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?
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
- 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
- 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.
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 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
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.
|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|
|Information Security Analysts||$103,590||31%||Bachelor's|
|Computer Systems Analyst||$93,730||7%||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|
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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">
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. 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.
Best Computer Information Systems Programs
Computer Science Degree Overview
Careers for Computer Science Graduates
Getting Into a Computer Science Program
Paying for a Computer Science Degree
Helpful Guides and Resources for Computer Science Students
Latest News for Computer Science Students
Computer Science Accreditation - A Quick Guide
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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">
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.
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.
Interview with a Computer Science Expert
Alejandro Cantarero builds data-driven products. Most recently, he has brought that expertise to his role as CTO at Nami ML to help 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. He has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from UCLA.
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 math could be applied to solve real-world problems.
The first spot I encountered this was in a required course for all computer science majors on linear algebra. The class had an option to do a project in image processing, where I learned to write programs to automatically find and extract objects inside of images. After completing this course project, I shifted my computer science focus to numerical computation and took more courses in applied mathematics.
What did you specialize in, if anything?
My area of 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 now?
I left academics shortly after finishing my Ph.D. I now build data-driven products for companies.
I'm currently CTO at Nami ML, a company that builds a platform to help apps run successful subscription businesses. I've also worked in the data science field, most recently as VP of data at two different journalism companies, Tribune Publishing and the Los Angeles Times, building 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 do you have for someone considering pursuing an educational path in computer science?
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 career in computer science? 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 really know you want to be working in Asia or Europe, do a program at a school in that region. Career fairs and academic conferences will introduce you to people hiring in those regions. Oftentimes there are opportunities to get a work visa to 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 (STEM OPT) program in the United States is a great example open to computer science students who are not authorized to work in the U.S.
Popular Questions About Computer Science
Computer scientists solve computing problems by designing software and hardware. They also create operating systems, write algorithms to process data, and keep information secure.
Yes. Computer science sees high demand and median salaries of more than double most professions. This makes computer science a good career.
Software development, systems architecture, data science, and machine learning all offer above-average salaries and strong projected job growth rates.
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.
Header Image Credit: SolStock | Getty Images
Learn more, do more.
More topic-relevant resources to expand your knowledge.
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.