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What is a computer science degree?
Do new technologies excite you? Are you logical, creative, and persistent? Do you enjoy solving complex problems?
If so, a degree in computer science could be for you. This fascinating field combines aspects of math, logic, and technology. It explores the science of computer hardware and software systems. Computer science students learn about a diverse range of topics. They take courses in computer theory, hardware and software systems, and scientific computing. They learn to master different programming tools and languages. They also develop strong critical thinking abilities and a long list of transferrable skills.
In our plugged in society, virtually every company now relies on computers. So it's no surprise that computer science graduates are in high demand. Jobs in this sector are expected to grow by 18% by 2022—much faster than other industries. Almost 70% of computer science majors land a full-time job right out of college. With an average starting salary of more than $60,000, they earn more than almost any other graduate.
Think computer science might be in your future? In this article, we'll offer a broad overview of what this degree can offer you. Specifically, we'll answer the following questions:
- What sets computer science apart from related fields?
- What are the different kinds of computer science degrees?
- What skills will you gain by studying computer science?
- Who hires computer science graduates?
Computer science degrees come in all shapes and sizes. The right fit for you will depend on your budget, your career goals, and how much time you're willing to invest. Here are a few typical degree options to consider:
Associate Degree in Computer Science
Associate degrees in computer science offer a first step into the field. These degrees usually take about two years to complete. They offer basic training in computer languages, design, programming, and troubleshooting. They can open doors to many entry-level jobs or set you up for future study.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
Bachelor's degrees typically involve four years of schooling. They're more advanced than associate programs and offer additional employment opportunities. Typically, students spend their first year gaining general computer science knowledge. They study information theory, systems architecture, computer hardware principles, and other basic subjects. In later years, they specialize in a topic like advanced programming, artificial intelligence, or games development.
Master's Degree in Computer Science
Master's degrees in computer science offer an opportunity to specialize in a topic of your choosing. They're intense and rigorous, and usually involve at least two years of additional school after a bachelor's. But for many students, the time and effort is well worth it. Computer science graduates with a master's degree earn about 30% more than those with a bachelor's. This may be one reason why computer science is considered one of the top 10 master's degrees available.
Doctoral Degree in Computer Science
For those who love to do research, a PhD in Computer Science can be a thrilling option. This highly specialized degree involves three to five years of intensive study. Many students pursue a PhD to enter a career in academia. But there are other career options available too, including cutting edge jobs in the AI industry.
Finally, some students choose not to do any formal schooling at all. From free online webinars to brief "code academy" programs, there are lots of ways to learn the basics. Although some companies won't hire anyone without an official degree, many others will. To increase your chances of getting hired, gain some relevant experience, build industry connections, develop your programming skills, and create a portfolio.
Degrees similar to computer science
Computer science is often confused with degrees like computer engineering or information technology. But although these fields have a lot in common, there are some key differences.
Computer Science involves both the practice and theory of computer hardware and software. Students learn to develop effective, efficient software, but they also learn to understand the conceptual framework behind it.
Computer Security, on the other hand, focuses on issues like personal data and privacy. Students learn to prevent unauthorized access to computer systems. They explore questions about data loss and hacking. They also learn to create back-up plans and protect systems from malicious activity.
Like computer science, Computer Engineering is concerned with computer hardware and software. But unlike computer science, it explores these systems from a fundamental engineering design perspective. Students practice developing computer products—learning to update their knowledge and skills as new technology emerges.
Finally, Information Technology focuses on the use of technology in organizational settings. These programs tend to be more practical than computer science, which includes theoretical training as well as hands-on skill development. To put it simply, IT degrees explore how technology can be applied instead of learning about the technology itself.
Skills you'll learn
What will you learn in a computer science degree? Of course, you'll gain subject-specific knowledge in topics like data structures or software design. But you'll also develop important transferrable skills, including:
Tools and Methods
You'll learn to use appropriate tools, theories, and practices to design and test computer-based systems.
Design, Modeling, and Testing
You'll gain knowledge and understanding about developing computer systems that are user-friendly and efficient. You'll also practice evaluating your work, identifying your mistakes, and improving upon them.
Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
Effective troubleshooting is core to computer science. Virtually any computer science degree will teach you to identify and analyze problems. This educational path will also train you to think deeply about challenges and use logic and creativity to overcome them.
Communication and Reflection
Success in computer science is about more than finding solutions. It's also about communicating them in a way that others can understand. A great computer science degree will teach you to present your work in a concise, accessible way.
What can you do with a computer science degree?
With their diverse skillset, computer science graduates can find work in an array of career areas. Here are just a few of the most common ones.
Software is everywhere. From tiny tech startups to giant app developers, many companies need software researchers, programmers, designers, and testers. Jobs in this industry are varied, mentally engaging, and—usually—very well-paid. Although it's possible to work independently, many software jobs involve at least occasional teamwork.
Healthcare is one of the fastest growing career areas. With our aging population, the medical sector is expanding rapidly to meet the demand. Hospitals, doctor's clinics, and research centres all rely on computer technology to function. They're also constantly developing and advancing their systems, which makes the healthcare industry an exciting place to be for many computer science graduates.
Banks, investment firms, insurance agencies, and trading enterprises all hire computer science majors. Some careers in this area involve spearheading IT-related projects. Others focus on e-commerce management or data collection. Whatever the specifics, this tends to be a fast-paid and financially rewarding career area.
Consulting work is all about helping businesses resolve technological issues and develop better systems for the future. Almost every major business now has an Information Technology department. And this means that almost every major business experiences IT challenges from time to time. As demand for skilled consultants continues to grow, more and more computer science graduates are finding work in this field.
Aerospace and Defense
It's not always the first career option that comes to mind, but there are lots of computer science jobs available in the aerospace and defense sector. In this industry, graduates will help keep their country's computerized tracking, intelligence, and navigation systems up to date. It's an exciting career area at the cutting edge of technological innovation.
Computer Hardware Design
Dell, Microsoft, Apple—all of the big computer companies need skilled hardware designers. Computer science graduates in this challenging industry will help build some of the most advanced technologies on the market. They'll develop functional, stylish products that help people thrive personally and professionally.
Computer Science Careers
The career trajectory of people with a Computer Science degree appears to be focused around a few careers. The most common career that users with Computer Science degrees have experience in is Software Engineer, followed by Web Developer, Full Stack Developer, Computer Programmer, Software Quality Assurance Engineer, Computer Systems Administrator, Computer Systems Engineer, Technical Support Specialist, App Developer, and IT Manager.
|Career||% of graduates||% of population||Multiple|
|Full Stack Developer||7.8%||0.1%||136.8×|
|Software Quality Assurance Engineer||6.1%||0.2%||38.6×|
|Computer Systems Administrator||3.8%||0.1%||26.8×|
|Computer Systems Engineer||3.5%||0.2%||21.3×|
|Technical Support Specialist||5.0%||0.8%||6.3×|
Computer Science Salary
Computer Science graduates earn on average $53k, putting them in the 80th percentile of earners with a degree.
|Percentile||Earnings after graduation ($1000s USD)|
|25th (bottom earners)||$39k|
|Median (average earners)||$53k|
|75th (top earners)||$70k|
Computer Science Underemployment
Computer Science graduates are highly employed compared to other graduates. We have collected data on three types of underemployment. Part-time refers to work that is less than 30 hours per week. Non-college refers to work that does not require a college degree. Low-paying includes a list of low-wage service jobs such as janitorial work, serving, or dishwashing.
|Employment Type||Proportion of graduates|
|Jobs that don't require college||27%|