Computer Science Degree Guide | TheBestSchools

Updated November 2, 2022

Most computer science programs hold a graduate degree in computer science. Computer science professionals develop new programming languages and uses for algorithms.

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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.

Featured Computer Science Schools

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.

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.

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.

Salary Potential and Growth Rate
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
Software Developers $110,140 22% Bachelor's
Information Security Analysts $102,600 33% Bachelor's
Database Administrators $98,860 8% Bachelor's
Computer Systems Analysts $99,270 7% Bachelor's
Computer Programmers $93,000 -10% 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

Portrait of Alejandro Cantarero

Alejandro Cantarero

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

Getting Into a Computer Science Program

Paying for a Computer Science Degree

Careers for Computer Science Graduates

Header Image Credit: SolStock | Getty Images

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