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Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: What’s Right for You?

Updated: September 8, 2023 | Published: October 9, 2016

Updated: September 8, 2023

Published: October 9, 2016

Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering What to Choose copy

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers are expected to grow at twice the rate of all other occupations over the next decade. There are many opportunities when it comes to STEM careers, which may lead you to wonder about the differences between computer science vs. computer engineering.

If you’re interested in the world of computers, systems, networks, hardware, and software, then these two majors could be very well suited for you. But how do you choose which one is right for you?

Let’s take a look at what you can expect to learn from each degree, as well as career outlooks for both.

What is Computer Science?

Computer science is the study of computational systems and computers. Computer scientists are mostly concerned with how software and software systems work together. As such, the major relies a lot on theory, application, development, and design.

Essentially, computer science is focused on software.

What is Computer Engineering?

While computer engineering also deals with theory and application, it is more heavily focused on computer hardware, rather than software.

Computer engineering is a field that combines electronic engineering with computer science. Computer hardware includes microprocessors, memory chips, output devices (i.e. printers, remote controls), data storage devices, networking components (modems, switches, routers), and the like.

Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: The Main Differences

So, you may find yourself asking, “Which is better, Computer Science or Computer Engineering?” Well, it depends.

Computer science students learn how to build computer systems, and how to solve problems on computers and other electronic technologies using data storage and processing. Computer science students learn a variety of computer languages and computer environments, which helps them master a range of skills – from creating computer graphics, through developing and analyzing numerical and mathematical algorithms and complex networks, operating systems, and building and storing databases, to improving human-computer interactions.

Computer engineering students, on the other hand, are somewhere between computer science and electrical engineering. Therefore, you’ll probably find system operations and computer architecture courses in a computer engineering degree as well. However, computer engineering programs focus on the development, prototyping, and design of both software and hardware, as well as the integration of the two. As a result, they put a big emphasis on the physics and manufacturing of physical devices and integrated circuits. Computer engineering students learn to master robotics, pattern recognition, speech processing, and so much more.

Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: Courses You Can Expect

The curricula for computer science and computer engineering majors will vary from institution to institution. However, this overview of some courses you can expect can provide you with a rough idea on the differences between computer science vs. computer engineering.

Common Computer Science Courses

  • Advanced Software Development
  • User Interface (UI) Design
  • Operating System (OS) Design
  • Data Structures and Algorithms
  • Cloud Computing
  • Game Theory
  • Data Security Programming
  • Data Analysis

Common Computer Engineering Courses

  • Electronic Circuit Design
  • Microprocessor Design and Interfacing
  • Digital Signal Processing
  • Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
  • Principles of Modern Physics
  • Game Hardware Design
  • User Interface Design
  • Mobile Device Engineering
  • Digital Logic and Machine Design

CS vs. CE: Skills You Will Learn

Since the coursework and career paths are different between computer science vs. computer engineering, the skills that students hone during the majors slightly vary as well.

That’s not to say that both disciplines won’t teach about theory, hardware, and software — because they do. However, the skills are specifically tailored to each field.

For computer science majors, you can expect to learn how to:

  • Design and use software
  • Manage software development projects
  • Design algorithm
  • Write code
  • Learn multiple programming languages 

Computer engineers are likely to learn how to:

  • Design computer architecture
  • Design microprocessors
  • Create devices and computing systems
  • Design integrated circuits

For both degrees, you’ll utilize soft skills like: analytical thinking, creativity, critical thinking, technical writing, and problem-solving.

Expected Jobs and Salaries for Each Degree

Now that we’ve taken a look at some of the classes and skills you can expect from each degree, the best way to determine which degree is more fitting for your career goals is to review what types of jobs each degree can lead to.

Keep in mind, the below lists are abbreviated; but they should offer a good look at some popular career prospects for computer science and computer engineering majors. 

Computer Science Jobs

  • Computer Scientist: As you could’ve guessed, computer science majors can become computer scientists. Computer scientists write and program software for applications and develop models for computers, software, and devices. As such, it’s likely for computer scientists to work alongside IT personnel and software engineers. The BLS shares that a computer and information research scientist can expect a median pay of $126,830 per year. 
  • Software Developer: Software developers design computer programs and applications by programming them. Per the BLS, their average median salary is $110,140 annually. 
  • Web Designer: Web designers create and test websites while paying attention to their functions, layouts, and usability. On average, web designers and developers earn $77,200 per year. 

Computer Engineering Jobs

  • Computer Engineer: Computer engineers research, develop, design, and test computer systems and related components. The BLS reports that their average salary is $119,560. 
  • Systems Engineer: Systems engineers assess systems and resolve issues that may arise while designing, upgrading, and maintaining computer systems. According to Payscale, the average salary for a systems engineer is $80,300 per year. 
  • Network Engineer: A network engineer, or network administrator, designs, installs, and maintains the digital communications networks within businesses. They set up wireless networks and work to improve cybersecurity. Per the BLS, network and computer systems administrators earn an average of $84,810 annually.

The career prospects above are just a snippet of what you could do with either a computer science or computer engineering degree. And, it’s clear that these positions are not only in high demand, but they are also lucrative opportunities. 

Considerations for Choosing Which Degree to Study

Deciding which degree is right for you will ultimately come down to your natural inclination and aptitude. While both degrees deal with theory and application, computer science is more focused on computer software, whereas computer engineering deals more with computer and related hardware.

It makes the most sense to decide which excites you more, as well as to review career prospects to decide what path you’d like to pursue.

For anyone looking to major in computer science, University of the People offers an entirely online and tuition-free degree program in the field. Students can choose between obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree at our accredited university. With an associate’s degree, entry-level positions become available. However, for anyone seeking a mid-level or senior position within the field, it is recommended to earn at least a bachelor’s degree (which can then lead to a master’s degree or doctorate in the subject).

Fon Roland Acho

Computer Science Student Ambassador, Cameroon