Is a Computer Science Degree Worth the Money, or Should You Teach Yourself?

FT Contributor  | 

With over 20 million college students in the United States, college loans are an all-too-familiar type of debt. The cost of college tuition rises every year, putting a strain on even the most financially secure households.

In 2019, the average cost for a public university was $38,330, while the cost of tuition, fees, and room and board at private universities was $49,870 per year. According to U.S. News and World Report, the price for tuition and fees at ranked private schools easily tops $50,000 each year.

In a tech-driven marketplace, computer science is a dependable degree. However, many IT professionals are choosing to forego the debts of traditional education and opting to move straight into the workplace instead.

Many budding students find themselves asking not just whether computer science is a good major but also, “Is a computer science degree worth it?” This is a heavy decision with many factors to consider.

How Does a Computer Science Degree Help You?

Getting a Foothold in a Highly Competitive Field

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the computer and information technology (IT) workforce will experience double the growth of other industries. With such an overcrowded workplace, it can be challenging to stand out and find your place. A degree can automatically prioritize you over other candidates.

Your computer science degree can also help you find a job because many schools offer internships and job placement assistance. Since many companies today prefer to promote from within, your initial job placement could turn into a long, fruitful career.

Learning the Ropes and Creating a Professional Network

College provides a structured learning environment and ensures that you receive a well-rounded education in the IT field. Your curriculum begins with the basics before moving to a customized learning plan for your degree. The computer science program will ensure you receive a thorough education on all aspects of computer science before moving into the workplace.

Not only does a degree help you find a job, but it also helps you establish a widespread professional network. Respected leaders and professors can provide precious guidance that will prove invaluable to your career. Your teachers may also introduce you to other leaders within the field who can serve as both colleagues and mentors after graduation.

The Costs of a Computer Science Degree

You can use the average annual salary for an IT professional to determine whether a computer science degree is a good investment.

Your computer science degree may earn you six figures in a single year. While in-state and out-of-state tuition vary, the average two-year total program cost is $41,992.

While entry-level computer science position salaries begin around $66,000 annually, continuing your studies and earning credentials such as a master’s degree will significantly increase both career opportunities and pay.

Of the highest-paying IT jobs, the following salary estimates show what you’re capable of earning with a computer science degree:

  Low Salary Median Salary High Salary
Big Data Engineer $137,596 $155,713 $177,099
Computer and Information Systems Manager $99,105 $110,031 $123,145
Software Engineering Manager $124,363 $137,069 $153,342

You can easily make over $100,000 each year from the higher-level positions your degree may bring.

Continued Education

In IT and computer sciences, no two days are the same. New developments and breakthroughs in technology occur every day, so continued education (CE) is vital to your career.

Changes in this industry come fast and furious, and you can easily fall behind if you are not careful.

Regardless of whether you pursue a college degree in computer science, continuing education will play an important role in your professional career. Even if CE units are not required by the organization you end up working for, it’s still a great idea to take CE courses in order to remain an expert in your field.

Considerations for Self-Teaching

Self-teaching is an option for those who do not have the time, money, or inclination to complete traditional college coursework.

You can opt to teach yourself computer science, which means you are responsible for your instruction and training. There are several online tools and resources to help you build a technical skillset and navigate the computer sciences field. However, this is a style that requires significant discipline and focus, something that may not work for all personality types.

Whether you have a degree or not, self-teaching is an invaluable skill that will come in handy countless times throughout your career. Information technology will continue to grow and evolve, so self-teaching is an effective method to continually improve your knowledge base.

Avoid Developing an Unbalanced Skill Set

Self-teaching can also be exceptionally difficult when trying to learn the intricacies of each lesson. You may not know what subjects you are missing without proper guidance, and topics may take much longer to learn when you don’t have an expert to break it down into more easily digestible bits.

Your learning plan may require a professional instructor to assist with parts of your curriculum, so you need to know where to find one. Networking sites like LinkedIn, MeetUp, and local Chamber of Commerce groups all work wonders for connecting the international IT community. Use these contacts to expand your circle by joining theirs, and enjoy the benefits of an army of experts standing behind you.

Finding Quality Educational Resources

With self-teaching, you risk learning from outdated or inaccurate sources. The internet is full of false information that can significantly hamper your education and reinforce sloppy coding practices. Be sure to use legitimate sources.

If you can afford college tuition, a degree in computer science can prove invaluable to your career. You benefit from organized, up-to-date instruction from an experienced professional in your field. As you further your studies, these contacts will present priceless opportunities that can last the length of your career.

A computer science degree is not for everyone, however. With the rising costs of college tuition, a degree could be out of the question. Self-teaching is always a valuable method of instruction regardless of whether you receive a degree, and it is a skill that helps you to remain current within your field.

The decision to attend college to obtain a computer science degree will greatly depend on your situation, lifestyle, and ability. Still, one thing is certain: a computer science degree can bring opportunities and high pay, which is especially useful when resolving student debt.


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This post was updated December 23, 2019. It was originally published December 23, 2019.