A computer science student working outside at North Central College.
Understanding the differences between computer science vs computer engineering is crucial in selecting the right career path. Continue reading to learn more!

CS vs Computer Engineering

Reviewed by Jacob Imm


Mar 26, 2021

Computer Science vs Computer Engineering

Finding the right major isn’t easy. Even similar fields—like computer science (Comp Sci) and computer engineering (Comp Eng)--can be vastly different when you take a closer look.

From the coursework to the post-grad opportunities, Comp Sci and Comp Eng are unique fields with their own sets of pros and cons. While there is overlap between these two majors, it’s important to understand which path your skills and goals are better suited for. To help make this decision easier, read on for everything you need to know about computer science vs. computer engineering!

What is Computer Science?

Before you can compare the two, you’ll need a general grasp of each major. Computer science is a hot industry, and many students are finding success in this field—but what does this major entail?

The main discipline of computer science involves working with software and programming. Much of a computer science major’s work will involve theoretical problem-solving rather than fixing actual computer hardware.

The Bottom Line – Is computer science hard? It really depends on the student, and how much time they invest in their studies. Computer science requires a lot of memorization, math, and coding. Understanding programming languages and software is crucial to succeeding in this field.

What is Computer Engineering?

Computer engineering—hardware or  software engineering in some cases—focuses on the creation of electronic devices and the software they run on.

While this doesn’t necessarily mean that computer engineers are physically constructing electronics (though they can), they do spend a lot of time creating the blueprints. Just as other types of engineers develop and supervise the creation of machines or buildings, a computer software engineer or computer hardware engineer does the same thing within their field.

The Bottom Line – Computer engineering is a bit more hands-on than computer science, but it’s not exactly a technician’s field. A computer software engineer or hardware engineer is responsible for the development, creation, and testing of either computation devices or their applications.

Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering Differences

Now that you have a better understanding of each field, you’re better equipped to compare the two in practical situations. If you’re planning to pursue a career in either of these industries, you’ll want a clear idea of their job markets, duties, and growth opportunities.

To help you differentiate these similar fields, here are a few key differences between computer science vs computer engineering:

Responsibilities

Your job description as an employee will differ between computer science and computer engineering.

As a computer scientist, your main responsibilities may involve:

  • Programming and coding
  • Analyzing data
  • Creating graphics
  • Working with networks

As a computer engineer, your responsibilities will look a bit different. Computer engineers typically handle tasks such as:

  • Researching, developing, and designing software
  • Testing computer systems
  • Working with circuit boards, processors and routers
  • Creating data storage, modems and adapters

The Bottom Line – Though there may be some overlap—particularly when working with software—the responsibilities of computer science vs. computer engineering majors are pretty different. Computer science responsibilities are often more development-based, while computer engineers tend to handle the process of creating devices and their software.

Skills

Your skillset will be crucial to completing these jobs effectively. While computer-related skills can obviously be taught, it’s also important to consider your natural talents when choosing the right industry for you.

Some of the most important skills a computer science major should have are:

  • Completing algorithms
  • Problem-solving
  • Working with programming languages
  • Project management

While these skills may also benefit a computer engineer, those in this field will be working with more physical components. This means a computer engineer should be skilled at:

  • Computer mechanics
  • Practicing calculus
  • Understanding electricity, optics, and waves
  • Designing machines

The Bottom Line – If programming and coding come easily to you, your skills may be more aligned with a computer science degree. Those who enjoy working with machinery and designing computer parts will be better suited for a computer engineering job.

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Coursework and Pursuing an Advanced Degree

The types of classes required for computer science vs. computer engineering are another aspect students should consider. Since computer science involves more development and coding and computer engineering has more mechanical elements, each major will have its own core classes.

Computer science majors can expect to take courses such as:

  • Software Design and Analysis of Algorithms
  • Programming languages and coding
  • Web Development
  • Communication and Media Courses (e.g. Social Media and Conflict Resolution)

Computer engineer majors should prepare for a somewhat different educational path, including classes such as:

  • Physics
  • Introduction to Mechanics
  • Computer Architecture
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Thermodynamics

However, there are also many similarities in coursework for computer science and computer engineering majors. Students in both fields may take:

  • Introduction to Computer Programming
  • Ethics
  • Calculus
  • Data Structures
  • Software Development

Upon receiving your bachelor’s degree in either computer science or computer engineering, you might want to consider pursuing additional education. While many jobs in the tech industry won’t require an advanced degree, having a master’s in your field can lead to pay increases upwards of $30,000 per year.

Additionally, a master’s degree program can offer specialty classes to help you hone unique skills and increase your chances of getting hired for certain positions.

The Bottom Line – Both computer science and computer engineering majors will take classes involving math, software development, and programming. Despite these overlaps, though, each major will involve plenty of courses that differentiate the two. Computer engineers will learn more about the physical mechanics of computers, while computer science majors will spend more time coding and analyzing data.

Job Titles and Salaries

Computer science and computer engineering are huge industries with plenty of job opportunities. Not all graduates from these majors will end up performing the same jobs, so it’s vital that students understand their post-grad opportunities when choosing one of these majors.

Some of the most common jobs in the computer science field include:

  • Information Security Manager – Cybersecurity is a big industry for computer science majors. As an information security manager, your duties will include overseeing the protection of a company’s network, data, and devices. This job will also involve creating security measures and implementing them in the company’s system. The average salary for this position in the US is $126,991. A master’s degree is not always required for this position but may help your chances of being hired.
  • Web developer – A web developer may work for a company or as a freelancer with individual clients. The main duties of a web developer include designing, coding, and testing websites. Knowledge of multiple programming languages will be useful in this position, though JavaScript, HTML, and C++ will be the most common ones. The average web developer salary in the U.S. is $75,073 per year. A master’s degree is typically not required for this position, making it an ideal opportunity for recent computer science graduates.
  • Solutions architect – A solutions architect will often lead a company’s IT team. Your primary responsibilities in this position will include working with developers, designing new systems, and fixing bugs and glitches in existing computing systems. A solutions architect may also assist users and employees in learning new software. The average salary for this position is $133,270 in the United States.

Computer engineering jobs are going to have a bit less variety than computer science. A few of the most common positions for Comp Eng graduates include:

  • Software systems engineer – As a software systems engineer, you’ll typically be in charge of developing and maintaining a company’s entire computer system. This position will combine the development and physical elements of computer engineering. Overseeing an entire system will require a lower-level programming language and tinkering with hardware. The average salary for this position in the United States is $96,746.
  • Software applications engineer – Software application engineers will work with more advanced programming languages, like JavaScript and C++. This position will have the most overlap with the computer science field, though it still requires mechanical skills in order to develop this software and implement it. Applications software is typically more specific and diverse than system software. The average salary for this position in the US is $91,000.
  • Computer hardware engineer – A computer hardware engineer is going to handle the physical components of computing devices. The mechanics involved in this position may include motherboards, CPUs, RAM, storage, and screens. If your ideal job involves putting together the physical machinery of computers, then this is going to be the position for you. The average salary for a computer hardware engineer is $75,273 per year.

The Bottom Line – Computer science majors may have a wider variety of job opportunities, though both majors provide high-paying careers in their respective fields.

The Choice is Yours

If you’re looking to join the tech industry, computer science and computer engineering are two of the most promising majors you can choose. Though these fields have their differences, either major can provide ample job opportunities, knowledge of computers, and helpful problem-solving skills.

Now that you’re familiar with the similarities and differences between these two specialties, you’ll be better equipped to make the best decision for your future. Whichever major you decide to go with, you can rest easy knowing that the tech industry is here to stay.

If you think computer science or computer engineering could be for you, consider North Central College. By enrolling in one of these bachelor's degree programs, you’ll gain a strong theoretical foundation, learn the most widely used skills and languages, and find out about  opportunities outside the classroom, such as internships and student research projects. If you’re interested in learning more, visit the computer science and engineering web page ​for more information.

Did you just graduate from college and now you’re researching common computer science interview questions and the  average computer science degree salary to help you prepare for your next interview? Be sure to check out our helpful guides!

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.