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Is Computer Science Hard? Learn Your Education and Career Options

The in-demand field of computer science offers lucrative career opportunities. But prospective tech professionals may find themselves wondering "How hard is computer science?"
Written by Genevieve Carlton, Contributor

Is computer science hard? Many lists rank computer science among the hardest majors, but what makes computer science so challenging? Some people find computer science easier to learn than others. Studying programming languages, algorithm theory, and computer systems design requires strong technical and analytical abilities. A solid mathematical foundation can make it easier to learn computer science.

Before signing up for computer science (CS) classes, learners must assess their strengths and abilities. They should also do their research. Finding the right CS program helps professionals break into the growing computer and technology field. 

What is computer science?

The computer science field studies computers and computing systems. Computer scientists develop new uses for computing systems and solve problems with computers. They write computer programs, analyze algorithms, and create new computing technologies.

Within the broad field of computer science, professionals study database theory, data structures, computer security, and software engineering. Other specialties include artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction. 

With computer science training, professionals work as computer network architects, software developers, information security analysts, and database administrators. Many CS jobs require a bachelor's degree in computer science or a closely related field. 

How hard is computer science?

How hard is computer science? The field may seem overwhelming. Computer science professionals need solid coding skills and knowledge of computing systems and networks. But computer science also offers a wealth of learning resources, both through formal educational programs and self-learning resources.

Certain skills help learners pick up computer science. For example, strong attention to detail makes it easier to identify software bugs. Problem-solving skills make it easier to troubleshoot computer networks or systems. An aptitude for technical subjects also helps. 

Some roles within computer science require advanced training. For example, specialists in machine learning and artificial intelligence often hold a graduate degree. Other roles, including software developer, quality assurance analyst, network architect, and database administrator, typically require a bachelor's degree.

Can you learn computer science without a programming background?

Do you need to learn how to code before taking CS classes? Most computer science programs offer introductory programming courses for students new to the field. Prospective CS majors can take free classes or teach themselves a programming language before college. Bootcamps also teach programming.

Is computer science a hard major?

Is computer science a hard major? CS has earned a reputation as a challenging major. And earning a degree in computer science does test students. Majors need strong technical skills, the ability to learn multiple programming languages, and exceptional analytical and problem-solving abilities. 

Before declaring a CS major, undergrads should consider how to succeed in a computer science program. They must also consider whether their skills and career goals line up well with computer science.

During a computer science major, undergrads take several computer science courses. These classes introduce core and advanced concepts in computer science. 

Programming languages: Computer science majors study a variety of programming languages. Java, Python, and the C languages rank among the most common languages taught in computer science programs. Students learn programming theory, complete exercises and projects, and build advanced programming skills.

Computer systems: Learners examine the structure and organization of computer systems. Drawing on their knowledge of programming, students examine how computer systems interpret information, compile programs, and communicate with users. Course topics may include low-level programming language training, memory management, and processor organization.

Mathematics for computer science: CS majors often take courses in mathematics. These classes focus on logic, discrete mathematics, and proof techniques. Math classes may also cover probability, number theory, and calculus. Coursework emphasizes the relationship between mathematics and programming languages. Some students find college-level math classes difficult.

Artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence classes teach students about natural language processing, pattern recognition, and neural networks. Learners examine core principles and methods used to research AI. Thanks to cutting-edge advances, the course often includes new findings and challenging material.

Why is computer science popular?

In spite of its reputation as a hard major, computer science remains quite popular. Students choose to study computer science for many reasons. The major leads to diverse career opportunities in many fields. As a constantly evolving field, computer science keeps professionals engaged and learning. And many computer science jobs offer high salaries and strong demand. 

The highest paying computer science jobs

CS majors choose between many career paths that offer six-figure median salaries. The growing field also provides opportunities for career advancement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that jobs in computer and information technology occupations will grow 13% from 2020-2030. That ranks as much faster than the national average.

The highest-paying computer science occupations report median annual salaries of over $100,000 per year and strong projected job growth. 

Computer and information research scientists

2020 median pay: $126,830

Job growth, 2020-30: 22%

Computer and information research scientists develop computer technologies and solve computing problems. They create new programming languages, experiment with computing systems, and share research with other computer scientists. The career path requires strong logical thinking, analytical abilities, and problem-solving skills. Most computer and information research scientists hold a master's degree. Some jobs require a doctorate.

Computer network architects

2020 median pay: $116,780 

Job growth, 2020-30: 5%

Computer network architects create custom networks for organizations. Some specialize in cloud computing. The field requires strong technical skills and business training since computer network architects evaluate an organization's data communication needs and goals to design a network. The career path requires a bachelor's degree and experience in a related field.

Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers

2020 median pay: $110,140

Job growth, 2020-30: 22%

Software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers make sure software programs run as designed. Software developers help create new computer applications, while quality assurance (QA) analysts and testers identify problems. These careers require a bachelor's degree and report strong demand. They also require strong collaborative skills, since software developers, QA analysts, and testers often work on teams.

Is computer science right for me?

Should you major in computer science? Some students thrive in CS programs. These students enjoy working with computers and learning new technologies. They also bring a detail-oriented outlook and a problem-solving approach to their courses. Other students may struggle with the theoretical concepts and programming requirements in a computer science major. 

A computer science degree offers one route to tech careers. Professionals choose many other paths, as well. For example, an information technology, management information systems, or information science degree also leads to high-paying tech jobs. So can a bootcamp or a certificate program.

How to choose a computer science program

Choosing a computer science program takes time. Prospective applicants must research the total cost, program length, specialization options, and delivery formats. For many students, cost ranks among the most important factors. Eligibility for in-state tuition or distance learning tuition discounts will affect the cost.

The best CS programs offer courses in a variety of topics. Check the program's curriculum to see what programming languages it uses. The most common programming languages for computer science majors include Java, Python, and the C languages. The curriculum should also cover systems operations, database administration, and data structures. Specialized electives in algorithms, machine learning, and artificial intelligence prepare graduates for focused career paths.

By researching these factors, prospective applicants can find the best fit for their interests, career goals, and needs.

Computer science bootcamps

Computer science bootcamps offer an alternative to a computer science degree. Compared to a bachelor's program, bootcamps take significantly less time. While students typically spend four years earning a bachelor's degree, many bootcamps take less than six months. However, unlike degree-granting colleges, bootcamps typically do not hold accreditation.

Bootcamps use an accelerated format to train learners in practical skills. Many bootcamps specialize in a particular area of computer science, including cybersecurity and web development. Students can also enroll in bootcamps focused on software development, UX design, and data science. 

When researching bootcamps, prospective students must consider several factors. The cost of bootcamps varies, as do payment options. Students cannot use federal financial aid to pay for bootcamps, since they do not hold accreditation or grant degrees. Prospective applicants should also consider the curriculum, availability of career resources, and enrollment options to find the right bootcamp.

Is computer science the hardest major?

The answer depends on the student. Some students quickly pick up technical concepts and programming languages, while others struggle with the requirements of a computer science degree. Outside of computer science programs, learners prepare for tech careers through information technology programs, bootcamps, and online courses.

Is it worth studying computer science?

Yes. A computer science degree pays off. According to May 2020 BLS data, computer and technology occupations pay a median annual salary of more than twice the national average. Professionals with computer science training work as software developers, data scientists, computer network architects, and information security analysts. 

Is computer science a lot of math?

Yes. Computer science does require math. However, computer science majors focus on probability, statistics, and algebra. Some areas, like AI research and machine learning, require calculus.  

What is the hardest class in computer science?

For many students, courses on algorithms, computer science theory, cryptography, and data structures rank among the hardest classes in computer science.

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