Computer science degree, information technology degree or something else?

What degree should I take for a career in IT?
What’s the difference between computer science degrees and information technology degrees? What about degrees in computing, software engineering or even artificial intelligence? Find out which IT degree to choose and how to find the right university to study it at.

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.

Computer science vs IT degrees

You might think that computer science is just the course title that universities use for an information technology (IT) degree, but there are differences between the two subjects.

What are computer science degrees all about?

Computer science courses take a look at the theories and technologies that underpin computers. They are likely to teach you technical skills such as programming and software design. Computer science courses also tend to include the study of data and mathematical algorithms that are used by computers to process data.

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.

What types of IT careers do different IT and computer science degrees lead to?

Computer science and software engineering are widely available subjects that can open up a range of careers, including computer programmer, network engineer, IT consultant, software designer, systems analyst, scientific researcher and games developer.

Artificial intelligence is a more specialised degree that can lead to careers such as robotic science, software engineering (in applications such as facial recognition software), search engine support and programming.

A games development degree will point you towards the video games industry. All games development courses vary but degrees focusing more on practical skills such as programming and software design will help if you decide to move into a different area of IT.

Look at course content when choosing a computer science, IT or related 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 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.

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