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Computer science programs explore the theories, development, and design of computers and applications. Colleges offer associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in computer science.

Computer science programs prepare graduates to apply for tech jobs like computer and information research scientist, IT analyst, and software developer. The computer and information technology fields offer higher-than-average salaries and many jobs for qualified applicants.

Computer science majors who focus on cybersecurity may find excellent career opportunities after graduation. As cyberattacks increase, the supply of cybersecurity professionals is not keeping up with demand.

This guide explains why to get a computer science degree and highlights what to expect from a typical program. Explore our ranking of the best schools for computer science bachelor's and master's degrees.

Why Get a Degree in Computer Science?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that computer and IT employment will grow 13% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the 8% average. This translates to 667,600 new tech jobs.

People drawn to computer science typically have excellent math, analytical, and problem-solving skills. They are often detail-oriented, logical, creative, and tech savvy. Typical tech employers include computer systems design services, software publishers, government agencies, and education.

We highlight some benefits of earning a computer science degree below.

  • High Earnings: Computer and IT professionals earned a median annual salary of $91,250 in May 2020, higher than the national average of $41,950.
  • Plentiful Job Prospects: Computer science graduates can expect better job security and higher demand for their skills than in many other industries.
  • Positive Impact: Computer science professionals use computers to solve problems, meet communication needs, and minimize online risks.

Should You Get a Computer Science Degree or a Cybersecurity Degree?

Cybersecurity and computer science programs prepare students for in-demand careers in the computing and IT fields. The right degree may depend on your academic interests, specialization, career goals, and plans for further education.

Students seeking a broader education and versatile degree may benefit from majoring in computer science. Computer science programs open the door to many different computing and IT jobs, including software development, networks, and data science. Learners wanting to pursue a master's or Ph.D. in the field may also consider a general computer science degree.

An interdisciplinary field that draws from criminal justice and computer science, cybersecurity prepares graduates to protect computer systems and networks.

A cybersecurity degree can benefit students who want to pursue information security careers. Those in security positions may choose a cybersecurity degree for career advancement.

What to Expect From Most Computer Science Degree Programs

Most computer science degree programs teach the fundamental principles and practices of computer science. The theories and skills taught grow increasingly advanced with each degree level.

Computer science colleges typically offer courses in programming, computer architecture, software development, and algorithms. Many programs, especially those beyond the associate degree level, offer cybersecurity courses, but the number and types of classes vary.

Make sure to choose a computer science program at an accredited institution. The Computing Accreditation Commission of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology provides accreditation to some computer science bachelor's programs.

Types of Degrees in Computer Science

The computer science discipline offers various program levels, including associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Generally, the higher the level of education, the better opportunities you will likely experience for salary potential and available jobs. However, many employers also prefer relevant experience in addition to education.

Below, we describe what to expect from the different types of computer science degrees.

Associate in Computer Science Degree

Computer science associates cover basic skills in computer programming, design, and development. Typically, these degrees take two full-time years to complete.

Schools with computer science associate programs usually offer an associate of science or associate of applied science. A typical curriculum includes classes like introduction to programming, computer architecture, and systems analysis and design.

Community colleges often offer computer science associate programs with pathways that let students continue their education and complete a bachelor's by transferring to a four-year school. Graduates can apply for entry-level IT positions like computer support specialists or web developers.

Bachelor's in Computer Science Degree

A computer science bachelor's program provides in-depth knowledge of the theory and fundamental skills of computer science. Students explore advanced mathematics, programming, computer architecture, and algorithms. Typical courses include data mining and machine learning, software engineering, discrete structures, and database systems.

Colleges that offer bachelor's in computer science degrees may have various names, including bachelor of science in computer science or bachelor of arts in computer science. Most computer science bachelor's programs take four full-time years to complete and require about 120 credits.

Some schools let students choose a concentration that focuses on a subfield of computer science, like software engineering, systems programming, artificial intelligence, or human-centered computing.

A versatile degree, a computer science bachelor's can prepare graduates to apply for jobs like software developer, computer engineer, computer programmer, and computer and information systems manager.

Master's in Computer Science Degree

Computer science master's programs tackle advanced topics, like cloud computing, data mining, software engineering, and full-stack development. Master's in computer science students develop expertise in specialized areas in the field, building on their foundational knowledge.

Learners may choose a concentration in data science, software engineering, artificial intelligence, or operating systems. A master's in computer science degree usually requires about 30 credits and takes 1-2 full-time years. Some schools require a computer science master's thesis or master's project.

Admission requirements usually include prerequisite courses that cover key computing fundamentals. Applicants with a bachelor's in computer science typically fulfill these prerequisites during their undergraduate study. Graduates can apply for jobs as information research scientists and data scientists.

Ph.D. in Computer Science

Ph.D. in computer science programs prepare graduates for high-level careers in research and academia. Learners build upon foundational computing knowledge to develop an area of expertise in a subfield. Potential research areas for Ph.D. students include cybersecurity, parallel and distributed systems, or big data management and mining.

Computer science doctoral program courses may explore the theory of optimization and continuous algorithms, computational biology, probabilistic models of human and machine learning, and numerical methods for unconstrained optimization.

In addition to coursework, Ph.D. students may need to pass a comprehensive exam, complete research, and prepare a thesis or dissertation. A typical computer science doctorate takes 4-6 years to complete.

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Jobs for Computer Science Graduates

The best schools for computer science prepare graduates for tech careers in various industries. Your degree type, experience level, and location can impact the number and type of positions available.

Potential computer science jobs include chief information security officers, security analysts, and software developers. Graduates with the necessary education and experience can apply for advanced positions as security directors and computer and information research scientists.

Below, we explain what to expect from some jobs open to students who earn a degree in computer science.

Chief Information Security Officer

Chief information security officers oversee all aspects of information security for their organizations. Duties include managing IT teams, developing information security policies, and conducting training. These professionals need at least a bachelor's degree, but many employers prefer candidates with a master's in computer science or a related field.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree required; master's degree preferred
Average Annual Salary: $167,300

Security Analyst

Security analysts, also called information security analysts, work for computer and financial companies, government organizations, and consulting firms. Security analysts typically need a bachelor's in computer science or a related field. An information security certification can lead to career advancement.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +33%
Median Annual Salary: $103,590

Security Software Developer

Security software developers work on software programs from beginning to end. They design, implement, and test new and existing security technologies. Security software developers work for government agencies, nonprofit groups, and computer companies. They need analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +22%
Median Annual Salary: $110,140

Security Director

Security directors oversee the information security activities, budgets, and staff of their organizations. Their main job is to keep their organization's data and information secure. Education requirements vary, with some positions stipulating a bachelor's and others preferring a master's in computer science or a related field.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree required; master's degree preferred
Average Annual Salary: $91,000

Computer and Information Research Scientist

Computer and information research scientists create theories and models to address computing problems. They develop new computer languages, design software experiments, and publish research findings. Computer and information research scientists may specialize in an area like robotics or programming.

Required Education: Master's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +22%
Median Annual Salary: $126,830

Choosing the Best School for a Computer Science Degree

Finding the best schools for computer science takes time and research. Explore the following factors to help you find the right program.

  • Accreditation: Make sure that prospective colleges are institutionally accredited. This signals students can earn high-quality degrees. It also makes it easier to transfer credit to another school, qualify for graduate school, and receive financial aid. Some computer science programs also hold separate, programmatic accreditation from ABET, indicating academic excellence.
  • Staff Diversity: Many students prefer computer science programs that employ a diverse faculty. Staff make-up can provide a window into how a school treats students and the availability of resources for underrepresented populations. Check out staff diversity by visiting prospective program websites or contacting departments directly.
  • Cost: Wondering how much it will cost to earn your degree? The price of a computer science degree varies significantly by school and degree level. Besides tuition, consider other potential expenses, like student fees, housing and travel, and books.

Should You Get Your Degree Online?

Some of the best computer science schools offer degrees online or in hybrid formats that combine in-person and online classes. Distance learning is increasingly prevalent and successful, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic moved many universities online.

Computer science degrees are especially well-suited to online education since students need to use their devices to complete coursework. When deciding what learning format to choose, learners must weigh the pros and cons of online school.

Online program benefits include convenience and flexibility. However, some students may prefer the structure of an on-campus program with face-to-face interaction with peers and instructors.

Top Bachelor's in Computer Science Programs

Explore our ranking of the five top computer science bachelor's programs for 2022. The link below details how we rank schools for all degree levels.

#1

Grinnell College

School Information
Location Grinnell, Iowa
Admission Rate 23%
Graduation Rate 89%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission

Graduates of the bachelor's degree in computer science at Grinnell College often pursue entry-level computer science careers. A private institution, the school educates undergraduate students from its Grinnell campus. The computer science program's rigorous curriculum features classes that foster field-specific and transferable skills.

The bachelor's in computer science blends core courses, general education classes, and upper-division classes. Degree-seekers enrolled in the online bachelor's program take core major classes and specialized elective courses. For example, they can take a class in functional problem-solving. Internship opportunities allow undergraduates to gain professional experience, which they can add to their resume.

An admissions advisor can provide specific application details, including requirements and deadlines. Full-time students generally complete a bachelor's degree in four years.

Grinnell College Facts:

Per-Credit Tuition: Unavailable

Learners Awarded Financial Aid: 89%

Learners Receiving Student Loans: 39%

Number of Bachelor's Programs: 27

Transfer Credits Toward Degree: No

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#2

Pomona College

School Information
Location Claremont, California
Admission Rate 7%
Graduation Rate 93%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission

Pomona College delivers 52 online and on-campus programs, including bachelor's programs. The school provides a variety of options for bachelor's degree-seekers. During general education classes, bachelor's students gain transferable skills. While earning upper-division credits, students learn about subjects relevant to computer science. 

In addition to gaining field-specific knowledge, learners develop analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Completing a bachelor's degree typically takes four years for full-time students. Part-time degree-seekers may need longer to complete a bachelor's program.

The school reports that 61% of degree-seekers receive financial aid and 13% take out loans. The school accepts 7% of undergraduate student applicants.

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#3

Carleton College

School Information
Location Northfield, Minnesota
Admission Rate 19%
Graduation Rate 92%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission

Based in Minnesota, Carleton College provides a comprehensive catalog of 35 academic programs. The school offers a variety of options for online bachelor's degree-seekers. The institution requires undergraduate students to take general education classes in areas such as English and mathematics. 

Upper-division coursework in computer science builds on foundational knowledge from general education classes. Degree-seekers gain analytical, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills. Completing a bachelor's degree typically takes four years for full-time students. Part-time learners may need longer to graduate.

According to the school, 78% of learners receive financial aid and 43% take out loans. The school accepts 19% of learners.

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#4

Bowdoin College

School Information
Location Brunswick, Maine
Admission Rate 9%
Graduation Rate 95%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education

After earning their bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, graduates of the bachelor's degree in computer science often pursue entry-level computer science careers to gain experience and qualify for advanced roles. Bowdoin College is a private institution based in Brunswick, Maine. The computer science program features a rigorous curriculum, helping enrollees develop foundational knowledge in the field. Courses include the digital world, introduction to computer science, and programming with data. 

Learners in the bachelor's program complete general education requirements, which foster transferable skills they can apply to field-specific classes. In addition to computer science coursework, degree-seekers complete electives to customize their online bachelor's program. Many programs require internships, capstone projects, or other hands-on learning experiences.

Admissions advisors provide prospective learners with program-specific application details. Undergraduates pursuing their degree full time typically graduate in four years.

Bowdoin College Fast Facts:

Learners Receiving Financial Aid: 56%

Students Receiving Loans: 18%

Number of Bachelor's Programs: 44

Transfer Credits Toward Degree: No

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#5

United States Air Force Academy

School Information
Location USAF Academy, Colorado
Admission Rate 11%
Graduation Rate 85%
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission

Located in Colorado, United States Air Force Academy provides a comprehensive catalog of 39 online and on-campus programs. The bachelor's in computer science program requires foundational coursework in areas such as English and mathematics. 

Bachelor's-level curricula help learners gain the transferable knowledge and skills that employers value. After completing general education classes, degree-seekers take major courses focused on their field of study. Course titles include computer organization and architecture and artificial intelligence. Adding a minor to their bachelor's degree can help individuals qualify for specialized roles after graduation.

The school delivers accredited programs, ensuring students receive high-quality educational experiences. Bachelor's degree-seekers who study full time typically complete their program in four years. Since the institution is accredited, it can distribute federal financial aid. Online and on-campus students can access support services from the institution. Professional tutoring helps learners excel academically.

Students can apply for grants and scholarships to reduce the financial burden of earning a degree. The institution accepts 11% of undergraduate applicants.

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Top Master's in Computer Science Programs

Please consult our ranking of the five top master's in computer science programs for 2022. Learn how we rank our schools on our methodology page.

#1

Georgetown University

School Information
Location Washington, District of Columbia
Admission Rate 14%
Graduation Rate 95%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Students can pursue Georgetown University's master's programs in Washington, District of Columbia. Degree-seekers can enroll in the school's master's degree - computer science. Enrollees in the computer science master's program complete core and specialized coursework, along with experiential learning components. 

The graduate-level curriculum features specialized computer science classes and foundational core coursework. All students must take coursework in algorithms and architecture. The school delivers accredited programs, ensuring learners receive high-quality educational experiences. Master's students can access support services such as academic advising, career-planning resources, and faculty mentorship. Graduates often benefit from increased computer science career opportunities after earning their master's degree.

Degree-seekers with financial need can submit the FAFSA to qualify for federal grants, scholarships, and loans. According to the school, 55% of the student body receives financial aid to fund their graduate education.

Georgetown University Facts:

Number of Master's Programs: 87

Number of Online Master's Degrees: 7

Average Per-Credit Tuition: $1,885

Graduate Tuition In-State: $51,336

Graduate Tuition Out-of-State: $51,336

Transfer Credits Toward Degree: No

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#2

Vanderbilt University

School Information
Location Nashville, Tennessee
Admission Rate 9%
Graduation Rate 93%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Learners can enroll in Vanderbilt University to pursue respected master's degrees in many fields, including computer science. Vanderbilt University is a private institution based in Nashville, Tennessee. Graduates often benefit from increased computer science career opportunities after earning their master's degree.

The computer science program features a rigorous curriculum, helping enrollees develop foundational knowledge in the field. Course topics include distributed systems and software and systems engineering. Graduate students can complete internships to gain experience and bolster their resume. Learners in the school's master's programs can access faculty mentorship and career counseling.

Full-time master's degree-seekers typically require 1-2 years to complete their program. Learners with transfer credits often graduate in less time. Degree-seekers with financial need can submit the FAFSA to qualify for federal grants, scholarships, and loans.

Vanderbilt University Facts:

Average Fee Per Credit: $2,050

Total Master's Programs: 104

Online Master's Programs: 1

Students Receiving Aid: 68%

Students Receiving Loans: 13%

Transfer Credits Toward Degree: Yes

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#3

Stanford University

School Information
Location Stanford, California
Admission Rate 4%
Graduation Rate 94%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

With a main campus in California, Stanford University offers a comprehensive catalog of 89 master's programs. The institution's graduate programs rank among the best in the nation.  Master's degree-seekers gain advanced knowledge from high-level courses in their field. Classes explore topics specific to the learner's field of study to prepare them for the workforce. Graduates gain further knowledge and skills to impress employers.

Degree-seekers at the institution can access support services such as tutoring and career counseling. Networking events can help learners connect with peers and professionals in their field.

Stanford University Fast Facts:

Total Number of Learners: 17,249

Number of Master's Programs: 89

Graduate School Tuition: $52,479

Average Annual Price: NA

The school holds accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

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#4

University of Chicago

School Information
Location Chicago, Illinois
Admission Rate 6%
Graduation Rate 95%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Higher Learning Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 0% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

A private institution, the University of Chicago delivers academic programs from its campus in Chicago, Illinois. Degree-seekers at the school choose from master's programs in many fields, including a master's degree in computer science. While earning the master's degree, enrollees complete a rigorous curriculum comprising coursework and experiential learning. 

Students gain foundational knowledge during core classes and complete advanced computer science coursework to develop specialized skills. Classes include algorithms and applied data analysis. As an accredited institution, the school delivers high-quality master's programs that prepare learners to secure advanced positions. 

Master's students can access support services including faculty mentorship, academic advising, and career counseling. The master's program can benefit learners who are new to the field and those with established computer science careers.

The institution holds accreditation, which means degree-seekers can submit the FAFSA and determine whether they qualify for federal financial aid. According to the school, 57% of the student body receives financial aid to fund their graduate education.

University of Chicago Fast Facts:

Number of Master's Programs: 81

Average Per-Credit Cost: Unavailable

Graduate Tuition In-State: $60,300

Graduate Tuition Out-of-State: $60,300

Transfer Credits Toward Degree: No

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#5

University of Pennsylvania

School Information
Location Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Admission Rate 8%
Graduation Rate 96%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 6% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

A private institution, University of Pennsylvania is based in Philadelphia. Graduate degree-seekers can enroll in the  MSE program in computer and information science. The computer science program features a rigorous curriculum that helps enrollees develop transferable skills and specialized knowledge in the field.

The graduate-level curriculum comprises core coursework and advanced computer science classes. The school delivers accredited programs, ensuring learners receive high-quality educational experiences. Student support services, including faculty mentorship and career counseling, help learners succeed academically and professionally. 

Degree-seekers with financial need can submit the FAFSA to apply for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. The school reports that 59% of students receive financial aid.

University of Pennsylvania Facts:

Number of Master's Programs: 141

Online Master's Degrees: 3

Average Cost Per Credit: $13,995

Graduate Tuition In-State: $36,254

Graduate Tuition Out-of-State: $36,254

Allows Transfer Credits: No

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Frequently Asked Questions About Computer Science

What computer science degree should I get?

Generally, the higher the degree you complete, the better the earnings and career opportunities. Most computer science positions require that applicants have a bachelor's in computer science or related field like IT or computer engineering.

Those interested in a subfield of computer science, like data science or information security, may pursue a master's. However, most employers prefer to hire professionals with a combination of relevant experience and education.

Is computer science hard?

Computer science can be challenging since learning coding languages takes patience, practice, and sharp attention to detail. However, most people can master computer science skills and principles if they put in the time and work.

Is computer science a good major?

Computer science is an excellent major for students with strong problem-solving skills, creativity, and attention to detail. Graduates can pursue high-paying tech jobs in a rapidly growing field. For example, software developers earned a median annual salary of $110,140 in 2020, according to the BLS.

Should I go to college for computer science or cybersecurity?

Both computer science and cybersecurity degrees prepare learners for various tech jobs. As a subfield of computer science, cybersecurity focuses more on information security. In contrast, computer science provides a broader overview of software design and application. Choose a program based on your future career goals.


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