Computer Information Systems vs. Computer Science: Which Is Right for You?

Discover the differences between computer science and computer information security systems and which program would be the right fit for you.
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If you're passionate about computers and technology, you may be considering a career in either computer science or computer information systems. While both fields involve the study of computers and technology, they each have a unique focus and can lead to different career paths.

This guide will help pinpoint the key differences between computer science and computer information systems and help you make an informed decision on which degree is right for you.

What Is Information Technology, Computer Science, and Computer Information Systems?

Information technology, computer science, and computer information systems are all critical fields within the realm of technology, but each has its own distinct focus.

Information Technology (IT)

IT is all about using technology to solve real-world problems. It involves managing IT infrastructure and assets, including software development and network security. IT professionals offer solutions to technical problems and work in all industries, from healthcare to finance.

Computer Science (CS)

CS is the study of programming and computing. It is a subset of information technology that is all about understanding the theory behind creating computer programs and applications. You'll need a strong mathematical foundation to pursue a career in CS.

Computer Information Systems (CIS)

CIS is a subset of computer science that combines technology and business, focusing on the strategic use of technology to manage data and support business operations. CIS experts need an analytical mindset, communication skills, and business acumen to resolve IT problems and communicate solutions.

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Computer Science and Computer Information Systems: Key Differences

While both CS and CIS are firmly rooted in technology, they differ in their focus and coursework.

Computer Science

CS concentrates more on the theoretical and mathematical aspects of computing, including the development of new software systems, algorithms, and advanced software. It has a strong focus on calculus, discrete mathematics, and data structures.

You'll study a broad range of areas in a computer science major, including machine learning, natural language processing, computing systems, networking, operating systems, AI, and human factors.

Computer Information Systems

CIS explores how to use technology to solve business problems, manage data securely and efficiently, and support and maintain existing systems.

A CIS major covers application development, architecture, networking and security, business intelligence, and consulting. Coursework may include systems analysis and management, programming, cybersecurity, project management, economics, and supply chain management.

Students gain hands-on experience through projects, cases, and business simulations, which prepares them with strong technical, analytical, and problem-solving skills.

How to Choose Between Computer Science and Computer Information Systems

When choosing between CS and CIS, carefully consider your interests, career goals, and the curriculum of each program.

Strengths and Interests

If you're interested in the theoretical underpinnings of computers, enjoy tackling complex problems, and aspire to innovate technology, CS may be the right path for you. This field is about finding new ways for computers to improve life and requires a strong foundation in programming, algorithms, and computational theory.

On the other hand, if you're interested in how technology can streamline business processes and decision-making, then CIS could be the way to go. CIS focuses on applying technology solutions to real-world business challenges. It requires an understanding of business operations, strategic planning, and technology implementation.

Career Goals

Your long-term career goals play a significant role in choosing between a CS and CIS degree.

If you are interested in the scientific and mathematical foundations of technology and would like to pursue a graduate degree, a CS degree may be more appropriate since it focuses on theory, mathematics, and creating new systems.

If you want a career working as a technology consultant or in managerial roles, a CIS degree might be a better fit. CIS emphasizes practical applications of technology in business, such as managing software systems and information security.

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What Can You Do With a Degree in Computer Science or Computer Information Systems?

The career opportunities available to you can vary depending on whether you choose a degree in CS or CIS. There is potential for career growth in both CS and CIS, with the number of computer and information technology positions projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The salary range for professionals with a CS degree varies based on factors such as experience, education level, location, and job role. The median annual salary of computer scientists was $145,080 as of May 2023, with a range of $81,450 for the lowest 10% of earners and more than $233,110 for the highest 10% of earners.

Professionals with a CIS degree can expect to earn similar salaries. For instance, as of May 2023, IT security analysts earned a median annual salary of $120,360, systems administrators earned $95,360, and information systems managers earned $169,510.

Popular Career Possibilities With a CS or CIS Degree
Jobs Minimum Education Requirement Computer Science Degree Computer Information Systems Degree Median Annual Salary (2023)
IT and Technical Support Specialist Associate No Yes $60,810
Forensic Computer Analyst Bachelor's Yes Yes $64,940
Technical Writer Bachelor's Yes No $80,050
Business Data Analyst Bachelor's (some employers may require a master's) No Yes $83,640
UX Designer High school diploma to bachelor's degree Yes No $92,750
Network Administrator Bachelor's Yes No $95,360
Systems Administrator Bachelor's No Yes $95,360
IT Project Manager Bachelor's Yes No $98,580
Computer Programmer Bachelor's No Yes $99,700
Systems Analyst Bachelor's Yes Yes $103,800
Database Administrator Bachelor's Yes No $117,450
Information security analyst, Cybersecurity analyst Bachelor's (some employers may accept a high school diploma with relevant certificates or experience) Yes Yes $120,360
Computer network architect, Cloud solutions architect Bachelor's Yes No $129,840
Software developer, Quality assurance analyst Bachelor's Yes Yes $130,160
Computer Hardware Engineer Bachelor's Yes No $138,080
Computer and Research Scientists Master's Yes No $145,080
Computer and Information Systems Manager Bachelor's (employers may also require a graduate degree) No Yes $169,510
Source: BLS

Is a Master's in Computer Science or Computer Information Systems Worth It?

Deciding whether a master's in CS or CIS is worth it depends on your career goals. A master's degree in either field can lead to higher average salaries, expanded job opportunities, and the potential for steady job growth.

The return on investment also depends on the cost of the program, your current career status, and how much time you can invest in your education. Online master's programs offer flexibility and may be more affordable, making them accessible for working professionals.

Frequently Asked Questions About Computer Information Systems

Which one is more difficult: computer science or computer information systems?

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The difficulty levels of CS and CIS are subjective and depend on your personal strengths and interests. CS is more theoretical and math-focused, requiring strong analytical and problem-solving skills. CIS is broader, blending technology with business, and is more about practical applications in the business world.

Can I be a programmer with a computer information system degree?

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With a CIS degree, you can pursue a career in programming. This degree equips you with coding skills and a broad technological foundation, including critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

Specializations such as database management and web development can further prepare you to work as a computer programmer. The practical knowledge you'll learn in a CIS curriculum is also advantageous for working for any business. Building experience through coding projects and networking are key to success for working as a programmer with a CIS degree.

Is computer information systems equivalent to computer science?

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CIS and CS are related yet distinct fields: CIS concentrates on the application of technology to business issues and IT systems management, while CS delves into the scientific and mathematical underpinnings of computing, with a focus on algorithms, software and hardware systems, and computational theory.

Is computer information systems a lot of math?

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A CIS degree typically requires less math than a more technical field like computer engineering. You'll need to take some courses that involve logic and problem-solving, which are math-related, but the overall math requirements are generally not as intensive as a computer science degree. However, be sure to check your specific program's curriculum for details.


Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed May 14, 2024.

BestColleges.com 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.

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