Computer Science Degree Overview


Updated May 30, 2024

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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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As technology advances and shapes various industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, and education, the demand for skilled computer science professionals continues to rise.

A computer science degree develops skills like programming, cybersecurity, and critical thinking, all valuable for in-demand technology careers. These programs typically offer concentrations like health informatics or artificial intelligence that target subfields of computer science.

Discover more about pursuing a computer science degree and the opportunities each degree level offers.

What Is Computer Science?

Computer science is the study of computers and computing systems, including design, development, application, and theory. Although modern computer science dates back at least to the early 20th century, the first computer science department did not appear until 1962.

Today, computer science is a popular major with multiple subfields, including cybersecurity, computer architecture, and artificial intelligence. Coursework in these programs often includes programming languages, software engineering, and calculus.

After graduating, computer science majors can work in corporations, hospitals, research centers, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or trade associations to design new programs, keep data secure, and optimize digital operations.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Why Get a Computer Science Degree?

While the discipline can be challenging, computer science programs can help students develop marketable computer and problem-solving skills. Other benefits of these degrees include:

  • Job Growth: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a much-faster-than-average growth rate for computer and information technology occupations from 2022 to 2032.
  • Financial Rewards: According to the BLS, the median annual salary for computer science- and technology-related occupations was $104,420 in 2023, more than twice the median salary for all workers nationwide. Some careers made even higher median wages — for example, computer network architects earned a median annual salary of $129,840 in 2023.
  • Career Flexibility: Computer science degrees and specializations allow students to pursue various career paths in niches like networking, databases, security, and development. Professionals can also change paths by building experience, completing continuing education, and earning industry certifications.
  • Global Opportunities: The worldwide presence of technology provides an array of career opportunities for computer science professionals. With remote work technologies, many professionals can even 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 pursue associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees as well as certificates in computer science. Students can usually finish associate degrees and certificates more quickly than other programs, but advanced degrees can qualify graduates for higher-level jobs that pay higher wages.

Prospective computer science students should consider their goals to determine which degree or credential they need. The following sections explore these types of computer science degrees, highlighting the typical formats, requirements, and career opportunities.

Computer Science Certificates

Schools offer certificates at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Undergraduate certificates include bachelor's-level courses, while graduate certificates comprise master's-level classes. Often, certificates focus on a single specialization, such as networking or cybersecurity. A computer science certificate usually requires 1-2 semesters of full-time study.

Many colleges and universities offer online certificates either through their own e-learning portals or via an educational platform such as edX or Coursera. Upon completing a certificate, graduates can apply for a job or transfer their credits toward a degree. Some schools create stackable certificates where a student can combine credits from several computer science certificates toward a degree.

Associate Degrees in Computer Science

An associate degree in computer science typically requires two years of full-time study. Coursework includes general education classes and computer science fundamentals. Enrollees 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 explore the field and find areas of interest they can pursue with a more specialized bachelor's program.

Associate degrees often feature more affordable credits and accessible admission requirements than bachelor's programs. Graduates can enter the workforce quickly to pursue entry-level computer programmer roles and related jobs.

Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science

In the 2021-22 school year, 108,503 students were enrolled in a computer science undergraduate program, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), making this major one of the ten most popular fields of study that year. As a computer science student, you can sharpen your analytical and critical thinking skills while learning about programming languages, networks, and software design.

You can earn a bachelor's degree in computer science online or on campus. These degrees usually require 120 credits and take four years of full-time study. Coursework includes general education classes and electives alongside major-specific courses about topics like full-stack development, computer science theory, databases, and artificial intelligence.

Undergraduate specializations can include:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Data science
  • Game design
  • Information systems
  • Software engineering

According to Payscale data from April 2024, people with a BS in computer science earn an average annual salary of $93,000, while graduates with a computer science master's degree bring in an average of $114,000.

Master's Degrees in Computer Science

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

Master's students acquire advanced communication, leadership, and analytical skills. Graduate programs also provide many specialization opportunities, allowing enrollees to acquire specialized technical knowledge. 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 careers in computer information research. Professionals can use master's programs to advance their skills and qualifications to pursue senior or leadership positions. Some schools make this process easier by offering flexible online and hybrid programs to fit working students' schedules.

Doctoral Degrees in Computer Science

While most institutions offer research-based Ph.D. programs at the doctoral level, some schools feature a professional doctorate, such as a doctorate in computer science (DCS). These programs vary in length, with DCS programs often taking about three years and Ph.D.s taking 4-5 years.

Doctoral students contribute to academic discourse through original research and theoretical analysis. Professional programs focus on practical skills that prepare graduates for high-ranking positions within organizations.

Both types of computer science degrees often feature similar concentrations. In machine learning programs, 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 can also qualify for top positions in systems management.

Do You Need a Computer Science Degree to Get a Job?

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. Computer science certifications — which are distinct from certificates — verify in-demand skills and can also help workers stand out.

However, employers typically 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

  • Access to more jobs, certifications, and continuing education
  • Programs are accredited and industry-approved
  • Broader array of topics and specializations

Degree Cons

  • Takes more time and costs more money than bootcamps
  • Admissions and program expectations are more challenging
  • Study materials may be less focused or outdated

Bootcamp Pros

  • Accelerated programs that cost less than degrees
  • Focused on relevant and practical knowledge and skills
  • Specialized disciplines with up-to-date materials

Bootcamp Cons

  • Fewer employment and certification opportunities
  • Programs typically do not hold standardized accreditation
  • Accelerated training can be intense and require more support

Resources for Computer Science Majors

While earning a computer science degree, learners can supplement their learning with tools like educational software and internships. Consider the following resources for computer science majors:


Use CodePen to collaborate with others as you write, develop, and improve code. Think of it like a social media platform where coders can share their work with others, test new code, and learn from other professionals.

Two Minute Papers

This YouTube channel dissects research papers on complex artificial intelligence topics and turns them into short, digestible videos. The eye-catching visuals make understanding research discoveries about machine learning, digital animation, and similar topics easier.

National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition

This annual competition asks cybersecurity students to put their skills to the test as they secure a network with up to 10 servers in a timed event.


WayUp connects students and job-seekers with internships and entry-level opportunities. The searchable database provides internship opportunities in full-stack engineering, product management, data science, and information security.

Brian Will

This YouTube channel provides introductory videos about programming, languages, and game design projects.

Questions About Computer Science Degrees

What is the best degree to get in computer science?

The best computer science degree depends on your professional and educational goals. An associate degree in computer science 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?

A computer science degree can be worth it for aspiring computer and information technology professionals. Many employers require a computer-related degree, and the broadness of computer science means you can qualify for jobs in diverse industries.

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

You learn more about getting a computer science degree by exploring other guides here on or by reaching out to schools that interest you.

Page last reviewed November 18, 2022.

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