Earning a computer science degree has long been one of the strongest foundations for a career in tech. Data produced by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2019 findings show that careers available to graduates of computer science schools can feature yearly salaries, which is up to twice as high as the national average of $ $53,490 calculated for all occupations nationwide.

Computer science students may plan to move onward to a graduate degree after finishing their bachelor's, as employment demand and salary compensation tend to increase alongside the complexity or sensitivity of the work you're capable of doing. Candidates who've earned a master's or Ph.D. are typically best prepared for such advanced positions.

Students hoping for a quicker route to the workforce may also want to consider a degree in information technology, a similar but distinct field. IT degree programs focus on the application of technology in business and private settings, which allows graduates to qualify for a range of specific positions after just two or four years of education.

Scroll on to learn more about computer science careers, find out what to expect from your computer science major and view the featured computer science colleges we compiled using data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and other sources.

Frequently Asked Questions

Different institutions offer different levels of opportunity for distance education, but students looking for the best fully online computer science degrees should be able to access them from anywhere in the country. Hybrid programs, splitting time between the traditional and virtual classrooms, are available as well.
Here are a few questions to ask when looking for the best online computer science degrees. Does the program have substantial enrollment? Do the same faculty members teach both online and classroom-based courses? Are online advising and tutoring services available?
Accreditation is another feature to look for when choosing a program. The best computer science colleges all earn regional accreditation for the entire institution, as well as program-specific accreditation awarded by the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).



Computer Science Degree Program Overview

What is covered in computer science colleges, exactly? Each online college takes its own specific approach, but most study plans can be sorted into two general categories:

  • Theoretical computer science programs tend to contain more material about the theory behind important concepts like programming languages, networking, algorithms and database models.
  • Applied computer science students typically focus on the real-world technical aspects of existing systems and technology, often with the goal of putting their knowledge to use on the business market.

The exact list of courses you'll take can vary from computer science school to school and from one degree level to another.

Earning an Online Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science

How long does an online bachelor's degree program in computer science take?

In most cases, it takes about four years of full-time study to earn an online bachelor's in computer science. However, there are certain accelerated programs that can be completed in two or three years. Typically, you'll need about 120 course credits to complete your online bachelor's degree program in computer science.

What are the requirements to start a bachelor's degree program in computer science?

Although admission requirements vary from school to school, most programs require that you hold a high school diploma or GED. You can also transfer from another accredited educational institution as long as you are in good standing and have a minimum GPA of 2.0.

Why earn a bachelor's in computer science?

As with campus-based programs, if you pursue a bachelor's degree program in computer science online you can select a specialization that aligns with your unique strengths, interests and career goals. This degree level is for you if you want to enter the computer science field quickly. It can also be a way to prepare for a higher-level degree program.

Degree Timeline

Take general education courses:

Most online bachelor's in computer science degree programs begin with general education courses such as English, algebra and psychology.

Choose a specialization and take relevant courses:

Once you have learned more about the field you can select a specialization like algorithms, languages and computability, software systems, networking, computer systems and architecture, artificial intelligence and cognitive modeling that aligns your career path with your interests.

Participate in an internship:

An internship may be required before graduation so that you can gain meaningful work experience before you begin applying for jobs. Check with your intended school to find out how they support computer science internships.

  • 1.Common Courses
    • Operating systems
    • Compilers, compiler design
    • Real-time computing
    • Distributed systems
    • Computer networking
    • Data communication
    • Computer graphics
  • 2. Common Careers:
    • Computer Systems Analyst
    • Computer Network Architect
    • Web Developer
    • Software Developer
    • Database Administrator
    • Computer Hardware Engineer

Financial Aid for Computer Science

It's not easy to manage the cost of a college education, but financial aid programs are here to help. Read more about computer science financial aid below, and get some additional info in our guide to scholarships.

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Computer Science Concentrations and Specialties

Computer science students typically spend the first two years or so of their bachelor's programs learning about the range of subjects within the discipline. This is a good opportunity to consider how you want to focus your studies going forward. Here's a list of a few of the specialties that may be available at computer science colleges:

Here's some extra detail about a few topics that most computer science degree programs include in their curriculum:

Career Outlook for Computer Science Graduates

Computer science students may find themselves facing with a dazzling array of job titles and specific positional requirements once they head out into the workforce, but it remains true that an education from the best computer science schools can prepare you for a range of in-demand jobs near the higher end of the salary spectrum.

In the paragraphs below, we'll drill down into the specifics of a few careers that computer science graduates can qualify for and provide some detailed information on how to position yourself well for each one.

What does a data scientist do?

Data scientists combine their computer science expertise with a deep knowledge of statistics and data modeling to help solve complex problems. If you can't decide between a career in computer science or one in mathematics, this might be the job for you.

Here's a short list of skills and responsibilities commonly expected of data scientists:

How to become a data scientist

It's possible to get certain entry-level data science positions with a generalized bachelor's degree in computer science, but employers may prefer candidates with a minor in statistics or a dual-degree plan in computer science and statistics or mathematics. Full bachelor's degree plans in data science may be available at some institutions.

A range of professional certifications can help demonstrate your abilities to potential employers, as well. Here's a list of just a few of the certification options currently on the market:

Some advanced positions may require a master's degree or higher. Dedicated data science study plans are fairly common at the graduate level, which can be helpful if you're thinking about changing your career after working in another computing field.

What does a software tester do?

As the name implies, software testers conduct various tests to assess the usability of software apps and systems. Once each round of tests is complete, software testers use analytical software to process the results and prepare reports on their findings. Here are a few on-the-job duties that software testers typically perform:

How to become a software tester

Many employers of software testers prefer applicants with a four-year degree in computer science — around 70 percent of working software testers hold a bachelor's degree, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) — but post-baccalaureate certificates that specifically teach software testing skills may help you stand apart from the pack.

Certification paths can help aspiring software testers prove to potential employers that they have the full suite of skills necessary to test software accurately and effectively. Here are a few of the credentials available:

Communicating with team members and stakeholders is a big part of effective software testing, so augmenting your computer science degree with courses in communications and professional writing can be a good idea.

What does a web developer do?

Web developers use their computer science knowhow to build and maintain applications and sites on the web. Some web developer positions may also include a visual design element, particularly if you're working on a team without a dedicated web designer.

Here are a few of the day-to-day responsibilities that web developers are expected to handle:

How to become a web developer

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists a two-year associate degree as the minimum educational requirement for web developers, but some employers may require that candidates hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or higher, depending on the complexity of the work they have to offer. Undergraduate and non-credit certificates in web development are available as well, for those looking to transition their skills after earning a different degree.

Professional certifications in web development can also enhance your job prospects. Here's a list of a few top credentials:

A portfolio of completed web development work is often requested by potential employers or clients, so it's important to keep an archive of sites and apps you've worked on. Most web development degree programs offer ample opportunity to build your portfolio in specific ways, depending on the courses you take.

Computer Science Certifications

SAS Certified Associate

If you're hoping to become a big data expert and get a job in analytics or data science, this credential is a strong first step toward mastery.

  • Requirements: Candidates must have knowledge of basic SAS programming concepts and pay an exam fee of $180.
  • Exam Format: 60-65 short answer and multiple-choice questions; 120-minute time limit.
  • How long does the certification last?: Certifications from SAS don't expire, but some exams may be retired as the associated technology advances.

American Software Testing Qualifications Board (ASTQB) Foundation Level Certification

This credential ensures that you share a common testing vocabulary with other members of a prospective software testing team and opens the door to more advanced certifications in the future.

  • Requirements: No prior professional experience testing software is required to sit for the exam, but some form of study in the field is recommended.
  • Exam Format: 40 multiple-choice questions with a one-hour time limit.
  • How long does the certification last?: ASTQB Foundation Level certifications are valid for life.

CIW Web Development Professional

This certification helps you combine front-end scripting languages with back-end programming languages to produce high-quality sites and applications on the web.

  • Requirements: Consists of three exams: CIW JavaScript Specialist, CIW Perl Specialist and CIW Database Design Specialist.
  • Exam Format: 50-55 questions, with time limits of 75-90 minutes depending on the exam
  • How long does the certification last?: There is no official expiration date, but tests are updated periodically and holders are encouraged to recertify when updates are released.

Professional Organizations

Becoming a member of a professional organization in your field can expose you to opportunities for professional growth and resources that can help you stay on the cutting edge of computing technology. Here are a few organizations you should consider:

This large organization features a network of close to 100,000 student and professional members and offers a Career and Job Center for members, among other benefits.
Student membership in this organization comes with access to a robust digital library, a members-only job board and discounts on conference and event attendance.
Members of AAAI get subscriptions to AI Magazine and the Artificial Intelligence Journal to help them stay ahead of the curve in their field.
This organization's Career Manager tool helps you plan, document and reach your professional goals, and exclusive personal and professional support is available to members.

Related Rankings

Computer science isn't the only degree out there for students hoping to make their mark in the computer technology field. Check out our pages in these other disciplines:

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