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Computer Science Major Overview

Are you a computer whiz? Do you enjoy solving puzzles? Do you get excited to learn about new technology and how it works? If so, you might want to consider majoring in computer science. In this program, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to build, maintain and enhance software programs. If that sounds interesting to you, read on to learn more about what to expect from a computer science major.

What is a computer science major?

Computer science is the study of computers and computational systems. This includes topics including algorithms, hardware systems, data structures and programming languages. However, the particular curriculum may vary by institution.

At many schools, students can choose to study computer science as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). While the BA program has more liberal arts requirements, the BS involves more math and science courses.

Students who want to work in more creative fields may choose a BA whereas those who want to focus on more complex technical problems may opt for a BS. However, in practice, the two degrees are pretty interchangeable and won’t affect students’ qualifications for a job post-graduation.

Coursework to expect

The computer science curriculum aims to equip students with the knowledge of how computer systems function and the skills to work within them. Because math concepts will often be used when studying topics like algorithms, many programs have a calculus prerequisite.

Computer science programs often involve a lot of hands-on work. While classes may still have midterms and finals, they’re typically more project-based. Although students will learn how to program in various languages like C++ or Java, that’s not usually the focus of the curriculum. Rather, they’ll learn fundamental skills that they can apply to many different situations.

For example, computer science students may study the main building blocks of programming languages and how they work on a computer level. They’ll also practice how to break down problems to solve them efficiently before implementing the best solution. That way, when they encounter problems in the future in a different language or environment, they’ll still be able to figure it out.

The computer science major at Cornell University

At Cornell University, the computer science curriculum includes topics like algorithms, data structures, logic, programming languages, systems and theory. Students can also choose from electives including artificial intelligence, computer graphics, computer vision, cryptography and databases.

The course requirements include:

  • Introductory programming
  • Five-course computer science core
  • Three CS elective courses
  • CS practicum or project course
  • Three technical electives
  • Three related courses
  • Major-approved elective

Many other institutions include a lot of the same basic requirements. However, the specific courses offered at each school often vary.

Opportunities after graduation

Computer science is well-known for its ability to land students high-paying jobs shortly after graduation. However, not everyone knows that software development isn’t the only career path available. Let’s talk about some of the most popular job opportunities for computer science majors.

Jobs you can get with a computer science degree

1. Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers

This line of work involves developing applications, writing code, and then testing them out before they are released to the public. You’ll work with a team of people who find a need, work out a solution, and test it to optimize performance.

2020 Median Pay: $110,140 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 22% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Computer and Information Research Scientists

You’ll come up with new solutions that can be achieved with technological solutions. This can involve researching problems and troubleshooting how they can be solved with technology.

2020 Median Pay: $126,830 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 15% (much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

3. Computer systems analyst

Organizations and corporations bring in computer systems analysts to optimize their computer system. This can involve introducing an organization to new software. You’ll optimize productivity and efficiency for the organization’s hardware.

2020 Median Pay: $93,730 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 7% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

4. Computer programmer 

Computer programmers are involved in the nuts-and-bolts of designing software and computer infrastructure. If you love code, this could be the right field for you. You can be involved in making new applications or optimizing existing ones.

2020 Median Pay: $89,190 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): -9% (decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

5. Computer network architects

Computer network architects design and implement networks that keep computers connected. This includes connections to the internet and local connections. As cybersecurity becomes increasingly important, this will become a more important aspect of the job.

2020 Median Pay: $116,780 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (faster than average

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Frequently asked questions

Is there a low-cost alternative to a computer science degree?

If you are considering studying computer science, remember, there are alternatives to a traditional college degree. Coding bootcamps can offer a faster and more affordable alternative. It’s not the same as a college experience, but if you are certain of what you want to do, it can be a great option. There are also many scholarships available for these programs. Even lower-cost programs exist that can jump-start a computer science career, such as the Google Certificate Program. If you do choose to major in computer science, check out these Top Computer Science Scholarships!

How do I know if computer science is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in computer science, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you enjoy problem solving?
  • Are you interested in the inner workings of computers?
  • Do you work well independently and as part of a team?
  • Can you spend long stretches of time in front of the computer?
  • Are you able to look at a complex system and see it both as a large system and a web of specific parts?

If you answered yes to most of those questions, then a computer science major might be right for you!

Also read: How to pick a major