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:
the theory of computing
computer systems and networks
What can you do with a computer science degree?
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.
Cost of Computer Science Degree
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.
How much does it cost to get a computer science degree?
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).
Computer Science Degree Tuition
*Values are estimates.
$2000 - $5,500
$7,900 - $14,000
$9,500 - $17,700
$37,650 - $59,200
$9,700 - $15,900
$12,200 - $38,800
$24,100 - $60,000
$15,930 - $18,000
$18,000 - $39,000
Is a degree in computer science worth it?
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.
Computer Science Degree Jobs
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.
Is computer science in high demand?
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.
What jobs can you get with a computer science degree?
Software Developer Jobs. Software developer jobs revolve around creating, testing, and modifying software that power computers and electronic devices, such as smartphones, laptops, appliances, among others. Working as a software developer usually means you are part of a development team that works on meeting the desired specifications of a software product.
Web Developer Jobs. Web developer jobs involve designing, building, and maintaining websites. Some roles might focus on front-end development, such as layout and functional elements and features of a website, while others might focus on back-end development. Back-end refers to the systems that run “behind-the-scenes” of the website and make sure that it works as intended.
Database Administrator Jobs. Data administrator jobs deal with handling databases, which are the key component of any software operation. Data administrators must develop, merge, or migrate existing data to new platforms and ensure that data is securely stored and organized and access is granted only to intended users.
Data Science Jobs. Data science jobs require designing data modeling processes, and manipulating large data sets, cleaning, aggregating, and organizing data. It combines computer science with several other disciplines such as machine learning, statistics, and data analysis. The most common positions include data scientists, data engineers, data analysts, and data architects.
Network Systems Administrator Jobs. Most network systems administration roles specialize in the maintenance and high-level management of servers, storage, and all related applications and operating systems in the network. Some of the duties of system administrators include implementing system-wide updates, deploying hardware systems, automating processes, and creating user accounts with the right levels of access.
What kind of salary can I earn with a computer science degree?
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
Types of Degrees in Computer Science
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.
What kinds of computer science degrees are there?
1. Associate Degree in Computer Science
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
2. Bachelor Degree in Computer Science
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
3. Master’s Degree in Computer Science
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
4. Doctoral Degree in Computer Science
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.
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Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Health professions and related programs: 82895
Health professions and related programs
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Legal professions and studies: 34387
Legal professions and studies
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Education: 13020
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Engineering: 11135
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Biological and biomedical sciences: 7978
Biological and biomedical sciences
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Psychology: 6214
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Physical sciences and science technologies: 6298
Physical sciences and science technologies
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Social sciences and history: 4544
Social sciences and history
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Business: 3636
Doctoral Degrees Earned in the US in 2018/19, by Field of Research Computer and information sciences: 2224
Computer and information sciences
Computer Science Degree Requirements
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:
Proof of Graduation: Institutions of higher education require students to present some proof that a student has completed the necessary coursework to advance to collegiate-level studies. This can include a student’s high school diploma, an official General Educational Development (GED) transcript, or other certificates of completion. In some schools, a certificate of proficiency granted through an examination is also acceptable.
Transcript: Most educational institutions require a grade point average (GPA) of 2.5 to 3.0 for students who want to apply for their computer science programs. This will still vary depending on the level of selectivity of the college or university. If your GPA is below this requirement, it’s still best to inquire if there are other pathways you can take to get admitted into the program.
Coursework: Most colleges and universities will look for prerequisite courses from students who want to get into their computer science programs. These usually include basic calculus and linear algebra. Other schools might also encourage applicants to take intermediate-level programming courses or advanced math coursework. It is also best to note that some universities require a minimum number of units for their prerequisite coursework.
SAT or ACT score: Minimum required scores for Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or American College Testing (ACT) vary depending on the educational institution. The average SAT score requirements can be anywhere between 1200 and 1500, while ACT scores can be between 25 and 35.
Other Requirements: Aside from school documents and test scores, you must also consider other requirements related to college admission. These include completed application documents, payment of application fees, high school diploma, and the like. Some documents can positively impact your application, such as a letter of recommendation and a college admission essay.
Math Skills: Computer science degree skills involve understanding algorithms and working through computational problems. So, students taking up this program need a strong grasp of Mathematics. Knowing basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and calculus by heart will allow students to keep up with more advanced Mathematics, which they will learn through the program. These include fundamental theorems, the theory of computation, and discrete math, to name a few.
Creative Problem-Solving Skills: Most projects in computer science involve finding solutions to complex problems and these solutions are not always straightforward. Out-of-the-box thinking is often necessary to deliver innovative and effective solutions.
Critical Thinking Skills: Critical thinking skills are necessary for any major, but it is especially important in computer science. That’s because as you solve problems, there are many methodologies you can use, and knowing which one to apply is an essential part of conducting your research. Critical thinking will help students assess why some approaches to a problem may or may not work.
Collaboration: Contrary to what people might commonly believe, computer scientists rarely work on their own. Communication and collaboration skills are important since projects will often require individuals to work in a team to develop a product or come up with a solution to a problem.
What to Look for in a Computer Science Program
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.
Professional Connections and Opportunities
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.
Financial Aid Options
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.
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.