Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering: What’s the Difference?

Nadia L. - Class of 2020

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the computer and information technology sector is growing at a faster pace than most fields. With burgeoning job growth of 15 percent projected over the period spanning 2021 to 2031, IT and computing is rapidly emerging as one of the nation’s hottest, most in-demand industries. In fact, LinkedIn reported that careers in computing were “the number one source of new wages in America,” accounting for over 16 percent of U.S. wages, compared to 15.8 percent for management, 12.3 percent for sales, and 10.5 percent for healthcare. 

For students who are enrolling in college, whether at the graduate or undergraduate level, a computing-related degree can be a solid investment in the future. However, while economically promising, the trends around the IT field also raise several critical questions: 

  • Since the tech industry is so expansive, which type of degree is best for you? 
  • How does a degree in computer science differ from a degree in computer engineering? 
  • Are these degrees available online, and do they offer good prospects for remote work? 
  • Which of these programs most closely aligns with your unique talents, goals, and interests?  

These are all important questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking about pursuing a career in tech. By explaining some of the core differences between popular computing majors, this guide will help you find the answers.

Is Computer Engineering Computer Science? 

Many prospective students wonder, “Is computer science considered a type of engineering?” While terms like “computer science” and “computer engineering” are sometimes used interchangeably, they are technically separate fields that focus on different aspects of computer technology. 

For that reason, National University divides these fields of study into two separate majors: the Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (BSECE) and the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (BSCS), which is also taught at the graduate level as a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) for those pursuing their master’s degree. Each of these accredited programs can be completed online, offering convenience and flexibility to fit your busy schedule. 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these fields — and at the potential careers, a degree in either can lead toward. 

woman looking up the difference between Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering

What’s the Difference Between Computer Science and Computer Engineering? 

Both computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE) are tech-intensive fields oriented around computer and information systems. For example, both CS and CE majors must learn foundational skills such as coding and testing computer software. However, despite this apparent overlap, the differences are considerable. 

The field of computer engineering tends to prioritize computer design and development, whereas computer science places a heavier emphasis on computing theory, translating to a greater focus on cybersecurity, algorithms, and computer networks. If you tend to enjoy building computers, learning about hardware, or designing interfaces, you might prefer computer engineering to computer science. On the other hand, if you find yourself fascinated by computing theory and data analysis, a graduate or undergraduate degree in computer science might be the better option. 

Still not quite sure which branch of computing you’d prefer to concentrate on? Try comparing National University’s program requirements for computer engineering with our computer science coursework. For example, CE majors may take classes and labs in microelectronics, calculus-based physics, and digital signal processing, while CS majors will study scientific problem-solving, data structures and algorithms, and database design. Both are required to complete courses in digital logic, computer ethics, and computer architecture, among other subjects of study. 

By reviewing the courses, you’ll be expected to complete and the skills you’ll be required to master, you can gain a clearer idea of which program is right for you. Additionally, our admissions office is always available to help. 

Why Study Computer Science or Engineering? 

There are numerous reasons to consider pursuing your bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in the field of CS or CE. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Robust career outlook. The BLS estimates that the computing and IT industry will add more than half a million jobs to the U.S. economy over the coming decade, projecting approximately 546,200 job openings. Students who graduate with a BS or MS in a computing-related field, such as CE or CS, will be valued, sought-after, and in demand in an increasingly competitive economy. 
  • Great potential to work from home. Global outbreaks of COVID-19 have driven numerous businesses, employees, and independent contractors toward remote work models, which were gaining in popularity even prior to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, recent statistics show that roughly 10 percent of workers in the information industry work remotely — more than in almost any other field. If you like the thought of being able to work from your home office or living room, consider a career in IT. 
  • Diverse job opportunities. Virtually every industry has a need for tech and computer experts. Depending on your interests, the skills you learn as a CS or CE major can lead to work in healthcare, communications, business, marketing, fashion, gaming, graphic design, education, AI, and more. 

Skills and Knowledge Needed in Computer Science

Computer Science focuses on the theoretical foundation and practical applications of computers and computing systems. Students in a Computer Science program would gain skills and knowledge in the following areas.

Programming Languages: Gaining Proficiency in programming languages like Java, Python, PHP, and C++ is crucial for computer scientists. This knowledge enables them to create, modify, QA, and debug software applications.

Software Development and Design: Computer Science students learn software development methodologies, such as Agile development methodology, Rapid application development (RAD), and DevOps deployment methodology. While gaining skills in designing user interfaces, software architecture, and testing.

Databases and Data Management: Knowledge of properly completing data collection, storage, and analysis and utilizing data analytics tools and Business Intelligence (BI) software for deriving valuable insights.

Cybersecurity: Computer scientists must be well-versed in cybersecurity principles and practices to protect digital assets and maintain the integrity of software applications.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: These advanced topics are increasingly important in modern computing, and computer scientists often develop expertise in creating intelligent systems and algorithms.

Skills and Knowledge Needed in Computer Engineering

Computer Engineering combines electrical engineering and computer science principles to design, develop, and maintain computer hardware and software systems. Students in a Computer Engineering program would acquire a skillset in the following areas.

Embedded Systems: Computer engineers develop expertise in designing and programming embedded systems, which are dedicated computer systems integrated into larger devices for specific purposes, such as automotive control systems or IoT devices.

Operating Systems: Computer engineers gain knowledge in developing and managing operating systems and real-time systems that require precise timing and synchronization.

Networking and Communication: Proficiency in networking protocols, communication standards, and network architecture enables computer engineers to design and maintain interconnected systems and devices.

Hardware-Software Integration: Computer engineers learn to bridge the gap between hardware and software, ensuring seamless interaction between components for optimal system performance.

man kneeled down in server room looking up at rack holding tablet

What Are My Career Options After a Computer Engineering or Computer Science Degree? 

A bachelor’s or master’s degree in computer science or computer engineering can qualify you for dozens of different jobs, depending on your particular set of interests, skills, and goals. The good news is that, regardless of which niche you fall into or path you take, most IT-related jobs are both fast-growing and highly-paid. For instance, consider these examples, which draw on the latest median salary data available from the BLS: 

Earn Your Degree in Computer Science or Engineering at National University 

Whether you choose to pursue computer engineering, computer science, or a related field such as data analytics or IT management, you’ll be learning valuable skills that can open exciting professional doors. With fast-paced courses, generous scholarships, and programs that can be completed online, NU offers the opportunity to jumpstart your career. 

To learn more about the types of degrees and careers, you can pursue in the IT field, contact an enrollment counselor at National University. You can also explore our complete list of computer and engineering programs and find detailed information about course requirements, program objectives, and faculty. No matter which approach you take, you’re on the right track toward an exciting and rewarding career.

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