By Elizabeth Exline
When it comes to versatile and valuable skill sets, computer science has a lot to offer. At its core, this field focuses on "the study of software systems," notes U.S. News & World Report. But these days, that can mean anything from programming and developing new software (hello, software engineer!) to computer architecture and application development. A computer science degree offers the ability to gain in-demand skills that can be leveraged to create applications people use every day to solve business problems across a variety of industries.
"Computer science is not the sole domain of the IT industry," explains Kathryn Uhles, associate dean for the College of Business and Information Systems at University of Phoenix. "It never has been, really. But more than ever, computer science is applied at companies across industries, from business to nonprofits to the arts. To be competitive, every organization needs computer support, which means computer science professionals can pursue careers within a variety of fields."
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) bears this out. Jobs in computer and information technology are projected to grow 11% between 2019 and 2029, which is considerably faster than average.
That’s all well and good, but what exactly is involved with earning a computer science degree? And what kind of careers and salaries can you expect after school? Here, we answer all this and more.
Unlike some careers where experience can count for as much as education, careers in this field generally begin with advanced education.
That’s not to discount experience and general curiosity. As UOPX Vice President of Application Engineering Kevin Meylor notes, "You’re never going to beat teaching yourself." And work experience, whether it’s an internship or a personal portfolio of projects, does provide an opportunity to develop and fine-tune your skill set.
But to begin your career, whether it is in information security or computer programming, BLS recommends a bachelor’s degree at minimum. This is true for most roles in computer science, but there are no absolutes. For example, web developers may only need an associate degree. Meanwhile, computer and information research scientists might require a master’s degree.
A Bachelor of Science in Computer Science focuses on information technology hardware and software. While there are variations among degree programs, graduates with this degree should know how to apply information technology theory and principles to real-life situations and challenges.
At UOPX, Uhles says, the "Bachelor of Computer Science covers topics like software development and web design. Students focus on information technology theory and principles to address real-world business opportunities and challenges. The program covers core concepts such as computer science theory, algorithms and programming, software development and computer architecture. Emerging trends in technology like artificial intelligence and big data are also explored."
While graduates can sometimes earn a certificate in a subspecialty like cybersecurity, networking or cloud computing, computer science itself is not those things. In fact, there are some clear differences between IT, computer science and cybersecurity, although all these fields are related and live within the greater category of technology.
Most careers rooted in a computer science background involve working with computers and computer systems. This might mean working on the creative side to develop computer applications or programs, or it could mean working on the logistical side to optimize a company’s technology experience by updating its systems and maintaining its technology. This degree, in other words, provides a foundation for a variety of interests, roles, and careers.
In addition to technical skills, TheMuse.com points out that computer science majors learn a number of transferrable soft skills. These include:
Top computer science soft skills:
Just where can your computer science degree take you? Careers in computer science are more varied than you might think. BLS notes that much of the projected job growth will be in cloud computing, information security, and the collection and storage of big data.
What’s more, BLS points out that the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $91,250 in May 2020. Compare that to the median annual wage for all occupations, which was $41,950.
(Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Research specific information for a specific state and city on the BLS website.)
Want more details? Here are a few potential career outcomes for someone with a degree in computer science.
Overview: According to Indeed.com, this role involves designing, creating, deploying, and updating programs. This could be for the web, a specific operating system or even a device. (Developers tend to specialize in one area, like mobile phone apps, for example.) Application developers are also responsible for creating and releasing application updates to end users. This very technical role demands a variety of skills and strong knowledge of programming languages.
National median salary: The median salary for software developers, which is a category that includes application developers, was $110,140 in 2020, according to BLS.
Education requirements: A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field is recommended, while a master’s degree and industry certifications can pave the way for progress within a specialization. (University of Phoenix is one institution that offers certificate courses that can prepare students to sit for industry certification exams.)
Job outlook: 22% growth between 2019 and 2020. (This job growth projection rate is for software developers, which is a category that includes application developers.)
Overview: Not to be confused with an IT support specialist, which generally provides IT assistance to end users, computer consultants assist organizations in implementing and optimizing computer systems and networks. Some end-user support may also be required.
National median salary: The median salary in 2020 for computer network support specialists was $65,450, according to BLS.
Education requirements: A bachelor’s degree in computer science is recommended.
Job outlook: 8% between 2019 and 2029.
Overview: Also known as a systems analyst, IT analysts design and implement information systems that make organizations more efficient. This role can involve overseeing programmers, coders and vendors as well as "creating implementation requirements and developing IT plans with stakeholders," explains Indeed.com.
National median salary: The median salary in 2020 for computer systems analysts was $93,730, according to BLS.
Education requirements: A bachelor’s degree in computer science is common but not always required. Some employers may accept previous work experience as adequate training while other employers may prefer candidates with a master’s degree.
Job outlook: 7% between 2019 and 2029.
Overview: Software developers modify, write and debug computer applications or programs. They are responsible for coding and testing software to make sure it works properly, and they must update software programs as necessary. (Demands for cybersecurity and data storage, for instance, can necessitate these updates.)
National median salary: The median salary for software developers in 2020 was $110,140, according to BLS.
Education requirements: A bachelor’s degree in computer and information technology or a related field is recommended.
Job outlook: 22% between 2019 and 2029.
As Meylor notes, the key to success in any IT field is to be continually learning. It’s not enough to simply get a degree or complete a boot camp. Technology is a constantly evolving field, and so its professionals need to be as well.
Graduates need to continue their education to be competitive candidates in the field of computer science. They can accomplish this either with hands-on experience or continued education.
Additionally, ComputerScience.org notes these other factors help:
For more resumé guidance, check out this blog and downloadable template.
Deciding to pursue a degree in computer science will depend on both your goals and your situation.
At UOPX, the online degree format is particularly attractive to working adults who need to fit in their education with their other commitments. Start dates for this four-year degree are available year-round, and the sequential nature of the program means students take just one course at a time. Each class lasts five weeks, enabling students to take up to 10 courses per year.
Beyond the flexibility of an online format, however, UOPX’s Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree is aligned with the skills currently in demand in the workforce. Students also have the option to specialize their degree with a certificate in 10 different categories, including advanced networking, advanced cybersecurity and cloud computing.
"A degree in computer science is more than just learning how to code, which anyone can learn through a variety of the channels out there," Uhles explains. "A degree can help develop the essential skills many employers are looking for in their employees while also developing the IT skills required for a job in the industry. Essential skills like problem-solving, project management, demonstrating tenacity to see something through and understanding business/customer needs are just some of the examples of how a degree rounds out experience."
To help set up students for a successful career path, UOPX’s Computer Science degree covers:
With strong projected job growth and continually evolving knowledge and capability, computer science is a field full of potential. The only question that remains is whether and how you will use your potential to pursue a career in it.
The field of IT relies on ingenuity, information and, more than anything, a few key skills. Find out which ones are most in demand today.
If you’re ready to take the next step toward a career in computer science, discover the Computer Science degree program at University of Phoenix!