Computer Science Degree Overview


Updated February 24, 2023

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Computer science covers a lot of ground and leads in many directions. Learn about the different computer science degrees and what type of roles they prepare graduates for. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Computer science has a connection to most areas of computer and information technology. The discipline now applies to most fields, including healthcare, business, sociology, and mathematics. As we become increasingly reliant on computer systems and computing, computer science knowledge and training have become highly desirable.

In response to this demand, the number of computer science degrees conferred grew an average of 9.4% per year between 2010 and 2020, per the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This guide explores the different types of computer science degrees and the benefits of the training. Discover various degree levels and the opportunities they provide.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science is the study of computing systems to understand and use technology in various industries. Computer science professionals seek solutions to problems, create improvements to processes, and make forecasts for future developments. Graduates with all levels of education in this field can enter a rapidly growing sector with strong salary potential.

Career outcomes for computer science students depend on education, experience, and certification status. Students who complete associate degrees in computer science can pursue careers as web developers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), web developers earn a median annual salary of $78,300.

Students who complete master's degrees in computer science can pursue roles as computer and information research scientists. According to the BLS, professionals in this career earn a median annual salary of $131,490.

Computer Science Degrees and Concentrations

Why Get a Computer Science Degree?

While the discipline can be challenging, a computer science degree has many benefits. Students in these programs develop widely used computer and problem-solving skills. Graduates can join the workforce with professional versatility and job security, along with the following:

  • Job Growth: The BLS projects a strong 15% growth rate for computer and information technology occupations from 2021-2031.
  • Financial Rewards: According to the BLS, the median annual salary for computer and information technology occupations was $97,430 in May 2021. Computer network architects, one of the higher-paying positions, made a median annual wage of $120,520.
  • Career Flexibility: The various computer science degrees and specializations allow students to pursue various career paths, such as networking, databases, security, and development. Professionals can also switch paths by building experience, completing continuing education, and earning industry certifications.
  • Global Opportunities: The presence of technology around the world provides near-limitless career opportunities for computer science professionals. With the help of translation and remote work technologies, many professionals can access out-of-state and international positions without relocating.
  • Making a Difference: Computer science professionals can create and innovate their work to empower individuals, organizations, and societies. They solve problems, improve processes, and enhance standard operations in many ways. Overall, computer science makes a major difference in how we function.

Types of Computer Science Degrees

Students can choose from associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in computer science. Lower levels of education usually take less time to complete and often cost less than advanced degrees. More advanced levels of education may lead to better-paying jobs with more responsibility. Prospective computer science students should consider their personal and professional goals before applying.

The following sections explore these types of computer science degrees, highlighting the typical formats, requirements, and postgraduate opportunities.

Associate Degrees

An associate degree in computer science typically requires two years of study in general education and computer science fundamentals. Students learn the principles of programming and web development, along with the basics of design and testing. They develop skills in algorithmic design, analysis, and problem-solving.

While associate degrees offer fewer concentration options than more advanced programs, the breadth of training allows learners to identify their areas of interest. As a result, many students begin their computer science studies with associate degrees and then pursue more specialized bachelor's programs afterward.

Associate programs often feature more affordable credits and more accessible admission requirements than bachelor's programs, making this path more attractive. Graduates can enter the workforce quickly to pursue entry-level computer programmer roles and related jobs. The shorter study times can offer quicker access to careers and on-the-job training.

Bachelor's Degrees

At the bachelor's level, a computer science degree typically includes four years of study. These programs cover foundational studies in programming, operating systems, and computer systems. They may also delve into computation, data structures, and software engineering, along with intermediate-level topics in many of these areas.

The popularity of bachelor's degrees in computer science has generated many program types and formats. Students have access to in-person, online, and hybrid programs, along with various concentration options. In a specialization like cybersecurity, students learn about the major issues in information security and how computer science professionals manage them.

Other popular specializations include:

  • Job Growth: Software engineering
  • Systems architecture
  • Networks
  • Systems and software
  • Algorithms
  • Data analytics

Bachelor's students typically gain skills using programming languages for various purposes, along with advanced problem-solving and critical thinking skills. The comprehensiveness of these programs allows graduates to pursue many computer and information technology occupations, including information security analyst and database administrator roles.

Master's Degrees

Master's degrees in computer science usually require two years of full-time enrollment to build on undergraduate training in programming theory, design, networks, databases, and security. These programs investigate and analyze computing challenges and emerging technologies, challenging students to develop solutions and new computing applications.

Master's students acquire advanced communication, leadership, and analytical skills. Graduate programs also provide many specialization opportunities, allowing enrollees to acquire highly specialized technical skills. For example, data science concentrations teach students to mine, process, and analyze large datasets for descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive purposes.

Other popular specializations include:

Earning a master's degree can lead to some of the best computer science jobs, including computer information researcher roles. Professionals can use master's programs to advance their skills and qualifications to pursue senior or leadership positions. Many schools make this process easier by offering flexible online and hybrid programs.

Doctoral Degrees

Students may have access to multiple types of computer science degrees at the doctoral level, depending on the school and academic path. While most schools offer a research-based Ph.D., some feature a professional doctorate, such as a doctorate in computer science (DCS). These programs vary in length, with DCS programs taking about three years and a Ph.D. taking 4-5 years.

Ph.D. students develop skills required to contribute to academic institutions and discourse, including original research and theoretical analysis. Professional programs focus on practical skills that prepare graduates for high-ranking positions within organizations.

Despite the different approaches, both types of computer science degrees may feature similar concentrations. In machine learning, for example, students explore theories or technological developments that improve how computers learn and advance their computing capabilities.

Other popular specializations include:

  • Bioinformatics
  • Computer algebra
  • Cryptography
  • Quantum computing
  • Software engineering

While most doctoral graduates pursue careers in research and academia, they also have access to the top professional positions, such as systems management.

Do You Need a Degree to Work in Computer Science?

Depending on the job and employer, a degree in computer science may not be necessary for a career in the field. Some employers hire entry-level professionals who complete bootcamps, certificate programs, or self-study paths. Certain computer science certifications may also be available, which can help these individuals stand out.

Typically, however, employers seek candidates with degrees from accredited institutions. College degrees demonstrate that applicants have a solid educational foundation. The following table highlights some of the pros and cons of bootcamp vs. degrees.

Degree Pros Degree Cons Bootcamp Pros Bootcamp Cons

Access to more jobs, certifications, and continuing education

Takes more time and costs more money than bootcamps

Accelerated programs that cost less than degrees

Fewer employment and certification opportunities

Programs are accredited and industry approved

Admission and program expectations more challenging

Focused on relevant and practical knowledge and skills

Programs typically do not hold standardized accreditation

Broader range of topics and specializations

Study materials may be less focused or outdated

Specialized disciplines with up-to-date materials

Accelerated training can be intense and require more support

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Questions About Computer Science Degrees

What is the best degree to get in computer science?

The best computer science degree depends on the individual's professional and educational goals. An associate degree offers the quickest path to the field, while a bachelor's is the most widely applicable degree. Master's degrees allow graduates to pursue leadership positions, and doctorates can lead to roles in academia.

Is there a lot of math in computer science?

Yes, but the depth of the math required depends on the program and degree level. Most computer science degrees feature courses in calculus, algebra, and statistics. Students also work with discrete mathematics for algorithms.

Is a degree in computer science worth it?

Yes. A computer science degree is valuable for aspiring computer and information technology professionals. Most employers require a computer-related degree, and the broadness of computer science makes this discipline particularly useful.

Where can I learn how to get a computer science degree?

Readers can follow the links on this page to learn how to get computer science degrees. They can also research more about the programs offered by local or online schools through their websites and catalogs.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.

Page last reviewed Nov 18, 2022

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