What Is Computer Science? A Complete Guide to Computer Science Jobs and Programs
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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.
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The computer science degree can come with specializations, giving students broader knowledge in a specific area they might enjoy.
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.
- Computer support specialist
- Network support specialist
- Quality assurance associate
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.
- Computer technician
- Network administrator
- Software support specialist
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.
- Computer and information systems manager
- Computer network architect
- Computer programmer
- Computer systems administrator
- Computer systems analyst
- Information security analyst
- Software developer
- Web developer
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.
- Chief technology officer
- Computer and information research scientist
- Computer scientist
- Senior software developer
- Senior software engineer
- Technical program manager
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.
- 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.
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12 Popular Computer Science Program Concentrations
There are many ways you can use computer science in today’s world. A program concentration can help you tailor your education toward a specific career.
Some popular computer science degree concentrations include cybersecurity, software engineering, and game design.
An AI concentration teaches you to design and program computer intelligence and autonomous systems. You’ll learn about machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and robotics.
Common applications of AI today include digital assistants like Siri, smart cars, chatbots, and advanced surveillance. Graduates can pursue a career as a machine learning engineer, AI researcher, or data scientist.
Computer Graphics and Visualization
A computer graphics and visualization concentration entails creating images and animations with computer technology. You’ll also learn to create software that generates computer graphics, design camera technology, and plan physical simulations to represent motion.
Students take classes in computer animation, computer games, computational geometry, physics-based rendering, and learning-based image synthesis.
A computer systems concentration will teach you about designing distributed systems and solving common problems. You’ll learn to incorporate computer hardware like processors and storage with software systems.
Computer systems students take classes such as database systems, embedded systems, cloud computing, computer architecture, and operating systems.
Cybersecurity concentrations focus on protecting computer networks and systems from cyber-attacks and security threats. You’ll learn techniques for encryption, how to detect attacks with digital forensics, and how to enforce network security after testing vulnerabilities.
Common classes include cybercrime investigation, network security, and applied cryptography. Graduates often pursue careers as security analysts, cybersecurity consultants, ethical hackers, and network security technicians.
Simply put, data science is the study of all things data. You’ll learn how to collect, process, and analyze large amounts of information to uncover patterns and trends.
Classes include data acquisition, predictive modeling, data analysis, and data reporting. You’ll also work with real-world data to gain experience solving problems using data-driven techniques.
Game Design and Development
Game design and development degrees are all about creating and building video games. Using the latest computer science tools and technologies, you’ll learn how to design and develop games to bring your ideas to life.
Common courses for this concentration include game design, programming, 3D modeling, animation, and storytelling. You’ll get hands-on experience creating games from start to finish and work with other game design students on group projects.
A human-computer concentration involves the relationship between people and technology. The degree explores how computers can be designed to work seamlessly with humans to improve our daily lives — and how increased digitization impacts society.
Students learn how to design and build technology that is intuitive and user-friendly. You might take classes like human-computer interaction, user experience design, and human-centered software design.
In a machine learning concentration, you’ll study how computers learn and make predictions based on data. Machine learning allows computers to automate decision-making and learn from experience.
Machine learning professionals work on projects like self-driving cars and image recognition. Examples of machine learning classes include deep learning systems, scalability in machine learning, and probabilistic graphical models.
Computer networking focuses on how data and information is transmitted and received between different devices and systems. In other words, you’ll learn how computers and devices exchange data and resources.
A networks concentration focuses on network administration, design, and security.
Graduates can build networks and secure communication systems for organizations. Common careers include network engineer, network security administrator, systems manager, and IT administrator.
In a programming language computer science degree, you’ll learn about the design and implementation of computer programming languages. You’ll also explore the mathematical and logical foundations behind computer programming.
Classes you might take include operating systems, programming language semantics, theory of computation, and computer networks.
A robotics concentration teaches you how to design robotic systems, construct robots, and develop robotic learning techniques. You’ll get hands-on experience with robotics and explore theoretical concepts regarding a robotic future.
Potential courses include intelligent robotics, mobile robotics, robotic kinematics, advanced 3D computer graphics, machine learning, and computer vision.
In a software engineering concentration, you’ll learn how to design and develop software systems. Common courses in software engineering include quality and security testing, mobile application development, UI/UX design, secure coding techniques, and systems architecture.
Graduates can pursue careers like software engineer, UI/UX developer, systems architecture designer, software developer, and full-stack developer.
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%.
|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|
|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|
|Network and Computer Systems Administrators||$80,600||3%||Bachelor’s|
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.