If you enjoy — and excel at — math and problem solving, you may want to consider majoring in computer science (or CS). As our world becomes increasingly dependent on technology, computer science majors are standing out from the crowd as competitive job applicants and higher-than-average earners.
Of course, getting a four-year degree in computer science involves taking on challenging coursework and investing a significant amount of money. For many students, however, it can be well worth the time, hard work, and expense. Here’s what you need to know about becoming a CS major.
What Is a Computer Science Major?
A computer science major is a course of study that focuses on computer hardware and software systems. Students learn how to develop software, design websites, and manage databases. Graduates with a computer science degree can pursue jobs in an array of fields, including software engineering, web development, information technology, and network systems administration.
Since our world is increasingly dependent on computer technology, computer scientists are in demand in a wide range of industries, from more traditional paths like corporate web development or information security to positions in fintech startups, healthcare, communications, and more.
Basically, if a job has to do with programming or maintaining computer software or networks, computer science can help prepare you for it. In some cases, you may need to pursue studies at the graduate level in order to unlock access to certain positions — but it all starts with a computer science major in college.
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Computer Science vs Computer Engineering
It’s worth noting that computer science isn’t the only degree path for those pursuing jobs in technology. Computer engineering is another course of study — but there are some important differences between the two.
Generally speaking, computer engineers get more education about the hardware side of computing: how to build a computer from scratch and a complete understanding of the architecture of a PC.
Computer science, on the other hand, focuses primarily on computer theory and software. Computer scientists work with complex software systems, machine learning-based algorithms, and more.
However, students with either major will graduate with a basic understanding of common coding languages and a general aptitude around computer software that will set them up for a job in technology.
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What are Common Computer Science Degree Requirements?
A computer science degree can grant you access to a wide range of opportunities — but you do have to do the work to earn one first. Given its focus on programming and problem-solving, computer science is a math-heavy degree that requires students to grapple with some heady, abstract concepts. As college majors go, it’s definitely considered a challenging course of study.
For instance, computer science majors are typically required to take calculus courses, as well as other complicated types of math like linear algebra and statistics. Students will also likely need to master — or at least demonstrate proficiency in — several different programming languages (for example, Java, SQL, and Python®). They can also expect to face classes that cover complex and often theoretical topics, such as algorithm design, data visualization, neural networks, and basic cryptography.
Of course, the specifics of your degree requirement will depend on which institution you’re attending and also which specific computer science degree you’re after.
For instance, both bachelors of science (B.S.) degrees and bachelor of arts (B.A.) degrees in computer science are available at the undergraduate level. Generally speaking, a B.A. might allow for more electives and studies outside of the computer science department, whereas a B.S. might have more stringent requirements.
There are also masters- and doctorate-level computer science studies for those who’ve already completed their undergraduate degree — though you’ll very likely need to have chosen a major related to computer studies rather than, say, a course of study in the humanities.
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How Much Can You Earn with a CS Degree?
While there are many exciting reasons to pursue a computer science major, given how much money it costs to go to college, many students want to know how much they can stand to earn once they have the degree. (This is also sometimes referred to as figuring out your ROEd or return on education — most degrees in America can cost a lot, but not all of them offer great earning prospects in return!)
And the good news is that a computer science major can put you in line for some of the most lucrative and in-demand job positions out there.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information research scientists earned a median of $131,490 per year in 2021.
Along with great pay, computer scientists can also look forward to great job availability; the BLS expects job prospects to grow 21% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.
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Computer science can be a great course of study for people who are interested in learning about computer programming, software development and maintenance, and really all things tech. As a computer scientist, you might code the next smash-hit video game or develop a new kind of AI… all while earning a nice salary and enjoying plenty of job opportunities.
But, of course, a computer science degree comes at a cost. According to U.S. News, the average cost of tuition and fees to attend a public college in 2022-23 was $10,423 for in-state students and $22,953 for out-of-state students. The tuition and fees for a private college was $39,723 per year. And, these numbers don’t include the cost of room and board and other expenses.
Fortunately, there are several options for parents and students who need help paying for a computer science degree. A great first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form opens up opportunities for students to receive grants, scholarships, work-study positions, and federal student loans.
Another option for covering the cost of attendance for college is to take out a private student loan. These are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Rates tend to be higher than federal student loans, but borrowing limits are typically higher. These loans are not need-based and generally require a credit check. Borrowers (or cosigners) with excellent credit tend to qualify for the lowest rates.
Keep in mind that private student loans may not offer the same borrower protections that federal student loans offer, such as forbearance or income-driven repayment plans.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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