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

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, February 03, 2014

Both degrees and jobs in computing are becoming increasingly specialized. For this reason, it is more important than ever to fully research a computing degree program so that you can be certain that the program will provide you with the knowledge and experience that you need for your career. However, it is not always easy to pick the right program just from the name of the program or the department. Although naming is becoming more standardized, there is still some variance from school to school and program to program. Knowing exactly what kind of computing you want to do for your career and finding the right program can be helpful in securing your dream job after graduation.

“Computer Science” is an umbrella term which encompasses four major areas of computing: theory, algorithms, programming languages, and architecture. At the undergraduate level, programs usually cover a broad range of computing topics and allow students to engage in projects across multiple areas. For graduate studies in computer science, it is typical to focus on one area. Therefore, it is important to research the graduate program to make sure that the school has the faculty and resources that you need to complete your master’s or doctoral project. While Carnegie Mellon has remained the vanguard over the decades, many schools you might not be that familiar with also have great Computer Science programs, including state schools like Rutgers, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Maryland at College Park.

“Computer Engineering” typically focuses specifically on computer hardware and software. It is an integration of computer science and electrical engineering. For this reason, many people who want to become computer engineers earn an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering (often with a minor or double major in computer science), and then earn a graduate degree in computer engineering. When searching for a graduate program, look for schools that are equally strong in computer science and engineering. MIT is still the leader here, but other schools like the University of Washington and Texas A&M University have built on their strong engineering programs to integrate computer science. Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) has its roots in engineering and has been producing technological advances in computing since its inception. This is reflected in FIT’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department’s outstanding faculty and facilities as well as its commitment to preparing graduate students to be innovators in computer engineering.

From theory to application, there is a specialty for every person with a passion for computing. During your undergraduate program, you may want to include some Electrical Engineering classes even if your program does not specifically require them for graduation. At the graduate level, there are far more great programs available than you might think. Instead of going for the biggest brand names, find the program that is right for you and your goals within the field.

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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