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How Computer Science Differs from Computer Engineering

Higher Education Articles September 11, 2015

Master’s degree programs in computer engineering and computer science share some of the same courses, but the general outcome of the programs is slightly different.

Computer Science and Computer Engineering Differences

Vision and integration are the respective differentiating factors ascribed to computer engineering (CE) and computer science (CS) at most schools. The expertise of computer scientists envisions and tests new technological advances to medical, personal computing, and environmental fields. Engineers engage in the creation and building of new products, systems, and technologies based on those advances.

Similarities Between the Fields

There may be an overlap between multiple courses in computer engineering and computer science programs. A master’s degree program in computer science is available at most schools, and a concentration in computer engineering is also at many schools for a master’s degree program in engineering. In some schools, the disciplines are integrated into one computer science and engineering degree program. Core coursework may cover topic areas such as:

•Operating systems
•Programming languages
•Software Engineering
•Computer hardware
•Database management

Graduate Programs in Computer Science

More students may prefer programs in computer science over programs in computer engineering. In 2009 – 2010, schools conferred more than 5,000 computer science master’s degrees while conferring only 1,550 computer engineering degrees during the same school year (U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics). Courses specific to a master’s program in CS may cover subject areas such as:

•Artificial intelligence and robotics
•Problem-solving algorithms
•Network and Internet Security
•Scientific computing theories

Graduate Programs in Computer Engineering

People commonly labor under the misconception that hardware development is the only area of interest to computer engineers. As some software-based education is in both CS and CE programs, software engineering is focused on by some CEs, after graduation, where they apply new concepts to an innovative software product. A software engineering concentration is available through some schools to CE graduate studies, further merging engineering and science education. While some courses may be in computer engineering and computer science programs, some classes exclusive to computer engineering courses may cover topic areas such as:

•Microprocessor design
•Electronics analysis
•Systems, logic, and signals

Graduate Programs in Computer Science and Computer Engineering

Program graduates from bachelor’s degrees can often directly aim for a career in system implementation, design, or support. Undergraduate majors in computer science and engineering are available at most schools. There are both advantages and disadvantages associated with advancing to graduate-level programs in these fields.

Scope of Education

A strong foundation in information technology education is available through undergraduate studies, with concentrations in specialties like graphics, bio-computing, or systems offered in some. Practical applications, in-depth research and advanced training options are available through graduate programs. Programming languages, including C++, Perl, C, and Java may be in the program. Graduate lessons may add Haskell, Scheme, SQLJ, and Delphi, which may open up advanced or specialized career opportunities.

Wage Outlook

Lucrative careers are available in both computer engineering and computer science. In March 2014, wages for master’s degree holders in computer science and computer engineering were reported to be about $10,000 – $20,000 higher than the wages earned by respective undergraduate degree holders.

Costs of the Program

Students must consider whether the anticipated benefits outweigh the cost of a master’s degree. In 2010, students had to spend $30,000 per year to attend graduate programs at public schools; the price included cost-of-living. Private institutions cost 30% more (U.S. News and World Report).


Distance education and part-time options are available through many schools to accommodate working professionals who can continue to pursue their careers while enrolled in a master’s degree program. Apart from financial assistance via scholarships and students loans, incoming students may also seek the affordability of online programs that help eschew the need to commute.

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