What Is a Computer Science Degree?

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Prepare for a variety of tech careers across many industries with a computer science degree. Read on to explore whether a CS degree is right for you.

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Computer science is a broad field that encompasses everything from computer systems and networks to cybersecurity. Computer scientists may work as software developers, computer systems analysts, database administrators, or other careers related to the way software systems operate. If you are interested in entering the in-demand and high-growth field of computer science, you may consider earning a computer science degree.

A computer science degree, commonly called a CS degree, is proof that you’ve completed a computer science program and may be qualified for a variety of technology-focused careers. While pursuing this degree, you can expect to learn about programming languages, data science, software development, information security, and network architecture.

In this article, we'll discuss the different types of computer science degrees, concentrations you may pursue, as well as careers you may want to consider after graduation.

Types of computer science degrees

You'll typically encounter four levels of computer science degrees: associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral. Let's take a closer look at each.

Associate degree in computer science

Associate degrees require you to complete approximately 60 credits, which typically takes two years of full-time study. After earning an associate degree in computer science, you might be qualified for some entry-level positions, such as computer programmer, web developer, or computer systems administrator. You might also be able to transfer that degree to a bachelor's degree program, which you might earn with approximately two more years of studying.

Bachelor's degree in computer science

Often, when people talk about a computer science degree, they're referring to a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree in computer science will typically take around four years to complete if you attend school full-time, as most programs require you to complete 120 to 128 credits. After earning your bachelor's degree, you might be qualified for entry-level jobs in software design, computer engineering, and computer science.

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Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

University of London

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Master's degree in computer science

If you want to advance your career or get into a high-level job as a computer and information research scientist, you might choose to pursue a master's degree. Earning a Master of Computer Science usually requires you to complete 30 to 45 credits, which some full-time students accomplish in 18 months to two years.

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Master of Computer Science

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Master of Computer Science

Arizona State University

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Doctoral degree in computer science

A PhD or Doctor of Computer Science is typically the highest degree level in the field. The requirements vary from program to program, but most of these terminal degrees take between four and five years to complete. Many doctoral programs focus heavily on research and theory, and most people go on to get jobs in teaching, research, or writing.

Read more: Is Computer Science Hard?

Common computer science concentrations

Computer science is a broad field, and the types of programs vary among educational institutions. Here are some common types of computer science focus areas to consider:

  • Computer engineering focuses on creating digital systems and combining software and hardware. 

  • Computer forensics focuses on how you can use investigation techniques to discover and preserve evidence from a computing device.

  • Computer programming covers topics like software development, operating systems, and web design.

  • Data science meshes computer science with statistics to inform strategies for governments, businesses, and organizations.

  • Information technology focuses on protecting information security, resolving equipment or network issues, and creating software apps.

  • Network administration focuses on maintaining, installing, and upgrading computer networks.

  • Software engineering focuses on a variety of IT areas, including web design, programming, networking, and operating systems.

  • Web development focuses on writing code, developing web applications, and working with graphics.

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning focus on the development of intelligent systems and machines.

Read more: What Should I Major In? 5 Things to Evaluate

Benefits of getting a CS degree

The knowledge and skills that you'll gain while earning a CS degree can empower you to create the next program or app that changes the world. You can gain broad and in-depth knowledge to solve complex, real-world challenges. Through a degree program, you may also expand your network and meet people in the industry, which can be helpful throughout your career.

Perhaps most significantly, a CS degree can enable you to work toward a number of in-demand and high-paying computer science career paths. Let's examine those possibilities a bit further.

Computer science careers

Computer science is among the most in-demand bachelor's degree majors, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) [1]. Additionally, jobs in the computer science field are growing faster than the average. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that from 2020 to 2030, computer science and information technology jobs will grow by 13 percent [2]. 

A variety of factors have resulted in the increased demand for computer science degree holders. Along with the world's ever-evolving reliance on technology, there’s also an increased demand for virtual capabilities. Other factors at play include the growing emphasis on cloud computing, information security, and big data collection, storage, and analysis.

You can find computer science jobs across nearly every industry. The opportunities that are right for you depend on your interests, skills, values, and goals. Several positions to consider include:

  • Software developer: Create software programs and applications.

  • Database administrator: Develop data resources used to retrieve and store information, in addition to analyzing and evaluating users' data needs.

  • Computer hardware engineer: Design and develop computer components, including routers and circuit boards.

  • Computer systems analyst: Analyze and assess computer systems for organizations and tell them what changes they need to make to increase efficiency.

  • Web developer: Create the technical structure for websites and ensure pages are easily accessible.

  • Information security analyst: Work to protect networks, websites, businesses, and individuals from security breaches and cyberattacks.

  • Computer and information research scientist: Invent the technology used in business, medicine, science, and other fields to solve complex problems.

  • Computer and information systems manager: Assess companies' technology needs and existing technology in addition to implementing new data systems.

Learn more about what you can do with a computer science degree.

Computer science degree salary

These in-demand careers tend to come with above-average salaries. NACE’s data lists computer science as the highest paid bachelor's degree major, projecting the salary for new CS graduates to be $75,900, an increase by 5.2 percent for the class of 2022 as compared to the class of 2021 [1].

According to the BLS, across all career stages the median annual salary for computer and information technology occupations is $97,430, which is much higher than the median annual wage across all occupations, $45,760 [2].

Your expected salary will vary according to your particular computer science role. For example, computer and information research scientists earn a median salary of $131,490, while computer programmers in the US earn a median annual salary of $93,000.

Keep learning

Browse new computer science courses and join Coursera for free to start learning today. As you consider earning your computer science degree, explore options ranging from bachelor’s to master’s offered by top universities.

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Article sources

1. National Association of Colleges and Employers. "NACE Survey Salary: Winter 2022, https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2022/publication/executive-summary/nace-2022-winter-salary-survey-executive-summary.pdf." Accessed May 11, 2022.

2. US Bureau Of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm." Accessed May 11, 2022.

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