Computer Science Degree: School Matters?

Here’s whether it matters where you get your computer science degree:

Going to a prestigious school does afford some advantages when you look for a computer science job, but it’s not nearly as important as it might be in other fields.

For the most part, being a competitive candidate in computer science is about demonstrating your knowledge and skills in the field.

So if you want to learn all about whether school prestige matters in getting a computer science degree, then this article is for you.

Let’s delve into it!

Computer Science Degree: School Matters? (All the Info)

Does It Matter Where You Go to School?

Let’s take a minute to make sure this is very clear.

Where you get your computer science (CS) degree does matter.

Graduates of prestigious programs will be more competitive in the US job market and have a better chance of getting the highest-paying and most sought-after computer science jobs.

That said, where you get the degree matters a lot less than other factors of being hirable.

Completing the degree from any school is already a good start, and there are things on your resume that have nothing to do with school that make a big difference when interviewing for a computer science job.

I’m going to take you through all the ways going to a top school can give you a leg up in the job market.

Before that, I’m going to explain why the school you attend is not nearly the most important thing for a computer science job.

Why Doesn’t the School Matter? (4 Things)

To put it in the simplest terms, the prestige of a school or computer science program is worth less than any of the topics below that I’m going to explain.

It’s only after accounting for these things that school prestige might be a difference-maker in the hiring process.

What you’ll see a little later is that top schools are really better for helping you get interviews as opposed to winning job opportunities.

#1 ABET Accreditation

This is the big thing.

In a manner of speaking, all CS degrees are the same because they conform to ABET standards.

Now, you can find exceptions to this, and there are programs that don’t bother with ABET standards (which you’ll see in a bit).

But, the vast majority of colleges and universities conform to the ABET standards and work to substantiate their accreditation.

Because of that, CS programs are going to cover a lot of the same material no matter where you go to school.

When you have a degree from an accredited school, that already tells hiring managers a lot.

And, the differences from one accredited program to the next are much smaller than the similarities between them.

#2 Emphasis on Portfolio

One of the biggest reasons the school of choice doesn’t matter is because computer science is a skills-based career field.

You can land competitive computer science positions without a degree at all.

In that case, it’s all about your portfolio.

You can show the projects you have worked on and completed, and that says a whole lot more about your understanding and skills than any degree can.

More than probably any other STEM field, your personal achievements outside of the classroom matter more than completing a degree when you’re going after a computer science position (although having the degree is still worth a lot).

#3 Learning Outside of the Classroom

This is an extension of the previous point.

There is a lot of learning that happens in computer science (especially in the programming components of the field) outside of any classroom.

Any research you can do while you’re in school, any lab you can work in, and any project you can complete will teach you tons of things that classes don’t have time to cover.

Another way to look at it is like this.

For the most part, classes teach the theory.

The lab or project work you do outside of class is where you develop the skills.

Both are important to hiring managers.

Since classwork is not the only thing hiring managers care about, where you take your classes is naturally going to lose some significance during the hiring process.

#4 Success of Bootcamps

All of this is exemplified by the success of coding bootcamps.

Now, not all computer science jobs are based around coding, but many computer scientists do ultimately work in coding positions.

Basically, the bootcamps only cover one piece of what you have to learn to get a computer science degree.

All of that said, bootcamp graduates regularly land jobs in direct competition with CS degree holders.

Someone without a degree really can get a computer science job, and it happens all the time.

If that’s the case, then clearly, where you go to school is not terribly important.

Why Does the School Matter? (3 Factors)

Hopefully, I’ve made it clear that the name of your college is not what will get you a computer science job.

It’s really not a major factor.

But, going to top colleges comes with certain advantages that are easy to overlook.

A hiring manager won’t pick you over a more qualified candidate just because you went to an Ivy League school.

But, going to a good school in the first place might help you get an interview that people at other schools never even know about.

That’s the real reason your school choice matters, and I’ll break it into clearer points.

#1 Prestige

Again, the prestige of the school doesn’t get you hired (although there are probably some cases where it does).

That’s not what this means.

Instead, recruiters spend a lot more time at prestigious schools.

You’re going to see top-level recruiters and job fairs at MIT that might not bother to visit UTEP.

That’s where the prestige is really working for the top schools.

Because of that, you’re going to see more raw opportunities to pursue great computer science jobs as a product of going to one of the best schools (and yes, I’ll cover which schools are the best).

#2 Networking

This is kind of the same point from a different perspective.

On top of seeing more recruiters, attending a top college or university is going to put you in contact with industry leaders in various computer science fields.

Top colleges often retain their prestige by recruiting the best experts in the field.

Your CS professors are going to be big names in the industry, and they’re going to have a lot of contacts at major places of employment.

If you take advantage of that, you can get a letter of recommendation from such a professor, and that goes a long way toward landing a job.

Even on top of that, you’re likely to have opportunities to build your career network by attending alumni functions, joining clubs, and taking advantage of the social atmosphere at your school.

#3 Research

Contributing to research while you work on your degree is an excellent way to jump-start your computer science career, and you can potentially do this at any university.

Research is completely intertwined with higher education.

That said, the top schools have the largest budgets and tend to work on cutting-edge research.

So, if you attend a top school, you have more and better research opportunities as a student.

All other things being equal, an employer is going to pick the candidate with a more impressive research resume.

Which Schools Are the Best in Computer Science? (5 Schools)

I want to emphasize this one more time.

Any school with an accredited program is a good school. You’ll be fine attending any of them.

But, if you’re looking for the best networking, prestige, recruiting, and research opportunities, there are some schools to keep in mind.

There’s one thing you really need to understand.

The best school on some power ranking is not necessarily the best school for you.

There are a lot of competitive computer science schools, so it’s ok to pick the one that makes the most sense for you.

Along those lines, the very best school for an individual is one that offers the most exciting research opportunities.

If it’s something you’re excited to work on, that will help drive you, and you’ll be much more likely to succeed as a student and build the research portion of your resume.

So, think about the research first.

Aside from that, I do have a short list of schools that garner the most prestige in the field of computer science.

#1 MIT

You’ve heard of the Massachusetts Institution of Technology.

So has everyone else, including job recruiters.

MIT is a global leader in computer science.

The school is always on the front edge of new technology and research.

If you’re looking for all of the perks that come from attending a top school, you’ll find them here.

Just a few cutting-edge research programs at the school right now include artificial intelligence for healthcare, computational fabrication and manufacturing, and human-computer interaction.

There are always fascinating topics of research to pursue, and recruiters flock to MIT.

On top of that, MIT alumni are hired all over the world. You won’t find better networking opportunities anywhere.

#2 Stanford

Stanford is barely second to MIT when it comes to computer science.

The school has a long history of impressive STEM accolades, and it is no slouch in the field of computer science.

Let’s look at some research projects currently underway at Stanford:

  • Geometric computation
  • Light fields and computational photography
  • Complexity theory
  • Cryptography

There are countless other research projects at the school, all receiving funding and attention right now.

And, like MIT, Stanford is a hotbed for recruiters.

They come to you when you’re a student here, and if that wasn’t enough, Stanford alumni are as prolific as they come.

It’s a top school for a reason.

#3 UC Berkeley

Typically, there are three learning institutions in the United States that battle each other for the title of being the best STEM school in the country.

You’ve already seen the other two listed.

The University of California is the third.

For those unfamiliar with the University of California, it has a lot of campuses.

The original campus at Berkeley is the one competing as the best STEM school around.

UC Berkeley is as good at computer science as any other STEM field.

Let’s look at a few interesting research topics that are being investigated right now:

  • Computational biology
  • Learning and probabilistic inference
  • Knowledge representation and reasoning
  • Agile design of efficient processing technologies

This isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

It’s hard to say which of these three top schools has the best research funding or the most compelling projects.

What is clear is that any of these schools would make a great choice.

#4 University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Like the University of California, there are multiple University of Illinois campuses.

The leader for computer science is at Urbana-Champaign.

This school barely falls below the top three in terms of prestige.

Rest assured, if you get your CS degree here, you’re off to a good start.

As always, research matters the most, so let’s see what they’re up to:

  • Parallel computing and architecture
  • Bioinformatics
  • Deep learning instruments
  • Speech and language engineering

Again, there are a lot more research topics than just these.

And, UIUC provides excellent recruitment and networking opportunities.

They aren’t really behind the other top schools except that you might not hear this school’s name as often as the other three.

#5 Any Good STEM School

Let’s consolidate all of this information.

I told you how some schools offer advantages for getting your foot into the door of the hiring process, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you go to school.

There’s probably a better average between those two ideas.

Any school with a strong STEM reputation is going to provide good recruitment opportunities, and as I said before, the computer science programs will cover the same base material.

So, all of your Ivy League schools are good for computer science.

Regional engineering schools like Georgia Tech or New Mexico State are great.

In fact, just about every university named after the state, it’s in will provide good opportunities with a solid CS program.

You can get small advantages from going to the very best schools.

You can get slightly smaller advantages from going to any of the well-respected schools.

But, you can also get good jobs without even completing a degree.

So, keep all of that in mind, and choose a school that is right for your personal success over one that has the most prestige.