What is a Computer Science degree worth?

over 9 years ago from , Designer/Developer

Currently, I'm studying Computer Science. I met with my advisor today to schedule for Fall. It turns out that I've got 2 1/2 years left, which is a lot more than I thought. Somewhere between transferring and losing a lot of hard work and the requirements for a CS degree (spoiler: tons of math), I lost the chance of graduating within 4 years.

However, I'm also a designer and front-end developer. During my time studying, I've primarily freelanced and built a lot of cool websites for clients. I've also had the opportunity to work with an awesome team at RSQ.com. This past January, I was asked to come do a paid internship at a major company in NYC this summer that I'm beyond excited about. None of this success is because of my university or what I've learned - so far.

I wanted to get some thoughts on the overall worth of a Computer Science degree. Does it "look good" when I start reaching out to jobs? I feel really bad for some of the people who tough out college and never use their degree. I don't want to be that guy. I've had countless opportunities come up where I've been so close to dropping out, but at this point, I think it would be a huge waste of money, and money aside, I do enjoy learning about code.

There's a part of me that really wants to believe in my higher education, but so far I've taught myself everything that has opened up doors for me.

Curious to hear what everyone thinks! Thanks.


  • Dylan OpetDylan Opet, over 9 years ago

    I dropped out of middle school to work for a design agency while my friends stayed in school then went to college to get their CS degree and they regret doing so ever since looking at my path compared to theirs.

    I got an extra 4-5 years of actual work experience under my belt and actually improved my skills daily by learning things you'll actually need to know that they won't teach you there.

    While my buddies now have internships at some random studio and starting where I did years ago, I've got a huge head start on my career and saved thousands of dollars. I know tons of credible HR people that are a big deal and they can care less if you have a degree in botany or programming.. Just like Vinh said; in the real world.. All that matters is how good your work is THEN experience.

    This can obviously differ from company to company, but I'm absolutely confident that majority don't even look for this as a requirement and it's never stopped me ever from working anywhere (I don't even have a HS diploma).

    13 points
    • Evan KnightEvan Knight, over 9 years ago

      Wow, at first I thought you were joking, but that's an awesome story. Cheers to you.

      2 points
    • Mason LawlorMason Lawlor, over 9 years ago

      That's awesome. So glad you did that. One step further than skipping college(what I did). Good work man!

      2 points
      • Dylan OpetDylan Opet, over 9 years ago

        Appreciate it Mason! It's just that time where most can realize they don't need these things to be successful and this was when there wasn't any Code Schools, Treehouse, etc, etc.

        0 points
    • Chris FreesChris Frees, over 9 years ago

      Wow middle school! That's an awesome story.

      1 point
    • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, over 9 years ago

      Has not having a HS diploma hindered you in your work life or otherwise?

      2 points
    • Account deleted over 9 years ago

      You are a statistical anomaly

      3 points
    • Bruce Vang, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

      So I have a similar career path as Dylan, but I would not recommend it to everybody....

      • You have to be highly motivated to learn by yourself. I'm talking about eat, breath, and sleep about design.

      If that's not you, you'll grow slowly and it'll be harder to land a job. This is where school can help. It's structured, you're graded for motivation, ect....

      0 points
  • Vinh LeVinh Le, over 9 years ago

    in the real world (in this type of industry) what really matters is your experience and portfolio. at the end of the day no one really cares if you have a CS degree but they do care about if you can do the work.

    8 points
  • Marc BodmerMarc Bodmer, over 9 years ago

    As Vinh said, most employers do not really care if you have a degree or not and rather look at your experience, portfolio, code samples and problem solving. However, there are still employers who may ask for a Computer Science degree (Banks, more research focused companies, etc). Also, if you wish to get Visas to work in different countries, a bachelors degree can be a necessary prerequisite. Just some things to keep in mind.

    3 points
  • Ryan LeFevreRyan LeFevre, over 9 years ago

    I have a Computer Science degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I actually started college as an Electrical & Computer Engineering major, but decided halfway through sophomore year that it wasn't for me. I didn't have any passion for it and the math was too difficult for me to enjoy in any way.

    Somehow I was able to finish in 4 years still :) The funny part was, because of my previous ECE major, I had taken up through differential equations and multivariable calculus, but in order to fulfill the CS math requirements, I had to take statistics and probability, which felt like a cakewalk by then.

    Anyways, the worth of a computer science degree? Honestly, it really depends on what your concentration is. If you are looking to go into embedded systems, operating systems, languages, theory, etc then I definitely recommend getting the degree. The knowledge and guidance of your professors will make it well worth your time.

    If you are looking to go into web or mobile based app/website development, then I would say the degree isn't as important. I'd say about 10% of what I learned in college can be directly applied to the things I work on today.

    That said, many larger companies will like to see a college degree. Smaller companies and startups are much more of the "I don't care how you learned it, as long as you know it" camp.

    Finally, a lot of it relies on your ability for self-learning and your passion for your work. This is probably the biggest factor. If you feel you are the type of person who can teach themselves how to do anything and actually follow through with it, then college may not be worth your time.

    Do I regret going to college? Absolutely not. In fact, the experiences I had in college that were outside of education for my particular major were some of the best of my life. If you are still unsure on what to do, remember that college is a LOT more than learning new information. It's a full life experience.

    2 points
  • Matt ScorteMatt Scorte, over 9 years ago

    I feel I am in the same position as you, but as a designer. I transferred and I have now an extra year of college, so 5 not 4.

    I am still debating if I should drop out, and I'm actually righting my college research paper on the true worth of a degree in the tech area. (Will include this thread in paper)

    For me, I think my college is a joke. Not difficult but filled with a lot I time killing work. I'll tell you how I feel after about a semester of contemplating this.

    I could probably get a job right now and drop out, but I think it would be the wrong thing to do even though I want to.

    So here is my exit strategy: build and do enough projects on my own, so that I have the ability to get the job I want, where I want it, and for good pay.

    In your case, the internship is in summer so you still can decide after that. But here's what I think. Make sure you can get the job you want. Getting a job for the sake of getting a job will stunt your growth more than college will. Sure you will get more experience, but your so active already that you can work on stuff on your own until you get really what you want.

    1 point
  • Emily SaforrianEmily Saforrian, over 9 years ago

    A lot of people are writing a lot of things so I'll keep it short.

    1. Having a BS in CS does open up a wider ranger of opportunities then not having one. There are some companies, usually larger, that flat out require one.
    2. Degrees are expensive. Statistically speaking, the higher tier schools offer a much larger ROI. Consider transferring in to one if you can get good grades and are at a lowered tier school.
    3. Work experience is valuable. Try to get it while in school if you can.
    4. Front-end developers specifically don't usually need a degree because no degree accurately covers their work.

    Also, just for kicks – #YOLO

    1 point
  • Account deleted over 9 years ago

    As a designer & developer with a comp. sci degree that took me 7 years so finish, I’ll summarize a bit of of my career and education for you. Perhaps it can help you (sorry for length).

    tl;dr it will help you get into and work with companies that are mostly engineers. It can also help increase your salary right out of the gate, just be careful you’re program isn’t actually wasting you time.

    I entered university, head-first into the Computer Science program, in 2004. A year or two later I “realized” that I wouldn’t become a very strong programmer due to my lack of interest in mathematics and algorithms (I quote realized because, in retrospect, I think my excuses were bullshit).

    So I started freelancing and quickly ended up with a full-time job as a web designer, while still having 2 years left in a 3-year degree. During the interview the employer expressed concern that I was still in school and was trying to take on a full-time job that was unrelated to what I was studying; I thought I had blew the interview. But since I was to work within the IT/Systems Department at first – being the company’s first in-house designer – they saw my focus of study in university as insurance that I could communicate clearly with developers and help make important decisions that affected both Marketing and IT/systems. Examples: axing a horrible CMS system that IT found difficult and expensive to maintain, but Marketing wanted to keep, or convincing IT to upgrade certain web apps so I had more room to create UI that respected the branding created by Marketing .

    After a while I decided to leave that company so I could rush-down my computer science degree and be done with it. I ended up finishing that program in 2011, where I got job in Ottawa right after graduation (again, being the first designer in a team of mostly developers). While they were impressed with my portfolio, they also saw my computer science degree as insurance, just like the last company. I ended up doing a mix of design and development and was able to help out with some of the slack if our dev team was too swamped.

    While having a computer science degree helped me get into both positions, I can only confirm that it helped me earn a higher salary in the latter position (hard to compare unicorn salaries to designer salaries, so they opted to give me closer to an engineer’s salary). I should also mention that I think most of the program I was taught was garbage that not applicable to the real world (most classes were like elementary school, hearing about how aboriginals used animal organs for clothing and bags; cool to to hear, but not useful in the real world). While seeing “BSC Computer Science” on a designer’s resume certainly seemed appealing to my employers, if I had to do it again I would have dropped out (don’t be blinded by sunk costs.

    1 point
  • Sarah Mills, over 9 years ago

    I can't speak to computer science, but I can say that my experience (and that of other designer friends) has been that the higher you go in your career and the bigger the clients get, the more essential a college (in my case I mean liberal arts) education becomes.

    I was an art major, but daily in my job I have to refer back to classes I took in science, government, philosophy, creative writing, logic (lord it is killing me), and more obviously, psychology.

    Could I have saved some money? Sure, and experience in this industry counts for more than a degree. However, an ability to relate to my peers, superiors, and clients through shared education has made me infinitely more valuable.

    1 point
    • Matt ScorteMatt Scorte, over 9 years ago

      I didn't know that the bigger clients require this. I figured the higher you got the more your portfolio would trump not having a degree.

      0 points
      • Sarah Mills, over 9 years ago

        You're right, clients for the most part will be most impressed with "So-and-so worked on the Coca-Cola campaign"—they wouldn't know if you had a degree or not (unless they stalked you on LinkedIn), BUT your ability to speak to things outside your area of expertise makes a difference. Having a deeper understanding of what a client does (for instance, using your biochemistry class knowledge for a health sciences client) allows you to better help them.

        I mean, it's a pretty universal truth in my experience—the more subjects you know about, the more you have to pull from to do your job better. To be able to speak in depth about any type of design movement or typography, you have to know history. To speak about UX you have to know psychology AND logic (and a whole lot of other things).

        0 points
    • Bruce Vang, over 9 years ago

      Agreed. It's a lot easier to land interviews at top AAA tech companies if you have a degree. The competition is so tough, your experience better include a major client or else you won't be considered without a degree.

      0 points
  • Chris MillsChris Mills, over 9 years ago

    A college degree is proof that you can devote your life to something for more than a few years and complete it. Even if you don’t fully believe in it now, you will one day. Higher education is more than just a foundation or barrier to entry. It’s a test of endurance. I endured for more than eight years, while working professionally, and don’t regret a dollar spent.

    The guy with a good portfolio and degree will beat out the guy with just a good portfolio any day.

    0 points
  • Cihad TurhanCihad Turhan, over 9 years ago

    I believe I did the right thing so far. I didn't graduate from CS. I graduated from Physics, however, this didn't prevent me from learning about design and development. I love physics, because it's a pure science. In real life, it doesn't have any plus (except I understand any conversation in Big Bang Theory series :) however you feel the pleasure of knowing many stuffs about how from micro to macro universe it works and be amazed.

    Anyway, I had a freedom in university and took lessons that I want from CS, fine arts, computer technology. I took all basic CS lessons like 101, 102 (data structures etc), programming languages, object oriented programming and computer graphics. Afterwards, I took design courses like computer in graphics and motion design and finally took courses on web programming.

    I delayed my graduation 1 year but it was worth it.

    Finally, I started master degree in CS on Computer Graphics but I didn't attend the courses because all the slides instructor give was enough to learn anything. Therefore, I did left MS degree.

    0 points
  • Matt DonnellyMatt Donnelly, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

    I'm seeing a lot of people in this thread saying outright that there is no value in studying CS which, speaking as current CS undergrad, just isn't true.

    A degree is not going to guarantee you a job, and to many employers is may not matter at all, but frankly I think that shouldn't be how you determine it's value.

    Studying something formally gives you a very different sense of understanding compared to teaching yourself. There are countless things that I've learnt during my degree that I frequently come back to when working on external projects. Many of them are things I'm sure I would have a notion of it weren't for choosing to study CS. I also feel it has given me a much broader understanding of how things I'm doing work which can be incredibly helpful. I'm very glad that I have this solid foundation of knowledge that I can go back to.

    So what's the worth of Computer Science degree? Well, it's sort of up to you. By getting a degree in CS you'll learn all kinds of things that you wouldn't otherwise. So it all depends on how much you value put on that.

    0 points
  • Joseph BarrientosJoseph Barrientos, over 9 years ago

    i think its like what most people are saying, it all depends on where you want to work and which field its in. I personally have just "dropped out" these past few months. I'm 21 and have 1.5-2 years left for my BS in graphic design from the art institute.(really a joke).

    Last year I was a full time student with a full time management position at sbux. Once I found out the field I wanted to study most I took every chance I could to practice. After quitting my job, I took about 2 solid months working on my portfolio ( still in school at this point), I received multiple job offers from studios in SF to start ups in mountain view. It really opened my eyes to see that in at least the bay area, all that matters is your work, your ability to learn and adapt, as well as your passion.

    I don't see dropping out as a waste of money. I see it as I spent that money to learn who I am and where I want to go. This allowed me to get a HUGE head start in my career and even now, I'm taking online classes individually to expend into development.

    Also, there is always the option for me to return to school. Whether it be virtually or physically, the offers still there, good luck man!

    0 points
  • Iheanyi Ekechukwu, over 9 years ago

    I think improving your technical background as a designer will help with communicating with developers in a way. Right now, I have on more semester before graduating with two degrees, one in Computer Science, the other in Visual Communication Design. Studying Computer Science definitely helped me focus on learning programming more and what exactly is occurring, but its something that can be learned on one's own time. Do you want to learn how to program or do you want to learn Big-O notation and how to develop O(n) algorithms? Or learn how Operating Systems work? I like theoretical Computer Science a fair amount, it's pretty fun. But if you just want to program, it's not worth it. Teach yourself.

    0 points
  • Christina FowlerChristina Fowler, over 9 years ago

    My experience is that you don't need a degree but there are significant benefits.

    First I would take the internship, it sounds great. But also make sure you return to the degree. If the internship turns into a job offer they will be willing to wait for you if you are the right person for that company.

    I have worked with both non-graduates and graduates. My experience is that both will start at the bottom*, but the graduate will be promoted faster.

    All of those tough, holding-back-the-tears, workplace lessons were learned by the graduate in college: how to take peer/client/manager/group feedback, how to meet a deadline, how to dissect a brief, which battles to fight and which to let go, and so on. My advice is to learn those lessons among amateurs in college, not in front of professionals.

    This degree might not end up being what you work in but still you will learn so many things that will help you. My marketing degree has nothing to do with web, coding or design and yet it helps me every day with every project and every client.

    *Please, no one assume that because you have a degree you will start higher in the company, or even management. If you want that, catch the next time machine back to the 1950s, it leaves at 4pm.

    0 points
  • Wes OudshoornWes Oudshoorn, over 9 years ago

    I don't think it really matters what a degree is worth. I think it matters what you want to do in life, and what the shortest way to that goal is. School is just a tool to reach your goals. So is a job. So is teaching yourself stuff.

    Good luck deciding, I'm sure you'll figure it out.

    Ps: most of the times when people are looking for advice on these topics, they have already decided for themselves... Is this the case?

    0 points
  • Dylan BaskindDylan Baskind, over 9 years ago

    So I'm a fellow designer-developer without any formal CS training (tried it for a year, hated it, did a philosophy degree instead, loved it:) - I've been lucky enough to find a career path working up from small freelance jobs, through agency world, and eventually to running my own business working with a few multi-nationals / federal government on the client list. It was a bumpy ride to start, but definitely worked out.

    A few words of advice:

    Produce stuff. Your own stuff. This is probably the most important thing. Make sure you've got a portfolio of projects you can point to, that isn't just "I made this for university". Projects, professional or Just-For-Fun, that you're proud of and that showcase your abilities. I think that's especially true if you work for someone else. In that case, try to find a way to carve out some ownership over a project, so you can say "I was responsible for the whole of X".

    Point-in-case: I've got a start-up and we've just completed a round of engineering hires. For me personally (and as CEO, my personal feeling matters :) a university degree is a little bit meaningless. Everyone we interviewed had a CS degree. But only half of them had their own websites. A handful had projects built out of their own initiative. And very few had actually built something that wasn't a scrappy "MVP". The few that were really impressive (as communicators, as coders, as problem solvers) were the ones who built things and could say "I Made That". And even then, the successful candidates really came down to raw-intelligence, Good-Dude-Ness and problem solving approach (i.e a little coding task). Honestly, I couldn't say which candidates had CS degrees and which didn't.

    The biggest client projects I've landed have come from making things I thought were cool. Organisations bought into my abilities because they saw evidence of that ability in those projects.

    PS. Disclaimer: That's my two cents. I might be totally wrong, and have just been kinda lucky in my trajectory, and the above could be terrible advice :)

    0 points
  • Henrique Alves, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

    I don't have a degree yet. I started two courses Computer Science and Graphic Design but I never finished them. I have more than 10 years of experience and it worth a lot. However don't be fool, if you have plan to work in companies such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Path, etc the chance of you enter without a diploma is almost zero.

    What I can tell you is that I already lost two positions before in big companies. Another candidate was at the same level as I do, but he hold a degree and I didn't.

    I'm starting a part-time master (2 years). It worth more than a BSc degree plus in less time.

    Here in UK you may be eligible to attendee some universities that take in consideration your work experience.

    0 points
  • Neil Berry, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

    I graduated with a computer science degree in 2003 and have had two jobs since, working in in-house development teams. In my opinion, I don't think I would have got either jobs without a degree on my CV so for me I think it was very worthwhile. I also got to experience university life which made me grow up as a person and become more independent. Having said all that, a degree is not the be-all and end-all and I know many people who have been successful both in the web and other industries. Hard work and a portfolio is vital either way. Good luck!

    0 points
  • Joe Blau, over 9 years ago

    It depends on where you live and what school you go to. Really the power of your college is your network. Right now I'm co-founding a company with two friends that I met in college during my junior year. If I would have dropped out, I would probably have had a harder time finding co-founders. I live in San Francisco and I see the tight knit cliques of Ivy League developers who pull strings to get their friends jobs at the hottest startups in the city. School is about networking more-so than it is about development skills. Granted, I learned a lot of fundamental principles for software design and I learned about all types of crazy data structures, but what you don't learn in school is how to deal with some crap Java project that's been running for 10 years that has little to no documentation, runs slow as molasses, that you have to figure out how it works and then make changes and make it better.

    I went to school and graduated, but I've always been pretty bearish on college, but not on learning. I'm a huge fan of mentorship and apprenticeship. If you have someone who you trust that is willing to take you under their wing and show you the way, that is probably the best way to go.

    0 points
    • Kerry RitterKerry Ritter, over 9 years ago

      Precisely this. It really depends on your location, what school you are looking at, and what type of industry you want to work in.

      0 points