Data Science vs. Computer Science
Reviewed by Jacob Imm
Jan 07, 2022
Data Science vs. Computer Science
When looking for a college major, it’s essential to take your interests and your ideal future into account. For those who love technology, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) options like data science and computer science are both terrific choices.
These disciplines may overlap in several areas, but they differ in important ways. To shine some light on these differences, we’ll be discussing data science vs. computer science in terms of subject matter, education and job prospects.
What Is Computer Science?
Computer science is the study of computers—how they work, how to improve them and how we use them to solve problems. It’s a relatively broad discipline, with branches devoted to programming, artificial intelligence, algorithms and much more.
A computer scientist may focus on the hardware or software components of computers, as well as the intersection between humans and technology. The field is fascinating and ever-expanding, with regular innovations changing the way we think about computers.
Computer Science as a Major
Depending on what your college offers, you can expect to choose either a bachelor of arts degree (BA) or bachelor of science degree (BS) in computer science, both of which generally take four years of study.
A computer science major means mastering a diverse set of technical skills, including:
- Computer literacy
How do these topics translate into coursework for computer science majors? When you apply to a computer science major program, you’ll take classes on hardware, software, and various professional technical skills. For example, some of the courses from North Central College’s computer science degree program include:
- CSCE 160 - Introduction to Computer Programming
- CSCE 220 - Computer Organization and Design
- CSCE 340 - Design and Analysis of Algorithms
- PHIL 210 - Professional Ethics
- COMM 287 - Advanced Public Speaking
- MEDI 255 - Social Media
Once you complete an undergraduate advanced degree in computer science, computer science majors can either enroll in a graduate study program or start your computer science career.
Computer Science as a Career
As computer science is an umbrella term for several disciplines, your responsibilities on the job will depend on your title. In general, you can expect duties like:
- Testing new software
- Ensuring networks are functioning
- Optimizing company technology
- Writing and editing algorithms
- Developing hardware and software solutions
What Is Data Science?
Data science incorporates some of the attributes of computer science, but it aims mainly to translate data into everyday language. Data scientists gather and interpret data, then use it to inform decisions in business, health care and beyond.
By studying data through different lenses, data scientists look to uncover the story behind massive swaths of information.
Data Science as a Major
Students who choose the data science major can usually opt for a BA or BS, though a BS is more common. These programs usually take four years of full-time study to complete.
Because data science involves analyzing large datasets, you’ll learn skills in areas like:
- Computer programming
- Machine learning methods
- Critical thinking
A data science major will likely involve a blend of math, business and computing science courses. Sample classes might include:
- Data Structures and Programming
- Introduction to Software Engineering
- Critical Thinking in Business
- Discrete Mathematics
- Probability and Statistics
- R for Data Science
As with computer science, a bachelor’s degree in data science will likely prepare you to move on to a graduate degree or join the workforce.
Data Science as a Career
As a data scientist, you’ll work to unlock the secrets behind the numbers. In most roles, you may find yourself:
- Collecting and interpreting data—structured or unstructured
- Designing predictive models and algorithms
- Setting up and maintaining databases
- Presenting reports to superiors
Differences Between Computer Science and Data Science
Several similarities exist between computer science and data science. Both work with technology, utilize programming languages and solve business problems. Many of the courses you’ll take in college will overlap, too—math and coding are essential skills for both disciplines.
However, there are also noteworthy differences. Data science is a more specialized field that focuses on information analysis, algorithms and machine learning. Computer science is broad, encompassing app development, network architecture and more.
What’s more, working data scientists will be more likely than computer scientists to communicate with business-oriented employees, helping managers and developers make decisions based on data. A computer scientist’s work occurs more behind the scenes, ensuring systems remain functional.
Data Science Salary vs.Computer Science Salary
With a data science degree, some of the most common careers include becoming a data analyst, machine learning engineer or data architect. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places the median salary for these jobs at $98,230 per year, with even the bottom 10% making more than $50,000.
As for computer science, the sky’s the limit when it comes to opportunities—there are computer science jobs in almost every industry. Creative types might look for work as a software developer or web developer, while others might consider a job as an IT project manager or computer systems analyst.
These jobs aren’t just exciting—they can also be lucrative:
- The median wage for web developers is $77,200/year nationally according to the BLS in 2021.
- Computer systems analysts make an average of $93,730/year nationally according to the BLS in 2021.
Keep in mind that your compensation will depend on your education level, experience and specific location. But regardless of where you are or what you do, you can expect a competitive salary in the fields of data science and computer science.
Data Science or Computer Science: Which One Should You Choose?
Your choice between computer science and data science ultimately depends on you. If you like crunching numbers to make informed decisions, data science may be the right path for you.
But if you hope to understand the inner workings of hardware and software, you may want to pursue a career in computer science.
No matter what college major you choose, it’s crucial to find a program that ignites your passion for the future like the one at North Central College To learn more about your possibilities, schedule a campus visit at North Central or sign up for a virtual information session.
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. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics. 15-2098 Data Scientists and Mathematical Science Occupations, All Other. 28 Sept. 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Web Developers and Digital Designers. Occupational Outlook Handbook. 8 Sept. 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Computer Systems Analysts. Occupational Outlook Handbook. 8 Sept. 2021.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Computer and Information Technology Occupations. Occupational Outlook Handbook. 8 Sept. 2021.