Earning a degree in computer science can open many doors in your career, thanks to the tech boom bringing a wave of new technologies to a range of different fields and industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly 550,000 new jobs will be added to the computer and information technology (IT) sector between 2018 and 2028, and the median annual pay for emerging positions is expected to be more than double the national average.
On top of that, a 2019 survey by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) shows that the unemployment rate for tech workers in the U.S. is just 1.3 percent. Such a low level of unemployment suggests that the projected skilled worker shortage in tech over the next few years might help new computer science graduates get settled into new jobs faster.
Students seeking computer science degrees can learn the foundational concepts of many different disciplines, from robotics and artificial intelligence to computational learning and game design. Online computer science programs are also available, if you're hoping to advance your career without taking too much time away from your existing responsibilities to work and family. We'll mention traditional as well as online computer science programs in the rundown of our best colleges below.
Keep reading to learn more about top computer science schools, as well as pick up some helpful information on career paths, scholarships, and career outlooks for graduates of computer science degree programs.
Best Colleges for Computer Science Degree Programs
To help you better understand your options for a computer science education, we gathered data from U.S. Department of Education sources and analyzed around 700 colleges and universities in categories like affordability, flexibility, student success and institutional spending on academic support. Read on to learn more about these featured institutions, or tap the Methodology button below for additional info on the calculations we made to decide the rankings.
Student success measures were one of the brightest spots for the University of North Carolina's main campus. The first-year student retention rate at UNC-Chapel Hill was an impressive 96 percent in 2018, and its nearly 91 percent graduation rate was good enough for a spot among the 30 best computer science schools in the country in that category.
Computer science programs at UNC-Chapel Hill: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) and Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees in computer science are both available here, as well as a B.S./Master of Science (M.S.) combined degree for students who want a faster route to a master's. Graduate students and post-grads can enroll in a standard M.S. in computer science and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program.
Also located in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Research Triangle, North Carolina State University put up impressive student success numbers in its own right -- a 94 percent retention rate and a graduation rate in the 85th percentile nationally. NCSU alumni have done well at managing their college debt after leaving school, as well, with more than 83 percent of graduates paying off their loans within three years.
Computer science programs at NCSU: The B.S. program in computer science at NCSU allows students to pursue a general study plan or choose a degree track that focuses on entrepreneurship, information security or game development. Students who already hold a bachelor's degree can pursue a graduate certificate in computer programming or five campus-based and two online master's degrees.
The Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota is the institution's flagship location, with a student body that numbers more than 50,000 and a list of accomplishments that includes doubling its graduation rate since 1997 and helping to invent the pacemaker. The Minneapolis institution is dedicated to providing a quality college experience, spending more than $11,000 per student on academic support expenses.
Computer science programs at U of M-Twin Cities: Four graduate degree plans are available here: a Master of Computer Science (M.C.S.) program and M.S. degrees in general computer science, data science and software engineering. B.A. and B.S. computer science degrees are available for undergraduates, as well as a five-year integrated program that leads to both a bachelor's and a master's degree.
Students looking for online computer science programs should look twice at Arizona State University, which reported that more than 46 percent of students enrolled in 2018 took at least some of their courses in the virtual classroom. It also awarded one of the largest proportions of computer science degrees in the country, with more than 570 students graduating in computing disciplines during the 2018-19 academic year.
Computer science programs at ASU: The School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems at ASU offers graduate and undergraduate programs in software engineering and computer systems engineering as well as general computer science degrees for bachelor's and master's students. Students looking for online computer science programs can earn a B.S. in software engineering or M.C.S. degrees in computer science or cybersecurity in the virtual classroom.
Founded as a land-grant institution in 1867, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign posted some of the better student success figures among schools that made our list and ranks among the top 50 computer science schools in the U.S. for graduation rate. More than 49,000 learners attend classes here each semester, with undergraduates making up around two-thirds of the student body.
Computer science programs at U of I: Computer science degrees here are highly customizable, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Joint graduate degrees combine study of computer science with an additional degree in architecture or law, and joint bachelor's plans exist for computer science students interested in fields like linguistics, economics, advertising, astronomy, chemistry, crop sciences and more.
No other institution in our top ten set aside a larger percentage of its annual budget for counseling services, instructional improvements and other academic support expenses than the University of Washington. Its retention and graduation rates rank in the 90th percentile nationally, and graduates reportedly have an easier time managing post-college debt than they might at other schools. Nearly 84 percent of alumni had paid down their loan balances within three years of graduation.
Computer science programs at UW: Computer science students at this Puget Sound institution have two undergraduate plans to choose from -- a B.S. in computer science and a B.S. in computer engineering -- as well as a combined bachelor's/master's program. A part-time professional master's program for working adults is available via evening classes.
If affordability is one of your top concerns when it comes to college, the University of South Florida should probably be on your radar. The Tampa Bay-area school features the lowest average in-state tuition of any institution on our list, charging students a mean figure of just over $6,400 for a full year of coursework. It's also one of the largest schools in our top ten, educating around 48,000 students in 2018.
Computer science programs at USF: Undergraduates can pursue campus-based plans in general computer science and computer engineering, as well as partially online degrees in cybersecurity and information technology. Master's programs are available in all bachelor's fields except cybersecurity, and the Ph.D. program is accessible to qualified students with or without a master's degree.
It's well understood that Harvard University is nobody's budget option for a college education, but the quality of the academic programs and some truly outstanding student success numbers made up for the steep private school price tag. Harvard's 96 percent graduation rate ranked second among all schools we surveyed nationwide, and its per-student academic support expenditure of nearly $44,000 is one of the highest in the country.
Computer science programs at Harvard: Harvard undergraduates can choose to concentrate specifically on computer science or study it as a secondary field to their degree track in mathematics, physics, psychology, economics or linguistics, among others. Graduate degrees for are offered in computational science and engineering and data science, and the Ph.D. program in computer science has both software and hardware prerequisites.
The Springfield outpost of the University of Illinois system is about one-tenth the size of the main campus, but a close-knit learning environment comes with a few advantages. The student faculty ratio here is 12:1, for example, which is a full 25 percent better than the national university average calculated by U.S. News and World Report, and its percentage of online learners was the largest one on our list.
Computer science programs at UIS: The B.S. in computer science at UIS is offered both online and on campus with an identical curriculum. Undergraduates can also pursue a degree in information systems security, and the 32-credit master's degree can also be earned either through distance education courses or in a traditional campus-based format.
Only one other school on our list posted lower in-state tuition numbers than San Diego State University, where students were charged an average of less than $7,500 for the year in 2018-19. SDSU students also graduate with a relatively manageable amount of student debt, reporting a median loan balance of around $15,000 -- just over 40 percent of the national average figure.
Computer science programs at SDSU: Students who pursue a bachelor's degree in computer science at SDSU will study algorithms, systems programming and data structures, among other subjects. The M.S. program features courses from five main areas -- software, artificial intelligence, systems, architecture and computer science theory -- and a certificate in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is available for those hoping to work with spatial data.
Computer Science Programs and Common Career Paths
Educational requirements for computer science careers can vary from job to job, as well as from employer to employer. Some advanced professions may require a graduate degree or higher, while some entry-level jobs can be filled by students with associate degrees and college certificates. Take a look at this snapshot of career paths for graduates of computer science degree programs at the five main academic levels.
There are two main types of non-degree study plans in computer science: undergraduate certificates and post-baccalaureate certificates. Undergraduate plans focus on teaching foundational concepts like data structures and computer programming, while post-baccalaureate plans -- designed for students who have already earned a bachelor's degree in an unrelated discipline -- work to ensure that students are ready for a graduate program in the field.
Two years of full-time study are usually required to complete an associate degree in computer science, which typically consists of a range of general education coursework as well as a comprehensive computer science education. Discipline-specific courses in associate degree programs include programming, databases, networking, operating systems and basic software engineering.
At the bachelor's level, computer science degree programs begin to take on a more sophisticated character. These four-year study plans aim to provide students with a solid foundation in computer science theory and systems, artificial intelligence concepts, software development, database management and multiple programming languages.
Most graduate-level study plans in computer science lead to a Master of Science (M.S.) degree. This is the level where numerous online computer science programs begin to become available, which can be a big help for working professionals hoping to advance in their careers. Coursework in computer science master's programs tends to depend on the specialization you choose; common specializations include analytics, artificial intelligence, software theory, machine learning and human-computer interactions.
Anyone hoping to go into research or scholarship in the field of computer science should expect to continue their education to the doctoral level. Not only that, but the competitive nature of hiring for top jobs in the field can make this terminal degree a helpful credential for more career-minded computer scientists. Curriculum requirements for doctorate-level degrees in computer science can vary quite a bit from one institution to another, but most programs culminate in the presentation of an extensively researched dissertation to a panel of faculty judges.
Computer Science Program Accreditation
When searching for computer science degree programs, pay attention to the accreditation status of the degrees and institutions you're considering. The Computing Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the main source of computer science program accreditation in the U.S., accrediting more than 300 individual study plans throughout the country. Some programs that are angled more toward engineering may be accredited by ABET's Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC).
Computer Science Specializations
- Data analytics typically requires a deeper understanding of statistical techniques than most computer science careers, especially for those working with big data.
- Bioinformatics is a field that occupies an intersection between life science and computer science and often requires education in biology, genetics, health care informatics and more.
- Artificial intelligence study typically emphasizes language, probability and logic alongside the study of machine learning and robotics concepts.
- Computer and network security can include courses in cryptography, criminalistics and other law enforcement concepts, as well as training in network and database security protocols.
Computer Science Certification and Licensure
The right computer science certification can be a great way to demonstrate your expertise to employers and boost your career prospects. The world of computer science and IT certifications is vast, but here's a list of some of the more common credentials that you might look into:
- CompTIA A+
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
- ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
- ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
We've got some more info on certifications and other info specific to individual careers at the pages below:
Career Outlook for Computer Science Majors
Employment for all computer occupations is expected to increase by 13 percent through 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. However, employment for computer research scientists is expected to increase by 19 percent, or 5,400 new jobs, during that same time. Employment should be spurred in part by growth in data collection and data mining services to help businesses better understand large amounts of data. The growing emphasis on cybersecurity also is expected to be a leading driver of additional employment for students who graduate from on-campus or online computer science degree programs.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Information Security Analysts||$102,470||108,060||31.6%|
|Software Developers, Applications||$108,080||903,160||25.6%|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||$123,850||30,070||16.5%|
|Software Developers, Systems Software||$114,000||405,330||10.1%|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$93,610||587,970||8.8%|
|Computer Science Teachers, Postsecondary||$96,200||32,430||4.2%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Computer Science
Students pursuing computer science degrees can tap into federal financial aid programs to help pay for their tuition. They also can pursue scholarships and grants to help fund their education. A few of the many different scholarships for computer science degree programs include the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service and the Women Techmakers Scholars Program for women enrolled in computing technology programs. Another important scholarship opportunity is the IEEE Computer Society's Richard E. Merwin Student Scholarship for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in computer engineering or computer science. The Association for Computing Machinery also funds scholarships for students to attend various ACM scholarships.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor's) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale:
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees
- Median debt
- 3 year loan repayment rate
- Graduation rate
- Retention rate
- Institutional spending
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Percent of students enrolled in DE
- Evening and weekend programs
- Academic and career counseling
- Total number of degrees conferred for particular CIP codes
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