What Is a Computer Science Degree?

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jan 14, 2022

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 to networks, to cybersecurity. To enter the field of computer science, you may want to earn a computer science degree to develop the necessary skills to work in the field, along with enhancing your resume. But what is 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 learn about programming languages, data science, software development, information security, and network architecture.

Demand for graduates with a CS degree is high, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) [1]. Additionally, NACE’s data suggests the salary for new CS graduates is projected to increase by 7.1 percent for the class of 2021 as compared to the class of 2020.

A variety of factors have resulted in the increased demand for CS degree holders. Along with the world's ever-evolving reliance on technology, there’s also an increased demand for virtual capabilities, particularly after the spike in remote work caused by COVID-19. Other factors at play include the growing emphasis on cloud computing, information security, and big data collection, storage, and analysis.

Read more: What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree

Common types of computer science degrees

Computer science is a broad field, and the types of programs vary among educational institutions. Here are some common types of computer science degrees 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.

CS degree levels 

You'll typically encounter four levels of computer science degrees: associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral. Associate degrees usually 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.

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.

Read more: How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

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.

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.

Benefits of getting a CS degree

The knowledge and skills that you'll gain while earning a CS degree could 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 could also get a chance to network and meet people in the industry, which can be helpful throughout your career. Two additional benefits that might motivate you include job opportunities and salary. 

Job opportunities

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 [3]. 

Computer science jobs can be found 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.

Expected salary

In addition to the high demand for jobs in computer science, there’s also high earning potential. According to the BLS, the average annual salary across computer and information technology jobs is $91,250, which is a higher wage than other occupations [4]. The expected salary differs according to the job itself. For example, computer and information research scientists might expect to earn $126,830, while computer programmers in the United States earn a median annual salary of $89,190.

Get started with these tips

If you’re considering a degree, explore options in computer science ranging from bachelor’s to master’s, offered by top universities. Enroll in an open course to see if a degree program is a good fit before you apply. Options include:

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Article sources

1. National Association of Colleges and Employers. "NACE Survey Salary, https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2021/publication/executive-summary/2021-nace-salary-survey-winter-executive-summary.pdf." Accessed January 12, 2022.

2. Indeed. "Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It? What Employers Really Think, https://www.indeed.com/lead/what-employers-think-about-coding-bootcamp." Accessed January 12, 2022.

3. US Bureau Of Labor Statistics. "Computer and Information Technology Occupations, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm." Accessed January 12, 2022.

4. US Bureau Of Labor Statistics. "Psychologists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm." Accessed January 12, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jan 14, 2022

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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