Computer Science Degrees: The Approach
Computer science is a versatile field. Computer scientists may work in the field of software development, software engineering, software systems or a related area. Many graduates pursue careers in networking; cyber security is another popular choice. Advanced study can also lead to a career in research or academia. [Learn about online Computer Science degree programs]
Beginning the Journey
Students typically begin their studies with four year degrees. There are many programs to choose from – 258 accredited by ABET alone. Programs vary in selectivity. At some schools, admission to the computer science major is a separate process from university admission. Students may be expected to have advanced math courses already on their transcripts.
The Basics: Computer Science Accreditation
Institutional level accreditation is imperative. Program level accreditation can also be an important indicator of program quality. Computer science programs may hold programmatic accreditation by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET. In order to be accredited, the program must go through a lengthy and ongoing review process.
ABET-accredited programs meet rigorous curricular standards. If you’re enrolled in a baccalaureate computer science program, you can expect to do at least 1 1/3 years of computer science coursework. Your coursework will include algorithms, data structures, computer architecture, and software design. As a computer science student, you will be exposed to many computer languages and will develop proficiency in at least one higher level language; you'll also learn the concepts behind programming languages.
You can also expect to take quite a few math and science courses. ABET-accredited programs include at least half a year's worth of mathematics. Discrete mathematics is always included in the curriculum. Other options could include statistics, symbolic logic, or linear algebra. Calculus is not an accreditation requirement, but chances are good that you’ll be expected to master it. Some programs include courses through third semester. You will also take some laboratory science courses and develop your understanding of the scientific method.
Within the general framework, there's a lot of variety, and a lot of choice. In fact, you may find a lot of choice within a single university. You can take some of your computer science courses as electives. You may get to select a specialization, for example, cryptography and data security or databases and data mining.
You may also have the option of completing an internship. This is your opportunity to make connections in the professional world.
This all being said, Computing Accreditation Commission programmatic accreditation of a computer science program is not a requirement. There are numerous colleges and universities offering computer science degree programs that are highly regarded and offer similar curriculum to those accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission.
Choosing a Program
US News and World Reports has made a list of the top ranked computer science programs.
First place is a four way tie between Carnegie Mellon University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of California-Berkeley. Other contenders are Cornell University, the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign, and the University of Washington.
There are many very strong programs, though, and selection largely comes down to personal choice. The following are factors that you may want to consider: What options will you have when it comes to choosing a specialization or minor? Will you have the opportunity to do a senior capstone project?
You may also want to ask what career services are available and where graduates are finding employment. Schools are required to disclose employment data about their graduates. Sometimes you need to ask. Often, though, you’ll find some data posted. You may even have the chance to read profiles of individuals who have graduated from the program. This can put a human face to future opportunity.
Beyond the Classroom
If you make the most of your undergraduate education, your job prospects should be solid. According to a 2012 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employees who graduated from programs in the computer sciences during 2011 were pulling in an average of $60,594 their first year. Of the eight disciplines reported, this was the second highest, ranking just behind engineering. It was more than $18,000 higher than the average for all disciplines. Of course, there's quite a range; most graduates were seeing between $47,432 and $70,194.
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