Two North Central College computer science students working on projects.

Is Computer Science Hard?

Reviewed by Jacob Imm

Mar 24, 2021

Is Computer Science Hard?

Is computer science hard? Short answer—it depends on the student. Everything done well is hard, but for a computer science student, the challenge will be exciting!

Known for heavier workloads and a foundation in technical subjects like math and coding, computer science can be a difficult major. But all that time and effort can lead to something amazing.

Think about this—it’s rare to find a person who can go an entire day technology-free. Whether it’s smartphones, laptops, or TV’s, the average American spends about 6 hours per day in front of screens. For better or for worse, technology and computer science experts are in high demand.

Because of  tech’s popularity, you should expect a computer science major to be a challenge. It takes a lot of work to learn how to make all those devices run properly. But with academic discipline and sharp math and technical  skills on your side, this high-demand field might be worth your time.    

Why Choose Computer Science?

Every form of technology you use has been created by people with serious computer science skills. From scrolling Instagram to typing a midterm essay, complex computer science innovations are at the heart of almost everything you do in a day.

However, computer science degrees offer more than the chance to read and write code for a living--though if that’s your thing, you can certainly do it with a computer science degree. Growing opportunities across education, research, and data industries are turning computer science into a highly desirable field.

Jobs That Love C.S. Degrees

Despite the name, computer science (C.S.) degrees are useful across many fields you might not associate with computers. While tech sectors certainly attract C.S. majors, many other companies also need programmers and computer-savvy workers.

Here are a range of employment opportunities for C.S. majors:

Jobs in Software/Technology

  • Software Developer
  • Computer Hardware Engineer
  • Cybersecurity Analyst
  • IT Project Manager
  • Website Designer
  • Database Administrator
  • A.I. Researcher or Developer

Jobs in Other Fields

  • Professor or Teacher
  • Financial Analyst
  • Mathematician
  • Technical Writer
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Product Manager

Having trouble figuring out what’s different about computer science vs. computer engineering? Follow the provided link for more information!

High Demand for C.S. Majors

Just a year ago, only 72,000 computer science grads were available to fill more than 665,000 computing jobs. And from 2019 to 2029, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts an 11% growth for computer and IT fields—a speed “much faster than the average for all other occupations.”

In other words, computer science majors are a hot commodity. With rising needs for IT and cloud software experts, that demand isn’t going down anytime soon.

What Do I Need to Succeed in Computer Science?

Choosing a college major means following your strengths and interests as a scholar. And computer science is no exception.

If you’re more of a “right-brained” student, meaning you’re interested most in languages, writing, the arts and a more creative thinker, becoming a computer scientist may not necessarily interest you. But if STEM classes are your bread and butter, then computer science is an excellent major to consider.

Let’s dive into some of the skills that best fit a bachelor's degree in computer science.

Best Computer Science Skills

Problem-solvers, step to the front. Computer science is built for meticulous detectives, those who enjoy detailed work and analytical thinking. If your strengths lie in the following categories, C.S. may be up your alley:

  • Mathematics
  • Computer knowledge
  • Scientific approach to problem-solving
  • Organization
  • Logic
  • Creativity
  • Resilience

Other Suggestions (but not requirements!)

Anyone can be successful when jumping into the world of coding. There are no prerequisites or experience needed! What a future computer scientist needs most to have is a great attitude and motivation to learn.

Below we outline a few suggestions for those interested in dabbling in computer science before committing to a full-time degree. Whether you’re still in high school, post-grad, or simply interested in exploring the world of coding, there are tons of options to help you get a first taste of what computer science is all about––before ever stepping into a college classroom.

  • Summer Camps – Check out your local college, recreational center, or other educational facility for computer science summer camps. Some national programs, like the Google Computer Science Institute’s coding camp, even offer scholarships and financial aid.
  • Take Extra Math & Computing Classes  – Math will be first and foremost in your computer science program, so make sure you load up your course schedule with math classes. Even if your high school algebra course won’t count for college credit, it’ll be worth the extra practice.
  • Programming Practice – Get a jump start in computer programming by hitting up free resources. Online courses, YouTube tutorials, and library books hold almost all the basic coding information that you could want. For detailed help, read on below for more programming practice tips.
  • Courses for College Credit – Whether it’s Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, earning college credit in high school is a major boost. Pick courses that could apply to C.S. degree requirements, such as calculus, statistics, or even computer science itself.

Find out more about North Central College

What Does a Typical C.S. Program Look Like?

Let’s say it’s settled and you’ve decided you want to  study computer science. What will your average week look like?

Sure, you’ll have many hours of screen time—after all, it’s computer science. But C.S. also includes many STEM-friendly classes, ranging from math to architecture to programming. Let’s take a look at typical subjects you’ll find in computer science programs.

Class Subjects

When it comes to C.S., you’re looking at detail-heavy, constructive topics. Here are a few typical computer science course examples that almost every program will have:

  • Math – At the foundation of computer science lies mathematics. Instead of theory, you’ll be concentrating on more concrete math topics. Most programs will have you take (or pass out of) algebra, calculus, and statistics courses.
  • Data and Algorithms – Essentially, all computing can be reduced to points of data.  Learning how to structure data and algorithms is an extremely practical skill for a computer science major. In today’s information-driven tech landscape, companies want skilled data collection.
  • Hardware and Software Systems – If you’re studying computer science, machinery will be your partner-in-crime. Every C.S. degree will require high familiarity with different operating systems across various interfaces and mainframes.
  • Computing Theory – Computer science can seem very cut-and-dried. But abstract thought goes into the field’s innovations and principles, as well. You will learn about Turing machines, automata, and different program models in these courses.  
  • Programming – Consider computer programming models as the languages of computer science. As a C.S. major, you’ll need to learn a wide variety of these languages, from Java to Python to ALGOL W.

Where Do I Start with Programming?

As mentioned, programming is an essential computer science tool. A bachelor’s degree in computer science is out of the question without some serious coding abilities.

Never programmed before? Don’t worry. While it requires detailed focus, almost anyone can learn how to program with time and dedication.

Whether you’re getting a head start or need some extra practice, here are the best programming resources:

  • Textbooks – It may seem counterintuitive, but textbooks are a treasure trove of coding references. For easy syntax or programming language lookups, buy a basic programming textbook to have on hand.
  • Video Tutorials – The best part of YouTube tutorials? They’re free. Expert programming channels online can provide useful breakdowns of simple and complicated topics.  
  • Code Editors – The best way to learn is to practice. Download a code editor that includes an Interactive Development Environment so you can practice coding without fear of creating errors. Try building or editing a website to start!

Will Computer Science Drain All of My Time?

Social and leisure time is an important part of the college experience. So when considering a computer science degree, we understand any hesitations you might have about homework overload.

Programming and calculus may require more concrete study time than other courses. But like with any college major, you can find a work-life balance while studying computer science. Here are some guidelines to help you visualize a schedule:

Computer Science Workload

In general, the average college course assigns 2-3 hours of outside study per hour of class time. Add on hours for exams, papers, and group projects, and you’re looking at a full-time schedule.

For computer science scholars, the workload can be slightly heavier than other majors. While the average student spends about 17 hours per week on outside study, computer science students clock in at 18.23 hours a week. At the end of the day, it’s as manageable as other majors.

Time Management

College presents a scheduling challenge for all students. Between classes, extracurriculars, work, and social life, getting sleep may seem out of the question.

To handle a C.S. degree workload, here are the best time management tips for students:

  • Prioritize Class – Computer science is a constructive major—i.e., each class builds on top of a previous course. With in-person work like programming labs and group projects, your class time is essential. Try to keep it your top priority.   
  • Write It Out – Yes, typing is the computer science way. But writing down information actually improves memory and learning capabilities. If possible, try out a pen and paper in lectures over your laptop. Also, a classic paper scheduler may help you better visualize your weekly activities.
  • Join a Study Group – Playing the lone wolf is a recipe for stress and failure in college. For your most challenging courses, find a few classmates to form a study group. When exams or group projects inevitably come around, your team can divvy up the work for maximum success.
  • Put Your Life on the Calendar – Unfortunately, time is a finite resource. When times get busy, it’s worth planning out your life down to the hour. Digital calendar apps can help organize your daily schedule, colorizing your events by topic and setting alarms for efficiency.
  • Do One Thing at a Time – If your to-do list is twenty items deep, it can be tough to stay focused. To use your time best, avoid multitasking. Shut off the TV, silence your phone, and do one job at a time.

Cruise—Don’t Crash—With Computer Science

So, is computer science hard? Well, it depends on you! If programming, software, and data get you curious or excited, then follow your passion to the computer screen. Anything worth doing will take time and effort, and it will be worth it in the very near future. With the above tips, you’ll be set to start any computer science program.  

If you’re interested in learning about future jobs, computer science interview questions and the average computer science degree salary, be sure to check out our helpful guides!

If you think computer science could be for you, consider the bachelor’s degree program at North Central College. In this program, you’ll gain a strong theoretical foundation, learn the most widely used skills and languages, and learn about  opportunities outside the classroom, such as internships and student research projects. North Central College understands that computer science isn't just about building programs for computers, it's about building systems for people. North Central’s curriculum helps develop skills employers consistently mention as highly valued but are often absent from the computer science major - communication skills. If you’re interested in learning more, visit the computer science degree web page ​for more information.

Jacob Imm is a communications specialist in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 10 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.