Which Degree? CS? IS? or…?
A lot of students know that they want to do something with computers, but they don’t realize that there are a lot of different majors they can choose from. Picking the right major can make a huge difference in how happy you are with your studies, and how well it prepares you for your future life or career goals. There are five main majors in computing: Computer Science, Information Systems, Information Technology, Computer Engineering, and Software Engineering. UNCG offers degrees in the first two of those majors, and you can find more detailed information on these degrees below. There are also brief descriptions of the other degrees, with pointers to where you can find these programs in the UNC system.
There is a lot more information than we can provide on this web page, but this should give you a good start. The Association for Computing Machinery’s Computing Degrees and Careers website is a particularly useful resource, which talks about the five main computing majors, as well as career paths for various interests.
Do you want to make technological innovations, work for a high-tech company that produces new technologies, or dig deeply in what computing is all about? Then computer science might be the right major for you!
This web page is provided by UNCG’s Department of Computer Science, and computer science is what we do! Computer science [wikipedia] is all about the study of computing — what can (and can’t) be computed, how can you efficiently compute things, how do you describe computations or algorithms, how do you reason about the correctness and efficiency of algorithms, how to organize computations on computer systems, how to design and build computer systems, … Computer science students learn how to solve computational problems, design and develop programs, manage and work with data, and can explore cutting-edge technologies in artificial intelligence, computer security, and data science. As a basic science, computer science explores fundamental truths and is not tied to any particular application. Like other basic sciences at UNCG, the Department of Computer Science is located in the College of Arts and Sciences, and embraces the broad Arts and Sciences mission of empowering “students to succeed by embracing the challenges of a complex, changing world.” It is important to remember that computer science is a mathematical science, so there is a lot of math in a computer science program — computer science students do a lot of analysis and mathematical proofs! In fact, if you choose your courses carefully, computer science majors can earn a minor in mathematics by taking just one additional course beyond the computer science requirements. As the most fundamental and popular of the computing majors, computer science is available at 14 of the 16 UNC System college campuses.
People who want to invent new ways of harnessing computing technology or creating new and exciting computing systems often study computer science. Students who major in computer science typically pursue careers in software development, design of computing systems, or research in computing (typically after completing a graduate degree). Of course, not all graduates become software designers and developers — some go on to support computing and network equipment for businesses, become technical leads and project managers, or work as data scientists helping organizations extract meaning from the vast amount of data that is collected these days.
Do you want to work with a business or other organization to manage their use of technology, helping the organization run more efficiently? Then information systems might be the major for you!
UNCG offers degrees in Information Systems [wikipedia], through the Department of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management. This is a program in the Bryan School of Business and Economics, and while the degree has a focus on technology it is still a business degree and not a science degree. In information systems, you will study how computing technology can be used to support business operations. While computer science students take a lot of math classes to build a foundation for the science, information systems students must understand business so they take classes in accounting, economics, marketing, and management. Every modern business relies on computing systems to keep track of customers, manage the business’s finances, and provide business intelligence to help the business run more efficiently. Information systems graduates are heavily involved in those aspects of the business! At some colleges, you will see the information systems program called by other names, such as management information systems, business computer information systems, or just computer information systems. Information systems programs are offered at 7 UNC system campuses, including UNCG.
After graduation, information systems majors typically take positions in which they provide technical expertise and support for companies, organizations, or government agencies. Information systems professionals often take the lead in setting an organization’s policies with regard to the use and security of information systems. They often work closely with non-technical business professionals, and provide a bridge between the business and technology. An information systems professional can provide advice not only on what technologies to use for the benefit of an organization, but also how an organization can be structured to make the most efficient use of available technologies.
The following degrees are not offered at UNCG, but for completeness we provide brief information on what they cover and where you can find these degrees below.
Students who study information technology (or I.T.) [wikipedia] learn how to install, maintain, and manage computers and network equipment. I.T. professionals are often found as the “tech support” staff at most companies, and they provide technical expertise to both individual users and the company as a whole. Information technology programs are typically very applied and hands-on, learning about specific pieces of equipment and technology. Traditionally, I.T. degrees have been two year associates degree programs and often offer a variety of specializations (see, for example, the I.T. programs at GTCC, which include specializations in Network Management, Security, Web Development, and more). Lately, universities have started introducing four-year degrees in information technology, which combine the applied nature of an information technology program with a full four-year bachelor’s program. In the UNC System, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in information technology from East Carolina University, NC A&T University, UNC Pembroke, UNC Wilmington, and Winston-Salem State University.
Computer engineering [wikipedia] is often seen as a cross between computer science and electrical engineering, with a particular focus on the design of digital hardware and low-level software. The “computers” that computer engineers work with are often not the kind you might think of with a display and a keyboard, but are the computers that are embedded in everything for cars to TVs to medical equipment. While a computer science student might create the programs for a smart TV, a computer engineer would focus on the hardware design and the software the sits in between the high-level application and the hardware. Computer engineering programs are common in schools that offer engineering programs, and in the UNC system there are three schools that offer bachelor’s programs in computer engineering: NC A&T University, NC State University, and UNC Charlotte.
Software engineering [wikipedia] looks at the process and technologies for building large software systems. The study of software engineering includes both team and project management issues as well as technical issues on software design and reliability. Pure software engineering programs are somewhat rare at the undergraduate level, and currently no schools in the UNC system offer such a program. All computer science programs will include at least one course in software engineering, and most people who study software engineering do so at the graduate level after completing a bachelor’s degree in computer science. For example, East Carolina University offers a master’s program in software engineering, and NC State University offers a Software Engineering Track in the Master’s in Computer Science program.