Computer Science Major Guide | Salary & Requirements 2023

Written by Matt Cates
Published on January 23, 2023 · Updated on January 27, 2023

Computer Science Major Guide | Salary & Requirements 2023

Written by Matt Cates
Published on January 23, 2023 · Updated on January 27, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Computer Science Majors

Computer science is emerging as one of the most important and growing professions in the 21st Century. Current projections estimate the field could grow 21% between 2021-2030, much faster than the average for other occupations! 

In addition to traditional on-campus programs, many colleges and universities now offer online master’s degrees in computer science that promote paths to numerous specialties. A few include computer security, data science, software engineering, and network administration. These online programs provide full-time, advancement-focused professionals with a flexible, cost-effective alternative to on-campus learning.

What Is Computer Science?

Modern society is built around computers and computing systems, and it takes highly-skilled professionals to create and manage the software that runs on these devices. Experts in the field of computer science study CS theories, build mathematical models, and help design, develop, and apply software for a wide range of uses. As noted by the University of Maryland, computer science studies may involve any of the following:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Computer systems and networks
  • Security
  • Database systems
  • Human computer interaction
  • Vision and graphics
  • Numerical analysis
  • Programming languages
  • Software engineering
  • Bioinformatics
  • Theory of computing

What is an Online Computer Science Major?

An online computer science degree program closely resembles an on-campus degree except online, full-time learners benefit from flexible courses. The online program curriculum is rooted in theory, critical thinking, mathematics, and computer processes. The curriculum exposes students to various components of the field including computer systems, engineering, and data science. 

These experiences prepare students for a robust career in many different areas and fields of technology that span over public and private industries. 

Earning A Degree in Computer Science

Depending on your career goals, there are many educational paths to obtaining a degree in computer science that include both traditional and online programs to accommodate professionals in all stages of life. 

Associate and bachelor's degrees are available both on-campus and online, and many colleges are also beginning to offer online computer science degrees at the master’s level. This change allows current professionals to advance their careers through education while maintaining full-time jobs or busy home lives. 

What to Expect as a Computer Science Major

Types of Computer Science Classes

Computer science majors will take core classes as well as electives. Courses vary by program, but students can anticipate taking some standard courses such as the below:

  • Algorithms
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Calculus
  • Cloud Computing
  • Computational Data Analysis
  • Computer Architecture
  • Computer Science Theory
  • Computer Vision
  • Cryptography
  • Databases
  • Data Logic
  • Data Management
  • Data Structures
  • Design Physics
  • Device Utilization
  • Electronic Design
  • Files and Databases
  • Full-Stack Development
  • HTML/CSS
  • Information Management
  • Logic Design
  • Machine Learning
  • Network Fundamentals
  • Operating Systems
  • Programming Languages (C++, Java, PHP, Python, React)
  • Software Engineering
  • Software Security 
  • Statistics

Skills Learned in a Computer Science Degree Program

The nature of computer science and technology requires someone to come into the major with an ability to think critically, creatively, and analytically. This career requires you to tackle complex problems and challenges.

The curriculum and coursework in a computer science program build on these skills, and students gain experience mastering the following fundamental skills that make up the backbone of computer science:

  • Programming and coding languages (C++, Java, Python)
  • Data analysis
  • Software development
  • Technical writing
  • Mathematics (calculus and statistics)
  • Web development

Computer science majors will also develop a ton of job-ready skills that will help secure future positions…or prepare them for a higher-level degree! A few of these in-demand skills include or involve:

  • The ability to analyze data
  • Algorithm development
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning fundamentals
  • Computer networking
  • How to create databases
  • Knowledge of programming languages like Java, C++, HTML, PHP and Python.
  • Operating system design
  • Technical writing competence
  • Understanding of the software development process
  • Web development and hosting

How Long Does it Take to Get a Computer Science Degree?

Students in a computer science major are usually eager to graduate and get to work! The length of computer science degrees depends on the type of degree you pursue (associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate), plus other variables. These additional factors include:

For example, a master’s student may need to take prerequisites if they did not obtain the necessary background during their undergraduate coursework.
Many online programs enable students to graduate quicker because there’s no commute, so students may be able to use that extra time to squeeze in more classes!
Obviously, part-time students will take considerably longer to graduate than someone attending full-time. However, students are encouraged to only take a course load that matches their schedule. You don’t want to overextend yourself, or it can impact your GPA.
Several computer science degree programs feature accelerated learning options so students can graduate in less time and enter the job market sooner.

In general, it takes 4 years for a full-time student to complete a computer science major degree, and up to twice as long for those studying part-time. Meanwhile, most graduate programs take anywhere from 1-5 years for a master’s degree or 4-5 years for a doctorate

Computer Science Degree Specializations

Computer science degree programs, especially those at the graduate level, often feature a range of specializations to choose from. Different programs may use different names for these options, but a few of the most popular specializations include:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Biocomputation
  • Computer and Network Security
  • Computer Graphics
  • Data Science
  • Game Design
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Information Management and Analytics
  • Information Security
  • Networks
  • Programming Languages
  • Real-World Computing
  • Software Engineering
  • Systems
  • Theoretical Computer Science

Computer Science Certification and Training

There are endless career opportunities for computer science majors, but several positions require a bit of extra training through extra courses or certification to be qualified. The sooner you know what area you want to specialize in, the better, so you can tailor your degree accordingly. 

That may include choosing a specialty area when you sign up for your major, if your school offers such options. If not, work with your advisor and let them know the area(s) you want to focus on and they can help you choose the right electives. 

For those who’ve already graduated but still need to develop their knowledge and skills in a particular area, a certificate or certification can be a good option. Note, while the names sound the same, a college certificate is not the same thing as a certification. 

Students can earn undergraduate- or graduate-level certificates by taking classes from a university, or they can get certified by passing exams through a non-academic organization, such as (ISC)², the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. 

The right certification depends entirely on which area you plan to work in. For example, those who want to work in IT security may need to beef up their resumes with one of the following:

Interested in databases? One of these popular certifications might help make you more competitive in your job search!

For CS grads who plan on working in cloud computing, consider one of these certifications:

What Can I Do With a Major in Computer Science?

Computer science is an umbrella term that encompasses many fields of technology that may offer high-demand career opportunities. 

An online Master’s Degree in Computer Science can prepare students to become one of the following roles:

  • Computer and Information Research Scientist
  • Computer and Information Systems Manager
  • Computer Network Architect
  • Computer Systems Analyst
  • Database Administrator
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Network and Computer Systems Administrator
  • Software Developer
  • Software Development Engineer
  • Web Developer

How Much Do You Make as a Computer Science Major?

As a booming field with a high demand for expertise, an education in computer science can lead to one of many high-paying careers.

Recent BLS statistics show that computer and technology professionals earn an average annual income of $97,430 compared to the median annual wage of all occupations of just $45,760. 

Depending on your location, experience, education level, and industry type, a career in computer science can earn you anywhere from $73,000 to over $125,000 per year. Some fast-growing areas, such as cloud computing, big data storage and analytics, and internet security could lead to even more prolific careers.

Computer Science Job Projections

As technology advances, the demand and critical need for experienced computer science professionals continues to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that 682,800 new computer-driven jobs could be added in the next 10 years. Although these projections do not guarantee job growth or a career for graduates, the career path for those with computer science degrees looks very promising. 

Potential Computer Science Career Paths

Technology jobs encompass a variety of different roles, career paths, and even specific niches, depending on your experience and interest. These roles range from high-level management and executive positions that focus on big-picture information technology goals to roles responsible for the intricacies of a specific project, including design, development, and programming. 

According to BLS, the following is an overview of a few roles that are typically held by someone with a computer science degree. 

  • Median Salary: $131,490 
  • Career Outlook: +2% (2021-2031)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree

Be on the cutting edge of computer science research by inventing and designing new computer technology.

  • Median Salary: $93,000 
  • Career Outlook: -10% (2021-2031)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree

Computer programmers write code for computer applications and software programs.

  • Median Salary: $109,020 
  • Career Outlook: +25% (2021-2031)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree

Software developers create the backbone system that runs our apps and computer devices.

  • Median Salary: $101,000 
  • Career Outlook: +9% (2021-2031)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree

Database administrators oversee the storage, organization, and security of data that is captured by the company.

  • Median Salary: $120,520 
  • Career Outlook: +4% (2021-2031)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's Degree

Computer network architects build data communication networks such as LANs and WANs.

Types of Computer Science Degree Programs

Many public and private colleges and universities offer multiple degrees in computer science. Depending on the school, you can obtain an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in computer science.

An associate degree focuses on computer programming, web development and design, and data science. Program length is typically two years for full-time students.
A bachelor's degree explores more advanced topics, including engineering, complex mathematics, and niche sectors of computer science. Program length is typically four years for full-time students.
A master’s degree helps current professionals and recent college graduates begin or enhance their careers in computer science and often choose online programs that focus on a speciality. Program length is typically 1.5 to 2 years for full-time students.
A doctorate or PhD is the highest level of education in computer science and focuses mainly on research and theory.  Most people who obtain a PhD go on to pursue careers in writing, research, and teaching. Program length is typically 4-5 years for full-time students.

Choosing The Best Online Degree In Computer Science 

With an abundance of programs to choose from, deciding where to major in computer science can be both exciting and overwhelming. 

Some of the most important factors to consider when choosing a program include online vs. on campus, accreditation, price, and the application process. 

8 Outstanding Schools that Offer Online Master's In Computer Science Degrees

Computer science degrees are becoming more abundant and popular among working professionals, especially at the master’s level

Below are just some of the institutions that offer an online master of computer science degree. Please note that the perfect school for you may vary depending on your schedule and individual needs.

  1. Stanford University - The program consists of 45 units, and part-time students typically finish the program in 3-5 years. Stanford’s one computer science program must be completed within 5 years.

  1. Rice University - Their online program is designed specifically for working professionals. Its 10 courses can be completed anywhere from 12 months to 3.5 years, depending on your schedule.

  1. University of Southern California - Students take a broad range of courses and also select a specialization such as artificial intelligence, computer networks, and game development. Full-time students can earn a degree in 1.5-2 years, while part-time students typically take 2.5-3 years to complete the program.

  2. University of San Diego - There are multiple MS options in various computer science fields, including applied artificial intelligence, applied data science, cyber security engineering, and cyber security operations and leadership. USD’s program length is 20 months. 

  1. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign - This program is also designed for busy computing professionals. With only eight courses, students can complete the program in as little as 12 months but have up to 5 years to graduate.

  1. North Carolina State University - This program consists of 10 courses, and students typically take two courses a semester. 

  2. Arizona State University - Students can complete their degree in cybersecurity or big data. The programs consist of 10 courses and are typically completed in 18-36 months.

  3. University of Pennsylvania - This Ivy League’s online Master’s Degree in Computer Science is actually tailored to non-computer science majors. The program consists of 10 courses, and students can enroll on either a part-time or full-time basis. Students typically take 20-40 months to complete the program. 

If you're looking for other schools that offer online Computer Science major degree programs, check out the Find Your Perfect "U" tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!

Online vs. On Campus Computer Science Management Degrees

Online computer science programs are becoming more abundant, and many offer the option to complete their degree on a part-time or full-time basis to accommodate busy schedules. 

The coursework and curriculum are typically the same as in-person programs but with a schedule that is more flexible and accommodating to those who work full-time or have family obligations. 

 The biggest benefits of online learning include:

  • Flexibility and self-paced learning
  • Better time management
  • Improved virtual and communication and collaboration
  • No commute
  • Faster graduation times
  • Ability to work from anywhere

Accreditation

Accreditation is critical for any educational institute. It certifies that the school and its curriculum meet the appropriate standards outlined by the U.S. Department of Education and/or the Council for Higher Education accreditation. Choosing an accredited school gives your degree the credibility and validity required by employers. 

Many programs and departments within a school may have a separate certificate of programmatic accreditation. This elevates the credibility of the program and showcases that the department has designed a program that meets a standard of excellence. 

Programmatic accreditation also ensures that students will receive the appropriate training and knowledge to be successful in their given fields. 

Applying To Online Computer Science Programs

Admissions requirements for online computer science programs depend on the type of school, degree, and program modality desired. Prerequisite classes, letters of recommendation, certifications, degrees, GRE results, and prior grades are a few examples of typical computer science major application requirements

Admissions Requirements for Computer Science Major Programs

Admission requirements vary greatly from school to school and from program to program. There are also different requirements for undergraduate programs than for grad school. Many master’s degree program applicants must not only apply to the grad school itself, but also need to be accepted into the actual CS program. Below are some of the most common requirements for bachelor’s and master’s programs. 

If applying to an undergraduate (certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s) program:

The most obvious requirement to apply for any college program is to have first graduated high school (or obtained a diploma equivalent, such as a GED).
Ready to apply to a computer science program? You’ll need a strong GPA to be competitive! If a program lists a minimum of a 2.5 GPA to qualify, that just means they won’t consider anything less…but the actual cutoff could be much higher, because it depends on how many other people applied and what their GPAs look like. Try to find out the average cutoffs from previous cycles to learn what the actual average GPA was for those who got accepted.
Many schools want one or more recommendation letters, ideally from someone who has knowledge about your CS skills and academic potential. The school wants these to help assess your ability to stick with the program, contribute while there, and graduate in a timely manner.
Statements of purpose (SoPs) are also common application requirements. They help the school get a better sense of each student’s personal history and goals. Some schools list questions or an essay prompt that must be used to complete the SoP, so don’t just recycle the same statement over and over, if you apply to multiple programs. 
Colleges need transcripts from high school along with any transcripts from previous colleges or schools you may have attended. Generally, they want official, sealed transcripts mailed directly from the school to them. That process can take a little while, so don’t wait until the last minute to order official transcripts.
Most programs charge a non-refundable application fee. This fee is sometimes waivable. Fees can add up quickly if you apply to many schools, so always see if you qualify for a fee waiver.

 

 If applying to a graduate (master’s or doctorate) program:

To get into grad school, you need a bachelor’s, obviously. But what about your major? Graduate-level computer science major don’t demand that you majored in computer science during your undergrad studies, but they do need you to have completed sufficient prerequisite coursework. If you don’t have that done, you can still apply but will likely have to earn those credits before being fully accepted into the program.
Most computer science programs want applicants to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. Some schools may waive these or not request them at all. Some temporarily waived them during the peak of the Covid pandemic. Make sure to double check before applying!
CS graduate programs are tough to get into. They don’t just want students who will come take classes then leave. They want professionals who will contribute to the department, which is why they ask for additional information related to your background via a resume or CV! Take the time to write this document in a compelling manner and make sure it is error-free.
Another way computer science programs like to get to know applicants is through a formal interview process. Again, your success at their school reflects back on them. That is why, if you notice, many schools publish their graduation rates and stats about how quickly graduates are placed in jobs. Those are “selling points” that attract more applicants!

Paying For An Online Computer Science Degree

Deciding to go back to school is not only a big-time commitment, but it is also a big financial commitment. Tuition costs can vary depending on the school, program, required units, and projects. 

There are many avenues of financial assistance available to help with tuition costs including financial aid, scholarships, grants, internships, work-study programs, and corporate reimbursement from your current company. 

  • Financial aid - The process is typically the same for online or campus-based programs. You can take advantage of federal, state, or school based financial aid programs that usually range from merit-based to needs-based assistance by completing your FAFSA.

  • Scholarships - There are an abundance of organizations that offer scholarships specifically for computer science students to help supplement tuition costs. Unlike loans, scholarships do not need to be repaid. More detail on scholarships is provided in the next section and available with our scholarship search tool

  • Grants - Applying for a grant is a great way to raise funds for your education, and like scholarships do not need to be repaid. Consider applying for a Federal Pell Grant or a Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. State and local government, universities, and non-profit organizations are also great places to look for grant opportunities.

  • Internships - Compliment your resume and work experience with an internship. Paid internship opportunities are dependent on the company or institution but offer experience and knowledge while getting paid!

  • Corporate reimbursement programs -  If you are currently employed, check with your human resources department to see if educational reimbursement programs are available to you as an employee benefit. 

Scholarships For Computer Science Students

Many scholarship opportunities are available for computer science students.  Here are a few avenues to consider.

Next Steps to Get Started in a Computer Science Program

Ready to start prepping your application to a competitive CS program? Your entry point onto the right educational path depends on where you’re at now!

For High School Students:

If you’re still in high school, there are things you can do to set yourself up for success as a computer science major in college.

Many high school students want to breeze through and put off the hard work for college itself. Unfortunately, that can be a recipe for failure. College is often much harder than a lot of high school students expect. Computer science, in particular, is a very challenging major. 

That’s why you want to lay a solid foundation to build upon by taking classes in high school that will aid you in your CS program. These classes include any computer science and IT courses offered, as well as digital design, science, math (including geometry, trigonometry, precalculus, and calculus), physics, typing, and speech.

Not every high school features a computer science club. If you’re lucky enough to have one, join it and stay engaged. If your high school doesn’t have one, consider starting it yourself! 

Clubs are a fun way to keep each other motivated, and an incredible method of learning new skills. There are plenty of open source materials to help you get started or augment an existing CS community.

Most high schools don’t offer computer science specific classes. That lack of access, which hits rural and urban students the hardest, can be a setback for those who want to study computer science at college. 

But students can teach themselves many of the foundational skills needed, through free or relatively inexpensive online courses.

For High School Graduates: 

High school seniors who want to go to college right away need to apply early and often. Make a list of the schools/programs that interest you, and check out the application deadlines. Many get started during the summer before their senior year, then start applying during their Fall term.

Once you’ve finished high school or earned a GED, and you’ve been accepted into a CS program, then you’re on your way to getting that bachelor’s degree!

A bachelor’s typically takes four years, if attending full-time. Part-time students may take up to twice as long. It’s important to check with the school to see if there is a maximum time limit to complete all degree requirements. 

If you’re thinking about earning a master’s next, make sure to keep up your GPA. Graduate school can be even more competitive than getting into an undergrad program!

For Bachelor’s Degree Holders: 

If you don’t want to go back to college just yet, consider signing up for a certification program related to the area you want to continue your studies in. There are dozens of options offered by numerous organizations. Below are just a few examples

As mentioned above, a college certificate is not the same thing as a certification. Certifications are usually acquired by studying material, then taking and passing an exam. College certs, on the other hand, are like miniature degrees, which require passing a certain number of regular college classes (usually between 12 - 18 credits’ worth) that all tie into a particular area of CS specialization.

If you’re ready to get back into the thick of things, a master’s degree can really boost your professional credentials and help qualify you for higher levels of responsibility - and with it, a higher salary! 

But if you’re already working, talk with your supervisor and get some feedback about which option is best suited for your career advancement. Sometimes a worker with an in-demand certification can be more important to an employer’s immediate needs than someone with a graduate degree. 

Of course, nothing is stopping you from doing all three of the above options, if that suits your career path!

Computer Science Major FAQ

  • What can you do with an online degree in Computer Science?
    • There are many career paths you can pursue with a computer science degree within a multitude of different industries. Roles include computer programming, computer development, system analyst, system architect, computer security, data analyzing, software engineer, as well as executive and leadership positions.
  • Is it worth majoring in Computer Science?
    • The job projection and outlook for computer science are very promising for both income and challenging job opportunities.
  • How long does it take to earn a Computer Sciences major online? Is it faster or slower than on-campus programs?
    • The online curriculum and coursework are typically very similar to what you would take for an in-person degree. The length of an online program depends on the school and degree type, but many online programs provide a faster track to graduation in as little as 12 months.
  • What skills does a Computer Science student gain?
    • A student taking computer science classes can expect to gain technical skills in computer programming and language, data analysis, software development, technical writing, mathematics (calculus and statistics), web development. Students will also gain soft skills including critical thinking, problem-solving, project management, and team collaboration.
  • What are some other things I can do to improve my chances of landing a great job with a computer science major?
    • Some good ways to improve your resume and chances of landing a great job are to obtain work experience, complete computer science-related certifications, receive excellent grades, network with professors, classmates, and company prospects, and position yourself as a great team member and collaborator.