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What to expect when studying computer science

If you have been giving some thought to studying computer science then you are in the right place. We explore what makes the discipline unique, what you'll study and what job opportunities you may have.

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It has become somewhat of a truism to speak about the unstoppable advance of technology and how enmeshed it has become in our everyday lives. However, it is undeniable that this has seen the growth of the technology sector, the development of related disciplines and the creation of new types of work. One such discipline which has evolved quite considerably is computer science. Studying computer science remains popular with international students, providing numerous specialisations and good career prospects.  We delve into the field, explore the subject, your options and what you’ll learn if you choose to study computer science.

 

What is computer science?

 

Computer science is essentially the study of how to translate the language of machines into a more easily understandable and usable language for people. The field uses the theory of information and computation in the interrogation and calculation of information.

 

This makes it possible to communicate, analyse, process and represent information effectively and efficiently.  The discipline deploys logical thinking approaches with a view to developing elegant and practical solutions. Computer science is categorised as a STEM subject.

 

Computer science also encompasses the design and development of new computer technology, both hardware and software that can be deployed in a multitude of ways. For example, the user interface that you probably use every single day on your phone or computer is the product of computer science.  The discipline also incorporates other areas of inquiry such as computational thinking, artificial intelligence, machine learning, mathematics and diagnostics.

 

Take a look at some of the top universities offering computer science in the UK:

 

 

What is information technology?

 

One of the frequent confusions for prospective students is the difference between computer science and IT. Often you may see the two used in conjunction with one another or offered as a joint qualification. While there is an overlap between the areas, they are actually two distinct disciplines.  

 

IT primarily focuses on how to use computer and information systems optimally. This extends to the implementation, support and management of such systems, particularly software and this is often in the context of a business or organisation. IT focuses much of its attention on ensuring efficient deployment of technology, computer networks and systems for users. The aim is to ensure that people are able to process and access information, as well as communicate using computer systems.

 

What are the entry requirements for a degree in computer science?

 

Depending on the destination and university you choose different entry requirements may apply. However, there are some standard pre-requisites you’ll need to have in order to be accepted. The first is an A-Level / high school qualification (or equivalent) that includes a high level of achievement in mathematics. A minimum of B grade will generally be required.

 

If you’re thinking about studying in the U.S. this may mean taking the SAT test where you’ll generally be required to achieve a good overall score of more than 1,100, with more than 550 for the maths component.

 

You will also be required to provide evidence of or demonstrate English language proficiency. This can be done by taking a number of standardised tests and submitting your examination results. Universities do differ on which English tests and scores they may accept, meaning you must check specifically with an institution prior to applying.

 

IELTS and TOEFL tests are generally the most widely accepted, however, Duolingo, IELTS Indicator, Pearson and Cambridge English tests may also be admissible. You’ll need to achieve a minimum IELTS score (or equivalent) of 6.0 to 6.5 with no section score lower than 6.0.

 

If you don’t manage to meet the English language requirements for entry, don’t forget that there are pre-sessional English courses offered by many institutions, as well as pathway courses. These will equip you with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to gain entry onto an academic degree.  This can also the case for postgraduate studies with pre-master’s courses.

 

Make sure you check out some of the top universities in Canada and Australia for studying computer science:

 

 

How long will a degree in computer science take?

 

The length of time it will take to complete your degree does depend on the university that you choose to study at. For the most part, universities structure the curriculum to span three or four years. In the majority of cases, you will study a three-year BSc Computer Science degree, with the option of a fourth-year honour’s qualification. However, some universities do offer four-year professional degrees in the subject.

 

If you decide that you wish to pursue a postgraduate qualification at master’s or doctoral degree level you will need to allocate a bit more time. A master’s degree in the subject can take between one and two years, and in some cases, three, depending on whether you choose to study full-time or part-time. A doctorate in the subject will usually take you between four and five years to complete.

 

What will I study for a computer science degree?

 

The curriculum for a computer science degree varies between institutions, but you can reasonably expect to study core fundamentals that will be similar between institutions. In your first year, you’ll cover areas like:

 

  • Computer science foundations
  • User and interaction design
  • Programming languages
  • Mathematics for computer science
  • Applications
  • Software engineering

 

As you move to your second year the focus shifts to themes such as:

 

  • Algorithms and operating systems
  • Network architecture
  • System architecture
  • Programming
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Computational theory

 

Having advanced to the final or penultimate year of your degree you’ll take on a range of topics, which may also involve specialising, including:

 

  • Virtual reality
  • Ethics of computing
  • Data science
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Bioinformatics
  • Language processing
  • Robotics
  • Advanced algorithms
  • Software engineering

 

If you’ve enrolled for a four-year professional degree, the final year of your study will usually be dedicated to a specific area or topic that will require you to produce a research paper or project for assessment. Sometimes you will be required to interact or work within an industry setting to conduct research.

 

If you move to a master’s degree or PhD qualification you will engage in a combination of research, coursework and practical work. The scope of your research can cover a wide variety of computer science-related areas of enquiry.

 

What are the career options for a computer science graduate?

 

Studying computer science gives you access to quite an array of career options, some of which may surprise you. With the technical expertise and analytical thinking skills of graduates of computer science in high demand you could find yourself working as a:

 

  • Data analyst
  • App developer
  • Software developer
  • Cybersecurity analyst
  • Systems analyst
  • Mobile developer
  • Web designer
  • Network architect
  • Information security analysts/consultant
  • Artificial intelligence engineer
  • Teacher

 

Remember that your skills may also be applicable in a variety of sectors that include:

 

  • Finance
  • Healthcare
  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing
  • Public sector
  • Telecommunication

 

Statistics show that the majority of computer science graduates progress to professional work after finishing their studies.

 

Having brushed up on your knowledge of computer science there is no better time to start exploring your course and university options using our course matcher tool. If you’re still a little unsure of your direction take a look at our guides to match your study and career path, degrees to suit your personality and what skills employers look for in graduates.

 

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