Computer Science Degree: What Is It and What Can You Do With It?
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A computer science degree equips you with valuable technical skills many employers and industries seek. In this program, you'll learn how to code, design and analyze algorithms, and develop software. You'll also learn to think critically, problem-solve, and create new technologies.
Depending on your skills and interests, you could even use your computer science major to launch a career in non-tech fields like business, finance, and healthcare. As the role of technology expands, the demand for computer science professionals will continue to grow.
What Is a Computer Science Degree?
A computer science degree involves computers and computer systems. These programs teach you how to design, test, and analyze different systems and software.
You'll also study the theory and mathematics of computation so you can find solutions to problems.
Common computer science courses include:
- Artificial intelligence
- Data structures
- Discrete algebra
- Web development
- Human-computer interaction
- Operating systems
A degree in computer science can help you develop in-demand hard skills like coding, networking, technical writing, and design and development. Some of the soft skills you'll learn include critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration, and organization.
Featured Computer Science Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
Types of Computer Science Degrees You Can Get
Your career opportunities will depend on your training and education. Here are the major types of computer science degrees and credentials you can earn and what you'll learn in these programs.
Certificate in Computer Science
- Program Length: <1 year
- Potential Jobs: Computer support specialist, web developer
Though not technically a degree, a certificate in computer science generally costs less than a degree and can qualify you for several entry-level computer science jobs.
You'll learn skills like coding, programming, and computer networking. An undergraduate certificate provides a basic foundation in computer science, whereas a graduate certificate can help advance your career.
Many colleges offer certificates in areas like web development and software development.
Associate Degree in Computer Science
- Program Length: 2 years
- Potential Jobs: Computer network support specialist, computer technician
An associate degree in computer science usually includes coursework in computer systems, information technology (IT), and programming. You'll strengthen your programming skills while learning about operating systems, web development, and database administration.
If you later decide to pursue a bachelor's in computer science, you should be able to transfer some or all of your credits toward a four-year school.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
- Program Length: 4 years
- Potential Jobs: Computer network architect, computer programmer, software developer
In a bachelor's in computer science program, you'll master foundational computing skills while taking upper-division coursework in your concentration. You may take classes in areas like network administration, database management, and software development.
A bachelor's degree meets the entry-level requirements for most IT and computer science jobs.
Master's Degree in Computer Science
- Program Length: 2 years
- Potential Jobs: Computer scientist, lead software developer, senior software engineer
A master's in computer science provides advanced training in areas like computing theory, systems architecture, and software development. Most master's programs offer concentrations that include managerial coursework.
A master's degree can help you qualify for leadership roles, which often boast high salaries. For example, many employers prefer candidates with master's degrees for positions like lead software developer and senior software engineer.
Doctorate in Computer Science
- Program Length: 4-5 years
- Potential Jobs: Computer science professor, senior computer scientist
A doctorate is the highest degree you can get in computer science. In this program, you'll take advanced classes and write a dissertation. After meeting coursework and doctoral examination requirements, you must defend your dissertation.
Many computer science Ph.D. graduates work in research or academia as computer scientists and professors.
“If you are looking to get a job as a developer at most tech companies, a bachelor's [in computer science] is all you need. … 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.”
5 Popular Computer Science Major Concentrations
Your concentration in college can greatly impact your studies and future career. Here are some of the most common computer science major concentrations you can pursue.
In an AI concentration, you'll study human-computer interactions, natural language processing, and machine learning. You'll also learn about AI principles and how to program AI software.
A cybersecurity concentration trains you to protect sensitive information systems and networks. You'll study subjects like cybersecurity principles, information security policy, digital forensics, and cryptography.
A game design concentration focuses on video game development and planning. You'll take classes such as game programming, graphics theory, and game design. You'll also learn how to manage the game development process and work with a team of game designers.
In a robotics computer science concentration, you'll study robotics principles, control systems, and machine learning. Classes typically cover subjects like engineering and programming.
Software engineering students learn how to create software systems using engineering approaches. You'll take classes in program analysis, the software process, testing methods, and development process management.
Can You Get an Online Computer Science Degree?
Many schools offer online computer science degrees. These programs feature more flexible schedules, often offering asynchronous options.
There are usually no major differences between online coursework and on-campus coursework. Many online schools even have virtual labs that allow you to complete the same practical assignments as in-person students.
Online students may have fewer peer-to-peer engagement opportunities than their on-campus counterparts, but online programs can simulate this using forums and virtual classrooms.
Accreditation for Computer Science Programs
Before you apply to any computer science degree programs, make sure the schools are accredited.
Accreditation recognizes schools and programs that meet high standards. Independent, nonprofit accrediting agencies evaluate schools on their student learning outcomes, academic missions, and faculty qualifications.
Institutional accreditation ensures your degree will be recognized by employers and other schools. Attending an accredited school also means you can apply for federal financial aid.
Individual computer science programs can pursue programmatic accreditation. Look for programs accredited by ABET. Students who choose an ABET-accredited program can feel confident their computer science degree will provide a rigorous and relevant curriculum.
You can check prospective schools' accreditation statuses by using the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation database or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's school directory.
What Can You Do With a Computer Science Degree?
The types of computer science degree jobs you can qualify for will depend on your degree and concentration. As a whole, computer science graduates have tons of career options.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of nearly 700,000 computer and information technology jobs between 2021 and 2031. The median annual salary for workers in this sector was $97,430 in May 2021 — more than double the median salary for all jobs.
|Job||Median Annual Salary (May 2021)||Job Growth Rate (2021-2031)||Minimum Degree Required|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||$131,490||21%||Master's|
|Computer Network Architects||$120,520||4%||Bachelor's|
|Information Security Analysts||$102,600||35%||Bachelor's|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$99,270||9%||Bachelor's|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrators||$80,600||3%||Bachelor's|
|Web Developers and Digital Designers||$78,300||23%||Bachelor's|
|Computer Support Specialists||$57,910||6%||Associate|
“Study what you love. Many courses in school do not translate directly to on-the-job skills, and that's OK. … If you have an interest in math or statistics, adding this coursework to your computer science studies can open a lot of doors.”
Is a Computer Science Degree Worth It?
While a computer science degree appeals to many students, it's not for everyone. Working in computer science requires a significant commitment to and interest in computers and technology. You also need to be willing to adapt to industry changes.
Weigh the pros and cons of a computer science degree to determine whether this path is right for you.
Pros of a Computer Science Degree
A degree can lead to high-earning careers that exceed the national median salary.
Computer and IT jobs are experiencing high demand.
Computer science's broad scope provides you with educational and professional flexibility.
You can innovate and make improvements for people, businesses, and society.
Cons of a Computer Science Degree
As a computer science professional, you'll need to pursue continued education and upskilling.
Many computer science jobs experience fierce competition.
The computer science field is highly technical, which may not appeal to all types of students.
You may need to specialize to be competitive — and specializing can mean more education and upskilling.
Frequently Asked Questions About Computer Science Degrees
Is computer science a good major?
Computer science can be a good major for certain people, especially if you love computers and keeping up with technological changes and trends. A computer science degree can lead to various well-paying computer and IT careers.
The field also provides a strong foundation for you to build upon. For example, you can specialize within your degree, grow via professional experience, or pursue an advanced degree.
Is computer science a hard major?
A computer science major can be challenging because it touches on so many different aspects of computers and computer systems. You'll need to take math and statistics classes and pick up many technical skills, including programming and networking.
If you commit yourself to your studies and get support as needed, you should be able to successfully complete this program.
How long does an online computer science degree take?
The length of an online computer science degree will depend on the credential. Typically, associate degrees take about two years, bachelor's degrees about four years, master's degrees about two years, and doctorates about five years.
Accelerated online programs may offer shorter timeframes. These programs allow you to take heavier course loads to reduce the overall time spent in school. For example, you may be able to earn a bachelor's in computer science in three years instead of four.
What is the dropout rate for computer science majors?
Computer science majors typically have one of the highest dropout rates among all college programs. Computer science is a popular program that can prove too challenging and technical for some students.
It's important that you have appropriate expectations of a computer science degree before starting a program and are willing to ask for support and resources when needed.
Do computer science majors make good money?
Generally, yes. Many computer science majors earn good money in their careers. According to the BLS, computer and IT jobs boast the second-highest median annual salary among all major occupational groups after management occupations.
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