Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: Which Is Right For You?

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If you’re interested in computers, you may be wondering how you can convert your interest into a career path. The good news is that this field continues to grow and evolve. In fact, computer information and technology careers are slated to increase by 11% by 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

 

Within this field, though, are many specialties to choose from. Computer science and computer engineering are solid choices for those entering college and deciding on a major. Read on to learn more about the differences between computer science and computer engineering as you decide which one may be right for you.

 

Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering Majors

 

Both computer science and computer engineering classes will take deep dives into the world of technology. Likely, both majors will be offered within the same college and may even have overlap between the faculty. However, there are definitely some differences between the two programs. In order to determine which one you’d prefer, you need to know the key differences between them and decide which one interests you more. For either major, you’ll need certain soft skills to succeed such as:

 

  • Analytical thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to manage time well
  • Flexibility and willing to adapt to changes quickly

 

Learning the hard skills, if you don’t already have a foundation in them, will come as your education progresses.

 

The Basics of Computer Science 

 

If you have more of an interest in programming or cybersecurity, then computer science may be the best choice for you. Often, computer science majors end up working as computer programmers or systems administrators. Computer science courses will teach you valuable skills such as working with SQL, Python, and other programming languages. You’ll also likely work with algorithms or data structures. In other words, you take the machine and program the code needed to make the pieces work well.

 

The Basics of Computer Engineering

 

A computer engineer, on the other hand, has to have a deep understanding of how all the pieces of a computer work together. They are the architects of the computer world and can build a computer as well as maintain and repair device drives and other components of a computer. They also know how to design, code, and test a wide variety of softwares, and sometimes may have highly specialized knowledge depending on their chosen industry or company. 

 

Ultimately, computer science majors dive deep into the software world while computer engineering majors focus more on the hardware components of computers. Additionally, computer engineers can be seen as a jack of all trades when it comes to computers since they are required to know electrical engineering (hardware) in addition to computer science. 

 

Preparing for Computer Science or Engineering in High School

 

If you know from an early age that you want to pursue a career in computer science or computer engineering, then consider speaking to your school counselor. They may be able to help you choose electives and course tracks that will best prepare you for the coursework you’ll face in college. Plus, colleges like to see that you’ve actively looked to educate yourself in your chosen major. Many high schools offer electives centered in STEM, such as:

 

  • Robotics
  • Independent Study
  • Technology
  • Applied Engineering
  • Computer Aided Design (CAD) 
  • Internship

 

Along with choosing electives that can boost your knowledge, you’ll also want to make sure you focus on your core classes in order to have a strong, well-rounded application. Showing that you’re dedicated to your studies can help you get accepted to top schools, so you may want to take honors or AP classes, especially in math and science. AP Computer Science A is also a great way to get high school experience in coding and will prepare you for computer science courses in your college career. 

 

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Outside of school, you may want to explore other extracurricular activities that enrich your education. For example, seek out professional organizations that are STEM-centered and see if any members would be willing to mentor you and help you learn more. That mentor could end up writing you a glowing recommendation letter, which could help with your application. You could also volunteer with younger age groups to teach them about computer literacy or join science or computer clubs that meet after school. 

 

Colleges also like to see that you’ve tried to challenge yourself outside the scope of what’s required and, as fields in STEM continue to rise in popularity, the majors themselves could become more competitive. In addition to STEM-centered classes and extracurriculars, you may want to consider some humanities classes or extracurriculars as well. Exploring areas outside of STEM will help you stand out among other applicants.

 

The College Experience: Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering

 

When you look for a college to attend, your first step should be to look through the majors and coursework they offer to ensure that it will align with your career goals. If a college doesn’t have the major you want, then it probably isn’t the best fit for you. 

 

If you need help creating your school list, you can use CollegeVine’s chancing engine and school search tool. Our free chancing engine will factor in your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to calculate your odds of acceptance at hundreds of schools across the country. Since there are many factors that go into choosing a college, our school search tool allows you to filter and search for schools based on location, size, student diversity, and more.

 

 

You’ll also want to look through each school’s course information to find out the requirements to make sure you’re prepared. Along with that, check out any additional opportunities each school offers. For example, do they offer a summer intensive that could bolster your experience and give you a deeper understanding of what you’re learning? Or do they have a comprehensive alumni network that can give you a leg up once you’ve graduated? 

 

Finally, make sure to compare both computer science and computer engineering paths to make sure you’re choosing the one that most interests you. Computer science degrees have courses that go over topics like artificial intelligence, data management, algorithms, and more. Computer engineering degrees include topics more along the lines of systems programming, computer architecture, coding, and computer forensics, among others. There may be overlap of courses between the two as well.

 

Comparing Computer Science and Computer Engineering Courses

 

When picking between these two majors, it’s important to not only look at what jobs are available for both majors moving forward, but it’s also important to look at the types of classes you will be taking during your college career. After all, you will be in college for four years or so and I’m sure you don’t want to be taking courses in topics you hate!

 

As I mentioned earlier, computer science majors focus heavily on software and programming while computer engineers focus on software as well as hardware components. This means that computer science majors take more classes in coding while computer engineers take classes in both coding and electrical engineering.

 

If you’re curious, here is a breakdown of a student’s typical college coursework at UCLA for both computer science and computer engineering (Note: this table only includes courses related to introductory courses, computer science, and electrical engineering. This table does not account for the other STEM and non-STEM courses taken by college students):

 

 

Computer Science

Computer Engineering

First Year

4 Computer Science Introductory Classes

3 Math Classes

2 Physics Classes

4 Computer Science Introductory Classes

3 Math Classes

2 Physics Classes

Second Year

4 Computer Science classes

4 Math Classes

2 Physics Classes

2 Computer Science Classes

3 Electrical Engineering Classes

4 Math Classes

2 Physics Classes

Third Year

6 Computer Science classes

4 Computer Science classes

4 Electrical Engineering classes

Fourth Year

4 Computer Science classes

1 Computer Science class

4 Electrical Engineering Classes

 

As you can see, computer engineers take more classes in electrical engineering than computer science. However, there is a lot of overlap in the computer science courses taken by computer engineering and computer science majors. Before choosing a school and its major, make sure to look up the types of computer science and electrical engineering courses taught to see if they interest you!

 

After College: Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering

 

After undergraduate school, some people choose to get their masters’ degrees, while others jump right into the field. Overall, job prospects in the IT industry continue to grow and salaries are competitive. 

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020, computer and information research scientists earned an average salary of $126,830 annually, while computer network architects earned an average salary of $116,780 per year.

 

Which One Should You Choose?

 

When you’re deciding between these two majors, you need to ask yourself if you’re more interested in building computers and networks, or if you’re more interested in programming the computers and learning how to manage data and algorithms. Either way, both of these fields are poised to continue growing and these skills will be in-demand as more companies continue to expand their IT departments.

 

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Rachel Swearingen
Content Writer

Short Bio
Rachel has worked to develop college courses for many higher-ed institutions and also taught high school English for a while. She's now using her knowledge to help students who are looking for information online. When she isn't writing, she's busy with her two kids and supporting the Tampa Bay Lightning (Go Bolts)!

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