How to successfully complete a computer science degree
Computer science majors benefit from above-average salaries, a variety of career paths, and high demand. But before applying for jobs, students have to successfully complete their computer science degree.
Computer science plays a large role in advancing technology. And with emerging technologies reshaping the field, computer science professionals must constantly refresh their knowledge. A computer science degree builds strong problem-solving, critical thinking, logic, and creative skills. By making the most of their time in school, computer science majors can set themselves up for a successful career.
Seven steps to help you complete a computer science degree
Earning a computer science degree requires a significant commitment. The degree can leads to many possible career paths. This section introduces the steps to complete a computer science degree. Students can put themselves on the path to success by planning ahead. Working professionals and busy students can also set themselves up for success by choosing a flexible program, such as an online computer science degree.
1. Decide which degree level is necessary for your career path
Which degree do you need to become a web developer, software engineer, or data scientist? The many different career paths in computer science require different degrees. The following table introduces undergraduate and graduate degrees with corresponding career paths for each degree.
An associate degree introduces undergraduates to core computer science skills. Students learn about operating systems, network administration, and information security. The degree leads to careers as a computer support specialist or web developer and digital designer. Other computer science careers typically require a bachelor’s degree.
The entry-level degree for many computer science careers, a bachelor’s in computer science trains students in foundational principles for managing computing systems. Many bachelor’s programs offer concentrations to focus on specific computer science subfields. Coursework in software development, systems administration, and software engineering prepare graduates for careers in diverse fields.
A master’s degree in computer science offers graduate-level training in information systems management, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and data science. During a master’s program, graduate students specialize their training in a focused area. Most master’s programs incorporate an internship, master’s exam, or master’s thesis to train students for advanced careers in computer science.
The terminal degree in computer science, a doctorate provides advanced research training. During a PhD program, doctoral students complete coursework, pass comprehensive exams, and research a dissertation topic. The degree leads to academic and research careers, including as a computer science professor.
2. Develop computer science skills in your courses
Computer science majors develop core skills in programming languages, software development, systems architecture, and information systems during their computer science courses. But sometimes students get caught up in checking off tasks rather than building skills. Instead of obsessing about grades or cramming to pass exams, focus on developing career-ready skills.
Stay engaged in class and devote more energy to learning relevant skills than worrying about grades. Focusing on core skills will help majors specialize in their upper-division classes.
3. Pass the required math courses
A computer science degree requires math courses. Most programs require classes in linear algebra, discrete mathematics, and number theory. Some concentrations also expect advanced statistics courses or calculus. Plan to tackle the math requirements early in a computer science degree to gain the skills necessary for advanced computer science courses.
4. Learn skills outside of your degree program
Computer science majors need strong programming, quality assurance testing, and technical problem-solving skills. In addition to strengthening these abilities in school, students should take advantage of outside resources.
Programming apps, computer science blogs, and dev podcasts help learners add skills outside of class. If your school doesn’t offer courses in a particular programming language, you should look for resources outside of school. Learning how to identify valuable resources serves computer science professionals well throughout their career.
5. Choose a concentration of interest
At the undergraduate and graduate levels, computer science majors often focus their course of study by choosing a concentration. A concentration offers specialized coursework in a particular area, such as information security or software development. Students can also design a custom concentration by selecting electives based on their interests.
First-year computer science students often take a variety of classes to determine their concentration. Courses in programming, software design, computer engineering, game development, and front-end design introduce majors to potential specializations.
Computer science concentrations include:
Artificial intelligence and machine learningData science and analyticsInformation securityComputer networkingNetwork architectureSoftware developmentGame designSoftware engineeringBioinformaticsCloud infrastructure
6. Consider which industries interest you
Computer science majors work in a variety of industries. While many major tech companies hire computer science graduates, the degree also leads to opportunities in business, finance, healthcare, engineering, and other sectors.
Computer science professionals interested in the arts may work for advertising agencies, gaming companies, or graphic design companies. Health and medical careers offer possibilities in bioinformatics, laboratory science, or healthcare information management. Students should consider the earning potential, job duties, and work-life balance in different industries.
Computer science internships help students gain hands-on experience and build a professional network. During an internship, students work on real-world projects under the supervision of experienced professionals.
Many computer science programs incorporate an internship in their graduation requirements. Students may take an internship during the school year or over the summer. Reach out to your computer science department first to ask about internship opportunities. Students can also seek out internship postings in their target industries.
Seven tips to help you be successful as a computer science major
Sometimes the steps to complete a computer science degree can seem overwhelming. But success means more than earning a degree. It also means building a network, growing as a professional and as an individual, and launching a career after graduation. This section helps computer science majors make the most of their time in school.
1. Stay ahead of deadlines
It might seem like a no-brainer, but computer science majors need to create sustainable work practices in school. Avoid procrastinating by creating a schedule to stay ahead of deadlines.
That can mean creating a calendar with every deadline for the semester, writing a weekly to-do list, or implementing a system of alerts to stay on top of projects. Particularly with longer-term assignments, managing deadlines can mean the difference between a passing or failing grade.
2. Manage your time and energy
Computer science majors who push themselves every semester can end up burned out. Students need to effectively manage their time and energy. On a daily basis, that means determining the best time to work. Some students feel energized and creative in the morning, while others work best at night. Plan to complete your most taxing work, whether that’s coding, studying for exams, or working on projects, during those times.
3. Talk with your professors
Networking connects students with professionals in their field — but consider reaching out to professors as another form of networking. Talking to professors can mean better letters of recommendation for job applications for grad school. Plus, professors offer useful advice for completing a computer science degree. As a first step, plan to go to office hours at least once a semester.
4. Create a portfolio website
In school, start thinking about the job market. Computer science majors can create a portfolio to feature their projects and skills. That might mean building a custom website, linking to GitHub projects, or designing a digital portfolio. By cataloguing projects during school, graduates will hit the job market ready to show off their skills.
5. Practice your skills
Computer science majors might feel like they practice their skills every day in school — but you should set aside some time to hone core abilities. Create a schedule and focus on different skills to stay fresh. Don’t worry about mastering everything overnight. Learning requires practice, whether you’re studying a new programming language or building up your dev skills. So make it a priority to practice.
6. Network with faculty and students
Computer science programs offer multiple networking opportunities. In addition to focusing on networking during an internship, make connections with your fellow students and faculty members. Attend departmental networking events and meet up with students outside of class. Join computer science clubs, ask people questions, and build a network that will last even after graduation.
7. Have a life outside of school
Computer science can seem all-consuming. Some majors seem to spend every waking hour writing code or debugging programs. But balance matters. Having a life outside of school staves off burnout and improves mental health. So make friends with a humanities major, join a fencing club, write a novel, and go on family vacations. Life is about more than school, so make time for your life outside of it.
A successful computer science career starts with successful habits during school. Investing in time management skills, finding a balance between school and other interests, and connecting with people in the computer science department will help majors earn their degree. Those skills also serve professionals well in the workforce.
Between completing projects and applying for computer science scholarships, remember why you chose a computer science major. Stay focused on your goals and keep making progress.