Computer Science

Computer Science Curriculum: What You’ll Learn [And Why]

Computer Science Curriculum: What You’ll Learn [And Why]
Understanding coursework at a granular level can help inform your decision and prepare you for the challenges and rewards that accompany a computer science degree. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella January 20, 2021

The term "computer scientist" may conjure images of a college dropout turned tech baron, but most computer scientists have a formal education—a bachelor's, at least, or, more likely, a graduate degree. Here's what you can expect to learn in a computer science program.

Computer Science Programs You Should Consider

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In 2018, colleges and universities conferred 79,598 bachelor’s degrees and 46,500 graduate degrees in computer and information science. Yet despite these significant figures, the field still suffers a talent shortage, and organizations struggle to hire qualified professionals. According to iCIMS, a cloud recruiting company, “Employers were only able to hire six for every ten open tech positions from January 1, 2016 to May 31, 2019.”

Cashing your computer science golden ticket is not without its obstacles. Bachelor’s in computer science programs are challenging; as many as half of all STEM students don’t complete their major, for reasons that may include lack of effort and poor preparation for college-level coursework. And those 46,500 graduate degrees? They made up only six percent of all conferred advanced degrees that year.

Understanding degree coursework at a granular level can help inform your decision and prepare you for the challenges and rewards that accompany a computer science degree. This article on computer science curriculum: what you’ll learn [and why] offers perspective on computer science programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level, including course descriptions, necessary skills, and career applications. Read on to learn about:

  • Who typically gets a computer science degree?
  • Computer science curricula
  • What will you learn in a computer science program?

Who typically gets a computer science degree?

To excel in computer science you must think like a computer. Degrees at the bachelor’s and graduate level require analytical thinking, attention to detail, and—perhaps most importantly—dedication.

Computer science bachelor’s degree

For many, a bachelor’s serves as an intro to the discipline. These four-year degrees typically cover computer programming and theory; individual programs differ in focus and depth Students also complete other curricular requirements, such as English or foreign language.

Most programs allow students to specialize—through electives or defined tracks—in a specific area of computer science. For example, students at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign can take courses in big data or applied cryptography. Georgia Institute of Technology – Main Campus undergraduates choose among eight “threads” that include modeling, info internetworks, and intelligence. Finally, accelerated degrees, like the one at Tulane University of Louisiana allow undergraduate students to transition into a year-long master’s. These are known as 4+1 programs.

Entry-level jobs in computer science

Self-taught computer scientists can qualify for entry-level positions, but a bachelor’s degree is usually preferred. Keep in mind that these jobs, even those with prefixes like “entry-level” or “junior,” typically seek candidates with experience, which can mean an internship or a robust portfolio of personal projects.

Positions include:

Salary with a bachelor’s in computer science

The average worker with a bachelor’s degree in computer science earns over $85,000 per year. Computer science salaries differ by job title, company, and even location, of course. New graduates earn less, though computer science is one of the highest-paying fields for early career professionals.

Degree-holders who bolster their resumes with new skills, often by completing certification programs, can earn six-figure salaries.

Computer science master’s degree

No two computer science master’s degrees are the same. Many are a continuation of bachelor’s programs; others help non-computer scientists transition careers, and still more are designed for students looking to specialize.

Jobs with a master’s in computer science

A master’s in computer science should improve your career options and income, qualifying you for at least some managerial and senior leadership roles. It can also lead to increased responsibility in your current position.

Jobs for master’s degree-holders include:

  • Computer and information research scientist
  • Computer and information systems manager
  • Computer network architect
  • Cyber security manager or administrator
  • Director of engineering
  • Information security manager
  • Senior product manager
  • Software development engineer
  • Software development manager

Salary with a master’s in computer science

The average salary for those with a Master of Science in Computer Science is $102,637. Again, earnings depend on multiple factors.

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What will you learn in a computer science program?

Bachelor’s in computer science programs cover topics like:

Applicants may need to complete pre-requisite courses such as linear algebra.

Master’s programs continue and build on undergraduate training, focusing on real-world applications through student-led projects, including a capstone experience. Master’s programs also allow students to specialize in such areas as:

Specializations may also be offered as unique degrees. The University of Tulsa offers Master of Science in Cyber Security, for example

Computer science curricula

Our list of typical computer science curricula is based on a review of several programs, including the master’s program at Stevens Institute of Technology online Master’s in Computer Science. While these subjects are common to computer science curricula, they aren’t found in every curriculum.

For example, both New York University and University of Colorado Boulder allow undergraduate students to take computer organization. However, NYU includes it as a required course. In contrast, Boulder offers it as an upper-level computer science elective. This important distinction demonstrates how two students can graduate with the same degree without sharing identical knowledge bases. Computer science courses that are integral to one program may not appear in another.

Advanced programming

What is advanced programming?

Advanced programming means learning and applying programming languages.

Why is it important to understand advanced programming?

It proves you can work in multiple languages. High-level languages include Python, C++, and Java. Advanced programming goes beyond machine code.

How you’ll develop advanced programming skills in bachelor’s program

If a bachelor’s program covers advanced programming, it may examine:

  • Concurrent programming
  • Functional programming
  • Large-scale code management
  • Programming tests

How you’ll develop advanced programming skills in master’s program

In a master’s program, you’ll study:

  • Advanced I/O
  • C-language programming
  • UNIX operating systems

How you’ll use advanced programming as a computer scientist

  • Input/output processing
  • System maintenance
  • User authentication

Computer science jobs with a focus on advanced programming

  • C++ Developer
  • UNIX database programmer
  • UNIX programmer

Algorithm design and analysis

What is algorithm design and analysis?

Algorithms are most frequently used to sort and parse data.

Why is it important to understand algorithm design and analysis?

Algorithms are essential for assembling information in a digestible way.

How you’ll develop algorithm design and analysis skills in bachelor’s program

How you’ll develop algorithm design and analysis skills in master’s program

Master’s programs, like the one at Case Western Reserve University, continue algorithm education by focusing on:

  • Asymptotic notation
  • Divide-and-conquer
  • Dynamic programming
  • Recurrence relations
  • Sorting

How you’ll use algorithm design and analysis as a computer scientist

Algorithms have a wide array of applications, particularly to maximize the information a data set can provide.

Computer science jobs with a focus on algorithm design and analysis

  • Data analytics positions
  • Principal software engineer
  • Senior software manager

Artificial intelligence

What is artificial intelligence?

AI is essentially programming computers to make decisions.

Why is it important to understand artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is becoming one of the most sought-after computer science skills, especially to sift through vast data quantities.

How you’ll develop artificial intelligence skills in bachelor’s program

How you’ll develop artificial intelligence skills in master’s program

  • Alpha-beta search for two-player games
  • Computer vision
  • Decision theory
  • Logic and knowledge representation
  • Problem-solving by search and constraint satisfaction
  • Statistical learning

Computer science programs, like the one at Southern Methodist University, focus on AI and also emphasize machine learning.

How you’ll use artificial intelligence as a computer scientist

Even though who don’t design robots can utilize AI to program systems.

Computer science jobs with a focus on artificial intelligence

  • AI architect
  • AI software engineer
  • Machine learning engineer

Cloud computing

What is cloud computing?

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), “Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”

Why is it important to understand cloud computing?

Cloud computing allows for interaction with remote servers.

How you’ll develop cloud computing skills in bachelor’s program

Cloud computing isn’t always offered in bachelor’s programs. Courses cover:

  • Cloud technology, basics, and infrastructures
  • Data centers
  • Software stack
  • Storage
  • Programming models

How you’ll develop cloud computing skills in master’s program

Cloud computing is frequently offered as a specialization or elective. These programs share similarities to computer architecture courses.

How you’ll use cloud computing as a computer scientist

Cloud computing is useful in:

  • Computer architecture
  • Data science
  • System maintenance

Computer science jobs with a focus on cloud computing

  • Clinical data scientist
  • Senior software engineer
  • Solutions architect

Database management

What is database management?

Database management is useful for creating and managing data storage systems and accessing information.

Why is it important to understand database management?

Wrangling large sets of data is a useful skill.

How you’ll develop database management skills in bachelor’s program

Bachelor’s programs focus on basics like data systems and structures.

How you’ll develop database management skills in master’s program

  • Database design
  • Database querying
  • Key references
  • Relational schemas
  • SQL

How you’ll use database management as a computer scientist

Those who rely on database management can oversee retrieving, organizing, and protecting information.

Computer science jobs with a focus on database management

  • Data analyst
  • Database engineer
  • Senior data analyst

Data structures

What are data structures?

Systems relate to each other through data structures.

Why is it important to understand data structures?

Systems are built with data structures.

How you’ll develop data structures skills in bachelor’s program

Algorithm courses frequently address data structures. The digital structures course at Rutgers University – New Brunswick addresses:

  • Binary trees
  • Graphs and graph algorithms
  • Heaps for priority queues
  • Sequential search, binary search
  • Sorting algorithms

Information systems also emphasize data structures.

How you’ll develop data structures skills in master’s program

How you’ll use data structures as a computer scientist

Data structures are instrumental in information retrieval and organization.

Computer science jobs with a focus on data structures

  • Data science and analytics positions
  • Machine learning engineer
  • Software engineer

Human-computer interaction

What is human-computer interaction?

According to Georgia Tech, “Human-computer interaction (HCI) is the study of how people use computers throughout their lives.” It mixes computer and social sciences.

Why is it important to understand human-computer interaction?

Computers do not exist in a vacuum. Understanding how humans and machines interact is essential.

How you’ll develop human-computer interaction Interaction skills in bachelor’s program

Most bachelor’s programs don’t focus on human-computer interaction, unless it’s a specialized program.

How you’ll develop human-computer interaction skills in master’s program

Like bachelor’s programs, HCI in a master’s program is usually reserved for specialized degrees and electives. Students can study:

  • Human-robot interaction
  • Human-centered computing
  • Design games

How you’ll use human-computer interaction as a computer scientist

Applications are far-reaching, rather than specific, but significant interactions include interactive gaming and software.

Computer science jobs with a focus on human-computer interaction

  • User experience research
  • UX design
  • UX research

Java programming

What is Java programming?

Java is one of the most popular programming languages.

Why is it important to understand Java programming?

Several major companies use Java, including:

  • Airbnb
  • Google
  • Instagram
  • Netflix
  • Spotify

Understanding the language opens up job possibilities.

How you’ll develop Java programming skills in bachelor’s program

Java programming likely isn’t offered as a class, but Java is one component of a computer programming (often advanced programming) course.

How you’ll develop Java programming skills in master’s program

Programs that cover Java may continue Java education, often through comparisons to other programming languages, or offer an introduction to those who are transitioning to a new career.

How you’ll use Java programming as a computer scientist

Java is the base of several essential aspects of computer science, including data cleaning.

Computer science jobs with a focus on Java programming

Many software development jobs use Java. There are even roles specifically for Java programmers, such as full-stack Java programmers.

Mobile systems and applications

What are mobile systems and applications?

This field involves developing apps and systems for mobile devices.

Why is it important to understand mobile systems and application?

Projections estimate there will be 7.3 billion smartphone users by 2023, far outpacing those who use computers.

How you’ll develop mobile systems and application skills in bachelor’s program

A traditional computer science program can provide the education you need to work with mobile systems, including:

  • Algorithm analysis
  • Programming
  • Software design

How you’ll develop mobile systems and application skills in master’s program

Graduate programs don’t always offer mobile systems courses—students often have the requisite skills. Graduate certificates are common. In one, you may learn:

  • App programming
  • System security and privacy
  • Wireless communication

How you’ll use mobile systems and application as a computer scientist

Applications include:

  • App development
  • Mobile database management
  • Security

Computer science jobs with a focus on mobile systems and application

  • Mobile developer
  • Mobile systems engineer
  • System software developer

Operating systems

What are operating systems?

Operating systems allow humans to interact with computers.

Why is it important to understand operating systems?

Every program and feature must interact smoothly with the operating system.

How you’ll develop operating systems skills in bachelor’s program

A good operating systems course applies:

  • Algorithms
  • Data structures
  • Processor architecture concepts

How you’ll develop operating systems skills in master’s program

An introductory operating systems master’s course likely covers:

  • Distributed services
  • Resource management
  • Threads and synchronization

How you’ll use operating systems as a computer scientist

Computer scientists can be in charge of operating system:

  • Design
  • Maintenance
  • Security

Computer science jobs with a focus on operating systems

  • Desktop support engineer
  • Systems engineer
  • Systems technician

Web development

What is web development?

Web development is the design and configuration of a website.

Why is it important to understand operating systems?

Without web development, users would essentially be unable to access the web.

How you’ll develop operating systems skills in bachelor’s program

Web development may be offered as a certificate. Courses include:

  • Server-side internet programming
  • Web design
  • Web document production

How you’ll develop web development skills in master’s program

If a program has web development, courses typically cover:

  • Advanced website design
  • HTML
  • Script languages

Not every master’s program covers web development. A certificate program may be the best choice for web development training.

How you’ll use web development as a computer scientist

Web development is helpful when attempting to create interactive websites that reach users and consumers.

Computer science jobs with a focus on web development

  • Software development manager
  • Web developer
  • Web development manager

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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