Graduates of today's computer science (CS) programs are entering a constantly
changing field. What's hot and in demand now might be very different six months
For this reason, computer science programs focus more on theory and problem
solving. If they tried to create experts in the programs and systems currently
most used in the work world, graduates would always be out of date.
Programs in computer science are offered at schools all over North America.
Universities offer primarily undergraduate and graduate degree programs, although
many also offer diplomas and certificates that can be completed more quickly.
Community college programs also offer many options, including a two-year
associate's degree, a two-year university transfer program and a one-year
In many areas, technical schools or career colleges offer other options.
These technical programs offer a highly condensed and concentrated course
load and can usually be finished in a one- to two-year time period.
"There are going to be specific kinds of jobs, anything that involves research,
where certainly a graduate degree would be needed," says Wayne Eberly. He's
a professor of computer science.
"But there are lots of jobs, including very interesting ones, for which
a bachelor of science in computer science will be enough."
Linda Ott recommends getting at least a four-year degree. She's a professor
of computer science at Michigan Technological University.
"The way things are going now, I think students at least need to have a
bachelor's degree in computer science," says Ott. "Sometimes you can get a
job starting out [with less than a degree], but in terms of having a long-term
career, you really need to have a strong foundation in computing, and so minimally
a bachelor's degree.
"And in a lot of cases to get into the cutting-edge, more exciting areas,
having some graduate school like a master's degree, or occasionally a PhD,
is necessary," Ott adds.
But one- and two-year programs also have their place. These programs allow
students to enter the job market earlier. And often, students can still transfer
to a four-year program.
"There are a lot of good jobs out there for students with B.S. (bachelor
of science) degrees, but they need to have in addition to that... the desire
to continue to learn new things because the field changes so rapidly," says
"An interest in constantly learning new things, new kinds of applications,
working in different environments [is important], which makes it a really
fun and exciting field to be in, but it is a challenge. You don't just get
to go to school for four years and then think you're done learning."
Most programs offer standard courses in programming languages, theoretical
computer science, software design and engineering, artificial intelligence,
and computer graphics. These courses allow students to achieve proficiency
in programming, research and development, systems analysis, and software engineering.
"We deliberately don't say an awful lot about which programming language
we're going to be using in first year because it's not important to us," says
"That's sometimes a surprise (for new students). The focus is not on competence
in Python or competence in C++, the focus is on competence in language [programming
in general] so the student can go on and learn another language on their own
afterwards, whatever that language might be."
Math (especially calculus) and science skills should be the foundation
for anyone thinking about a CS program.
"Some students are not necessarily expecting that mathematics will be
as important as it is," says Eberly. "On the other hand, there are parts of
computer science that don't need the mathematics too intensively... so it's
important for some courses, but it's not the be all and end all."
Of course, it's a good idea to take computer science courses if they're
offered at your school.
"Anything that helps students to improve their communication skills will
be valuable too," says Eberly. "If you're working as a developer you're going
to have to be talking to other people, finding out what kind of a problem
it is that they need to solve. You're going to have to help them develop the
documentation that describes whatever system is being developed too."
The major expense aside from tuition is textbooks. Other expenses include
memory sticks and software programs (though sometimes these are provided).
"We do everything using a lot of open-source software... so the students
can get the same software environment on their home PCs or laptops or whatever
for free," says Ott.
Students almost always own a computer or laptop. But if they don't, computer
science programs offer computer labs for students.
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