A computer science degree lays a broad foundation for a career in the fast-moving world of technology, which touches every industry in some way. In the next decade, computer science degree jobs in this field will grow at a blistering rate of 19 percent, much faster than most other fields. These jobs will also pay a much higher wage, with a median salary of about $118,370 for computer and information scientists.
This guide will help recent or soon-to-be computer science majors find that first job and start their careers. We'll cover job outlook, career options and how to translate your college and internship experience into a resume and cover letter.
How does a computer science degree prepare me for a career?
Many graduates with a computer science degree might not travel straight into a ground-breaking computer scientist role, writing software to make computers do new things, or developing innovative uses for existing technology. Some starting jobs for computer science majors include:
- Software program design
- Database administration
- Web development
- Information technology consulting
Should I earn an advanced degree?
When it comes to advanced degrees, as with many industries, a master's degree or doctorate will propel you into a higher earning level and the possibilities of the academic world. As a fast-moving industry, however, job experience may be a better way to focus on specific areas of study that could help solve real-world problems.
Logan's Story: How to find entry-level computer science jobs
Logan Roberts graduated in May 2019 with a computer science degree from The Citadel in Charleston, SC. He is currently working as a software engineer in Washington, DC, for a government contractor that focuses on intelligence and DevOps. Roberts says he chose computer science because he felt confident that he'd end up with a good-paying job, and it gave him a grasp of the overall technology field.
"Computer science is focused on theory," he says. "So you know the full scope of computers. You learn about algorithms for problem-solving and can go into software development, which is what I'm doing now."
Roberts says the current buzzwords for computer science jobs are data analytics and cybersecurity. But most companies are looking for experience. It can be tough finding an entry-level computer science job.
"Even though I had two years of research experience and internships, it was still difficult," says Roberts. "You have to apply to a lot of places and dedicate a lot of your time to your job search."
As an undergraduate, Roberts worked on a research project with a professor that looked for potential political unrest around the world by scraping information from news media and Twitter.
"We would aggregate tweets and run processing on them to search for keywords that might have an unrest quality to them," says Roberts, who credits that project more than an internship at Booz Allen Hamilton with getting him ready to join the workforce.
While he learned Java in class, the research project led him to explore the programming language Python.
"I'm self-taught in Python," he says. "It's all about databases and SQL." In Roberts' experience, learning to code is simply about sitting down, learning the language, and using it.
"At the end of the day, they all have the same data structures and work on variables," Roberts says. "It's like learning another language, like English to Spanish. Once you get a good foundation in a recognized language, at that point, you can find out how to learn new languages that are specific to your company or project."
He says his computer science degree gave him the basis upon which to build. "It's just solving a puzzle every day," he says. "You just have to sit there and think about what you are trying to accomplish and figure out the best way to do it."
Roberts has four bits of good advice for getting a job with a computer science degree:
- Explore your interests. Find out what you enjoy in computer science. If you're going to be successful at your job, you should find the work and the area interesting.
- Cast a wide net. Even if you have a connection to the company or position, don't place all your eggs in one basket. You should be applying to many positions and hoping for a 10 percent response rate.
- Gain experience. Prepare yourself and get as much experience as you can while still in school.
- Stay positive. And be patient.
Another key is to know what you want to get out of the job. Roberts went through some interview rounds with Amazon, even taking a four-hour coding test, but he decided to take himself out of the running before the next step.
"It came down to what I wanted. Going with a smaller company, you get to interface with people more closely than you would at Amazon with nearly 600,000 employees," he says. "I wanted to work for a smaller company because my impact meant more and I'd be tasked with more things. I'm one of only two computer scientists at my firm."
In the end, despite the effort it took, he enjoyed the job search. "It's very exciting once you start getting offers."
When it comes to the actual day-to-day job, Roberts says one thing he didn't realize was that he'd need a lot of patience.
"Getting anything done is a very slow process," he says. "It was very hard to understand at first, because we want everything immediately, but the real world isn't like that at all."
Having patience and a positive attitude will get you far, he says. "You have to have fun with it and have a good attitude, and with that idea in mind, you can do just about anything you like."
What jobs can you get with a computer science degree?
As Roberts points out, cybersecurity and data analytics are hot jobs right now. Here are three careers for computer science majors to consider:
- Cybersecurity and information security
Data hacks have become a byproduct of everything moving online, and companies and institutions need security measures in place that will prevent their data from becoming compromised. Cybersecurity experts, a.k.a. information security analysts, are expected to be more in demand, with predicted job growth of 28 percent.
- Data scientists and analysts
Big data is growing, thanks to society's increasing reliance on smartphones, social media and the internet. That means the demand for experts who can probe large data sets and extract relevant information is also growing. Data scientists and analysts use algorithms to break down exabytes of information into digestible stats. You can find these sorts of jobs across industries, from healthcare and government to e-commerce and finance.
- Software engineer
Problem-solving is the number one mission of software engineers and requires the ability to analyze needs, create solutions, and coordinate the development and execution of software. This type of position requires creative thinking and programming abilities. Job growth in this industry is projected at a brisk 24 percent.
What about networking?
The computer and engineering worlds have a few key associations that provide access to current research, job boards, annual conferences and continuing education opportunities.
This respected organization is dedicated to promoting computing as a force for solving problems and making a positive impact. With 100,000 members, along with conferences, job boards and research, ACM provides a solid resource for those starting out in the field.
IEEE's mission is to advance technology and the profession. Its Computer Society has more than 50,000 members, providing a strong network for newbies in the field.
This organization is obviously for women, who are notoriously underrepresented in tech, and provides networking, professional development and other resources to women in the field.
The key to beginning a career with a computer science degree is translating the experience you gained from classes, projects and internships into real-world potential that lands you an interview. Here's how to get started:
Build your resume
- Your First Resume: Recent Computer Science Graduates
- Use a resume template and create a resume that's easy to read
- Or, put our Resume Builder to work, and get help with creating a resume that will stand out in the crowd
Perfect your cover letter
- Your First Cover Letter: Recent Computer Science Graduates
- Take a look at our eye-catching Cover Letter Samples
- Make sure you adhere to proper cover letter format
- Get a fast start on your letter by using our Cover Letter Builder
Prepare yourself for specific jobs
- How to become a market research analyst
- How to become a cybersecurity analyst
- How to become a software engineer
- How to become a web developer
Prepare to be Interviewed
- Top X Interview Questions for Computer Science Majors (and How to Answer Them)
- The most common interview questions for economics majors (and how to answer them)
- How to have a successful video job interview