What is a computer science degree? (With skills and careers)

Updated 25 July 2023

As the world relies more on digital technology, experts in this field are becoming even more essential. This makes university courses such as computer science degrees especially valuable, as they educate the next generation of digital pioneers. If you like computers and other types of digital technology, this field of study could be for you. In this article, we explain what a computer science degree is, the importance of pursuing this degree, what the coursework entails and review potential jobs after graduation.

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What is a computer science degree?

A computer science degree is the focus of theoretical principles surrounding computation, often combined with scientific theories and their application in real-world environments. It often uses protocols and algorithms to process data. Study courses typically include:

  • how computer systems work

  • how to design software

  • problem-solving using computers

  • managing databases and data analysis

  • how to write code

You may typically learn about the hardware that powers computers and various coding languages like C++ and Java. It also teaches you the various concepts within the field and how to use them in different environments. At its core, a computer science degree teaches the systematic acquisition, compilation and analysis of information and data using computing technology and models. Universities typically award computer science degrees as a Bachelor of Science (BSc) at an undergraduate level. However, you can continue your education and pursue a master's or even PhD in computer science.

Related: What is a bachelor's degree?

Advantages of studying computer science

A computer science degree teaches you skills that you can use in a wide variety of jobs. Here are some reasons you may study computer science:

  • Growing demand: As technology becomes integrated more and more into our everyday lives, the demand for experts in computer science and related fields is increasing quickly.

  • Career prospects: Owing to the increased need for computer scientists, there are a wide variety of jobs open to you once you graduate, both in computer science and in related fields of work.

  • Broad curriculum: Because of the varied choice of modules, you're likely to find a role that interests you no matter what area of technology you're passionate about.

How long does it take to get a computer science degree?

How long you'll need to study for your computer science degree depends on whether you study full time or part time. A full-time degree typically takes around three years, and a part-time degree is likely to take between four and five years. Note that this varies between institutions and the specific course of enrolment. Your course may also take longer if you decide to join a work experience scheme for some of your study time.

Related: 9 examples of computer careers (plus duties and salaries)

What modules to study?

The modules that you study vary from institution to institution. You should consider this carefully when deciding where to study. However, some topics are intrinsic to the field of computer science and they are highly likely to be on the curriculum, no matter where you study. These may include:

  • Artificial Intelligence

  • Internet of things

  • computation theories

  • data science

  • web development

Later in your studies, such as in your second or third year, you can tailor your course more to your individual interests and career plans. However, there are likely to be certain modules that you must take to fulfil your degree's credit requirements.

Related: What it takes to be a computer consultant (with tips)

What assessments do you complete?

To get your degree, you may demonstrate that you have the skills and understanding of the principal areas of computer science. Universities assess these skills and knowledge throughout the course. Assessments you may complete include:

  • Coursework: The coursework strand of your computer science degree may consist of written assignments, programming assignments and online quizzes.

  • Exams: You will need to sit unseen written examinations testing you on a broad selection of topics across a module.

  • Final project: This is the equivalent of a dissertation and comprises several aspects, including submitting a proposal, doing research and writing your conclusion on the topic.

What skills do you gain?

When studying for a degree in computer science, you may develop both hard and soft skills that are transferable to other roles. Here are examples of those skills that may be helpful in your career:

Soft skills

You're likely to develop a range of soft skills that you could use in a variety of workplaces. Honing these skills can help you be effective in your role and transfer to other roles in the future. Here are skills you may enhance while gaining your degree:

  • Time management: Throughout your degree, you may work on time-sensitive projects, helping you to develop your organisation and time management skills.

  • Innovation: A core factor of computer science degrees is using computation models to provide innovative solutions to problems involving data, so you'll develop a strong sense of innovation.

  • Communication: Across your studies you work both alone and in groups, meaning you develop your written and verbal communication over the years.

  • Attention to detail: As you work with program and coding systems, attention to detail is a must for any successful computer science graduate.

  • Critical thinking: You may solve many computational problems throughout your degree, so critical thinking skills are essential.

Related: ​What are common software developer qualifications?

Hard skills

Alongside these personal skills, you may also develop several technical or hard skills. The technical skills that you learn throughout your computer science degree vary depending on the institution you're studying at. Here are hard skills you may gain:

  • coding languages like Java, C++, HTML, PHP and Python

  • database creations and maintenance

  • data visualisations

  • AI applications and machine learning

  • Algorithm development

  • web development and site hosting

  • operating system design

  • computer networks

  • digital security and cryptography

These skills can help introduce computer scientists to various professions, such as network engineers, data scientists, data analysts, programmers and web developers. Although students often learn to work with more than one coding language, it's common to specialise in just one at first. The technical skills of a computer scientist primarily involve the software aspect of computing, whereas hardware is the primary concern of a computer engineer.

Related: Computer skills: Definitions and examples

Careers for computer science graduates

Following graduation, there may be several careers available to you in this field. This may include careers both in computer science and in similar fields, such as cybersecurity. Below are several careers suitable for someone with a computer science degree:

1. Data scientist

National average salary: £50,019 per year

Primary duties: A data scientist analyses and processes data to develop plans of action for organisations. Data scientists must have knowledge of mathematics, statistics and computer science to interpret wide ranges of data. They also need good analytical skills, as their job is to turn unstructured data into something useful.

Related: How to become a data scientist in 4 steps

2. Web developer

National average salary: £33,823 per year

Primary duties: A web developer is a professional who creates websites using coding and the computing program. They might focus on front-end development (what the user can see) or back-end development (what happens behind the scenes). Web developers may also possess good time management and creative skills.

3. Software tester

National average salary: £44,442 per year

Primary duties: A software tester focuses on the quality assurance of software. Often available as an entry-level position, software testing requires meticulous and reliable attention to detail. They may also think critically and evaluate the suitability of the software for its intended users.

4. Network architect

National average salary: £66,700 per year

Primary duties: A network architect designs, builds and implements new communication networks such as local area networks (LANs). Increasingly, a network architect's remit is widening to include building cloud networks. They may work for various organisations in the IT department. Network architects may also possess analytical, solving problems and communication skills.

5. Systems analyst

National average salary: £33,559 per year

Primary duties: A systems analyst continually improves the productivity and data-related efficiency of a business by designing new IT systems and solutions. They also modify existing IT infrastructure and inform employees of the changes made. Attention to detail and analytical skills are vital for this role.

6. IT project manager

National average salary: £45,014 per year

Primary duties: An IT project manager oversees the developmental and installation processes of computer systems. Sometimes companies have their own IT project manager, while sometimes it outsources the role. Project managers also manage the installation of projects to adhere to deadlines.

Related: How to become a project manager

7. Data engineer

National average salary: £56,567 per year

Primary duties: A data engineer is a specialist who builds IT systems that can manage raw data and process it in a controlled and optimised way. Data scientists may then use this data to help organisations solve technical issues. Data engineers also dedicate themselves to ensuring that the collated data is usable.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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