Ultimate Guide to Computer Science Degrees and Careers

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Admission Criteria and Requirements for Computer Science Degrees

Bachelor’s Degree

Computer science bachelor’s degree programs look for applicants with strong academic performance. To stand out against competition, candidates should have strong GPAs. They should have equally strong standardized test scores, should the program require them. Additionally, applicants should have completed prerequisites during their high school years. Prerequisite courses include English, foreign language, mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences. Also, completing several years of computer science, coding, and/or programming courses help prepare students for the rigor of the major.

Top-ranked computer science programs at the nation’s leading universities look favorably on prospective students with prior college coursework and AP courses. Students who have taken courses from a local community college or completed an online computer science course showcase their academic performance and willingness to learn. Relevant professional work experience also helps your application stand out from the pool of competitors vying for acceptance. Work experience may be gained from an internship or from volunteer work.

Master’s Degree

Top graduate-level computer science programs look for ambitious, academically superior students. Applicants must offer a strong GPA of at least 3.0; however, top-ranked programs may require a minimum GPA of 3.5 on all undergraduate courses. In addition to the GPA, applicants must have three letters of recommendation from individuals who may attest to the applicant’s academic performance. Usually the letters of recommendation come from college professors, academic advisors, or employers.

In addition to the above requirements, master’s degree computer science programs ask for a written personal statement or statement of purpose. Supplemental essays may also be required. All applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science, or closely related discipline, from an accredited college or university.

Ph.D. or Doctoral Degree

To enter a Ph.D. program in computer science, candidates must possess a bachelor’s degree in computer science, though a master’s degree may also be preferred. Doctorate applicants showcase their academic performance by submitting official transcripts from the colleges they attended. Also, GRE scores and letters of recommendation must be presented with the application.

A doctorate in computer science is designed to build on the knowledge and education of an undergraduate or master’s level program. The doctoral degree takes four to five years to complete and focuses attention on research in a particular area of the field. Coursework and research are required, and a dissertation and defense culminate completion of the degree.

In-demand Computer Science Majors

Computer science and information technology are among the most common computer science majors. For decades, colleges and universities only offered disciplines like computer science and information technology. Management information systems, another popular discipline, is still considered to be a relatively new major. It is only in recent years that we see more diversity in the computer science majors at colleges. As fast as the industry changes, few institutions are keeping pace with new discipline offerings. However, with research, there are schools offering the most contemporary disciplines.

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Concentrations or specializations provide students with a more in-depth study of a particular area of interest. Concentrations allow students to tailor their degree toward career goals or interests. Some of the newest and most in-demand concentrations include the following:

Artificial intelligence

The evolving field of artificial intelligence requires broad and vast training. Earning a concentration in this field means taking courses that involve cognitive psychology, engineering, principles of computer science, and technology. In AI-specific topics, you should plan to take courses like decision-making and robotics, human-AI interaction, machine learning, and perception and language. During high school years, plan on taking advanced and honors courses in all sciences, including chemistry and physics, as well as discrete mathematics, if offered.

Digital marketing

Digital marketing is often offered in connection with a major like business, computer science, management, or marketing. The concentration explores the ins and outs of reaching people online. Graduates of computer science programs who have earned a concentration in digital marketing have pursued careers in digital content, internet marketing, and social media branding and marketing. The educational focus of this concentration is on topics like content marketing, metrics and conversions, online advertising, search engine optimization, and user interface and experience. To help prepare for a concentration in digital marketing, plan on taking ample computer science courses in high school.

Game design

Game design or development concentrations allow students to develop an understanding of the principles–both technological and scientific–associated with the design of games for entertainment and serious applications. Games may be developed for consoles or computers. Courses generally cover topics like computer models of interactive narrative, game design and development, human-computer interaction, and introduction to graphics. Some programs offer unique electives in game design, such as fantasy, game studies, science fiction, and special topics in film.

UX design

The UX design (UXD) concentration, also known as user experience design, prepares students with the essential skills necessary to design and create accessible, engaging, and usable interfaces for websites and mobile apps. The concentration offers an in-depth understanding of the design and development process through a hands-on learning environment. Students focus on traditional design, as well as contemporary advances in the technology-based user experience. Courses encountered in a UX design concentration include communication in virtual worlds, designing technology for social impact, human computer interaction, and social behavior and technology.

Earnings Potential for Computer Science Jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations is $91,250, which is significantly higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $41,950. In fact, computer science jobs are one of the highest paying industries reported by the BLS. In order to better understand the earnings potential for computer science occupations, we broke down wages for individual jobs. The earnings potential for various computer science occupations is listed below.

Computer and Information Research Scientists

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for computer and information research scientists is approximately $126,800. The highest ten percent of earners in this occupation make over $194,000 annually. The occupation offers one of the highest earnings potentials for all computer science careers. Also, job prospects are highly favorable, adding to the potential benefits of pursuing a career in computer and information research. Top-paying industries for this occupation include software publishers; research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences; computer systems design; federal government; and colleges, universities, and professional schools.

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Computer Network Architects

The BLS reports the median annual wage for computer network architects is $116,780, with the highest ten percent of earners in this occupation making $175,570. Job prospects remain stable, but certain industries report the highest earnings potential for this occupation. These industries include insurance carriers and related services; computer systems design and related services; management of companies and enterprises; telecommunications; and educational services – state, local, and private. The highest-paying industry for computer network architects is insurance carriers, which reports a median annual wage of $121,730 for this occupation. The second highest paying industry is computer systems design, which reports a median annual wage of $120,130.

Computer Programmers

Like most computer science careers, computer programmers earn a competitive wage. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for this occupation is approximately $89,000. While the lowest ten percent of earners in this job make $51,440, the highest earn over $146,000 per year. Industry type and geographic location impact earnings. The BLS reports the four top paying industries for computer programmers as software publishers, finance and insurance, manufacturing, and computer systems design and related services. In software publishing, computer programmers earn a median annual wage of $103,710. The finance and insurance industry pay computer programmers $92,390 annually. Both industries report a higher-than-average wage for computer programmers.

Computer Systems Analysts

Another high paying career in computer science is the role of a computer systems analyst. Computer systems analysts earn a median annual wage of $93,730, according to the BLS. And while the lowest ten percent of earners make a median annual wage of $56,500, the highest ten percent earn over $152,000. Most computer systems analysts work forty-hour weeks, though some work extended hours. The top paying industries for this occupation include information, management of companies and enterprises, computer systems design and related services, finance and insurance, and government. The information industry pays a median annual wage of $96,430 for computer systems analysts.

Database Administrators

The BLS reports the median annual wage for database administrators is approximately $98,800. The lowest ten percent of earners in this occupation make about $54,000 per year, and the highest ten percent earn more than $155,000. All database administrators surveyed by the BLS worked full-time. According to the publication, there are five top-paying industries for this occupation. Data processing, hosting, and related services report a median annual wage of $108,520 for database administrators, which is nearly 10k more than the average for all database administrators. Other top paying industries for this occupation include computer systems design, insurance carriers, management of companies and enterprises, and educational services.

Information Security Analysts

The median annual wage, as reported by the BLS, for information security analysts is $103,590. The highest ten percent of earners in this occupation make over $163,000, which is significantly higher than the median annual wage for all information security analyst occupations. However, the lowest ten percent of earners make about $60,000. The highest paying industries for information security analysts include information ($107,310 in median annual wages), finance and insurance ($106,430), computer systems design ($104,820), management of companies and enterprises ($102,330), and administrative and support services ($99,860).

Software Developers

The pay for software developers is highly competitive. According to the BLS, software developers earn a median annual wage of $110,140. The lowest ten percent of earners in this occupation make approximately $65,200, while the highest ten percent make more than $170,000. There are five top-paying industries for software developers, according to the BLS. Software publishers are reported as the highest paying industry for this occupation. In software publishing, software developers earn a median annual wage of $124,050. The second highest-paying industry is manufacturing. In this industry, software developers earn about $119,000 per year. Other high-paying industries include management, computer systems design, and insurance carriers.

Web Developers and Digital Designers

Web developers and digital designers earn a median annual wage of $77,200, as reported by the BLS. The lowest ten percent of earners in this occupation make $40,750, while the highest ten percent make more than $146,430. There is one industry that pays a significant higher wage than the median annual earnings for all individuals in this occupation. According to the BLS, publishing industries, except the Internet, report a median annual wage for web developers and digital designers of $123,870. Other top paying industries for this occupation include computer systems design and related services; advertising, public relations, and related services; and management, scientific, and technical consulting services.

Job Outlook for Computer Science Occupations

As with earnings potential, job outlook varies by occupation, as well as geographic location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in computer and information technology occupations is expected to grow 11 percent through 2029. The growth rate is much faster than the average for all other occupations. In fact, the projections anticipate about 531,200 new jobs added to the industry. So, why does the industry anticipate significant growth? In part, demand for computer science professionals stems from growth in the industry in areas like cloud computing, collection and storage of big data, and information security.

While there is an 11% growth in employment anticipated over the next several years, some occupations in the computer science industry expect different projections. Below are the job outlooks for various computer science occupations.

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Employment of computer and information research scientists is expected to grow 15% over the next eight years, according to the BLS. This rate is faster than the average for all computer and information technology occupations. Job prospects should be excellent for qualified individuals, as rapid growth in data collection by businesses continues to drive the need to hire new people. With a growing emphasis on cybersecurity, and the push to find new ways to protect infrastructure and prevent cyber attacks, new jobs will be created.

Computer Systems Analysts

The job outlook for computer systems analysts is favorable. In fact, over the next decade, this occupation should see a 7% growth. While the rate is slower than the rate for computer and IT occupations, it is faster than the average for all other occupations. Job growth in healthcare settings for this occupation is the most favorable.

Database Administrators

Database administrators should see a 10% growth in employment over the next several years thanks to demand driven by increased data needs of businesses and companies. The faster-than-average job growth will make job prospects favorable for both recent college graduates and those with a few years of experience under their belts. Database administrators will be in high demand, but companies will require education and experience for new hires. Individuals with experience in the latest technology should see the best job prospects.

Information Security Analysts

One of the best job outlooks for all occupations in computer science is that of the information security analyst. According to the BLS, employment of this occupation is projected to grow 31% through 2029. Significant growth is expected as analysts are needed to come up with innovative solutions that will prevent hackers from stealing critical information. Projected employment growth for information security analysts means 40,900 new jobs will be added to the industry. Individuals with related work experience should see the best job prospects. Also, applicants with experience working as database administrators, or individuals who have earned a concentration or certification in database administration, should see even better job prospects.

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Software Developers

Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers show a favorable job outlook that is almost as impressive as the information security analyst. According to BLS, this occupation anticipates a growth of 22% over the next eight years, which is much faster than the average for all occupations, and twice the average for computer science and IT occupations. Workers in this field will be needed to respond to the increased demand for the evolving computer software industry.

While occupation impacts job outlook, so does geographic location. According to BLS, where you work changes the job outlook. Urban areas tend to have more favorable job outlooks than non-metro areas, and certain states see a higher growth than others. However, computer science jobs should see favorable growth over the next decade.

Qualities Necessary for Computer Science Jobs

Since technology constantly evolves, and the technological tools used today may be obsolete in five years, industries hiring computer science professionals look for team-oriented, highly motivated, and organized individuals. Jobs in the tech industry aren’t for loners, as stereotypes have suggested. Contemporary tech roles call for individuals who work well in a team environment. After all, it takes a team to bring forth new innovations. Below are several soft skills, or qualities, necessary for careers in computer science.

Ability to concentrate: Detailed computer work requires the ability to focus attention for lengthy periods of time. Computer programmers focus their attention on their coding work, checking for errors in code. One must be able to sit for long periods of time while maintaining a high level of focus.

Analytical skills: All jobs in the computer science field call for strong analytical skills. For example, information security analysts study computer systems and networks, assessing security risks. They seek solutions on how infrastructure and networks can be improved to prevent security breaches. Strong analytical skills help computer professionals acquire solutions they need to improve products and applications.

Communication skills: Computer science occupations, such as web developers and digital designers, need to be able to communicate effectively with colleagues, team members, and clients to coordinate work and expectations on projects.

Creativity: Computer science jobs require creativity, whether creating the appearance of a website or making sure an application is user-friendly. Even computer programmers must be creative when problem solving or trouble shooting. Creativity is especially important for computer science jobs like those held by web developers.

Customer-service oriented: Being patient and sympathetic are important qualities to have as a computer specialist. Customer-service skills are extremely important for professionals working directly with clients or customers. For example, computer support specialists work closely with people who are frustrated with software or hardware they are struggling to use. Good listening and trouble-shooting skills are equally important.

Detail-oriented: Computer science professionals must be detail-oriented by nature. For example, software developers often concentrate their attention on various parts of an application or system at the same time, and must search for potential errors. Being detail-oriented helps with these tasks.

Leadership skills: Anyone working in management in IT or computer science must possess strong leadership skills. IT or project managers lead and motivate a team of computer and IT professionals. They work together to efficiently complete a task. A project manager must be able to effectively communicate demands while motivating the team. Having strong leadership skills helps the team coalesce and finish a project effectively.

Problem-solving skills: From beginning to end of creation, development, or production of software, applications, or code, problem-solving skills are necessary for computer professionals. Having strong problem-solving skills helps a computer programmer, software designer, or other computer science professional succeed in the work they are conducting.

Troubleshooting skills: In most roles in computer science, troubleshooting skills are required. Programmers check code for errors and troubleshoot issues until problems are found and fixed. Software developers also solve problems by troubleshooting issues throughout the design process.

The above soft skills are important for advancement. Some of the skills cannot be learned in the classroom. They develop over time and with work experience. However, to advance to higher positions within a company, department, and industry, these skills should not be overlooked.

BDP Staff
June 2021

Related resources:

5 Degree Concentrations in Computer Science
20 Best Online Bachelor’s in Computer Science
30 Best Online Bachelor’s in Information Technology Degrees
5 Specializations in Computer Science
5 Top Paying Jobs for Computer Programmers
How is the Field of Computer Science Evolving?
5 of the Newest Advances in Information Technology
What are Some Entry Level Jobs in Information Technology?
30 Great Degree Programs for Working Adults
Top 10 Degrees for the Future
30 Great Small Colleges for STEM Degrees 2020

This concludes our article providing information about computer science degrees and careers.

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