Computer Science or Aerospace Engineering: Which to Study?

Here’s everything about studying Computer Science or Aerospace Engineering:

If you really enjoy math, hard science, and a hands-on understanding of how things work, then aerospace is probably a better fit.

If you like logic, puzzles, computers, and abstract concepts, computer science is better.

If you’re really not sure, then neither direction might be ideal for you.

So if you want to learn all about choosing between Computer Science and Aerospace Engineering, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s jump right in!

Computer Science or Aerospace Engineering: Which to Study?

What Is Involved in Computer Science? (3 Subjects)

College students watching a webinar for their computer science subject

If you want to study computer science, there are a lot of ways to go about it.

You can engage in online courses, self-education, coding boot camps, and other avenues.

Instead of walking you through all of those options, I’m going to narrow this down and talk about a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

This makes for a better one-to-one comparison with aerospace engineering.

After all, engineers pretty much have to get a degree to get a job.

With that in mind, let’s look into common courses that you’ll have to take in order to get a degree in computer science (CS).

#1 Math

Happy student solving a math problem on a whiteboard

If you want to study computer science, there will be math along the way.

It’s not the most math-intensive degree program around, but you’ll still usually take some calculus before you’re done.

On average, computer science degrees require introductory calculus, which is mostly differentiation.

If you go further into computer science, some areas of the field require very heavy math.

#2 Programming

Diverse group of students discussing a project and collaborating

This will surprise no one, but to become a computer scientist, you do have to learn how to program.

Now, there’s a lot more to computer science than just programming, but your average degree program will have anywhere from three to eight different programming classes.

You’ll be expected to learn more than one programming language, and you’ll get fairly deep into programming techniques.

That’s just the nature of the beast.

#3 Computer Science Theory

Diverse group of students studying at library

Computer science is a science, and theory makes up a significant portion of the field.

The thing is, computer science theory is broad.

You could study anything from how data works to machine learning to data structures to cognitive theory and the very essence of what it means to know something.

The good news is that you don’t have to study all of the different theories to get a degree.

The bad news is that if you love this stuff, you’ll never have enough time to study all of the theories.

There’s just too much.

What Jobs Use a Computer Science Degree? (4 Professions)

Male team of program engineers working at office

Considering the wide range of study options in the domain of computer science, you might not be surprised to learn that computer scientists do a lot of different jobs in a lot of different applications.

Ultimately, it always comes back to computers in some way or another, but this is one of the most diverse degrees you can get in terms of job qualifications after graduation.

I can’t hope to list every type of job that will be available.

Instead, I’ll cover the most prominent.

#1 Programming Jobs

Team of web app developers working on a coding website source code, debugging

Arguably, the most common job for someone with a computer science degree is working as a programmer.

In the next section, I’m going to distinguish between a programmer and a software engineer.

A programming job really does mean that your day-to-day is figuring out algorithms and coding things.

You might be working on software.

You might be working on machine languages to program robots.

You might be doing any number of countless jobs, but at the heart of it, you’re writing computer programs (or sections of programs).

#2 Software Engineering

Programmer working on web site project in a software developing on desktop computer at company

It might seem like software engineering and programming are the same thing, but that’s not quite right.

There’s a ton of overlap—since software engineering involves a lot of programming—but they are substantially different jobs.

Generally speaking, a software engineer will be in charge of a team of programmers.

The engineer is the person looking at the big picture and putting all of the different programs together to make functional software.

Or, the engineer is in charge of testing to ensure that a software product works as intended.

In either case, software engineers typically know how to code, but they won’t necessarily spend a lot of their daily work time writing code.

The big picture and organizational aspects of the job tend to dominate their efforts.

#3 Research

Young IT specialist presenting new project on monitor to his colleagues during meeting at office

You can work as a researcher in computer science.

While plenty of aspects of research will still involve writing code, it takes a back seat in this line of work.

If you’ve ever wondered who is making that brand new computer technology stuff that seems to change the world, computer scientists are on those teams.

You could work on quantum computing, artificial intelligence, or any number of other projects where finding new ways to use computers is the goal, rather than producing software or computer tools that are directly marketable.

#4 Teaching

Lecturer helping a student with a project, advising on student's work

You can also teach.

With a bachelor’s in computer science, you’re qualified to teach at the high school level (you’ll still need a teaching certificate, but that usually doesn’t require another degree).

If you get an advanced degree, you’ll be qualified to teach computer science at the collegiate level.

You could also potentially get a job teaching with a programming boot camp.

What Is Entailed in Aerospace Engineering? (4 Classes)

Lecturer leading an aerospace workshop

You’re going to see this come up a few times, but engineering is considered one of the harder degree paths in college, and aerospace is fighting for the top spot as the hardest of all engineering majors.

You’re going to face a lot of math, science, and engineering classes before you’re done.

If you make it, you’ll be a well-rounded, heavily educated STEM degree holder.

You’ll be qualified to do a lot of things, and when you see some of the specific classes involved with aerospace engineering, you’ll understand why.

#1 Math

Young smart mathematician drawing on the chalkboard

Engineers do a lot of math.

I said that aerospace engineering is hard for a reason.

Whereas a computer science major might have to get into introductory calculus, aerospace engineering majors are looking at a minimum of four semesters in calculus.

You’ll take introductory differentiation.

You’ll all have to learn integration, three-dimensional calculus, and linear differential equations.

Depending on the school and program, you might also get into vector analysis, linear algebra, and even nonlinear differential equations.

While there are some math classes you really won’t need (like discrete math), you’re looking at a math-heavy degree program.

#2 Engineering

Male chief engineer explains to young specialists about components of the electric motor

Naturally, an engineering degree comes with a lot of engineering classes.

You’re looking at at least four classes specifically in aerospace engineering, and you’ll probably have another four or so classes in adjacent engineering classes to expand your knowledge base.

As an example, you might take a fluid mechanics class that is labeled as a civil engineering course, but the lessons learned there will apply directly to aerospace engineering.

There are a lot of potential crossover classes like this.

The real point is that the majority of your education is going to involve engineering classes, and most of those classes are going to assume that you’re pretty good at calculus.

#3 Physics

Young student is experimenting with a laser measurement system for the optical properties of substances in a physics laboratory

For aerospace engineering, you’re going to need a solid background in physics.

You’ll have to take basic mechanics (which is where you learn Newton’s laws and the basics of motion).

You may also have to take an advanced mechanics class, fluid mechanics (sometimes it’s done by a school of physics instead of civil engineering), and potentially additional physics that might include thermodynamics and electricity and magnetism (less common for aerospace, but some engineering colleges require this for all majors).

#4 Computer Tools

Asian female engineer drawing wind turbine in professional 3D modeling program on pc

To be a successful aerospace engineer, you’ll also need some advanced computer skills.

Aerospace engineers often use design software like Autocad, so you’ll probably have one or two classes just for that.

On top of that, you’ll need to be adept at programming.

You don’t have to be a world-class programmer, but modern aerospace engineering uses a lot of computer modeling, and you’ll need to know enough about computers and programming to keep up.

That usually involves anywhere from one to three classes that focus on programming (some of them might be taught as computer science classes while others might be taught as engineering classes).

What Jobs Can You Do With an Aerospace Engineering Degree? (4 Occupations)

Engineer and technician working on satellite construction

After all of that work in school, what kinds of jobs can you apply for when you’re done?

A lot of aerospace work requires an advanced degree.

Pushing the envelope in airplane and spacecraft design isn’t easy, after all.

Despite that, there are jobs you can go after with just a bachelor’s and they do include working in aerospace design.

#1 Industry Design Jobs

Businessman inspecting workmanship of design while his secretary is beside him

When you think of a professional aerospace engineer, this is probably the job that comes to mind.

This would be a job with a company like Boeing or SpaceX where you are actually designing airplanes, rockets, or related components.

These jobs do exist, and they definitely require aerospace engineering degrees or something comparable.

If this is what you want to do for a living, then aerospace engineering is the most direct field of study for you.

#2 Government Design Jobs

Two Aerospace Engineers Work On Unmanned Aerial Vehicle / Drone Prototype

The private industry isn’t the only place where you can get cool design jobs.

You might instead work as a government employee or government contractor.

You could work with a company like Lockheed Martin and design rocket systems or work on secret government projects.

I’d love to tell you more about the specific jobs in this sector, but those jobs are quite literally classified.

You have to get hired to get the details.

If the idea of actually working at Area 51 excites you, then aerospace is the right foot forward.

#3 Teaching

Woman explaining aerodynamics in a classroom

This is a theme with STEM degrees.

They tend to qualify you as a teacher.

With an Aerospace degree, you could work in primary education teaching math or science.

You can also pursue an advanced degree and teach at the collegiate level.

#4 Programming

Young female programmer looking intently at the computer monitor

Here’s a bit of irony for you.

A bunch of people who work as professional programmers do not have computer science degrees.

They have engineering degrees instead.

Not all engineering degrees prime people to work in programming.

Mechanical and civil engineering degrees involve a lot less programming, just as an example.

But, aerospace engineering requires a fair bit of programming.

If you get the degree, it is very likely that you can get hired as a programmer on a wide range of projects.

Considering the work involved with this degree, you would be more likely to get hired working on programming that is math-intensive.

So, Should You Choose Computer Science or Aerospace Engineering?

Pensive young woman thinking about her options and about to make a decision

That’s a ton of information, and maybe you’ve already made up your mind.

In case you’re still not clear, let me summarize for you.

If you love math, then engineering is probably more up your alley.

The same goes for any love of physics, physical mechanics, and just understanding how things work at a physical level.

If you love programming, both options are viable, but computer science is a lot more open-ended.

Also, if computers fascinate you more than airplanes, then computer science is a good bet.

If you very specifically want to work on navigational systems, aerospace is a slightly better choice, but both degrees can get you there.

As for money, job security, and all of that professional occupation stuff, they’re pretty competitive with each other. 

Aerospace engineers make more money on average, but it’s harder to get one of those jobs.

If you weigh job opportunities against wages, then they’re pretty evenly matched.

It’s really more about what you find more interesting.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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