Computer Science vs. Cybersecurity
Reviewed by Jacob Imm
Jan 05, 2022
Computer Science vs. Cybersecurity
Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are expected to grow twice as fast as all other occupations between 2019 and 2029 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It’s clear that pursuing a future in STEM is worthwhile. But with so many options to choose from, how do you decide?
Two of the most popular STEM majors are computer science and cybersecurity degrees. Both choices will appeal to similar groups of people, so it’s worth comparing the two to understand what sets them apart from one another. We’ll examine computer science vs. cybersecurity by looking at relevant skills, career and education requirements and prospective salaries. Let’s dive in!
What is Computer Science?
The field of computer science is the study of how a computer system operates and what connects it. Subtopics of computer science include:
- Computer programming
- Robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)
- Data structures
- Computation theory
- Computer interaction with humans and society
With an equal focus on hardware and software, computer scientists invent and innovate computer information technology.
Computer Science Education
If you’re a critical thinker with an appreciation for computing, you may want to consider enrolling in a computer science program. A typical program will usually require four years of full-time study, and the result can be either a bachelor of arts degree (BA) or bachelor of science degree (BS), depending on the institution. North Central College, for example, offers both degrees as well as a computer science minor.
Before you apply to a computer science degree program, you can prepare by studying math, coding, logic and ethics in high school. Once you arrive at your post-secondary institution, you’ll discover an assortment of fascinating topics. Your exact course list will be up to you, but you can expect most undergraduate computer science programs to require similar computer information systems courses.
Here are some examples from the North Central College computer science degree program:
- Data Structures (CSCE 210) – Learn to design and implement various data structures, including stacks, queues, linked lists and more.
- Computer Organization and Design (CSCE 220) – Practice hands-on computer architecture skills by studying microprogramming, combinational circuits and memory systems.
- Design and Analysis of Algorithms (CSCE 340) – Explore algorithm design techniques and classifications.
With a degree in hand, some students may choose to further their studies by applying for graduate school. Others may enter the workforce right away.
If you want to learn more about computer science as a major, read our guides on computer science vs. software engineering, data science vs. computer science, and computer science vs. information technology.
Computer Science Careers
Working as a computer scientist means interacting with information technology every day. Depending on the career you pursue, you could find yourself working on robots or designing the next must-have app.
Popular jobs include:
- Computer Programmer – Write the code behind websites and software, then test it out. The BLS lists the median salary associated with computer programming at $89,190/year.
- Digital Designer – Flex your creative muscles designing website navigation and layout while making an average of $77,200/year according to the BLS.
- Computer and Information Research Scientist – Identify current issues with technology and work to solve them. The national average for this position is $126,830 per year according to the BLS.
Other potential roles include software developer, hardware engineer and computer system educator.
What Is Cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity belongs to the computer science family. As a specialized field of study within computing, cybersecurity focuses specifically on protecting networks, computer systems and other devices from threats.
A cybersecurity professional works in various industries to keep data safe from malware and hacking attempts. By identifying weak spots and applying computer security measures, a cybersecurity professional reduces the risk of fraud and theft of digital assets.
Because cybersecurity is a focused field that builds on computer science, computer security-specific education often occurs at the graduate level. Though you can move on to a cybersecurity master’s with a range of bachelor’s degrees, a background in computer science may be your best bet, as there is significant overlap between the subjects.
Some institutions award cybersecurity certificates instead of bachelor’s degrees, while organizations like (ISC)² offer specialized certification programs.
Regardless of where you study, you’ll likely learn:
- Cybersecurity law
- Cybersecurity software
- Risk modeling
After completing a cybersecurity program, you open yourself up to a world of opportunities. Cybercrime is on the rise, and companies are looking for professionals to help protect their information. Popular cybersecurity degree careers include:
- Information Security Analyst – Identify risks, then devise a plan to implement security measures on company networks and computers. The BLS suggests a median salary of $103,590/year nationally.
- Forensic Computer Analyst – Instead of administering cybersecurity solutions, you can help law enforcement determine how a breach may have occurred.
You may also be able to use your experience to design security software, consult on organizational security, or work as an “ethical hacker” (testing a company's weak spots with permission).
Differences Between Computer Science and Cybersecurity
As cybersecurity is a branch of computer science, the two share certain features. Both focus on implementing technology, programming languages and creative problem-solving to achieve their goals. The two fields interact closely with one another.
However, cybersecurity is narrower in scope than computer science. The emphasis is solely on mitigating or analyzing security threats. On the other hand, computer science could involve software testing, database architecture or web development. All of these tasks may incorporate cybersecurity, but they’re not a part of the discipline.
Should You Pursue Computer Science or Cybersecurity?
If you aspire to design software or innovate computing technology, a computer science degree is likely what you need to succeed.
But if you’re considering a career in cybersecurity, you may want to consider pursuing computer science as an undergraduate then pursuing cybersecurity after graduation, either with a master’s degree program or certificate program. A background in computer science is advantageous to security experts, but additional schooling will be needed to work in the field.
Wherever you begin, you need to find a great school to give you the best chance to succeed. Look for a school like North Central College. Start your STEM journey today by finding out more about the North Central College computer science degree program.
Jacob Imm is a communications specialist in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 11 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.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Why computer occupations are behind strong STEM employment growth in the 2019–29 decade. Beyond the Numbers. 19 Jan. 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Computer Programmers. Occupational Handbook. 8 Sept. 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Web Developers and Digital Designers. Occupational Handbook. 8 Sept. 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Computer and Information Research Scientists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. 8 Sept. 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Information Security Analysts. Occupational Outlook Handbook. 8 Sept. 2021.
Glassdoor. Digital Forensics Analyst Salaries. How much does a Digital Forensic Analyst make? 4 Nov. 2021.