In many disciplines, students have inflated expectations of their future income. That's not the case in computer science, where actual salaries regularly outstrip student expectations by $5,000 to $10,000.
The Clever platform conducted an undergraduate salary expectation survey using data from LendEDU and PayScale. It found that bachelor's degree holders across industries assumed they'd earn about $58,000 after graduation; actual earnings were closer to $47,000. The exception to this trend was computer science degree income. Computer science bachelor's degree holders assumed they'd earn about $59,000; they actually earned closer to $69,000. That's not too shabby.
Data like that paints a bright future for computer science degree holders, and it gets even better. For example, consider:
Average salaries in computer science hover around $82,000, regardless of the highest level of education. Computer science degree salaries are some of the highest post-graduation salaries around, with earnings typically increasing with each degree level attained.
Computer science majors who stop after earning an associate's degree can earn $64,000.
Having a Master of Science in Computer Science is associated with average salaries over $100,000 (nearly twice the median household income in the US).
That still doesn't tell the whole story, however. Computer science is an umbrella term encompassing many different job titles; its practical applications are expanding in just about every industry. Majoring in computer science can lead to careers in software engineering, artificial intelligence and machine learning, network engineering, database design, computational theory, and robotics. Consequently, computer science salaries—while high—are all over the map. When you add in the impact of degrees on pay, it suddenly becomes a lot harder to predict how much you'll earn after graduation.
In this article about the average computer science degree salary, we cover:
Yes, there are different kinds of computer science degrees, from associate's degrees to PhDs. Academic pathways in computer science (sometimes abbreviated CS) branch at each degree level.
For example, students at the bachelor's degree level might earn a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or any of the following degrees:
The bachelor of applied science provides an industry or business-specific education for future leaders. Students can build a foundation of computer science topics to better understand today's commercial needs and technologies.
This relatively broad computer science degree option allows students to shape their education with additional minors, electives, and concentrations, opening up roles as web developer, systems administrator, or business manager.
The need for cybersecurity now touches nearly every private and public industry in the country. With the constantly growing threat to online data, students can study the modern tactics for catching and stopping a security threat at all levels.
Students can hone their studies further by combining engineering and computer science courses in this entry-level degree. Graduates obtain the skills to build, maintain, and fix issues with hardware and software, as well as how they relate to modern industry.
While similar to a BA in computer science, a BS with a focus on IT provides a thorough education in managing systems, cybersecurity, and software development.
Overall, a BCS will provide a highly detailed and technical education in the practical knowledge of managing a business's technology. Technology concentrations dive more deeply into programming and software construction as well.
Also highly technical in nature, the BEng covers topics like coding, data analytics, and computer engineering. Students explore common computer systems and how they relate to today's most common technological advances.
The BSE in CS converges at a liberal arts, engineering, and computer science-focused education. Students graduate with a thorough understanding of both the technical programming elements of technology and its applications in the world.
Mathematics combines with computer science in several ideal points—encouraging future data analysts, actuaries, or marketers. The curriculum covers common modeling and data structure technology to apply to a range of industries.
While degree names vary from school to school, the numerous variations tell us something about how broad these degrees can be. The curricula in these programs cover everything from information technology to software engineering to computer systems to cybersecurity.
Meanwhile, computer science master's degree programs tend to confer the Master of Science in Computer Science, or MSCS. These programs typically offer many degree concentrations in both applied computer science and theoretical computer science, including:
This concentration is highly focused on programming and mathematical proofs and frequently requires a strong grasp of major computer languages.
Those currently pursuing or looking to pursue a role in data analytics can choose this direction for both their studies and master's thesis. Students work with cutting-edge technologies and applications of big data as a tool throughout a company.
Dive more deeply into the construction, alteration, and advancement of both hardware and software. Courses cover everything from engineering topics to programming and the development of computers over time.
Also often known as bioinformatics, this concentration marries the natural world with computers and data sciences. Students may choose to focus further on genetics, cell development, or pharmaceuticals.
Explore the technological skills necessary to create and push the limits of graphic design and data presentations. This concentration often pulls in students from a range of fields, including the arts, marketing, and IT.
This concentration provides more flexibility than many of the others, covering a wider reach of computer systems topics. Overall, students will leave with the technical knowledge to understand, build, and adjust computer systems.
In some cases, professionals who work with complex computing systems will dive deeper into these three major varieties. Graduates leave with an in-depth understanding of how each type of system executes programs in both modern and older computer systems.
Similar to the degree title itself, a concentration in cyber society and cryptography studies today's more pressing threats to online networks and information. Cryptography specifically explores the codes used within a system and whether they pose a threat to intruders and viruses.
From nonprofits to large retail corporations, database design sits at the heart of a successful business. These students can explore ways to improve and manage large databases of personal information, as well as how to manage the information for smooth daily operations.
This master's concentration covers a vast range of topics necessary for programming games—from graphic design and AI to music and art direction.
Courses cover the common challenges of understanding human behavior and technology. Students will go onto roles that deal with UI and UX design, the impact of technology on different groups, and the intersection of business and computer systems.
Similar to HCI, information systems science looks at all the ways human behavior translates into data and measurable progress. Topics may include project management, database design, and analytics.
This mathematics and data-heavy concentration covers common topics of algorithms and technology associated with machine learning. Students often present a final thesis project devoted to industry-specific use of a program.
Students explore data science, machine learning, and AI to understand home computers process natural human language. Technology explores how different systems process text and spoken languages around the world.
Similar to the focus in information technology, network systems concentration covers a wide range of areas including programming, network design, and troubleshooting common issues.
With the constant development of new programming languages, students can stay on the edge of modern development to advance their careers and business goals. Students will cover past, current, and developing language, as well as how to utilize them in different systems.
A robotics concentration covers everything from AI and programming to language processing and machine learning. Students cover everything from design to business applications across industries.
Software engineer positions are some of the most commonly high-paying positions across a range of companies. Courses cover the languages, design, and troubleshooting methods necessary for both software creation and enhancements.
This broad concentration covers everything from mathematics and computations skills to data structures and programming and languages. In some cases, students may choose between an engineering and non-engineering track.
This area of study focuses more on the history, research, and problem-solving theories around the use of different computer technology.
It may be that specialization has a more profound impact on computer science degree salaries than the degree earned. Salaries in machine learning are higher than those in database design. For example, a self-taught machine learning specialist with a bachelor's degree might earn more than a database expert with a master's degree. While more schooling is unlikely to hurt earning potential, the correlation between the highest level of education achieved and average salaries in computer science isn't as simple as 'more diplomas = more money.'
CS sounds like a discipline best suited to software developers, tech mogul wannabes, and Silicon Valley types. However, computer science positions—especially applied computer science—can be found in just about every industry. Companies of all kinds hire computer science degree program graduates. "One of the greatest things about a computer science degree is that it allows you to work in whatever industry you desire," Sam Gavis-Hughson, CEO and founder of Byte by Byte, told US News & World Report. Retail firms, research laboratories, marketing firms, and manufacturing plants all have software, IT, analytics, and automation needs.
That said, technology companies do employ many computer science degree holders. According to the program guide forTufts University’s highly-rated online Master of Science in Computer Science program, graduates go on to work at companies like:
This branch of Amazon creates and manages up-and-coming AI and robots that coordinate the customer delivery and warehouse operations system.
As one of the most sought-after companies for computer science majors, Apple offers ongoing positions around the country in areas from software engineering to coding.
Arista creates client-to-cloud networking and data services. Based in California, graduates with a focus in everything from software engineering to data analytics and system networks will find roles at the company.
Rated as one of the best consulting firms to work for in the US, Charles River manages research and development efforts pertaining to AI, robotics, and automation.
This international telecommunication company offers jobs around the globe and has been named one of the best places to work by Fortune.
Dropbox is one of the leading cloud storage and data hosting companies based in the US. Computer science masters can work on the engineering, marketing, and product development teams, among others.
Facebook hosts a range of positions aimed toward those with a computer science graduate degree. Roles include positions in data science and analytics, engineering, and product algorithm development.
This well-known athletics tech company has offices across California and the Pacific Northwest. The company frequently seeks everyone from visual designers to Salesforce managers.
The digital arm of GE manages the technological needs of industrial companies, from manufacturing to big names in oil.
Github is a highly popular data collaboration and hosting service. Its cutting-edge services provide open-source software to developers. The large and growing company offers frequent openings in software engineering, product management and more.
Nabbing a job at Google is a goal of many CS graduates, from engineering to marketing. Most graduate-level positions reach into the six-figures and offer particularly generous benefits.
This company is a marketing and CRM platform used by a wide range of brands around the world. Their software—and related positions—cover everything from data management to ticket sales.
Graduates can apply for leadership-level positions at one of the original major technology companies in the country. Roles require specialties in data architecture, application engineers, software development, and much more.
Work directly with NASA at the heart of its research and development lab. Positions in everything from telecommunications to advanced systems analysts require either a Master's or PhD for leadership roles.
The leading tech company Microsoft hosts offices around the world and employs over 181,000 people. Graduate-level jobs provide opportunities to those in research, sales, and language processing, just to name a few.
Based in Massachusetts, the State Department of Defense fully funds the research and development that occurs in this top lab. Students compelled by national security will find full-time positions, internships, and research grants.
Paytronix offers a range of popular sales software to restaurants and convenience stores including CRMs, loyalty programs, and sales tools.
Graduates passionate about the power of social media can work for one of the top names in the industry. In addition to ample opportunities for CS majors, Twitter receives top marks for benefits and culture.
Viasat offers home, commercial, and federal defense networks and cybersecurity services. Candidates with computer science master's degrees can consider the engineering, IT, security, or technical operation teams.
Job title may be a bigger predictor of computer science degree salaries than workplace, however. Here's how some common job titles for computer science degree holders stack up when it comes to pay:
Cloud engineers manage a company's cloud-hosted data. Candidates may focus on data security, organization, or by engineering new cloud software.
This catch-all term includes all of the topics included in this article, from programming and engineering to data analysis and AI.
These professionals help an organization streamline their technical operations. With knowledge of different computer systems, professionals cut down costly and time-consuming tasks keeping the company from running smoothly.
Data scientists fit into a wide range of positions. You'll find them at large nonprofits, sales firms, and insurance companies. Anywhere that leverages data about its users—the majority of companies today—requires a candidate with a grasp of data science.
This highly sought candidate can service and develop both the front and backend of a company's website or computer systems.
Cybersecurity often comes down to the work of an information security analyst. These pros find weak spots and develop stronger protection for a company's data storage.
Candidates can ideate and construct predictive models that build AI software specific to a company's needs. Students with a background in AI, machine learning, or robotics will typically qualify for these positions.
App developers hold specific expertise in iOS, Microsoft, and Android systems to aid in the proper programming and updates for mobile technology.
These experts build computer network systems, including WANs and LANs for a range of companies. They must also be able to diagnose and communicate ongoing issues with current systems.
Throughout the development of a software program or application, the tester proposes changes to bypass bugs, user experience issues, and its overall worth to the customer.
Software development is one of the most common professional pathways for computer science degree program graduates. In fact, about 62 percent of developers have comp sci or closely related CS degrees. Experienced developers earn about $86,000. Clearly, though, the list above illustrates that there are plenty of high-paying roles in computer science outside those for computer programmers.
The answer depends on whom you ask. According to PayScale, the median salary for MSCS graduates is about $104,000 compared to $87,000 for bachelor's degree holders. That figure is not adjusted for years of experience, specialized skills, or any other relevant factors, making it impossible to determine how much of the difference is attributable to degree level.
One thing we can say for certain is that career paths for computer science doctorate holders are not typically associated with the highest salaries. A PhD in Computer Science is a must-have degree for those who want to work in academia or in research-intensive technology positions.
However, these related jobs typically don't pay more than computer engineering jobs in strong tech markets. In fact, computer science PhD salaries aren't nearly as high as salaries for the best-paying computer science jobs outside of research and academia.
As discussed above, specialization can play a significant role in a computer science graduate's earning potential. Cyber security, software architecture, tech management, data science, and mobile development are among the highest-paying computer science segments. Network administration, web development, and IT support tend to pay the least.
Location also plays a role in how much someone can earn after graduating from a computer science program. Graduates can earn more in states with tech hubs and many startups, like Washington, California, and New York (three states where computer scientists make the most) or numerous government jobs (such as Washington, DC).
Experience is yet another factor. Salaries rise quickly in this field, and it's not unusual for motivated computer science majors who know how to work the job market to go from earning $60,000 right after graduation to $100,000 just five or six years later. There are so many more open positions in computer science than qualified applicants that computer science degree program graduates command higher salaries than ever before.
The highest-paying computer science jobs often go to applicants with master's degrees. You might spend $60,000 for an MSCS from a top school, but the increase in lifetime earnings you'll probably see will more than make up for the cost of your degree. Georgetown University’s college salary report found that computer engineers who've completed a master's in computer science typically earn $500,000 more throughout their careers than their colleagues with bachelor's degrees. With a master's degree in computer science, you can earn:
These professionals work to both fix bugs, diagnose ongoing usage issues, and develop software from the ground up. They often work within a complex team and have several direct reports.
IT management manages how hardware and programs are implemented in a company or organization. They will also often manage a team set up to support the staff in its technical needs as well as the business goals of the company as a whole.
Solutions architects are the key technical troubleshooters of a company. They may work with customers or other departments throughout the business to foresee and solve common issues with sales and operations.
These experts often lead the charge of software development and management within a company. Industries span from engineering sectors to social and sales tech companies. Their managerial skills make them ideal for directing the goals of the department throughout the year.
Vice president-level positions often coordinate between the engineering teams and top management of the company. They will work to align the capacity of the engineering department with the operations and sales goals of the overall company.
Not to be confused with the CIO, the chief technology officer aligns the technological goals of the company with the needs of customers and sales goals. As a C-Level position, salaries will widely range depending on the size of the company where it's located.
Absolutely! Even an associate's degree can help you launch a lucrative computer science career with a pretty good starting salary. With a master's degree, you'll be qualified to step into some of the highest-paying tech positions. When Forbes ranked master's degrees by potential salary increase, it found that computer science degrees offered the second-biggest bump in pay (behind biomedical engineering).
That said, majoring in computer science for the money alone is probably a bad idea. If you don't love computers, enjoy computer programming, or enter the field with the right mindset, you may not last too long. The work is challenging, demanding, and time-intensive; those who don't love it typically burn out and leave. If, however, you are passionate about technology and want to go all-in on computer science, a degree program can lead to compelling job opportunities, senior-level or management positions, and yes, higher pay.
(This article was updated on September 24, 2021.)
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