Should I Study Computer Science?

Should I Study Computer Science? Exploring Education & Careers

The field of computer science has seen a surge in applications from students wanting to study the subject for their higher education degree. In the UK, applications to study computer science have seen a year on year increase of 4%, a massive increase over such a short period, while in the United States the numbers of people graduating with a degree in the field has increased from 39,000 in 2010 to well over 88,000 in 2019.

This increase in interest is perhaps no surprise given the prevalence of tech in our everyday lives and the vast amounts of money that some technology companies have made since the start of the new millennium. So if you are thinking that computer science might be for you, or are just interested to know what all the fuss is about, read on.

What is computer science?

Computer science is more that the study of computers, rather it is a study of computational systems. While a computer engineer will have a detailed knowledge of the physical working of a computer system, the computer scientist will be focused on the software and software systems, covering areas such as their design, development and application. Computer scientists design and analyse algorithms to solve programs and study the performance of computer hardware and software. The problems that computer scientists might address can include the abstract, determining what problems can be solved with computers and the complexity of the algorithms that solve them, to the tangible, designing applications that perform well on handheld devices, that are easy to use, and that uphold security measures.

What do you study if you choose a computer science degree?

If you choose to study computer science at college you will need a strong background in maths and physics, so it is no surprise that courses in these areas will be central to your college studies, particularly in the early years. With their focus on software and programming students will spend time learning to code, becoming skilled in programming languages such as python and SQL.

As a student becomes familiar with the foundations of computer science they can expect to explore more specialised topics such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and algorithms.

One aspect of studying computer science, that most students like, is that it tends to be quite practical. Students are normally set problems to solve, such as analysing or debugging code, sometimes they will work in groups to develop a solution but much of the work will be done individually, with students developing their own style of writing code.

Being such a popular area to study at college presents some challenges for students, introductory courses can be huge, over 1000 students at UC Berkeley. The increase in students has also meant that many institutions have struggled to recruit enough members of faculty to teach them.

Most colleges and universities don’t expect you to have studied computer science at school and while it is helpful to have picked up a computer language or two before starting your degree, most courses will start teaching programming at the beginning as a way to try to unlearn bad habits that students may have picked up.

What careers can you go into?

Part of the reason for the increase in student numbers studying computer science is the boom in the tech industries. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics show that employment in computer and information systems is due to increase by 11% between 2019 and 2029.

The most recent study of graduate destinations in the UK showed that over 80% of students entering employment having completed a degree in IT went into jobs related to their studies.

Typical careers for computer science graduates include:

  • Software Engineer

  • Software Development

  • Network Security

  • Data Analyst

  • Applications Analyst

  • Game Development

  • IT Consultant

  • Network Analyst

A degree in computer science can also be helpful for a number of other jobs including:

  • IT Sales

  • IT Training

When thinking about careers using computer science many people will think of Computer Programming and that is certainly an option, but the US Bureau of Labor Statistics are expecting that employment in this field in the US will decline by 9% between 2019 and 2029. The reason for this reduction is that they expect that companies will increase the amount of work completed in countries where costs are less than the US.

Who should study computer science?

As previously mentioned, if you are going to do well in a computer science degree you will already have a passion and ability in maths and science and the skills that these subjects develop. Students often have a strong interest in technology, enjoying developing apps and writing code. Curiosity and a love of solving problems in creative ways are also traits that admissions professionals will look for.

What colleges are good for computer science?

As one of the most popular subjects for study in higher education, it is no surprise that most colleges and universities will offer some form of computer science degree. According to the QS World Rankings, the top computer science programmes are to be found at:

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

  • Stanford University

  • Carnegie Mellon University

  • National University of Singapore (NUS)

  • University of California, Berkeley

  • University of Oxford

  • Harvard University

  • University of Cambridge

  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL)

  • ETH Zurich

Alternatives to computer science.

A degree in computer science is probably where most potential college students with an interest in working in computing start when they are thinking about what to study, but there are lots of related alternatives that should also be considered.

  • Computer engineering – this is, at its core, an interdisciplinary degree, bringing together the computational skills of computer science, with the knowledge of electrical engineering. It can be a good option for people with an interest in developing computer systems, robotics and electronics.

  • Information technology – can be seen as the application of computers in business with graduates going into roles like systems analysis where they will help to develop and maintain the systems and data management needs of business.

  • Information Science – once again has more of a business focus, although this time it is about finding ways in which technology can support the needs of business.

  • Data Science – is the conjunction of computer science and statistics. Data science students will learn the skills to enable them to analyse and find pattens in data using programming languages and specialist software, based on the principles of calculus and statistics.

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