programming Degrees

Careers in the tech sector require strong computer programming skills. These links can help you learn more about online computer programming certificates and degrees.

Best Information Technology Programs

Information technology professionals combine business skills with computing technologies to serve organizations' tech needs. Learn more about undergraduate and graduate IT programs through our rankings.

Best Computer Engineering Programs

A computer engineering degree combines computer science with engineering principles, preparing graduates for careers in STEM. Check out our ranking of the top online computer engineering programs to learn more.

Best Computer Information Systems Programs

A computer information systems degree blends business and technology to solve information management problems. Learn more about the best online computer information systems programs with our ranking.

Computer Science Degree Overview

Earning the right computer science degree can help launch your career. Before declaring a major, learn about the differences between computer science, computer information systems, and computer engineering degrees.

Careers for Computer Science Graduates

Computer science and IT degrees both prepare graduates for successful careers. Check out these career guides to learn about earning potential, job requirements, and advancement opportunities for computer science graduates.

Getting Into a Computer Science Program

Computer science programs have competitive admission requirements. How can you make your application stand out? Learn more about getting into a computer science program with the following resources.

Paying for a Computer Science Degree

Earning a computer science degree can cost thousands of dollars. Enrollees can save money and lower student debt by learning about scholarships, financial aid, and student loan options.

Helpful Guides and Resources for Computer Science Students

Computer science students have a lot of options. and computer science degrees are delivered through both online and in-person programs. Check out our guides and resources to make an informed decis" theme="primary">

Latest News for Computer Science Students

There's a lot to think about when earning a computer science degree and pursuing a career. These resources can help you think through your questions.

Computer Science Accreditation - A Quick Guide

Most students know that they should choose accredited colleges. But why does accreditation matter, and how can applicants find accredited programs? Check out our resource on accreditation for answers to all your questions.

Popular Questions About Computer Science

true What Do Computer Scientists Do?

Computer scientists solve computing problems by designing software and hardware. They also create operating systems, write algorithms to process data, and keep information secure.

true Is Computer Science a Good Career?

Yes. Computer science sees high demand and median salaries of more than double most professions. This makes computer science a good career.

true Which Field Is Best in Computer Science?

Software development, systems architecture, data science, and machine learning all offer above-average salaries and strong projected job growth rates.

true What Type of Math Is Needed for Computer Science?

Computer science professionals often use linear algebra, statistical analytics, and discrete mathematics to create software, solve computing problems, and write algorithms.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

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