If you are deciding between majoring in computer science or software engineering, you might want to know more about what each major has to offer. This post will show you the key facts about each major and help you to decide which would be a better degree for you.

Main differences between a computer science and software engineering degree

Typical computer science degree classes

In a computer science degree you can expect to be required to take the following classes:

Introduction to programming
Object-oriented programming
Data structures
Algorithms
Assembly language
Databases
Computer architecture
Computer networks

You can also expect to take some mathematics classes including:

Linear algebra
Discrete math
Calculus

If your university does not require that you take those math classes, I would strongly recommend that you take them as electives. This is because they are key classes for machine learning and, if you want to go to grad school, they will be important classes to have on your transcript.

Some classes that you might have the choice of taking could also include

Machine learning
Artificial intelligence
Computer graphics
Computer networks

Typical software engineering degree classes

In a software engineering degree you can expect to have to take many of the same classes as you would in a computer science degree.

Some classes that you can expect to take in a software engineering degree will include:

Introduction to programming
Object-oriented programming
Data structures
Algorithms
Assembly language
Databases
Computer architecture
Computer networks
Operating systems and system programming
Distributed software systems
Software project management

The main difference between the two degrees is that a software engineering degree will have more classes related to implementing and designing software. Whereas, a computer science class will have more theoretical classes related to how a computer system works.

Average pay

According to Payscale, the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s in computer science is $85,235. This makes computer science one of the best paying degrees that are available.

Many of the alternative degrees to computer science will also have high average salaries. However, not only is computer science one of the best paying degrees but it also puts you in a good position with just a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, many of the alternatives require a master’s degree to be competitive when seeking a job.

As with a CS degree, a software engineering degree is also very employable at just the bachelor’s level. According to Payscale, the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s in software engineering is $80,920.

Job opportunities

There are many different types of jobs that a computer science degree will open you up to. These can include:

  • Software engineer
  • Database administrator
  • Data scientist (often requires a master’s degree)
  • Machine learning engineer (often requires a master’s degree)
  • App developer
  • Web developer
  • Computer systems administrator

Most CS majors will end up taking jobs as a software engineer which is one of the highest-rated jobs available. When interviewing for these roles, you will be tested mainly on algorithms and data structures that you’ll learn about during your time in the major. Make sure to be very comfortable with algorithms and data structures when interviewing.

It would also help to try to get internships during the summer since that will also help you a lot in getting into big tech companies that have very high salaries.

A software engineering degree will qualify you for similar jobs including:

Software engineer
Web developer
App developer

If you are looking to get a job specifically as a software engineer, a software engineering degree will give you a slight edge. However, a CS degree will also qualify you for software engineering roles but it can also qualify you for other roles including data science or cyber security depending on the specific classes that you choose to take.

Ease in finding a job

Both a CS degree and a software engineering degree should put you in a good position when looking for a job. To further improve your chances, it would help to complete software engineering projects, showcase them to get summer internships then use the internships to get a job upon graduating.

Also, if you are looking to get a non-software engineering role, it would help to take classes related to that role, to complete projects related to that role and to get an internship in that role. So, if you want to get into data science, it would help to take classes in machine learning, statistics and data analysis, to complete data science and machine learning projects and to use them to help get data science internships.

Difficulty

Both degrees will be moderately difficult and will be similarly difficult to each other. Some people might find a CS degree to be slightly more difficult since it will usually be the more mathematical of the two.

Recommended classes

In both degrees you will have data structures and algorithms as a required class. This is good since it is what most software engineering interviews will test you on.

Both degrees will also usually have calculus, discrete math and linear algebra as required classes. This is also good since they are used in machine learning which is a popular field right now.

In addition to that, it would be strongly recommended to consider what job you would like to get and to take classes according to that job role.

Things to consider

Below are some things to consider when choosing between the two degrees.

It would help to consider the classes that will be required in the specific program that you will be applying to. It might be the case that the classes are not what you are expecting or they might not be the right classes for the job that you are interested in.

It would also help to consider whether or not you are interested in going to graduate school. If you are, it would be likely that a CS degree would be more appropriate for you because it will usually feature more classes that are used in graduate school However, again, it would help to take the time to consider what classes you should be taking to maximise your chances of getting into the graduate program you think you might be interested in.

If you are unable to decide between the two degrees, it would often be appropriate to choose computer science. This is because, it will prepare you well enough to get software engineering roles while also putting you in a good position for graduate school and opening you up to other types of job roles such as cyber security, data science and machine learning. Computer science is also the more popular degree so more universities offer the degree.

Overall, both degrees are considered as highly valuable degrees at the bachelor’s level. The right one for you will depend on the types of jobs you are interested in and if you are more interested in the mathematical side of computer science or the slightly more programming heavy side of software engineering.

Author

I created and currently manage College Corner. I received a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. My goal is to help current students do better in college and to help future students plan for college. You can read more about me and my website here.