Going back to school is a big decision. It’s not just the cost of tuition and the time commitment; it’s also a major life change. So, if you’re considering going back to school for computer science, you probably have lots of questions. Is it worth it? Will it pay off? Am I too old?
In this blog post, we’ll answer all of those questions and more. Whether you’re just starting a new career or transitioning from nursing, finance, or another field, we’ll take a look at the reasons to go back to school for computer science, calculate the cost-effectiveness of doing so, and discuss the options of getting CS education.
By the end of this post, you should have a much better idea of whether or not going back to school for computer science is the right decision for you.
Reasons for going back to school for computer science
Why should you go back to school and study computer science? There are several reasons why you may be thinking of a career switch. You may be considering going back to school because:
1. You are dissatisfied with your career
You may have made a decision in the past to pursue a certain career in another industry, and it turned out to be not what you’d expected. Maybe you’re not passionate about the work, or you’re not challenged enough. If you’re unhappy with your current career, going back to school for computer science could be a great way to make a switch.
2. You want to make more money
If you’re not earning as much money as you’d like, going back to school for computer science could be a great way to increase your earnings potential. Computer science graduates are known to be earning a good living, so if you’re looking to make more money, this could be the right field for you.
3. You want to have more job security
If you’re looking for a career with more job security, computer science may be a good choice. The demand for computer science graduates is high and is only expected to grow in the coming years. So, if you’re looking for a field with good job security, computer science may be a good choice for you.
4. You’re interested in the latest technology
If you’re interested in working with the latest technology and keeping up with the latest trends, computer science may be the field for you. Computer science is constantly evolving, so if you’re interested in keeping up with the latest trends, computer science is a good pick.
5. You are burnt out
If you’re feeling burnt out from your current career, going back to school for computer science may help you find a new passion. Computer science industry is well-known for its great work-life balance, so you are less likely to burn out if you find the work interesting.
Is computer science a good career to pursue?
Computer science is an excellent career choice! And now is a great time to get into CS. We say that for a number of reasons, which include:
1. The Demand for Computer Science Degrees is on the Rise
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in software development roles is projected to increase by 22% between 2020 to 2030—faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is being driven by increases in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. As businesses become more reliant on technology, they will need more workers with computer science backgrounds to develop, install, and maintain their systems.
2. The Average Salary for Computer Science Graduates is $84,280 per year
Computer science graduates are in high demand and they are paid accordingly. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers was $110,140 in May 2020, which is double the median annual wage for all occupations ($54,132). And entry-level positions often come with signing bonuses and other perks like stock options and profit sharing.
3. The Job Outlook for Computer Science Graduates is Bright
There are a number of factors that contribute to a positive job outlook—and computer science graduates have all of them working in their favor. They have in-demand skills, they’re paid well, and there are plenty of job openings.
In fact, there were over 200,000 open computer science jobs in May 2022 only—and that number is only expected to grow in the coming months and years.
However, there are also many personal factors that determine whether or not computer science is a good career choice for you. These include your interests, skills, and work-life balance preferences.
So, if you’re considering a career in computer science, it’s important to do your research and make sure it’s the right fit for you. If you want to know more about whether CS is a good fit for you, see our article “Is Computer Science the right career for me?”.
When is a good time to go back to school?
You should go back to school when you know you will be financially stable for the duration of your education. This means having a job that can cover your costs, having savings set aside, or some kind of financial support in a form of scholarships, loans, or a sponsor.
Good timing for going back to school for computer science also means having the time to dedicate to your studies—so you may want to consider going back when you don’t have other major commitments, like a young family or a full-time job.
Is it cost-effective to switch careers to computer science?
Ultimately, whether or not it is logical to switch careers to computer science from the financial perspective depends on your projected salary if you stay within your industry, the salary you would get as a computer science graduate, and the costs of acquiring education in CS.
So, let’s consider a simple calculation.
Say, you had an annual salary of $50,000 in your old industry when you decided to go back to school. Considering promotions and climbing up the career ladder, you would be making an average of $65,000 annually for the next 10 years.
Next, let’s say you decide to get a Master’s degree for career changers since you have a Bachelor’s degree in another field already. That takes you two years to complete and $100,000 in costs.
Finally, you decide to become a software engineer after you finish your Master’s degree and have an expected average salary of $110,000 per annum over the next two years.
Now, let’s sum everything up and see if it makes sense to actually go through with this career transformation.
If you had continued to work in your old career, you would earn a total of $65,000 x 10 = $650,000 in ten years.
On the other hand, if you switched and went for a career in computer science, you would lose 2 years and $100,000 toward your education and then gain $110,000 x 8 = $880,000 in the remaining 8 years.
So in this scenario, if you decided to go back to school to study CS, you would gain a total of $880,000 – $100,000 = $780,000 in 10 years. Thus, in this case, you would gain more by switching to a career in computer science, which means this decision is cost-effective in a 10-year span.
In order to say whether going back to school for computer science would be a cost-effective decision in your case, you would need to make a similar calculation for your specific situation. It is even better to make several estimations for 10-year, 20-year, and 30-year periods of time.
How long will I need to study to be job-ready in CS?
The duration of your studies largely depends on the type of education you choose to pursue in computer science.
If you choose to attend a coding bootcamp, the option with the shortest time needed to make the switch, you would be ready for your first developer job in as little as 2-6 months.
If you decide to do an Associate’s degree, which is the shortest computer science degree you can get, it would take you 2 years.
A Bachelor’s degree in computer science will require 4 years of studies, while a Master’s degree will take 1-2 years to complete.
If you really want to save on time without sacrificing on education, consider enrolling in an accelerated computer science degree.
Options to study computer science
So now that you’ve decided to go back to school for computer science, what are your options? There are actually quite a few. For a great overview of the ways to break into tech, see “5 Proven Ways To Switch Careers to Computer Science”.
If you want a short summary, here are the usual options if you already possess a Bachelor’s degree in another discipline:
- On-campus MSCS programs for career changers
- Online MSCS programs for career changers
- Post-baccalaureate programs
- Bridge to CS programs
- Second Bachelor’s degree
- Coding Bootcamps
All of these options are degree programs, besides some post-baccalaureate program, which offer a certificate upon completion, and coding bootcamps, which are non-degree coding programs.
If you are wondering whether you should get a university degree or a bootcamp certificate, we suggest you look into the “Coding Bootcamp or Computer Science degree?” article.
What will I learn in a computer science school?
As a computer science student, you will study a variety of interesting and challenging subjects. The usual courses for computer science students include:
- Math – You will need to take math courses such as Discrete Math, Linear Algebra, and Probability Theory. These courses will train your logical reasoning skills and help you understand complex CS concepts.
- Programming – You will learn different programming languages and paradigms, as well as how to design and implement algorithms.
- Databases – In these courses, you will learn about different database management systems and how to use them effectively.
- Networking – You will study how to build and maintain network infrastructure.
- Systems – You will learn about different computer systems, their architectures, and how to work with them.
- Security – You will study how to protect computer systems from various threats and vulnerabilities.
- Electives – You will also have the opportunity to take elective courses in subjects that interest you if you attend a degree program.
These are just some of the subjects you can expect to study in a computer science school. The exact courses you will take will depend on the specific program you choose.
When is it too late to go back to school for computer science?
You may be considering going back to school for computer science in your 30s, or 40s, or even 50s and thinking “Am I too old for this? Is it too late?”. The answer to this question is, it depends. It really depends on your specific situation, your goals, and what you are willing to sacrifice to achieve them.
If you are in your 30s or 40s, you may have more responsibilities than someone in their 20s, such as a family or a mortgage. This means you may have to make some sacrifices in order to go back to school, such as working part-time or taking a leave of absence from work. However, it is not impossible to achieve your goals if you are willing to make such sacrifices.
If you are in your 50s, you may also be thinking if it is too late to go back to school. At your age, going back to school may not be as easy as it was in your 20s or 30s, as you may have more responsibilities. However, it is not impossible if you are willing to make the necessary sacrifices and break through some mental barriers.
If you want to learn more about breaking into tech later in life, consider reading our article “Why You Are Not Too Old To Start a Career in Programming“.
A story of a career changer who went back to school to study CS
All of these discussions are surely nice and informative, but we wanted to add a personal touch to this article and share an account of a former salesman who went back to school for computer science in his 30s and decided to tell us about it.
“I decided to go back to school for computer science in my late 30s. At the time, I was a salesman with over 10 years of experience. I had always been interested in computers and had taught myself how to code, but I wanted to learn more about this fascinating field.
So I enrolled in a degree program at a local university. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. I learned about different programming languages and paradigms, data structures and algorithms, and systems. I also gained invaluable hands-on experience through internships and capstone projects.
After completing my degree, I started working as a software engineer. I am now able to write code that is both efficient and elegant, and I am constantly learning new things. If you are thinking about going back to school for computer science, I say go for it! You won’t regret it.”
So, is going back to school for computer science worth it? We think so! The demand for computer science degrees is on the rise; the average salary for computer science graduates is $110k per year; and the job outlook is bright.
If you’re considering making a career change to computer science, now is a great time to do it!
Elmar Mammadov is a software developer, tech startup founder, and computer science career specialist. He is the founder of CS Careerline and a true career changer who has previously pursued careers in medicine and neuroscience.
Due to his interest in programming and years of past personal experience in coding, he decided to break into the tech industry by attending a Master’s in Computer Science for career changers at University of Pennsylvania. Elmar passionately writes and coaches about breaking into the tech industry and computer science in general.