Computer Science Degree 101: Everything You Need to Know

Portrait of smiling young Vietnamese software engineer

Obtaining a computer science degree is something many people are foregoing today. The difficulty, the amount of time it takes, course requirements, and mathematical requirements in attaining a degree, often scare some prospects away. With this in mind, a CS degree is beneficial, but there is more than one route you can take to obtaining it. The education requirements computer science degree will vary based upon whether you’re getting a BA, AA, or Certification.

In this post we’ll go over what you can expect when trying to obtain a computer science degree. We’ll cover

  • The time it takes (based on the degree type)
  • How to succeed/excel (steps you can take to do well)
  • CS degree difficulty, and how much you’ll work to obtain each of the degree types
  • How long it will take to obtain each degree type

Regardless of where you’re starting, we’ll help you decide if a career in computer science is for you, whether you need a degree, and how to go about obtaining it.

How Hard is it to get a Computer Science Degree?

It’s challenging, it’s a difficult career choice, but it’s not impossible. If the technology field intrigues you, you’re driven, and willing to put in the work, it’s possible for you to get your computer science degree, and excel in the field of work.

The degree of difficulty is going to vary for each individual; there’s no way to answer “how hard” it is for every individual. The course materials can be challenging, but if you’re willing to put in the work, study, are patient, and determined, you can do well. If you’re starting from scratch you’ll want to

  • Understand the foundations of computer science
  • Take a few basic math and intro courses
  • Enroll in a few seminars to get a better understanding of the career field

This will give you some great footing and groundwork behind you, to at least get started if you don’t have any experience in computer science studies. Although it’s not “hard,” you do have to be scientifically minded and driven in order to understand it. This means you’re curious, you want to know how things work, you ask questions and delve into topics many shy away from. You must be inquisitive, you can’t shy away from challenges, and you must be resilient, as you are going to falter along the way.

How “hard” something is, is really dependent on how much time, effort, energy, and dedication you put into it. You must be naturally inclined to ask questions and have a curiosity to find out how things work in order to do well in this field. But, if you meet those criteria, and are willing to put in the work, you’ll likely succeed as a student.

What can I do to Succeed in CS and Master Your Coursework

Is computer science for you? This is the starting point to determining whether or not to obtain a computer science degree in the first place. If you’re a person who

  • Loves tech
  • Loves science
  • Excels in math
  • Is inquisitive

It’s definitely a field you’ll do well in. But, even if you aren’t the “techie” it doesn’t mean you can’t do well. CS degrees offer a wide range of career opportunities. For example, you can work as a help desk specialist, so if you like to teach and help others, you can do well in this field. You can work as an analyst or support tech. If you like working in a team and have the right mindset to develop, you can work in CS.

Now that you’ve determined you want to enter this field, and you understand the education requirements of computer science, what can you do to excel in your studies? Even if you aren’t the tech genius, math whiz, or rocket scientist who picks things up quickly, you can do well in CS. Some of the ways you can improve your chances of excelling in your coursework include

  1. Being a problem-solver, analytical thinker, and rational thinker
  2. When you utilize your brain, inquire, and dig deeper to find out “how” things work and “why” they work, you’ll do well
  3. Be scientifically inclined
  4. If you’re not, be curious!
  5. Use mind tricks, complete puzzles, solve a Rubix cube
  6. Speculate and draw conclusions and hypothesize
  7. Focus on practical skills
  8. You’ll work in lab settings, theoretical classes, and develop knowledge by doing
  9. Put in the time and effort
  10. We can’t stress this enough, you have to be inclined to work hard and manage your time well
  11. Cramming or studying the night before, won’t suit you well
  12. Delve into math
  13. If you’re afraid of it, work with tutors
  14. Work with number games
  15. Find ways to make numbers fun and engaging (you’ll see plenty of them, you might as well learn to love them)
  16. Utilize free courses
  17. There are some things you won’t learn in class
  18. Use free lessons and online tutorials to learn coding languages
  19. Use Youtube videos, forums, and other resources, to help you learn a difficult coding language
  20. Code Academy, CodeWars, Free Code Camp (and more) are your resources to guide you (you’re not alone!)
  21. You’re not alone, don’t try to be a lone wolf and do it yourself. Work with others, work in groups, and focus on putting things into practice.

Is this going to make you the perfect computer science major overnight? No. But, learning to utilize resources that are there to help you, will greatly improve your chances of doing well. And, being inquisitive, putting the time in, theorizing, and working towards finding solutions, will give you the practice you need to do well in your math courses and exams, and also excel in laboratories and other group settings.

The Options Available for a CS Degree

There are three options you might choose to undertake if you want to work in computer science. You can

  • Obtain certifications
  • Get an Associate’s degree
  • Get your Bachelor’s degree

It isn’t required to have a bachelor’s degree to work in the field. Especially for entry-level jobs. But, the right educational foundation will help you not only land the best jobs but ultimately, your dream job and salary.

So, just how much time, energy, the dedication will you put in? And, what are the education requirements computer science required for each of these educational routes? Let’s see!

Computer Science Certification

Why choose a CS degree or certification? This is a popular route which many people who work in information technology (IT) might choose to take. A variety of nondegree certifications allow specialists to showcase their expertise in an area, learn invaluable skills, and advance their careers. Certification validates your technical knowledge of the subject area, without having to go to school for several years to obtain it.

Some professions in the field may require formal certifications. Working as a

  • Security manager
  • Network administrator
  • Project manager
  • Software developer

Or other, related fields, will all require specializations that an IT professional might not have. Certification will help these individuals obtain that knowledge base. In order to obtain certification, it’s often required for students to pass one or several tests, and complete a series of assignments throughout the certification course.

Types of Certification

There are two primary types

  • Vendor-Specific
    1. This is a great option for companies that work with specific platforms.
    2. Cisco, Microsoft, Java, and other vendor-specific certifications are available
    3. Many employers will request this, for others, it’ll afford applicants a higher salary if they obtain them
  • Vendor-Neutral
    1. These certifications aren’t provided through a specific vendor
    2. Many nonprofits and organizations offer the certification course (they’re often similar to vendor-specific, but don’t have a “name” tied to them)
    3. CompTIA and ISC are a couple of organizations which offer cybersecurity professionals, government professionals, or IT specialists, different forms of training

How Long it Takes & How to Choose a Certification Course

Most certification courses are available in a classroom setting, or online today. And, a majority of them range in duration from 3 months, up to 12 months, depending on the coursework, training, development, and different programs (vendor-specific) categories are taught.

In order to choose the right certification course in computer science, some variables to weigh include

  • The cost
  • The chance for advancement in your field (with your employer)
  • The requirements (how many exams there are, how many times you have to go to a classroom, if it can be done online, etc)
  • If it’s a vendor-specific course, how long the certification is valid for
  • If there are advanced or on-demand courses available
  • What the prerequisites are and which education requirements computer science are in place

Every certification program varies. You’ll want to choose one that is approved or offered by a reputable membership organization to ensure its validity. You’ll also want to choose certification which will propel your career and help you advance in your specific course or area of work in computer science.

Computer Science Associate’s Degree

For those who want to get an associate’s degree in computer science, there are some prerequisites in place. These are generally the prerequisites required by any college, university, or institution, for all degree-seeking students. Although you can learn troubleshooting, programming, design, and some basic computer languages on your own, some employers will require an AA degree in computer science before hiring you.

What You’ll Learn

In an Associate’s degree program you’ll learn

  • Introduction to operating systems
  • Coding and basic language
  • Programming languages, algorithms, certain engineering principles
  • Database fundamentals
  • Computer networking fundamentals

Every institution will vary in the manner courses are taught, the speed, and their requirements for graduation.

Jobs with an Associate’s Degree

Students who obtain an associate’s degree can apply for roles in computer system analysis, computer programming, information security analysis, information system manager roles, and computer support specialists. It’s important, however, to choose an accredited college or online program to obtain your associate’s degree from, to ensure it’s valid and accepted by employers. To get into schools, you’ll necessarily need

  • High school diploma
  • TOEFL or international scores/test grades
  • College transcripts (if you’ve taken the basic prerequisites)
  • Passing scores in math/English placement tests

There are numerous financial aid programs and scholarships available to applicants who choose to obtain their AA as well.

How Long it Takes

For most students, it will take two years to complete an AA in computer science. The requirement for graduation is between 60 to 66 credit hours. These courses will include basic math courses, science, English, and other prerequisites which are required for any major chosen at most top colleges/institutions, and a series of specialized courses, which will vary (and change in name) depending on the online school or college students choose to attend.

Computer Science Bachelor’s Degree

As demand for computer science professionals grows, those who possess a bachelor’s degree or higher is on the decline. This degree will help propel you into a higher salary range, afford you more job opportunities, and help you land jobs with top employers in computer science.

How Long it Takes

Most students complete their bachelor’s in 3 to 5 years, and a total of 120 to 128 credits are required to graduate. Each institution has their own rules in place, but a minimum of 120 credit hours are required to obtain a bachelor’s degree in this field of study.

What courses are required?

Again, this varies by the institution(and whether it’s in class or online study). However, some of the basic course requirements for a bachelor’s include

  • Introduction to algorithms
  • Data structure courses
  • Software engineering
  • Computer architecture
  • Operating systems

Degree Concentrations

Several schools offer concentrations for students obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Some areas of specialization include

  • Databases or data mining
  • Embedded systems
  • Graphics and games
  • Animation, hardware, design
  • Engineering
  • Biology, bioengineering, genomics
  • Robotics and control systems

And, this isn’t an all-inclusive list of areas of specialization. For students who take a liking to these concentrations, you can take specialized courses to obtain additional certification, when obtaining your bachelor’s.

The average starting salary, in any field/profession with a bachelor’s degree today, is around $60K. Some fields, including senior software engineers, are earning $100K (plus) with new employers. So, the opportunities are endless, and the options for moving around with an employer are greater, by obtaining a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or online program.

What’s Required to Apply

Every school has different parameters in place for accepting new students, however, most require (at a minimum)

  • High school diploma
  • SAT and ACT scores
  • Participation in STEM organizations or clubs
  • Resumes
  • Letters of recommendation
  • English coursework
  • Mathematical course work
  • At least 2 years of a foreign language

Again, each college has different guidelines in place, so make sure to check requirements when applying.

Is a Career in Computer Science for You?

As highlighted here, there’s more than one route to becoming a computer scientist, engineer, or database administrator. But, being inquisitive, dedicated, a hard worker, and someone who’s willing to focus on practical skills, are all characteristics which will help you in your path towards working in this field. The degree you choose to obtain is up to you. And, the career options are endless.

So, get started in the application process, start learning about certification options, and begin your path towards a degree in computer science today!

Computer Science Programs across the country.

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