What Is Computer Science? A Complete Guide to Computer Science Jobs and Programs

Woman sitting at a computer desk with monitors showing code

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What Is Computer Science Exactly?

Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems. It encompasses a wide array of tech fields — from programming and software development to algorithms, data structures, and artificial intelligence.

Along with the many tech skills you’ll develop in a computer science degree program, you’ll also graduate with critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In addition, you’ll gain the ability to work with new technologies and programming languages.

Computer science grads can pursue a variety of careers in fields like software development, data analysis, cybersecurity engineering, and machine learning.

What Computer Science Degree Should You Get?

You can pursue a variety of computer science degrees and certificates. The more education you have, the higher your salary potential and the easier it will be to advance your career.


A computer science certificate usually takes less than a year to complete and can qualify you for entry-level jobs in computer science. If you’re already a computer science professional, a certificate can further your career by increasing your expertise.

Some students choose to complete a postbaccalaureate or graduate certificate to earn skills specific to computer science that their degree didn’t cover. Other students can earn a computer science certificate without a college degree.

Typically, certificates have specializations like software engineering, cybersecurity, and web development. You’ll take courses specific to your chosen certificate, such as systems administration, computer networking, and data structures.

Potential Jobs

  • Computer support specialist
  • Network support specialist
  • Quality assurance associate

Associate Degree

An associate degree in computer science takes around two years and prepares you for some entry-level positions in computer science.

This undergraduate degree can be a great choice for students interested in starting a career in technology but who may not have the time or resources for a four-year degree.

You’ll receive hands-on experience with various computer systems and technologies, making you a more competitive candidate for entry-level roles.

Potential Jobs

  • Computer technician
  • Network administrator
  • Software support specialist

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s in computer science will qualify you for many careers. Most entry- and mid-level positions in computer science require a bachelor’s degree.

This degree provides a solid foundation in computer science principles and programming languages and can also help you hone your problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. You can choose a concentration for your computer science degree to further customize your education.

Potential Jobs

  • Computer and information systems manager
  • Computer network architect
  • Computer programmer
  • Computer systems administrator
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Information security analyst
  • Software developer
  • Web developer

Master’s Degree

Earning a master’s in computer science is a great way to advance your career and raise your salary potential. This degree can help you develop a deeper understanding of computer science concepts, earn expertise in a specialization, and stay up to date with the field’s latest developments.

A master’s in computer science typically takes two years to complete. With this degree, you can qualify for higher-level, specialized positions and leadership roles.

Potential Jobs

  • Chief technology officer
  • Computer and information research scientist
  • Computer scientist
  • Senior software developer
  • Senior software engineer
  • Technical program manager

Doctoral Degree

The curriculum for most computer science doctoral programs centers on a specific research project or topic. Ph.D. programs can last up to five years and often involve teaching.

While a doctoral degree in computer science isn’t required for most computer science careers, the few careers that may warrant a Ph.D. include teaching at the college level and advanced research lab positions.

Potential Jobs

  • Computer science professor
  • Research and development scientist
  • Senior computer scientist

Why Accreditation Matters for Your Computer Science Program

Students must attend an accredited college or university to receive federal financial aid, qualify for professional licenses, and pursue graduate studies.

Accreditation is a process in which educational institutions and programs are evaluated and recognized for meeting certain standards of quality and excellence. Accreditors are third-party organizations that assess schools on curriculum rigor, faculty qualifications, and student outcomes.

Legitimate accreditors must be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. You can look for your school or program on either site’s database.

Computer Science Jobs and Salaries

Most jobs in computer science earn high salaries and boast positive job growth. One of the highest-earning jobs in computer science is computer and information systems manager, with a median salary of $159,010 per year.

Overall, computer and information technology jobs are projected to grow by 15% between 2021 and 2031. Web developer career opportunities are projected to grow by 30%, whereas computer programmers are projected to decline by 10%.

10 Popular Computer Science Jobs
Job Median Annual Salary (May 2021) Job Growth Rate (2021-2031) Minimum Education Required
Computer and Information Systems Managers $159,010 16% Bachelor’s
Computer and Information Research Scientists $131,490 21% Master’s
Software Developers $120,730 25% Bachelor’s
Computer Network Architects $120,520 4% Bachelor’s
Information Security Analysts $102,600 35% Bachelor’s
Database Administrators and Architects $101,000 9% Bachelor’s
Computer Systems Analysts $99,270 9% Bachelor’s
Computer Programmers $93,000 -10% Bachelor’s
Network and Computer Systems Administrators $80,600 3% Bachelor’s
Web Developers $77,030 30% Bachelor’s

Source: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions About Computer Science

Is computer science a good degree?

Computer science can be a great degree to pursue, especially if you’re interested in technology and enjoy solving complex problems. With a computer science degree, you can qualify for many careers with solid job security and high salary potential.

Computer science skills are in great demand across many industries, making graduates of computer science programs highly sought after by employers.

Is a computer science degree a lot of math?

Computer science degrees typically involve several math courses. Basic math concepts such as algorithms, logic, and discrete mathematics are fundamental to computer science. Still, the amount of math you study can vary depending on the program and your specific area of focus.

For example, user experience (UX) concentrations usually involve less math than machine learning. If you like computer science but aren’t strong in math, don’t let this discourage you from pursuing a computer science degree.

Is computer science a lot of coding?

Most computer science programs involve a lot of coding, as computer science is essentially the study of writing code and creating software in different programming languages. Even specializations like network security and web development require you to communicate with computer systems using code.

Is a computer science degree hard?

Computer science can be a challenging degree, but just how hard it is for you will ultimately depend on your unique skills and passions. The curriculum covers an array of topics, from programming and software development to algorithms and data structures.

If you have specific interests and skills in these topics, the courses will likely be easier for you. However, many programs offer support and resources to help students succeed if they approach their studies with dedication and a willingness to learn.

Is computer science a high-paying field?

Computer science is generally considered a high-paying field. The median annual salary for all computer and information technology jobs was $97,430 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — that’s more than double the median salary for all occupations.