Is Getting a Computer Science Degree Worth It?


Updated August 29, 2023

Is a computer science degree good for your career? It could be, but there are many entry points into the computer science field. Explore this guide to determine the best approach for you. 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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Close up of a group of students in the university working on their computers Credit: Marko Geber / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Whether or not a computer science degree is worth it depends on where you want to put your effort: in school or in the field.

Some professionals in the field have degrees, but some do not. According to a 2019 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 25% of computer information systems managers didn't have a bachelor's degree. In 2021, the BLS reported $159,010 as the median annual pay for this role.

You don't always need a computer science degree to pass a skills test and land a tech job. Employers may want to see curiosity, passion, and proof that you can perform the computer science role you applied to.

But a degree might help you hone the communication and commitment skills that can be harder to self-teach — and unlearn any bad programming habits you might have picked up.

How you learn about computer science is up to you. This guide overviews all of the steps you might need on your career path.

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The Goal of Computer Science Degree Programs

Any computer science program that's worth it will leave you with useful industry skills. The longer your educational journey, the more skills you may have after completion. How much an employer pays you for those skills depends on which branch of computer science you work in.

Bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science require four or six years of study, respectively, and can lead to potentially high-paying roles like information security (infosec) analysts or network architects.

A certificate or associate degree in computer science can introduce you to key concepts and get you into the field faster so you can start earning while you're learning.

If you seek high pay and a spot at the forefront of research and academia, then a doctoral degree in computer science might be for you — if you can dedicate around 10 years of full-time study.

Degree Level Goal of Program Expected Skills Potential Jobs Total Investment
Certificate Programs Provide competency and accessible, focused entry to field Single-skill focus: cybersecurity, system administration, etc. Few jobs require only a certificate, but a certificate could help you pass a skills test Varies by course length, works flexibly with existing role
Associate Degrees Give learners a broad skill set and quicker entry to field Baseline coding or programming skills Entry-level, often IT support roles; web development 2 years of full-time study
Bachelor's Degrees Offer thorough education and overview of field Develop software programs and ecosystems Architect, infosec analyst 4 years of full-time study
Master's Degrees Help learners specialize, potential salary increase Advanced knowledge of bachelor's-level concepts Machine learning/ AI roles; advanced cryptography 2 years of full-time study
Doctoral Degrees Prep learners for a future in research and academia Practical skills for use in research or high-level management Roles in academia or system management 3-5 years of full-time study (beyond master's)

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

If the computer science job you want is in research, then you may need a doctorate. Other than that, you do not need a degree to get a job in computer science. However, data indicates your salary may get a boost from having higher education.

According to the BLS, computer science careers that require a bachelor's degree can net you a median annual salary anywhere from $78,000 - $120,000.

Limited Payscale data shows that software engineers with an associate degree earned an average salary of $72,000 annually as of February 2023, while bachelor's degree holders in the same role made $89,000 annually.

There may not be a large difference in the jobs open to you with a bachelor's degree in computer science vs. a master's. However, a master's degree has the potential to advance your career, either by helping you get a raise with your current employer or making you a more competitive candidate in the job market.

Some roles, like computer information research scientist, might require a master's degree, but positions like infosec analyst and computer network architect hire at both the bachelor's and master's levels.

The Advantages of Coding Bootcamps Over Degree Programs

Degrees cover a wide variety of competencies, while bootcamps focus on specific skill sets or programming languages.

Coding bootcamps can help you hone a specific skill, like vulnerability testing, UX/UI design, or coding in a certain programming language. Since these programs offer specializations, you can enroll in a certain type of bootcamp and tailor your resume and portfolio towards specific computer science roles.

Some bootcamps offer career coaches and employer connections to their graduates, which can benefit career switchers and those just starting in the computer science field.

While it's true you can complete a bootcamp quicker than a degree program, don't think of it like a painless "fast pass" to a computer science career — the timeline might be shorter, but full-time bootcamps can involve months of eight-hour days, not including prep courses or homework.

Bootcamps and degree programs can be flexible. Students can often choose from part-time and online-only course offerings for both options.

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How to Learn About Computer Science on Your Own

Free prep courses (the classes you may take before you can enroll in a bootcamp) are one of many ways you can teach yourself computer science skills. Other self-taught options include:


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free to everyone. They distill big concepts into skills you can learn on a flexible schedule. A lot of MOOCs have quizzes, lectures, and interactive assignments. MOOCs are available in both synchronous and self-paced formats.

MOOCs do not cost money, but they do cost time. You must be ready to invest your effort and stick to a schedule to see the course through. Not all MOOCs award completion certificates, but you can use the free learning experience to determine if you want to pursue a computer science degree. Another option to see whether computer science is right for you is to enroll in a free coding bootcamp.


Elements of computer science, like programming, might be easier to learn interactively with code-alongs (also called follow-alongs) or hands-on homework, but there are still some analog resources out there.

  • The Pragmatic Programmer by David Thomas and Andrew Hunt. This book is often among onboarding materials because it speaks to the core of software development.
  • Types and Programming Languages by Benjamin E. Pierce. Steep in price (but cheaper than a bootcamp), this text may be a good introduction to programming language theory.
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. While not a computer science text per se, this book dives into the relationship between object and user, which manifests in UX/UI work within computer science.
  • A Concise Introduction to Machine Learning by A.C. Faul. This text addresses algorithm similarities and proper application. It's also one of the few computer science books by a female author.

Crowdsourced curriculum

When considering how to learn about computer science, there is no reason to start from scratch. Others who are self-taught have shared personalized lesson plans you can follow. (Note: You may need to request membership to some forums in order to view lesson plans).

Many self-teachers in online forums will tell you that the best way to learn is by doing. Try to code something and then research solutions as you get stuck.

Formal education can teach you networking and good habits, but curiosity can't be taught. Dabble in teaching yourself computer science, and see how you like it. Higher education will be there if you feel you need to dive deeper.

Find Good Computer Science Degree Programs

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HBCUs With the Best Computer Science Programs

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More Questions About Learning Computer Science

Is a computer science degree enough to get a good job?

Yes. While "good" is subjective and computer science degrees are not mandatory, degrees can teach you networking skills, broad approaches, and good programming habits. Many computer science employers hire degree-holders, though having a portfolio to showcase your skills is a bonus no matter your educational background.

Is a two-year computer science degree worth it?

It could be. Two-year computer science degrees introduce you to the field and can lead to professional opportunities. Plus, an associate degree in computer science can help you transfer credits if you decide to pursue a bachelor's degree in the same field.

What are the advantages of a computer science degree?

Networking, time-management skills, the potential to earn a higher salary, and practicing beneficial coding habits are some advantages a computer science degree might offer you.

Which computer science degree should I get?

That depends on what you like to do and how much money you want to make doing it. If you want to participate in computer science research, you typically need a doctorate. If you want to be an infosec analyst, computer systems architect, or other non-research roles, then a bachelor's or an associate degree may get you in the door. A master's could help you earn more money and advance faster in the field.

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