Computer Science Programs and Majors Explained: Degree Levels, Specializations, and Common Computer Science Courses
A computer science degree can open doors to a career in the fast-growing tech sector. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there’ll be a 13 percent increase in the number of computer and information technology jobs between 2020 and 2030. If you are looking to work in this expanding field, you may be asking: What is a computer science degree?
This guide will inform you about all aspects of computer science degrees, the types of computer science programs available, possible concentrations, career paths, computer science job outlooks for affiliated professions, and the salary range for the highest paying jobs.
What Is Computer Science?
Computer science studies the systems and algorithms that computer scientists use and interact with through programming languages. Computer science professionals also work as software engineers, software developers, database administrators, and systems analysts.
Computer science degrees educate students in both theory and practice. Students also gain analytical, problem-solving, and logical thinking skills. Related fields to computer science include software engineering and information technology.
Computer Science Quick Facts: Job Outlook and Average Salaries
- According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook of computer and information research scientists is estimated to grow by 22 percent, which is higher than the average for all computer science roles.
- According to BLS, computer and information research scientists earn a median pay of $131,490.
- According to PayScale, the average salary for a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science graduate is $87,000 per year.
Is Computer Science Hard?
No, computer science is not hard if you are familiar with technology. The discipline demands patience, problem-solving skills, and creativity. Preliminary statistics and analytical courses can help you perfect these skills. In addition, computer science involves a commitment to learning and understanding core concepts. You may face a high learning curve if you are new to computers.
Is Computer Science a Good Major?
Yes, computer science is a good major. A computer science major opens the door to learning more about the most in-demand disciplines in tech, such as information science technology, network security, data science, and database management.
Why Should You Get a Degree in Computer Science?
You should get a degree in computer science because it’s one of the fastest ways to enter the competitive tech field. In addition, the degree will help you learn fundamental programming techniques that will prove important if you work with major tech companies in the future.
- High median salary. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for computer scientists is $97,430, which is above the median salary for many other occupations. In addition, specializing in an affiliated field, such as computer and information research science and computer network architecture, means you can earn a higher annual salary.
- High employment opportunities. The BLS expects a significant increase in the number of available computer science jobs in the near future. For instance, available positions for information security analysts are expected to grow by 33 percent between 2020 and 2030, while software developers are expected to have a 22 percent growth in the same timeframe.
- Learning new in-demand skills. Current professionals may need to learn new skills to land certain jobs. Completing a degree in computer science offers highly sought-after skills that can lead to specialized roles in the industry. Talents like app and web development are skills some students master for personal development or industry-specific learning.
- Build personal knowledge. Students interested in computer science can profit from studying topics that they enjoy while also learning various in-demand science skills. Anyone interested in pursuing a career in computer science should choose programs that meet their ambitions and needs.
- Prepares students for a future in tech. Degree holders in computer science have – skills that are transferable to various professions, which gives them the chance to explore a diversified range of options across a wide range of industries.
Computer Science Major: What Degree Can You Get in Computer Science?
The degrees you can get in computer science include an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and even a doctoral degree. As a computer science major, you can focus on many tech-related fields such as computer programming, software development, web development, and information communication technology. Further, the pay is great and the job growth is promising.
Types of Associate Degrees in Computer Science
The types of Associate Degrees in Computer Science include an Associate of Science and Associate of Applied Science in Computer Science. An Associate Degree in Computer Science combines basic theory and practice. It’s available as an in-person or online degree program.
After graduating from the course, many people pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, while others start working immediately. Earning an associate degree full-time takes around two years and may help students transfer to bachelor’s degree programs or begin entry-level jobs.
Associate of Science (AS in Computer Science)
Computer science associate degrees train students to provide people and organizations with technology-based solutions to various problems. Students learn how to improve organizational operations, secure information systems, enhance products and services, and apply the principles of software engineering.
Very little background knowledge is required for this level of degree. Computer science associate degrees prepare students for entry-level positions in computer science, as well as more advanced degrees.
Common Associate of Science in Computer Science Curriculum
- Cyber Security
- Computer Networking
- Programming Languages
Associate of Applied Science (AAS in Computer Science)
In contrast to a traditional curriculum, an applied curriculum focuses on the technical parts of computer science rather than the theory behind computer architecture, database environments, algorithms, and specialty fields, such as natural language processing (NLP), graphics, and compilers. It trains students for entry-level computer programming jobs.
Common Associate of Applied Science in Computer Science Curriculum
- Intermediate Algebra
- Web Development
- Survey of Computer Information Systems
Associate of Applied Business (AAB in Computer Science Technology)
The Associate of Applied Business in Computer Science Technology program prepares students for careers as computer support experts or computer networking specialists in the information technology field.
Opportunities for employment in these industries are projected to rise in the coming years. Each of these majors has a curriculum that is based on the information, skills, and abilities that are required for employment in that field.
Common Associate of Applied Business in Computer Science Technology in Computer Science Curriculum
- Programming Fundamentals
- Computer Basics
- Networking and Internet Implementation
Types of Bachelor’s Degrees in Computer Science
Computer science bachelor’s degree programs encompass the mathematical and theoretical foundations of computers. Numerous schools offer degrees in computer science, including a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Computing, Bachelor of Science, and Bachelor of Applied Science.
Additionally, certain schools may provide multidisciplinary Bachelor’s Degrees in Computer Science, such as a Bachelor of Technology in Computer Science, a Bachelor of Mathematics in Computer Science and Engineering, or a Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science.
Bachelor of Science (BS in Computer Science)
A Bachelor of Science in Computer Science program operates a more specialized curriculum that focuses on helping students in the program obtain practical and technical expertise in their chosen field. You’ll learn how to configure and build software for hardware devices, mobile devices, and laptop devices.
Additional courses in machine learning, database environments, blockchains, principles of software engineering, ethical hacking, and big data analytics are available, in addition to the core curriculum of programming, database design, and operating systems classes.
Common Bachelor of Science in Computer Science Curriculum
- Ethics and Digital Technology
- Data Mining and Machine Learning
- Software Engineering
Bachelor of Arts (BA in Computer Science)
A BA in Computer Science program is designed for students who want to learn about computer science while also learning about the humanities. In addition to completing the core curriculum, which includes coursework in software development, programming, and other computer science foundations, students can choose from a choice of electives, including foreign languages, literature, and social sciences.
Common Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science Curriculum
- Introduction to Systems Programming
- Discrete Mathematics
- Oral Communication
Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS in Computer Science)
A bachelor of applied science is regarded as a highly specialized professional degree for computer science careers. If you're looking to get into a career that requires advanced study in the sciences and liberal arts, a bachelor of applied science is the degree for you.
It also aims to provide students with hands-on experience. You can also go into a particular aspect of computer science. For example, you can enroll in a program in computer engineering with a software engineering concentration.
Common Bachelor of Applied Science in Computer Science Curriculum
- Human-Computer Interaction
- Data Structures
- Programming Languages, Concepts, and Implementation
Bachelor of Computer Security in Computer Science
This is a double honors degree that gives students a chance to learn about both computer science as a course and how to apply the knowledge of the discipline to computer security. Not many schools grant this degree. The curriculum is often similar to other degrees in computer science.
Common Bachelor of Computer Security in Computer Science Curriculum
- Foundations of Computing
- Databases and the Web
- Introduction to Object Oriented Programming
Types of Master’s Degrees in Computer Science
An MS in Computer Science prepares students for profitable professions in IT. Computer scientists create innovative computer technology to solve commercial, healthcare, education, and scientific concerns.
Computer and information systems manager, computer and information research scientist, and computer hardware engineer are all possible roles for computer science graduates with advanced degrees.
Master of Arts (MA in Computer Science)
This graduate degree in computer science gives students an in-depth education in programming, computer system design, and application design. Students learn advanced topics such as game development, data science, computer security, software engineering, networks, and multimedia and creative technologies. This degree can either be obtained through an on-campus program or an online program.
Common Master of Arts in Computer Science Curriculum
- Data Structures Using C
- Advanced Programming
- Computer Organization and Architecture
Master of Science (MS in Computer Science)
This degree gives computer science graduates the chance to work with operating systems, build software, and develop advanced knowledge of computer architecture. They will also develop the soft skills they need for advanced tech roles.
The learning technique is usually hands-on with an emphasis on important tech skills like software architecture, algorithms, design patterns, and coding approaches. Students from the natural sciences are sometimes given admission into MS in Computer Science programs.
Common Master of Science in Computer Science Curriculum
- Advanced Algorithms
- Machine Learning
- Advanced Computer Architecture
Master of Business Administration (MBA in Computer Science)
The business administration side of the program teaches strategic planning and positioning, business processes, international business culture, supply chain management, and business communications. You can get a Master of Business Administration online or on campus. Online students usually follow the same curriculum as those doing a campus program.
Common Master of Business Administration in Computer Science Curriculum
- Operating and Distributed Systems
- Supply Chain Management
- Design and Analysis of Algorithms
What Will You Learn in a Computer Science Degree Program?
In a computer science degree program, you’ll start with introductory courses on how computers work, what the commonly used encryption tools are, and the efficiency of information systems. You’ll also verify and provide solutions to computer and network problems. Everything will involve both practical and theoretical applications.
In advanced programs, students study complex topics involving the evolution of state machines, program correctness, computational complexity, and cryptography. You might also learn about Boolean algebra, database management systems, formal methods, discrete math, software systems, probability, statistics, set theory, linear algebra, calculus, and differential equations.
Popular Specializations for Computer Science Degrees
Computer science is a very broad discipline that can lead to many professions. As a result, schools offer numerous specializations that can help students focus on a specific aspect that’s related to their chosen fields. These specializations include artificial intelligence, software engineering, bioinformatics, data processing, and computer graphics.
The 5 Most Popular Computer Science Concentrations
- Artificial Intelligence
- Computer-Human Interface
- Game Design
- Computer Graphics
- Information Security
Common Computer Science Courses Across All Specializations
Despite the numerous specialization avenues for a computer science professional, there are some courses that computer science students must take in their foundational years regardless of what they plan to venture into. Some of those courses are listed below.
- Calculus. Mathematical equations and the effects of additional factors on algebraic equations are visualized graphically in calculus class. Topics covered include limits, maximizing and minimizing functions, and the mean value theorem and its applications. Several applications used by computer science students contain calculus equations.
- Principles of Computer Networks. In this course, you will learn about fiber optics, computer science theory, network security, and satellite networks. Intranets and extranets are introduced, as well as how organizations use intranets to handle information fast.
- Cyber Security Fundamentals. Basic cyber security issues are introduced in this course. It teaches computer science students about computer network defense and analyzes various digital assaults and exploitations.
- Data Structures. This course covers algorithmic design and analysis, which are often used to solve software engineering problems. With this course, students learn how to alter structures like real-world computer scientists.
- Comparative Programming Languages. This course teaches students how to identify the optimal programming language for a given problem or environment. It examines the advantages and disadvantages of several languages and illustrates them via real-world examples.
Best Minors for Computer Science Students
The best computer science minors are often in a non-computer-related field. This gives students a wider range of possibilities if they decide that working with computers isn’t for them. However, a minor in a related field can also help you specialize and learn more about computer science as a discipline.
The 5 Best Computer Science Minors
- Foreign Language
- Computer Engineering
- Business Management
Best Major for Your Chosen Career Path
How to Choose the Right Computer Science Degree Program for You
When choosing the right computer science degree program for you, there are several factors to consider, such as accreditation, cost, learning format, faculty credentials, and specialization options. Below, we’ll discuss these factors in detail.
Accreditation ensures that a program meets educational standards set by a regional or national accrediting body. It also guarantees that employers will recognize and trust the quality of your credential. For computer science, ABET-Accredited programs are preferred for their rigorous curricula.
Check with program faculty members to determine whether anyone is currently engaged in research that is linked to your own areas of interest. You can also look into where faculty members received their own education and whether or not they have received any accolades.
When it comes to getting a degree in computer science, the cost is very important. Potential students should make sure that they know about all costs surrounding the programs they're interested in before committing themselves. The cost of degree programs can be determined by checking the school's website or asking for additional information.
Many computer science programs cater to both part-time and full-time students. Some colleges and universities offer accelerated programs for students who are eager to get started. Additionally, prospective students should consider if synchronous or asynchronous learning styles are the most appropriate for them.
While some schools allow students to specialize in a specific aspect of computer science in their bachelor's degree, some don't. Further, if you're going to choose a specialization, you have to ensure that the school you're enrolling in offers specializations that are related to your preferred topic.
Best Computer Science Colleges and Universities: Where to Find the Top Computer Science Degree Programs
Getting a worthwhile degree in computer science requires the best curriculum and a team of lecturers and staff that are willing to go above and beyond to ensure that the students get both theoretical and practical knowledge needed to harness the career opportunities attached to the field. Below are some of the schools you should consider.
- Cochise College
- Columbia College
- Pittsburgh Technical College
- Southern New Hampshire University
- University of the District of Columbia
- Cornell University
- University of California, Berkeley
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Harvard University
- University of California, Berkeley
- Boston University
- Drexel University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Nova Southeastern University
- University of California, Berkeley
Best College and University Computer Science Schools
How Can I Pay for a Computer Science Degree Program?
You can pay for a computer science degree program using federal student aid, loans, and scholarships. The average cost of one-year tuition at a public four-year school in the United States for the 2019-20 academic year was $9,400, according to NCES. That’s where financial options come into play. Read on to learn more about the many options available to you.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Loans from the federal government can be used by students looking to earn a degree. Repayment of student loans issued by the federal government will begin after graduation. The terms and conditions of the government’s student loans dictate how the money can be used.
Compared to private student loans, financial options from the government offer better interest rates, more flexible repayment options, and even tax benefits for students who use them responsibly. To be eligible for federal student loans, students must fill out the FAFSA application form. The earlier you submit your FAFSA, the more likely you are to be awarded financial help.
Work-study programs are a government program that employs students in part-time positions both on and off the university’s campus. Full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrate financial need are eligible for the program’s financial aid. When possible, work-study positions are linked to a student’s academic program. Most work-study students earn more than minimum pay.
Scholarships are available to students pursuing a computer science degree who are unable to afford their education. As opposed to other forms of financial options, such as loans, scholarships do not need to be paid back. As a result, they are one of the most sought-after kinds of assistance.
Each scholarship has its own set of requirements for submission. It’s not uncommon for scholarships to be awarded based on a student’s academic or athletic achievements. A student’s financial need or membership in a minority group may also qualify them for certain scholarships Computer science majors may be eligible for department-specific scholarships offered by their schools.
Depending on the student’s financial situation, tuition can be paid through private or federal loans. The majority of private loans are financed by banks and other financial organizations. This form of financial aid requires repayment and may have negative terms for borrowers. Private loans provide the advantage of allowing you to spend the money however you see fit.
Grants usually come from state, federal, and local governments. To be eligible for most programs, applicants must show financial need. You can get a grant of any size. Grants are a type of financial aid that does not need to be repaid, therefore students should begin searching for grants as soon as possible.
Computer Science Scholarships
Even though new policies and programs have been put in place to help ease the burden of student debt, it can still last for years. However, a student’s loans can be cut down with help from scholarships, grants, and work-study programs. Below is a list of computer science scholarships you can look into.
Google Student Veterans of America Scholarship
This scholarship is available to US veterans who are pursuing a degree in computer science or computer engineering. You can apply if you're an undergrad or a grad student. To be considered for this program, students must be able to maintain high academic standards. In addition, proof of veteran status, such as an honorable discharge or good standing with one's military branch, must be provided by the students.
- Eligibility Requirements: Must be a veteran or on active duty, enrollment in a computer science or engineering program, high academic standards
- Amount: $10,000
IEEE President’s Scholarship
The Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair's most excellent student project is honored with this prestigious award each year. Projects that win can be in the fields of electrical engineering, computer science, or any other IEEE discipline. To be eligible for the award, contestants must be fair finalists.
- Eligibility Requirements: Fair finalist, enrolled in an IEEE discipline
- Amount: $10,000 (payable over four years)
Lockheed Martin STEM Scholarship
Applicants must be American citizens and provide proof of financial need. Recipients must be enrolled, or plan to enroll, full-time in an accredited institution of higher learning program. All high school seniors, first-year college students, and sophomores are eligible to apply. Applicants must have a 2.5 GPA or higher and be interested in a paid internship at Lockheed Martin.
- Eligibility Requirements: 2.5 GPA, interested in paid internship, enrollment or plans of enrollment in an accredited institution of higher learning program
- Amount: $10,000 (renewable for up to $40,000 total)
Most Popular Scholarships by Specialization
Student Loans for Computer Science Majors
Students who seek to study have the option to take out a private or public loan to fund their education. Public loans are facilitated by the government and usually have relatively fixed interest rates. Private loans are given by several banks and lenders and typically require a credit check to be approved. Below, we provide more information about student loans for CS majors.
What Is the Average Student Loan for Computer Science Associate Degrees?
The 2015 estimate by the NCES for the average student loan for a computer science associate degree program was $12,980.
What Is the Average Student Loan for Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees?
The 2015 estimate by the NCES for the average student loan for students in a bachelor’s degree program was $18,700. This statistic covers students who have completed computer science bachelor’s degrees.
What Is the Average Student Loan for Computer Science Master’s Degrees?
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimated that graduates in Master of Science courses not linked to education got their degrees with an average of $66,070 in student loan debt in 2015.
How to Get Into the Best Schools for Computer Science
To get into the best schools for computer science, you should follow the school’s application process. For example, to get into a bachelor’s degree program, a high school diploma and a GPA of 2.0 are generally required. Additionally, most programs request SAT or ACT results from incoming freshmen. Prerequisites in English, natural science, and social science may also be required of candidates.
The application process for graduate-level degrees is usually more complex. You need a transcript from a completed bachelor’s degree program, 3.0 GPA, and GRE scores, depending on the school. Read on to find out how to get into the best computer science programs.
Top 5 Tips to Get Into the Best Programs at Computer Science Schools
- Strive for excellence in all your relevant courses.
- Do something you love to show off your computer science skills.
- Participate in computer science-related activities outside of school.
- Make sure that you acquire the practical computer science abilities you need.
- Work towards gathering experience for a master’s degree.
How to Get Into the Best Colleges and Universities
How Can You Get a Computer Science Internship While in College?
You can get a computer science internship while in college by maintaining your GPA, building a strong resume, and gaining hands-on experience. The best internships for computer science college students are often competitive, so you will need to put your best foot forward.
Maintain a High GPA
Internship interviewers use indicators such as GPA scores to narrow the pool of candidates from the hundreds or even thousands that may apply for the limited number of slots available. Anything above a 3.0 GPA is the optimum goal to aim for in terms of academic performance. Research the internship program you're interested in applying to, as it will likely specify the minimum GPA needed to be considered.
Participate in Extracurricular Activities
Getting involved in extracurricular activities is a terrific way for computer science students to meet new people, expand their professional networks, and learn new skills. Students can meet other students and work together to accomplish a common objective in these activities. Exercising one's communication and cooperation skills in extracurricular activities can help students land internships.
Get Hands-On Experience
Students in a computer science program can benefit from side projects that expose them to new programming languages and technologies outside the classroom. Start working on personal projects that are relevant to the internship program you're trying to apply for and use that to build real-world experience.
What Jobs Can You Get With a Computer Science Degree?
The jobs you can get with a computer science degree are in high-paying fields in information technology, ranging from application development to web design. As long as interest in the field exists, a computer science graduate can choose to work as a software developer, systems analyst, network architect, or security analyst.
Graduate degrees in computer science can help you specialize and learn profession-specific technical skills with the capacity to increase your earnings. For example, graduate programs with a software engineering concentration will convince your potential employer that you’re the best candidate for the computer science role.
Computer Science Degree Salary Outlook
The average computer science degree salary depends on the level of your degree. As you gain more advanced skills and years of professional experience, you will be able to negotiate a higher annual wage.
|Degree Level||Average Salary|
|Computer Science Associate Degree||$65,000|
|Computer Science Bachelor’s Degree||$87,000|
|Computer Science Master’s Degree||$105,000|
Computer Science Degree Jobs and Career Outlook: What Can You Do With a Computer Science Degree?
With a computer science degree, you can qualify for a wide range of roles, depending on your level of education. Some of the best computer science jobs are listed below and organized by degree level.
Top Computer Science Associate Degree Jobs
- Web Developer
- Computer Support Specialist
- Computer Programmer
- Network and Computer Systems Administrator
Top Computer Science Bachelor’s Degree Jobs
- Software Engineer
- Mobile App Developer
- UX designer
- AI Engineer
- Database Administrator
Top Computer Science Master’s Degree Jobs
- Computer and Information Research Scientist
- Computer Network Architect
- Software Development Engineer
- Software Developer
- Information Security Analyst
Highest-Paying Computer Science Jobs
|Highest-Paying Computer Science Jobs||Entry-Level Salary (0-12 Months)||Early-Career Salary(1-4 Years)||Mid-Career Salary (5-9 Years)||Experienced Salary (10-19 Years)|
|Information Security Analyst||$60,965||$68,985||$83,749||$107,620|
Professional Computer Science Organizations and Resources
For personal and professional development, networking with other scientists and engineers is critical. Professional societies organize conferences, produce journals, and assign reviewers and editors to publications in the science field. They set professional and educational standards for their members and give job and career assistance.
The Association for Computing Machinery
The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is a computer science academic society headquartered in the United States. It's the world's largest scientific and educational computer society founded in 1947. As a non-profit organization, the ACM connects educators, researchers, and professionals in order to foster communication, exchange resources, create a powerful network, and address the issues facing the field.
IEEE: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is a non-profit organization with headquarters in New York City and an operations center in Piscataway, New Jersey, dedicated to organizing a network of peers in electronic and electrical engineering. More than seven million documents are downloaded each month from the IEEE Xplore Digital Library, which has over 2.5 million documents.
National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
This organization advocates for and defends the legal rights of the engineer and computer science professionals at both federal and state levels. It also publishes news about the field, offers chances for continuing education, and does a lot more to support the engineering profession.
Computer Science in 10 Years: Is Getting a Computer Science Degree Worth It?
Yes, getting a computer science degree is worth it. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the software engineering field will experience 13 percent growth by 2030. The job outlook for some related professions is higher than average with computer information scientists predicted to see 22 percent growth in job openings.
By studying computer science at the undergraduate level, you can prepare yourselves for lucrative careers that offer opportunities for advancement and specialization. A STEM degree is definitely the holy grail in today’s business.
Additional Reading About Computer Science
Computer Science Degree FAQ
Yes, it’s worthwhile to pursue a degree in computer science. Computer science is one of the fields that is experiencing the most rapid growth. Graduates can find well-paying positions in high-demand fields, making a degree in computer science a valuable investment.
If you get a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, you can expect to earn around $87,000, according to PayScale. Earnings vary depending on experience, level of education, and certifications. However, graduates with computer science degrees often earn salaries that are above average in comparison to other graduates.
The majority of computer science associate programs require two to three years of full-time study to finish. Some colleges offer an online computer science degree that can be completed in less than two years or through an accelerated program. An on-campus program can also offer accelerated programs.
With a Master’s Degree in Computer Science, you can become a computer and research information scientist, computer hardware engineer, or computer network architect. You can also qualify for management positions.