Computer Science Degree & Career Guide

What to expect from a computer science degree program

A computer science degree program provides a comprehensive education in programming languages, algorithms, and system analysis. Earning an associate degree can lead to roles like IT or computer support specialists, with a median salary of $59,660, surpassing the national median. A bachelor’s degree provides even more lucrative opportunities, including software development and data science careers, with the potential for six-figure salaries

Are you interested in graduate coursework? Pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees further boosts competitiveness, providing opportunities for research, leadership roles, and higher earning potential in computer science. 

Even better, these occupations are expected to grow faster than average over the next decade — with data scientists expecting a 35 percent increase in demand and cybersecurity analysts close behind at 32 percent.

Types of computer science degrees

Associate degree

Well-suited for students balancing work obligations and their educational pursuits, an associate degree in computer science offers a pathway to lucrative positions in tech without the extended time commitment of a bachelor’s program. The curriculum typically covers fundamental programming languages, database management, and system analysis, providing a solid foundation for further studies or immediate employment. Designed for versatility, graduates can secure entry-level roles as computer support specialists, web developers, or IT technicians. 

  • Degrees available: Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Minimum credits: 60 
  • Average length of program: 2 years full-time

Bachelor’s degree

With a focus on theory and practical application, a bachelor’s degree in computer science is ideal for students seeking in-depth knowledge and a comprehensive skill set in the evolving technology field. This program delves into advanced programming, algorithms, and software engineering, suitable for those passionate about problem-solving and a solid mathematical foundation. Students tackle projects that reflect real-world challenges and can explore specialized areas such as cybersecurity or data analytics. Graduates are well-prepared for many roles, including software developers, data scientists, and system architects. 

  • Degrees available: Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Minimum credits: 120
  • Average length of program: 4 years full-time

Master’s degree

A master’s degree in computer science is designed for individuals seeking a competitive edge in the tech industry, emphasizing research, innovation, and a nuanced understanding of complex computing concepts. Ideal for those with a solid foundation in computer science or a related field, this program explores specialized areas such as machine learning, cybersecurity, and software engineering. The curriculum offers advanced coursework, research projects, and a thesis component, fostering critical thinking and innovation. Graduates are equipped for leadership roles as software architects, data scientists, or research scientists, contributing to cutting-edge technological advancements.

  • Degrees available: Master of Science (MS), Master of Computer Science (MCS), Master of Information Technology (MIT)
  • Minimum credits: 30
  • Average length of program: 2 years full-time

Doctorate degree

A doctoral degree in computer science, designed for highly motivated individuals with a passion for groundbreaking research, cultivates expertise at the highest academic level. Tailored for those aspiring to contribute significantly to the field, the curriculum typically involves advanced coursework, extensive research, and the completion of a doctoral dissertation. Students engage in innovative research areas such as algorithms, data science, or artificial intelligence, fostering creativity and critical thinking. Graduates are poised for leadership roles in academia, industry research labs, or high-level positions in tech companies. 

  • Degrees available: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.),  Doctor of Science (Sc.D.), Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)
  • Minimum credits: 60
  • Average length of program: 4 years full-time

Specialization options

Whether you’re pursuing an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree, computer science offers diverse avenues for specialization, allowing you to customize your education to match your interests and professional goals. Below, we’ve included a list of popular disciplines proven to enrich the academic experience while paving the way for exciting and dynamic careers in the tech industry. From blockchain technology to game development to software engineering, each specialization offers a unique focus, providing you with the necessary skill set to thrive in your future career. 

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Specializing in AI involves the study of algorithms, machine learning, and neural networks. Graduates are well-suited for roles such as AI/Machine Learning engineers, data scientists, and robotics specialists. 
  • Blockchain Technology: Concentrating on blockchain involves understanding decentralized and secure systems. Graduates can pursue roles as blockchain developers, cryptocurrency analysts, or smart contract engineers.
  • Cloud Computing: Cloud computing specialists learn to design and implement scalable and secure cloud-based systems. Job opportunities include cloud architects, DevOps engineers, and cloud solution developers. 
  • Computer Networks: Specializing in computer networks involves studying the design, implementation, and management of computer communication systems. Graduates can pursue roles as network engineers, network administrators, or system architects.
  • Cybersecurity: Focusing on cybersecurity entails learning techniques to protect computer systems and networks from cyber threats. This specialization is ideal for those seeking careers as cybersecurity analysts, information security managers, or ethical hackers. 
  • Data Science and Analytics: Concentrating on data science involves analyzing and interpreting large datasets for insights. Graduates can pursue roles as data scientists, business analysts, or machine learning engineers.
  • Game Development: Game development specialization involves creating video games and covers aspects like programming, graphics, and game design. Graduates can pursue careers as game developers, graphics programmers, or game designers. 
  • Mobile App Development: This specialization focuses on developing applications for mobile devices. Graduates are well-suited for roles as mobile app developers, software engineers for mobile platforms, and application architects. 
  • Software Engineering: Software engineering specializations emphasize the principles of software design, development, and maintenance. Careers in software engineering, software architecture, and application development are common for graduates. 

The Best Computer Science Degree Programs

This list features some of the best computer science degree programs in the U.S. The schools on this list are non-profit, accredited institutions, either public or private, with high standards for post-secondary education.

We evaluated each degree program on tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and student resources as well as admission, retention, and graduation rates. We also compared our picks to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, including U.S. News & World Report. Using this data, we calculated an Intelligent Score for each program on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Online Associate Degrees

Online Bachelor’s Degrees

Online Master’s Degrees

What Can I Do With a Degree in Computer Science?

A computer science degree can provide many opportunities, offering diverse career paths across industries and levels of expertise. 

With an associate degree, graduates can secure entry-level positions as computer support specialists or web developers. A bachelor’s degree propels individuals into roles such as software developers, data scientists, or system architects, with opportunities for leadership positions. Pursuing a master’s degree allows for specialization in software engineering, game development, or data science, preparing graduates for advanced roles and research opportunities. Doctoral degrees in computer science create opportunities for impactful contributions to academia, industry research, or high-level positions in tech companies. 

Whether aiming for immediate entry into the workforce or aspiring to become a leading expert in innovative technologies, a computer science degree provides a versatile foundation for a rewarding career.

Computer Support Specialist

Median annual salary: $59,660
Job outlook: 5% increase through 2032

Computer support specialists are crucial in the tech industry, providing technical assistance and troubleshooting for computer systems and software. They help individuals and organizations navigate hardware and software issues, ensuring seamless operation. While it’s possible to enter this role without a degree, many employers prefer candidates with an associate’s degree or relevant work experience. 

Software Developer

Median annual salary: $124,200
Job outlook: 25% increase through 2032

Software developers are critical in creating and maintaining software applications, from conception to implementation. They analyze user needs, design software solutions, and write code to develop functional and efficient programs. These professionals collaborate with teams to ensure software aligns with organizational goals and user requirements. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering is a standard requirement for entry into this role.

Data Scientist

Median annual salary: $103,500
Job outlook: 35% increase through 2032

Data scientists are pivotal in extracting insights from complex datasets to inform decision-making. They utilize statistical analysis, machine learning, and data visualization techniques to uncover patterns, trends, and correlations within large volumes of information. Data scientists work across various industries, aiding organizations in making data-driven decisions and solving intricate problems. A bachelor’s degree in computer science, statistics, or data science is usually a requirement to attain this role.

Student Resources and Organizations

To assist you in making informed choices about your educational path in computer science, visit these pages offering more information about various aspects of computer science degrees. Whether you’re exploring different degree levels, seeking insights into specialized areas, or curious about potential career trajectories, these resources will provide comprehensive information to make your decision easier.

Participating in coding clubs, robotics teams, or organizations like Girls Who Code or the Technology Student Association (TSA) can significantly benefit high school students interested in computer science. These groups provide valuable hands-on experience, mentorship, and exposure to the multiple computer science sectors. 

If you’re seeking an alternative path to a career in this field, bootcamps in cybersecurity, data science, and software engineering provide intensive, focused training as alternatives to traditional degree programs, offering a quicker route to gaining specialized skills and entering the workforce. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Computer Science Degrees

Should I get a computer science degree in person or online?

Whether to learn in person or online is ultimately a personal decision, as both options have advantages.

In-person programs can be ideal for traditional students seeking a more immersive experience with on-campus resources and networking opportunities. However, online programs often mirror their in-person counterparts, ensuring an identical curriculum while providing the flexibility needed for working professionals or those juggling significant responsibilities — such as parenting or care-taking.

Is a computer science degree worth it?

A computer science degree is undoubtedly worth the investment for many. The positive Return on Investment (ROI) is evident with the availability of multiple lucrative career opportunities. Professions like software development and data science regularly report salaries in the six-figure range, reflecting the high demand for skilled professionals in these fields.

Beyond financial gains, the versatility of a computer science degree allows graduates to contribute to innovative projects, solve complex problems, and thrive in a rapidly evolving tech industry. The continuously expanding job market in technology further enhances the value of a computer science education, making it a strategic investment in every sense.

How much does a computer science degree cost?

The cost of a computer science degree varies based on the degree level and institution. On average, undergraduate tuition at four-year universities was $26,903 for the 2021-2022 academic year, as the National Center for Education Statistics reported. For graduate programs, the average tuition was $19,749 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Remember that these figures are general averages, and actual costs can differ significantly depending on the school’s location, program duration, and whether you attend a public or private institution. It’s essential to research specific institutions and programs to obtain accurate and up-to-date information on tuition and any associated costs.

Interested in a degree instead?

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