Is Computer Science Hard? What to Know

For many students, computer science is hard and considered challenging. However, it can lead to a lucrative and in-demand career.
portrait of Marisa Upson
Marisa Upson
Read Full Bio


Marisa Upson has 10 years of professional writing experience, specializing in higher education trends, business, hospitality, and health and wellness. On BestColleges, she writes articles to help students make informed education and career decisions....
Updated on October 17, 2023
Edited by
portrait of Kelly Thomas
Kelly Thomas
Read Full Bio


Kelly Thomas is an editor with BestColleges and specializes in alternative education. She covers topics like coding bootcamps and the tech industry, as well as skilled trades and certifications. She holds a BA in political science from the University...
Reviewed by
portrait of Monali Mirel Chuatico
Monali Mirel Chuatico
Read Full Bio


Monali Chuatico is a data engineer at Mission Lane and a data analytics captain at the nonprofit COOP Careers. There, Monali helps new grads and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analytics tools and mentoring them on ...
Learn more about our editorial process is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Find the program that's right for you

Learn new skills quickly with a bootcamp, or earn a degree from a traditional college.

Find a Bootcamp
Search Colleges

  • Computer science courses include advanced mathematics and programming languages.
  • Soft skills that help students succeed include problem-solving and collaboration.
  • Computer science can offer a lucrative, rewarding, and in-demand career.

If raking in the benjamins is high on your list of career priorities, computer science should be at the top of your list. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals earn just shy of six figures, with a median wage of $97,430 as of May 2021.

The future looks bright for the industry as well, with computer and IT employment projected to grow 15% from 2021-2031, much faster than the average for all occupations. In 2019-2020, about 97,000 people received their bachelor's degree in computer and information sciences and support services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Computer science has also developed a reputation as a challenging discipline to learn because it requires technical and analytical skill sets. Students learn programming languages, algorithms and data structure, operating systems, and more. However, as with most disciplines, those with determination and commitment can succeed.

How Hard Is Computer Science?

Computer science is the theoretical study of the principles and usage of computers. The field encompasses hardware and software, algorithms, programming, and computer applications.

Computer science maintains a reputation for being tough to learn, with one of those reasons being programming languages.

Learning Programming Languages

Computer science students learn at least one, if not multiple, programming languages. Common programming languages used today include:

Like any new language, once you learn the fundamentals of one, the next language is easier to tackle.

Those with some programming experience may find computer science easier. Students can get a head start by taking an introductory course before attending college or a bootcamp. Keep in mind the right resources can help any student learn computer science.

Find the Right Bootcamp For You

How to Learn Computer Science

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mastering computer science. Different methods work for different types of learners. Consider your learning style, your schedule, and your professional and personal commitments to find the best fit.

Coding Bootcamps

Coding bootcamps are accelerated learning experiences that help students master specific elements of computer science in short periods of time. Bootcamps may focus on:

Coding bootcamp providers often offer full-time and part-time programs and boast strong job placement rates. They are usually more affordable and take less time than full-degree programs. In 2020, the median bootcamp cost was $13,500.

Professionals employed in a different industry may wish to complete part-time bootcamps in roughly 6-8 months. Career changers who are in between jobs can also dive in and complete full-time bootcamps, which last an average of four months.

Computer Science Degree

Prospective students can pursue both two-year associate degrees and four-year bachelor's degrees in computer science. Since they last longer, these programs allow students to gain a depth of knowledge they cannot obtain through coding bootcamps. Students spend more time on each concept, which can lead to increased mastery.

Computer Science Curriculum

While the curriculum varies depending on the school and program, students can expect a combination of courses in:

  • Mathematics
  • Programming
  • Data structures and algorithms
  • Databases
  • Computer networks
  • Operating systems

Some of the math courses include statistics, linear algebra, calculus, and probability.

Many computer science programs also offer concentrations or electives, enabling students to pursue courses that align with their career goals. Common options include artificial intelligence, software engineering, data science, computer and network security, human-computer interaction, and computer architecture.

The following represent typical core computer science courses:

  • Foundations in Computer Science
  • Data Structures and Algorithms
  • Object-Oriented Programming
  • Systems Programming
  • Computer Systems and Organization
  • Operating Systems
  • Programming Abstractions
  • Database Management

Nevertheless, computer science degrees come at a cost. Two-year and four-year degrees are often much more expensive than six-month bootcamps.

Average Total Cost of a Four-YearDegree Each Year at Public, In-State Schools

Average Total Cost of a Four-YearDegree Each Year at Public, In-State Schools

(2020-2021 Academic Year)

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Learners can pay for these programs by applying for specialized computer science scholarships.

Online Programs

Pursuing a two-year or four-year degree in computer science online can help learners save on tuition, transportation costs, and room and board. Through online programs, students can gain the deeper knowledge that a full degree provides without paying quite as much in tuition and fees.

Learners can also try to teach themselves computer science through online platforms like Coursera, EdX, Treehouse, and Codecademy. Teaching yourself computer science online requires plenty of dedication and discipline. However, online programs may be your cheapest and most effective path to learning computer science.

Computer Science Careers

Computer science is a large and growing field that includes careers in IT, data science, product development, and more.

What Does a Computer Scientist Do?

Computer scientists use computers, programming, and algorithms to solve practical problems. Their day-to-day work is diverse. These professionals may debug code or create software for space exploration or autonomous drones.

Most computer scientists work standard business hours and spend their days at desks. They may collaborate with programmers or developers when creating software.

Average Computer Scientist Salary (December 2022)


Source: PayScale

Software Engineer

Software engineers create computer programs and applications. Like computer scientists, most software engineers work nine-to-five in office environments. They may also work in teams with other developers on specific projects.

Median Annual Salary

$109,020 | May 2021

Projected Employment Growth

+25% | 2021-2031

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Web Developer

Web developers design and perform upkeep on websites. Like other computer science professionals, developers work standard business hours in offices, often with teams.

Median Annual Salary

$78,300 | May 2021

Projected Employment Growth

+23% | 2021-2031

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Bootcamps are a strong option for prospective web developers, as many programs focus specifically on web development.

Mobile App Developer

Mobile application developers create apps for mobile devices like tablets and smartphones. They program, test, and maintain these apps as well as further develop, test, and debug existing ones. These developers may work on their own or with a team.

Average Annual Salary

$77,730 | December 2022

Source: Payscale

Information Technology Manager

Information technology managers take charge of all computer activities for organizations. They sometimes need both business and computer science expertise. These positions often require an associate degree or bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field.

Median Annual Salary

$159,010 | May 2021

Projected Employment Growth

+16% | 2021-2031

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Computer Systems Analyst

Computer systems analysts assess a company's computer systems and suggest upgrades or design new ones. They may perform a cost-benefit analysis to help managers decide on an appropriate direction. Most specialize in a specific industry, such as finance, engineering, or healthcare.

Median Annual Salary

$99,270 | May 2021

Projected Employment Growth

+9% | 2021-2031

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Game Developer

Game developers create video games on various devices, including smartphones, computers, and console systems. At big game companies, these developers tend to specialize. At indie publishers, they may start with a concept, write code, create assets, and improve the user experience.

Average Annual Salary

$86,060 | December 2022

Source: Payscale

Computer Network Architect

Computer network architects design, build and maintain numerous data communication networks that provide users with an uninterrupted connection to each other. These include small interoffice connections to expansive cloud infrastructures. Designing a network requires a keen understanding of an organization's business plans.

Median Annual Salary

$120,520 | May 2021

Projected Employment Growth

+4% | 2021-2031

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Data Analyst

Data analysts clean and interpret data using various computer functions. They analyze large data sets for trends and insights. They must be capable of working with Excel, MongoDB, and MySQL.

Median Annual Salary

$64,680 | December 2022

Source: PayScale

With additional mathematical training in areas like machine learning and predictive modeling, computer science students can also find work as data scientists.

Computer Science Soft Skills

While technical skills are vital in computer science, soft skills also play a significant part in a successful career. These skills impact one's ability to perform and get along with others. Some necessary soft skills include:

  • Check Circle
    Effective communication and collaboration
  • Check Circle
    Problem-solving and analytics
  • Check Circle
    Time management
  • Check Circle
  • Check Circle
    Attention to detail

Most computer science professionals work in a team environment. They may collaborate with designers, engineers, and other colleagues. This makes teamwork, cooperation, and effective communication some of the top soft skills employees look for.

This field also requires strong problem-solving and analysis skills. This includes analyzing the big picture, coming up with solutions, and troubleshooting the details. Creativity and thinking out of the box can help resolve seemingly impossible problems with innovative solutions.

Is Learning Computer Science Worth It?

Computer science can prove both personally and financially and financially rewarding if you enjoy solving problems and are up for a challenge.

Computer science offers significant financial rewards. If you stick with computer science and hone the requisite skills, you can earn a high annual salary as a web developer, data analyst, or information technology manager.

In addition to financial rewards, you also gain valuable skills and knowledge that you can use to create new technologies or solve real-world problems.

However, learning and mastering computer science requires a significant investment of time and money. Even bootcamps often ask for six months of your time and over $10,000. Furthermore, the tech industry is known for high levels of burnout.

Frequently Asked Questions About Computer Science

What is the hardest part of computer science?

For students with no programming experience, learning their first programming language can be the most challenging aspect of computer science. Additionally, data structures, algorithms and discrete mathematics can prove difficult. Keeping up with the coursework as it progresses and having a solid mathematical foundation can help.

Does computer science require a lot of math?

Math is a key component of computer science. Students find mathematics in algorithms, data structures, computer programming languages, and data analytics. Mathematical concepts such as abstract reasoning and logic play a critical role. Some required courses may include statistics, calculus, probability, linear algebra, and discrete mathematics.

Is learning computer science stressful?

Whether learning computer science is considered stressful depends mainly on the student. Some students find the challenges exciting and thought-provoking. Others may consider the amount of study somewhat stressful and intimidating. It also depends on other commitments and how much time learners can dedicate to their studies.

Which courses should every computer science student take?

Some core computer science courses include data structure and algorithms, programming languages, operating systems, computer architecture, and database management. Mathematics runs throughout computer science and includes discrete mathematics, linear algebra, calculus, statistics, and probability. A few of the programming languages you may learn include Java, JavaScript, Python, and C++.

Is computer science harder than finance?

That depends on a student's strengths. Those with a strong background in advanced mathematics and programming may find computer science easier. Students who excel in accounting, spreadsheets, and economics may find finance easier. Like computer science, finance is fast-paced and has a steep learning curve. However, passion always makes learning more enjoyable.

Feature Image: gilaxia / E+ / Getty Images