Obtaining a computer science (CS) degree can lead you to jobs in a wide range of industries. Technology is, of course, one of them but graduates of computer science degree programs can also have successful careers in healthcare, business, education, and communications, among others. Plus, with the current demand for computer science professionals, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that there will be 531,200 new jobs available in computer science by 2029 (BLS, 2020).
Though job roles can vary, computer scientists are likely to take on responsibilities, such as researching and improving computer systems and software performance, working on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics, and tackling math and computational problems and projects. The core skills that will be needed will also be more or less the same for any job. These include strong math, computer, and technology knowledge and skills, a systematic approach to working and solving problems, and the ability to classify and organize large amounts of information.
When you check the latest list of 50 highest-paying college majors in 2020, computer science ranks in 7th place. So with the potential high salary and abundance of jobs in this field, it’s worthwhile to learn more about what you can expect if you pursue this degree.
Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems. To further expound on this computer science definition, it covers the theories, development, design, and applications involved in software and software systems. The topics you can expect to study within computer science include:
In today’s economy, every company could become a tech company (Duffy, 2019), which is good news for computer science majors. There can be so many possibilities when it comes to the work you can do and the industries you can enter.
The most common career path is to become a Software Developer, with the employment of software developers projected to grow 22% from 2019 to 2029, adding around 316,00 jobs (BLS, 2021). But there are many other positions you can aspire for, such as Computer and Information Systems Manager, Systems Administrator, Systems Analyst, Cloud Computing Engineer, Information Security Analyst, and Data Scientist. Working as a Data Scientist, in particular, puts you in one of the fastest-growing occupations with 31% projected growth over the next 10 years (BLS, 2021). It is also a highly employable job sector predicted to create 11.5 million jobs by 2026 (Gour, 2019).
Moreover, you will not be limited to working in tech. A computer science degree will also be useful if you want to work in large manufacturing companies, financial service providers, social media companies, and almost any company that relies on software infrastructure.
A computer science degree can also be useful in a research career. For research-intensive positions, such as big tech companies, a Ph.D. is usually necessary. It is also common to have a Ph.D. for those who want a long-term career in academic research.
Preparing for your degree will always include researching the cost of tuition and fees, accommodations, books and supplies, and other related expenses. You should also think about the initial costs not included in computer science degree tuition, such as application fees at your chosen university, fees for standardized tests, and the like.
The cost of computer science degree programs will vary considerably based on the university, its location, and your lifestyle. Tuition and fees at a private four-year institution will cost an average of $37,650 but this may easily jump up to $46,215 for more popular schools.
On the other hand, tuition and fees at a public four-year school are around $10,560 (in-state) and $27,020 (out-of-state). Meanwhile, if you are planning to take an associate program, tuition and fees at a public two-year school will be around $3,770 (Vanguard college cost projector, 2021).
As for a Master’s degree program, the average cost for tuition and fees is $9,751 in public universities. Meanwhile, private universities cost around $24,107 (USA Student Debt Relief, 2020).
The cost of a doctorate in computer science will also depend on factors such as state residency, room and board, and other fees. You can expect to pay an average annual tuition of $34,740 (CollegeBoard, 2020).
|*Values are estimates.|
As BLS statistics reveal, jobs that need a computer science degree will remain in high demand in the future. These jobs are also in fields that offer higher salaries, such as software engineering, information technology, web development, and computer and information research.
Also, a computer science degree is a versatile degree and one that can open doors to opportunities in different sectors not just in technology. This means your computer science degree won’t limit your carer options. You can choose from an extensive selection of industries to work in. You can be doing software development for a fashion brand or be employed in a food manufacturing business, or work as an R&D scientist at an auto company. Your career possibilities are endless.
As mentioned previously, computer science degree jobs are not only in tech companies, which is contrary to what people might think. To give you an idea, listed below are some of the occupations where your computer science degree can become a major asset.
Computer science is definitely in high demand not only because of the ongoing fourth industrial revolution but also due to the skills gap countries are facing when it comes to hiring talent that possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to fill up the jobs of the future.
For example, companies are heavily investing in advanced technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), which will require the expertise of computer scientists. From self-driving cars to life-saving medical equipment, one can see how a wide range of industries will continue to rely on software and software systems in the future.
Moreover, in a digital economy, computers will continue to be a part of almost every aspect of our daily lives. For countries to maintain a competitive edge, they must attract the best talents in the computing and software field. With this in mind, you can imagine how your computer science degree can put you in high-paying jobs in the future.
Computer science jobs can lead you to lucrative careers as many companies offer top dollar salaries even for entry-level positions. Based on data from BLS, computer scientists receive a median salary of $126,830 (BLS, 2021).
Moreover, a computer science degree is still one of the highest-earning bachelor’s degrees. In 2020, the average salary projection for computer science was $67,411 (NACE, 2020). This high salary projection is mainly fueled by high employer demand and the difficulty of filling positions with qualified candidates.
Looking at different job titles related to computer science, students can expect a strong salary outlook for computer science degree holders. For instance, software developers have a median salary of $110,140. Computer network architects, on the other hand, have a median salary of $116,780, information security analysts receive $103,590, and data administrators’ median salary is $98,860 (BLS, 2021).
Source: BLS, 2021
You can pursue different computer science degree types depending on your career goals and interests. Obtaining a particular degree can qualify you for further studies or open your options to a variety of career paths. Educational institutions usually offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees, while others have associate and doctoral degrees.
Average time to complete: Two years
An associate degree in Computer Science is a program that prepares students to either immediately enter the workforce or to transfer to a four-year college. It often focuses on teaching students how to leverage programming and mathematical algorithms to solve problems.
Once a student completes this program, he or she can be qualified to work in the industry as web developers and tech support specialists. Alternatively, one can choose to continue education and earn a higher degree.
Entry-level jobs: programmer, web developer, network administrator
Average time to complete: Four years
A bachelor’s in computer science typically provides training on the theoretical and mathematical foundations of computing. Students receive training on software development, coding using multiple programming languages, and computer systems.
Specializations in the program can include artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, game design, information security, and software engineering. A bachelor’s degree can usually be completed in four years, but some programs might take shorter like three years or longer up to five years depending on the program’s requirements and the college or university’s academic calendar.
You might see programs that offer either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Computer Science. BS is the science track, which is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET, while the BA is the humanities track and not accredited by ABET. With a BA program, students can take up more elective options and pursue a double major, while a BS program has more science courses, harder to have a double major, and would be the choice if you want more technical jobs in the future.
Entry-level jobs: programmer, web developer, network administrator
Average time to complete: Two years
A master’s in computer science is a graduate program that covers advanced training in computer systems and computer language theory, programming, and advanced algorithms. Some of the most popular specializations include artificial intelligence, machine learning, cybersecurity, cloud computing, data science, and information systems.
A master’s program usually takes about two years and is designed for computer scientists and engineers who have several years of work experience. There are online degrees that can be completed in a shorter period or those that are self-paced.
A graduate student’s focus in this program will ultimately depend on his or her professional goals or areas of interest. Some programs might waive basic courses while some might require additional courses based on a student’s undergraduate studies. In a master’s program, you can expect to write a master’s thesis that might be the university’s capstone project or part of it.
High-level positions: Computer and Information Systems Managers, Computer Systems Analysts, Computer and Information Research Scientists, Network and Computer Systems Administrators
Average time to complete: Four to five years
A doctoral degree in computer science helps mold students to become scientists. Most of the coursework will be focused on research work, such as managing experiments, reading and evaluating research, and interpreting results. The focus of a Ph.D. study is often a very narrow area of computer science where students will develop their expertise.
Ph.D. students must be prepared to devote many years of study for their degree—from four to five or even seven years. A few examples of possible classes include language and information technologies, algorithms, human-computer interaction, machine learning, computational biology, and robotics. Based on the numbers, there were 2,224 doctoral degrees earned in computer and information sciences in 2019.
However, it is important to note that a doctoral degree in computer science does not automatically equate to getting a teaching or research position at a university. There are many other opportunities for a computer science Ph.D. holder, such as working in manufacturing, big tech companies, healthcare, and the space industry, just to name a few.
High-level positions: Computer Hardware Engineer, Computer and Information Research Scientist, Computer Systems Engineer, Computer Science Professor, and Computer Network Architect.
Computer science is an in-demand program with almost 48,000 degrees awarded in 2019. The industry also employs 2.7 million professionals and is continuously growing at a rate of 5.54% annually (Data USA, n.d.). Computer science degree prerequisites will ultimately depend on the college or university you wish to enter. Discussed here are some of the more general requirements you can expect in terms of documents and individual skills:
There are hundreds of educational institutions that offer computer science programs. So how do you choose which program to consider? One recommendation is to think about the specialization you want to study as well as checking the accreditation of the program.
Not all computer science programs are created equal. While all programs are designed to equip students with fundamentals, such as computation structures, programming, and software construction, they will certainly diverge into the available advanced courses. Some might offer specialized topics like medical device design, computational cognitive science, nanoelectronics, interactive intelligence, and more. As such, when choosing a program, it is best to also see if they can provide you with the subjects you need to earn your specialization.
It is important to check if the program you want to attend is registered with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This accreditation means that the program meets the national and regional standards required for the field of study. Also, enrolling in an unaccredited program, while still a valid degree, may not afford you the same job prospects as those who enrolled in an accredited program.
You will enter a highly competitive field once you obtain your computer science degree. Therefore, it is important to look beyond academics when choosing a school and program. Research the school’s connections to prominent technology companies and businesses relevant to your field. You should also check what types of internships are available to students of the program.
The cost of going to college is often a major concern for many students. The good news is that many colleges and universities also offer options for financial aid. Different types of financial aid you can apply for include grants, scholarships, loans, or work-study jobs. In the school year 2019/2020, 62% of undergraduate student financial aid in the United States came from grants. Another 32% came from loans (College Board, 2020).
Specifically for computer science, you can reach out to professional organizations for information on available scholarships. Some major organizations include the International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology, the Computing Research Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, and the Association for Women in Computing.
You can also contact government agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Foundation to ask for available grants. Additionally, try reaching out to companies or employers who might be offering scholarship opportunities to attract the best employees and strengthen their tech workforce.
Source: College Board
Hopefully, this guide has helped you answer the major questions you have about pursuing computer science as a degree. High salaries and an overall positive job projection for professionals in this field make computer science a very popular major for many undergraduate students. But it’s also not for everyone. Aside from the hard skills needed in this program, you also have to possess soft skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, to increase your chances of advancing and becoming successful in this field.
Before applying, be sure to check whether the program and school you are aiming for are accredited. Also, you will need to carefully study the prerequisite courses, application procedure and requirements, and the total costs you will incur once you start your application.
If you intend to apply for financial aid, you might also need to dedicate time to search for those opportunities. You may also want to study the process of applying for scholarships, so you can determine what you need to include in your own application. Needless to say, planning and preparation are vital since the entire process of applying for a computer science program can demand a lot from your resources, time, and effort.