Deciding that you want to work in computer technology is one thing, but deciding which computer technology degree is right for you is an even bigger challenge. What makes it particularly difficult is that sometimes, both careers have significant advantages. For example, though computer science generally offers a higher salary and better job growth than electrical engineering, it allows for less practical hands-on work, is less versatile and often requires a graduate degree. Though both paths have their pros and cons, the benefits of choosing electrical engineering over computer science, though substantial, aren’t always obvious.

electrical engineering vs computer science

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Focus on Practical Application Over Theory

Both electrical engineering and computer science occupations pay wages much higher than the $37,690 median salary for all occupations in America. There is a big argument to be made for following your passion rather than automatically choosing the career with the highest salary. If you enjoy learning complex theory, then computer science could very well be the choice for you. As a computer science major, you would spend your education taking classes in subjects such as algorithms, computer programming, numerical analysis and computation theory.

However, students attracted to computer science by the high salary and rapid job growth may learn, as they work toward their degree, that computation theory doesn’t interest them as much as practical application would. Electrical engineering’s emphasis on applying science, technology, engineering and mathematics principles to solving problems related to computer design may make the program more appealing to students who don’t find algorithms and theory to be all that exciting. Electrical engineers design and develop electrical equipment, test their designs and oversee the manufacture of the equipment they have invented, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Their work makes a tangible difference in how computers are used from the circuit level to the integration of hardware and software systems.

Computer and information research scientist is the highest paying job in computer and information technology, the BLS reported. Other jobs you can do with a computer science degree include software developer, computer systems analyst and database administrator.

Breadth and Depth of Subject Matter

When choosing a degree program, it is important to consider how specialized that program is. If your degree has too narrow a focus, it might not be versatile enough for you to find a job, while a degree that is too broad might fail to impress prospective employers, who often want to minimize their investment in on-the-job training. You want whatever degree program you choose to have both breadth and depth to be marketable.

Both electrical engineering and computer science have breadth to their field of study, yet their focus is also somewhat narrow. A computer science major might pursue a concentration in a subject such as mobile computing, game development, cyber security or machine learning and artificial intelligence. However, the student would almost certainly work with computers, and might have a difficult time transitioning to another technology career. One benefit of electrical engineering is that it is a broader field of study than computer science. Students in electrical engineering programs take courses in computer engineering, but also in engineering the digital systems and electrical circuits found in other electrical equipment. Students of electrical engineering might go on to work with computers. They can also work on power generation systems, electric motors, navigation systems, communication systems and electronic equipment, the BLS reported.

Within the larger discipline of electrical engineering are narrower disciplines like electronics engineering and computer engineering. Computer engineering is often considered a blend of electrical engineering and computer science subject matter.

More Opportunities With an Undergraduate Degree

Another question to consider when choosing a degree program is whether you intend to go to graduate school. Electrical engineering is a career path that doesn’t require an advanced degree. A bachelor’s degree will qualify you for entry-level roles in electrical engineering and, if you want to pursue it, a Professional Engineering (PE) license. When electrical engineers go to graduate school, it’s because they choose to earn a master’s degree or doctorate degree in order to develop more specialized skills or prepare for leadership roles, not because they must to find a job.

On the other hand, a master’s degree is a requirement for most jobs for computer and information research scientists, the BLS reported. For this career path, you should plan on devoting an additional two to three years to your education beyond earning your bachelor’s degree. The extra educational requirement can add a great deal of value to your qualifications, but it also costs time and tuition dollars. If you’re eager to get out into the workforce faster and start earning a salary, an electrical engineering degree could be a more appealing choice than a computer science degree.

While many computer scientist jobs call for a master’s degree, some jobs with the federal government – which employs 28 percent of computer scientists – exist for candidates with only a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS.

Additional Resources

Top 20 Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Computer Science

What Degree Does an Electrical Engineer Need?

What Is the Difference Between a Degree in Electronics Engineering and a Degree in Electrical Engineering?