Computer science degree, information technology degree or something else?
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You’ve decided that your future lies in IT and are looking for the degree that will help you launch your career. There are several options open to you that can lead to a range of varied jobs.
Which degrees do you need for IT and technology jobs?
There is a variety of degrees that you could study that would be relevant to a graduate career in IT and technology. You are likely to encounter degree titles such as computer science, computing and information technology (IT). You might think that computer science is just the course title that universities use for all technology-related degrees, but there are differences between these subjects. However, as there is often a lot of crossover between these, it’s important that you pay attention to the course and module details of each course you apply to.
You could also study a more specialised degree if there is a particular area of technology that you are interested in. Examples include: software engineering, computer game design, artificial intelligence and computer networks. You will often be able to start studying a more general IT subject, such as computer science or computing, before specialising in a specific area.
Can you have an IT career without a technology degree?
It’s also possible to start a career in IT and technology with a different degree entirely. Technology employers may accept applications from graduates with non-IT degrees – mathematics, engineering and science subjects are seen as particularly applicable to tech careers. Some employers may even accept applications from, and offer training to, graduates with degrees in subjects such as music or languages; the crucial factor in this case is whether the graduates can show that they have a passion for technology. Always check individual employer’s entry requirements and specifications before sending off an application when you have a non-technology degree.
What are computer science degrees all about?
Computer science courses take a look at the theories and technologies that underpin computers and computer systems, including aspects of mathematics, science and engineering. Computer science courses tend to include the study of data and mathematical algorithms that are used by computers to process data. They are also likely to teach you technical skills such as programming and software design, and about specific areas of technology, such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, cyber security and mobile app development.
If you’re thinking about studying a computer science degree it’s important to look at the list of modules that you’ll study – are they in fields that will interest you? If you’re interested in a particular technology specialism (such as cyber security), see whether the degree course offers modules in (or in an area related to) your career aspirations. Your individual modules could be what makes you stand out from other computing science graduates when it comes to applying for jobs.
What are information technology degrees all about?
The main difference with computer science is that IT degrees tend to look at how computers and related technology are used and maintained and, in particular, how businesses use them. This means IT courses often have a strong focus on how businesses and organisations operate and on understanding how technology can be used to solve problems in a business context.
It’s important to note that there is overlap between computer science and IT degrees. For instance, you may do some computer programming on an IT degree, and both computer science and IT courses may include modules in information security.
Computing degrees, games development degrees, software engineering degrees and other subjects
Computer science and IT are by no means your only options when choosing a course. But rather than basing your decision purely on what the course is called, look at the modules you will get to do, as there is a lot of crossover between course content. For example, these degree courses will all have strong similarities with computer science:
- a computing degree
- a software engineering degree
- a computer networks degree
At some universities, separate courses in the computer science or IT department will share the same modules for the first couple of years before branching into specialisation. This could make it easier to switch to a different IT degree if you decide to change your focus later on. However, more specialised degrees will teach mostly different content. These include:
- an artificial intelligence degree
- a cyber security degree
- a games development degree
There are other subjects that can make you employable and further broaden your opportunities. A degree in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) will be welcomed by many major IT employers if you have a good grade – but be prepared to back it up with extracurricular IT activities if they’re looking for technical skills. See our advice on how to get into a career in IT.
Look at course content when choosing a computer science, IT or computing degree
As mentioned above, IT-related degrees can have lots of different variations in their names, such as computer science or computing, BSc or BEng. However, the course title is less important than the content.
IT employers tend to look for graduates who have practical skills such as programming and coding rather than those who only know computing theory, so look through course content for details of project work. It’s also worth heading to online forums and finding out what students think of their course.
Is computer science better than other IT and related degrees?
If you are not certain about the direction you want to take your career in, computer science may be the safest choice. That’s not to say it’s an easy option or will guarantee the job you want.
The standard advice for people interested in the video games industry is to go for a computer science degree because it offers a wider choice in terms of career. However, a games development degree can have side benefits – for example, some of your classmates may become successful, providing you with contacts. If you are determined to take a degree in games development, then look for courses that give a foundation in computing, software design and discrete mathematics, along with tuition on programming artificial intelligence and graphics. You can always train yourself in available games engines such as Unity, Game Maker and Maya.
What about accredited degrees?
It’s worth checking whether a degree course is accredited by IT professional bodies, such as the BCS (the British Computer Society) or the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology). Professional bodies promote and further career and the people who practise in it. Degree courses need to meet certain standards to be classed as accredited, and studying an accredited degree can give you an advantage when applying for professional qualifications in the future.
This doesn’t mean that accredited degrees are of a better quality than non-accredited degrees. But it’s worth thinking about your career ambitions: are you likely to need professional qualifications or accreditation to reach these? If so, studying an accredited degree at university might make your career progression slightly easier.
What else to find out about computer science courses, IT courses and related degrees
- Check to see what facilities your potential universities have available for building your practical skills.
- Find out whether the universities you are interested in have links with relevant IT employers. For example, some companies target particular universities when they want to recruit interns and graduates, or to hold careers events on campus.
- Find out if there is the option of doing an industrial placement. This is when you spend six to twelve months working for a business or organisation, doing a job that is related to what you have been learning on your course. Typically, students do these placements between their second year and final year.
- Some courses require you to have mathematics A level to ensure you already have a grounding of knowledge. This should ensure that all students are on the same level, so the course will move on to advanced content more quickly.
- Another thing to consider is whether your course has been accredited – BCS is the professional body for IT and visits universities to review whether their degrees teach the skills that employers are looking for. It will put its name to any course that meets its standards.
- Bear in mind some universities are better regarded than others, depending on your chosen subject. Websites such as Unistats or The Guardian’s University Guide can help you work out where to look.