Computer Science

From algorithms to infrastructure design, computer science is all about creative problem-solving in the Information Age.

What is Computer Science?

Computer science is no more about computers than biology is about microscopes, astronomy is about telescopes, or art is about paintbrushes. Computers are the tools of the trade, but the discipline is essentially concerned with information: how it’s represented, stored, manipulated and presented.

Computer scientists tackle problems by designing solutions and verifying that they’re effective. They might create the algorithms that underlie sophisticated computations. Or, they might build the hardware and infrastructure systems upon which most commercial and government enterprises rely. Still other computer scientists take the path of software design, database administration or game development.

Like other scientific fields, computer science demands a rigorous and methodical approach, including invention of new algorithms and paradigms, design that solves computational problems, and analysis and experimentation of new theories, software and products.

Who Should Get a Computer Science Degree

Do you have a passion for problem-solving? Like to crack codes and unscramble puzzles? This degree has your name all over it. Whether you’re just starting on the educational journey or upgrading your skills, the world needs more analytical, creative minds as we fast-forward into the Information Age.

Traits & Aptitudes

Check out the top traits that make for a successful student of computer science:

Analytical

Use mathematical reasoning and logical rigor to approach problems and seek solutions.

Creative

Generate new ideas and model complex problems through the use of abstractions.

Abstract Thinking

Juggle hypotheses in your head to generate new answers to tough questions.

Puzzle Solving

Recognize patterns and piece out clues to uncover elegant solutions to difficult problems.

Communication

Describe problems and solutions to colleagues who didn’t study computing.

Analytical

Use mathematical reasoning and logical rigor to approach problems and seek solutions.

Creative

Generate new ideas and model complex problems through the use of abstractions.

Abstract Thinking

Juggle hypotheses in your head to generate new answers to tough questions.

Puzzle Solving

Recognize patterns and piece out clues to uncover elegant solutions to difficult problems.

Communication

Describe problems and solutions to colleagues who didn’t study computing.

Degrees in Computer Science

A growing number of colleges and universities offer computer science degrees in both traditional campus settings and online. Ideal for working adults, the virtual approach yields degrees at every level—including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and certificate programs. Forget commuting hassles and relocation costs. You’ll study at the time that’s most convenient for you while you keep your work and family commitments.

Online Degrees in Computer Science

Are online computer science degrees legit? In a word, yes—if you study in an accredited program. An accredited college is one that has received an outside stamp of approval from an agency that verifies it meets standards for quality.

Check for these types of accreditation: regional (the gold standard for all U.S. colleges and universities), or a nod from the Distance Education TC or Accreditation Board for Engineering Technology. Beware: Some shady operators will create their own, fake accreditation agencies to dupe unsuspecting students. If a school claims accreditation by an agency other than the ones above, make sure it’s recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Only students at accredited schools are eligible for financial aid.

How It Works

An online degree in computer science is exactly the same as its brick-and-mortar counterpart. The course content is the same, and the same faculty often teach both in-person and online classes. The online work is just as rigorous as the traditional degree path—and can be even more difficult, considering that you won’t have the built-in accountability of face-time with your professor each week.

When you pursue a distance degree or certificate, you’ll log in to listen to lectures (either independently or at scheduled times), watch videos, download materials and interact with the instructor and other students. Many instructors hold set office hours in which you can check in on your progress and share questions or concerns about the materials.

Your degree or certificate in computer science won’t list the fact that it was earned online. Potential employers are primarily concerned about your mastery of the material—not the delivery method.

Why Get a Degree in Computer Science?

Potential Career Paths

Just starting out? A certificate can show a potential employer that you’re serious about earning the skills you need to get the job done. Paired with an existing degree, a certificate in desktop support could open the door to a position on an IT team. A certificate in multimedia development might lead to a role as a web designer.

Technology is a notoriously fast-moving field. If you’ve already chalked up solid experience in a computer-related discipline, a certificate can help you move forward in your career. Taking the extra step to earn a certificate demonstrates your commitment to keeping up with this dynamic arena. By adding to skills to your quiver, you’re showing your employer that you mean business.

Job Outlook

A computer science degree opens up almost limitless career possibilities. From the high tech enclaves of Silicon Valley to the retail pet store around the corner, computer-savvy pros are active in practically every industry. Whether they’re designing retail search engines or pursuing a cure for cancer, computer scientists are on the cutting edge of change in business, education, medicine, entertainment and other diverse fields.

Whichever of the myriad career paths you pursue in computing, the job prospects tend to be positive.

Salary

Computer science graduates tend to enjoy great earning power. Here’s how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates the annual median pay for the following professions:

Computer network architect: $98,430

Computer programmers: $77,550

Software developers: $97,990

Network and computer systems administrators: $75,790

Web developers: $63,490

Versatility

A degree in computer science opens up a staggering array of career possibilities, from software development to cybersecurity, database administration to game development. Computing is fundamental to almost every industry and professional pursuit, whether you aim to launch a satellite into orbit, or develop and code an award-winning website.

Golden Age

Computers have only been around since the late 1940s. The computer science field is young and dynamic; now is an exciting time to study because so many unsolved problems remain. Some observers speculate that we’re living in the golden age of computing.

Educational Paths

Certificates

Computer science certificates are laser-focused on your area of interest. Choose from programs that focus on advanced skills, or complete a series of bite-sized credentials that can build towards an undergraduate degree.

Program Length

Depending on the topic and scope, certificates can typically be completed within a few months, or may require as much as one and a half years of study.

What You’ll Study

Here are a few examples of associate- and undergraduate-level certificates:

  • Scientific computing
  • Computational science and engineering
  • Web administration
  • Database administration
  • Cisco networking
  • Multimedia development
  • Network support
  • Desktop support
  • Mobile computing
  • Information security

Advanced certificates may be industry-specific and include Microsoft Operating Systems Postbaccalaureate certificates such as PC configuration and maintenance, desktop administration, network administration and Active Directory configuration.

Associate’s

If your goal is a career in computing and you don’t already have a degree, the Associate of Science credential is a great place to start. It can open the door to a job you love in a fast-growing field. If you decide to continue your education later, you could apply the credits you’ve earned to a higher degree.

Program Length

The associate’s degree in computer science generally requires two years to complete.

What You’ll Study

An associate’s degree in computer science provides a solid grounding in physics, mathematics and applied engineering. The coursework also develops crucial skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, technical communications and leadership.

Courses for the degree generally include chemistry, engineering, Introduction to Programming, maths and technical writing.

With the fundamentals in place, coursework might move into more specific, computer-focused topics, such as desktop administration or networking concepts.

The material in your associate’s degree courses will also prepare you to take industry certification exams.

Bachelor’s

Today, bachelor’s programs in computer science tend to pair the essential engineering component with a strong dose of critical thinking and communication skills. The goal of this multidisciplinary approach? Schools want to groom graduates to adapt to continual changes in the field. It’s the best way to prepare fledgling scientists for leadership roles in developing new technologies.

Program Length

A bachelor’s degree traditionally requires four years to complete. But if you’ve already earned transferable science, mathematics and/or engineering credits, your time to earn a diploma may be significantly shorter.

What You’ll Study

Bachelor’s-level coursework generally demands a required set of technical courses such as programming, algorithms and software development—plus the principles that guide these areas. After you complete those courses, you’ll choose from technical electives that deepen your knowledge and skill in the areas of computer science that most appeal to you.

With a Bachelor’s degree in computer science under your belt, your career options are potentially limitless.  From the cutting edge of financial sector cybersecurity, to software development at a Silicon Valley startup, the possibilities are too vast to list. Graduates also pursue roles in roles in game development, IT management, operating systems management, computer networking, database administration and more.

Master’s

Secure your future with graduate-level study. Designed for professionals who are at a crossroads in their technology career.

Program Length

If you’re a working professional pursuing a part-time master’s degree, the coursework will probably require two and a half years to complete.

Otherwise, the time commitment depends on many factors, including your undergraduate coursework. Some students find they need to take essential math and science courses, which can extend the length of study to three years. But if you’ve already earned an undergraduate degree in computer science or a closely related field, count on finishing the advanced credential in a year.

What You’ll Study

Professors in a part-time master’s program tend to take their students’ work lives into account. In most cases, they assign demanding but manageable workloads that are suited to students who already have full-time jobs and families.

Core coursework for an MS in computer science can include computer architecture, software implementation and structures programming.

By tackling complex technology challenges through master’s degree coursework, you’re signaling to your employer that you’re ready for the big time. For instance, cybersecurity pros are equipped to match wits with enterprise-wide hackers. Software developers look forward to heftier, more challenging projects that come with bigger budgets. When you’re already passionate about the computer science field, an advanced degree in computer science is a great way to move your career forward.

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