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Finishing a computer science degree is easier said than done. This is a hard skills-oriented major that involves a heavy dose of math, abstract thinking, and memorization.
However, the important steps to complete a computer science degree are not as technically oriented as you might think. Many of them simply involve taking a minute mid-decision to take your bearings.
Explore our step-by-step guide on how to tackle a computer science degree and what professional skills can benefit you most.
7 steps to help you complete a computer science degree
Seeing your computer science degree to the end becomes simpler when you reduce your journey into smaller steps. Take time to clarify your ultimate end goal, both as a learner and a professional.
1. Decide which degree level is necessary for your career path.
Different degree levels serve different learners. In the case of computer science degrees, the higher the degree level, the more qualified you become for theory-intensive careers involving special topics such as machine learning.
Computer science degree level
Good fit for …
Prospective web or mobile developers looking to learn more computer science theory than they'd receive in a typical coding bootcamp
Learners interested in finding entry-level work as computer support specialists and computer systems administrators immediately upon graduation
Learners looking for entry-level software engineering work upon graduation
Web or mobile developers, web designers, and UI/UX designers looking to career pivot to more advanced roles
IT specialists such as network administrators looking to advance in their careers
Software engineers looking to specialize in advanced topics such as machine learning, computational biology, and computer security and cryptography
Prospective data and computer research scientists looking for entry level work upon graduation
IT specialists seeking work in their field's top positions
Prospective computer science and IT educators and researchers seeking work in academia
Software and computer hardware engineers seeking top-level roles in business, government, and other organizations
Data and computer research scientists seeking top-level roles in business, government, and other organizations
2. Develop computer science skills in your courses.
Computer science courses develop core skills in programming languages, software development, systems architecture, and information system. 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.
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 careers.
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 learning
Data science and analytics
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 each industry's earning potential, job duties, and work-life balance.
7. Seek out internships.
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.
7 tips for getting the most out of your computer science degree
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.
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.
In school, start thinking about the job market. Computer science majors can build a coding portfolio to feature their projects and skills.
That might mean building a custom website, linking to GitHub projects, or designing a digital portfolio. By cataloging 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.
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. 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.