Computer science is one of the fastest-growing career paths in the US, with salaries that reflect high demand: students who complete a computer science major earn 40 percent more over their lifetimes than average college graduates. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects growth in the computer and information technology sector at 11 percent between 2019 to 2029, more than twice the rate for the labor market as a whole. Nearly 70 percent of all new STEM jobs are in computing.
In recent years, US policy has focused on promoting computer science education. A 2016 initiative backed by President Obama encouraged schools to include the subject in K-12 curricula. The proliferation of undergraduate and graduate computer science programs is preparing more students than ever to succeed in the field.
Efforts have yet to pay off fully. There are still 400,000 vacant jobs in computing, reflecting an obvious shortage of qualified professionals. Only 11 percent of conferred bachelor's degrees are in computer science, a number that's even lower for Black and Latino students (HBCUs have been adding computer science programs in an effort to fill that gap).
All in all, this is the perfect moment to begin your computer science career; those who commit to computer science can reap huge rewards in the years and decades ahead.
This expert guide on computer science salaries: in-demand jobs + degrees required explores:
The average salary for computer scientists is just over $80,000 per year, according to PayScale. What you'll earn as a computer scientist will be significantly influenced by factors like years of experience, location, company, and education level.
The average salary for computer scientists is around $80,000, but that's not representative of all computer science careers. We've listed the average salaries for some computer science job titles below:
The top ten percent of computer scientists earn at least $135,000 (salaries can go higher), while the bottom ten percent earn no more than $52,0000 annually.
According to the National Associate of Colleges and Employers, computer science was projected as 2020's top-paying major. Your starting salary can depend on how much education you have; someone with an associate's degree likely earns less than someone with a bachelor's degree in computer science.
That said, those without a background in computer science can transition into the field by self teaching, completing boot camps, or graduating from a master's program.
Entry-level computer scientists earn an average annual salary of just under $66,000.
Computer science jobs commonly require a bachelor's degree or the equivalent and frequently come with prefixes like:
These prefixes are useful for differentiating among jobs. A junior software developer is very different than a no-prefix software developer.
The average computer scientist with ten or more years of experience earns a salary of $104,000, according to PayScale. However, education plays a massive role in this area—making that much can require a master's degree.
As a general rule, salary increases with education, though this isn't always the case. Where you work, live, and earn your degree can impact salary.
Finally, there are jobs you can get with a bachelor's or associate's degree. Graduate degrees can provide great return on investment but require a significant investment of time and money.
According to PayScale, the average annual salary for someone with an associate's in computer science is around $65,000.
An associate's is a two-year degree offered through a community college. It usually leads to further education, i.e., a bachelor's program, rather than specific jobs. These degrees are great for those who want to explore their interests rather than jump into a major. Earning an associate's degree at a commuter school can also be a major cost-saver for those who transfer afterward—you only need to pay for two years of a bachelor's program. Community colleges are typically less costly than four-year institutions.
It can be difficult, but not impossible, to get a computer science job with just an associate's degree. It usually requires a strong resume centered around outside projects.
Those with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science earn an average annual salary of over $85,000, according to PayScale.
Entry-level positions usually require a bachelor's degree in computer science—being able to show internship experience and outside projects doesn't hurt either.
Some of the jobs that you can earn by majoring in computer science include:
According to PayScale, those with a master's in computer science earn an average of around $102,000 per year.
Earning a bachelor's degree in computer science should be an easy decision for those who want to work in the field. Before entering a master's program, consider whether it's worth spending more money and time earning additional education. This decision will depend on your career goals. If you can keep advancing in the field without one, it probably isn't worth going back to school. Some people earn a master's while working. Plenty of people do it but know in advance that it will be challenging.
You should also factor in geography. Those who reside near a computer science hub like Boston have easy access to more top universities than someone, say, deep in New Hampshire. Online study offers an excellent option to those who live far from a university with a good computer science program.
These schools all have excellent computer science master's programs:
Some schools, such as Tulane University, offer what's known as a 4+1 program. This kind of program is designed for bachelor's students to earn their graduate degree with one additional year of study, rather than return to school for two years. While it can be great to complete your graduate education early, it might be worth getting some professional experience first.
A master's in computer science leads to some of the best jobs in the field. Jobs for those with a master's in computer science include:
On average, computer science PhDs earn $125,500, according to PayScale, but this number is heavily dependant on career direction. Tenured professors at top schools can earn over $150,000—sometimes over $300,000. Assistant professors earn $100,000 on average. Researchers make just under $90,000.
Those with a PhD in computer science are best prepared for academic and research positions. While much research happens at universities, major companies and the government also employ researchers.
Some non-academic positions for PhD-holders include:
Yes, it does. However, it's hardly the only factor. Degrees from top schools usually provide excellent opportunities through strong alumni networks and career services departments. Ultimately though, the kinds of jobs you pursue, your experience level, and even where you live will determine how much you make.
On aggregate, they do. The best programs are usually all too happy to provide salary information about their graduates. According to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology survey of 2020 graduates, those with a bachelor's degree earned over $111,000 in the computer technology and information field, while reporting master's degree graduates earned over $135,000. MIT consistently has one of the top-ranked computer science programs, and both of these numbers are well above field averages.
Internships, especially top ones, can lead to better opportunities after graduation, including at the company where you interned. An article that appeared on The University of Texas at Dallas computer science department blog includes this quote from the Director of the Industrial Practice Programs: "Having internship experience makes the student a more attractive candidate." This extra experience may lead to a better salary.
Some general skills that you may need to get a computer science job are:
Importantly, there's a growing demand for multi-specialized computer science professionals, according to Arizona State University - Tempe. Some examples of master's specializations include:
You can also boost your resume by attending a master's program with a specialty focus. Case Western Reserve University offers an MS in Computing and Information Science. The University of Tulsa offers an MS in Cyber Security, which is a growing sector of computer science where qualified professionals routinely earn over $100,000 per year.
There isn't an official ranking system for the top computer science skills. Programming probably would rank first if there were. The best computer science professionals are analytical and able to troubleshoot—an essential part of programming. You need hard skills, but being able to apply knowledge to systems and having the gumption to figure out how to solve problems are by far the most important skills.
Some of the highest-paying computer science positions, and their median salaries, are:
Most of these positions require at least a master's degree. Even then, you may not reach a senior role (and the top of the pay scale) until you've earned a master's and get a few years of experience—maybe even more than ten. A junior software developer may earn less than $70,000 annually, while a senior developer at the same company makes over $150,000 per year. Salary is heavily dependent on education, location, and experience.
In 2019, the BLS reported that the computer and information technology sector had a median annual wage of $88,240. This isn't precisely the median salary, but it is the closest possible estimate.
Computational thinking—using computers to solve problems—is a common thread among all computer science vocations. Beyond that, separating fields can be difficult. Some experts divide them into three categories:
Applied computer science jobs have some of the highest salaries. Software engineers and full-stack developers both earn over $100,000 per year, on average. There is a huge range for research salaries—from under $40,000 to over $140,000. Essentially, fellows at huge (read well-funded) universities or foundations make a lot more than those in entry-level positions at smaller schools. The same is true for professors, who can have huge salaries, but don't always.
According to PayScale, the average salary for computer science software engineers is around $80,000 per year. Again, this number can fluctuate based on experience and education.
The difference between computer science and engineering is complex. Computer scientists design applications (including software) and work in theoretical and practical applications. Computer engineers focus on building applications from the ground up and work more with hardware. There is overlap between the disciplines, including the need for coding skills.
Computer engineering professionals may work as:
According to PayScale, computer engineers usually earn a little more (an average of around $84,000) than their counterparts. The BLS says computer and information research scientists earn a median income of $122,840 per year, while <a href="https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/computer-hardware-engineers.htm#tab-1" target="_blank">computer hardware engineers earn $117,220. Each salary calculation site uses a different data collection method, explaining the discrepancy.
According to Arizona State University, some of the fastest-growing computer science jobs, and their growth rates, are:
The best computer science jobs aren't necessarily the most in-demand ones, though there can be overlap.
Some states have much better computer science opportunities than others—usually because they are home to high-paying companies and hot start-ups. Unless otherwise noted, salary information comes from CareerOneStop's computer and information research scientist page. Because specific job openings are constantly changing, each section discusses states' opportunities in general terms.
California computer scientists' median annual income is slightly under $135,000 per year—with the top ten percent earning over $200,000 and the bottom ten percent earning under $72,000.
Pretty much every major company has headquarters in California, including the obvious ones like Google, Apple, Oracle, and Uber. There are also several excellent universities for those interested in research or teaching positions, including:
Finally, the California coast is peppered with military bases, which means opportunities through the Department of Defense (DOD) or individual military branches, such as the Air Force.
New York computer scientists' median annual wage is just over $132,000 per year—with the top ten percent earning over $200,000 and the bottom ten percent earning nearly $85,000.
Like California, most major companies have offices in New York—the city, that is. Google, Apple, and Amazon all need New York-based computer scientists, as does the banking industry. Finally, major research and teaching institutions include Columbia and New York University.
The reverse commute is also becoming more popular for New Yorkers. This means living in the city and traveling to a job in New Jersey, which is becoming a great place for data science in its own right.
Texas computer scientists' median annual wage is about $125,000 per year—with the top ten percent earning a little over $190,000 and the bottom ten percent earning just under $80,000.
Though not the first state you think of for computer science, Texas has major companies like GM and—duh!—Texas Instruments. It also has a number of great universities for research, teaching, and learning, including:
Additionally, Austin is a great place for startups, a great source of high-potential computer science jobs.
Florida computer scientists' median annual wage is around $110,000 per year—with the top ten percent earning just under $200,000 and the bottom ten percent earning slightly under $72,000.
Florida is an aerospace and defense hub. The state offers excellent computer science jobs at governmental agencies, such as the DOD, and major defense corporations, such as Lockheed Martin. It also hosts some excellent research universities, including the University of Miami.
If you haven't figured it out already, computer science can pay extremely well. Considering that the average American earns around $50,000 at their peak, even bottom-tier computer science figures look impressive.
Cost of living doesn't necessarily directly impact computer science salaries, but the two are usually linked. For instance, you can get a studio apartment in Cleveland for under $1,000 per month. In New York, the same apartment can cost twice as much. However, New York computer scientists earn far above the national median, whereas those in Cleveland earn well below—though still six figures.
While places with lower living costs usually have lower salaries, the purchasing power is more significant in those places. Is this a good or a bad thing? It could be either. Like computer science itself, it's about how you approach the situation.
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