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The Computer Science Curriculum: an Overview

Computer science is a vast and complex field, and one that is constantly evolving. In order to get a glimpse into computer science curriculum, we will explore the various courses that comprise a typical educational program at computer science schools.

This will help you better understand what to expect from a computer science curriculum and when you can expect to cover different topics.

What is a curriculum?

Curriculum can be defined as “the courses offered by an educational institution”. In computer science, the curriculum refers to the specific courses that students must take in order to earn their degree.

Most computer science programs will require students to take a variety of courses in mathematics, computer science theory, and computer programming.

The specific courses that are required will vary from program to program, but there are some general expectations that can be helpful to know.

How does a computer science curriculum differ from one school to another?

The computer science curriculum at schools can differ significantly from one institution to another. Some schools might focus heavily on computer programming, while others might devote more attention to web development or database management.

The specific courses offered in a computer science program can also vary widely, and some schools might offer unique classes that are not available at other institutions.

As a result, it is important for students to carefully research the computer science curriculum at each school they are considering before making a final decision. By doing so, they can ensure that they enroll in a program that meets their specific needs and interests.

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What does a typical computer science curriculum look like?

To help you understand and prepare for your Bachelor’s degree in CS, we’re giving you a glimpse into what typical undergraduate computer science curricula look like.

By going through numerous undergraduate programs in the US, we have compiled a sample program of all of the courses typically present in an undergraduate computer science curriculum that you can expect to see in any US university.

Below is the resulting plan of studies, along with the course descriptions for each class underneath it.

First Semester (Year 1 – Fall)Second Semester (Year 1 – Spring)
Intro to Computer Science IIntro to Computer Science II
Calculus ICalculus II
English CompositionData Structures
ElectiveElective
Third Semester (Year 2 – Fall)Fourth Semester (Year 2 – Spring)
Software Engineering ISoftware Engineering II
Linear AlgebraComputer Architecture
Digital Logic DesignDiscrete Math
ElectiveElective
Fifth Semester (Year 3 – Fall)Sixth Semester (Year 3 – Spring)
Probability & StatisticsAlgorithms
Principles of Programming Languages Computer Networks
Operating SystemsTheory of Computation
ElectiveElective
Seventh Semester (Year 4 – Fall)Eighth Semester (Year 4 – Spring)
Senior Project ISenior Project II
Database SystemsComputer Ethics
ElectivesElectives

As you can see, the first two years of a typical computer science undergraduate program are mostly focused on taking introductory-level classes in mathematics and computer science.

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In your third and fourth semesters, you’ll start to take more specialized courses in areas like software engineering, digital logic design, and computer architecture.

Then, in your fifth and sixth semesters, you’ll focus on advanced topics like algorithms, operating systems, and computer networks.

Finally, in your seventh and eighth semesters, you’ll complete your senior project and take elective courses of your choice.

One important thing to note is that the schedule above is just a sample. Every university’s computer science program is different, and the specific courses that you’ll take will depend on the institution you attend.

However, this should give you a general idea of what you can expect in terms of coursework if you’re planning on studying computer science at the undergraduate level.

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Computer science curriculum course descriptions

Now that we have gone over what a typical computer science curriculum looks like, let’s take a closer look at some of the courses that you can expect to see in any computer science program.

Introduction to Computer Science I

This course provides an introduction to computer science and software engineering. The students will learn the basics of computer programming and how to design, implement, test and debug computer programs. They will also learn fundamental concepts of mathematics, algorithms and data structures.

Introduction To Computer Science II

This course is a continuation of the introduction to computer science, algorithms, and data structures. In this course, students will learn more advanced concepts of computer programming, software engineering, and mathematics. They will also be introduced to new data structures and algorithms.

Calculus I

Calculus I covers the basics of differential and integral calculus. The students will learn how to find derivatives and integrals, and how to use them to solve problems. They will also learn about the different types of functions and their properties.

Calculus II

Calculus II is a continuation of Calculus I, designed to build on the concepts of limits, derivatives, and integrals. In this course, students will learn how to integrate functions using both the substitution and integration methods, and will also explore more advanced topics in differential calculus such as partial derivatives and Taylor series.

English Composition

This course covers the basics of writing and rhetoric. The students will learn how to structure an argument, use evidence to support their claims, and style their writing in a clear and concise manner.

Data Structures

Data structures are the building blocks of computer programs. In this course, students will learn about the different types of data structures and how to implement them in computer programs. They will also learn about the different algorithms used to manipulate data structures, and how to choose the appropriate data structure for a given problem.

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Software Engineering I

Software engineering is the process of designing, developing, and maintaining software. In this course, students will learn the basics of software engineering, including project management, requirements gathering, and design. They will also be introduced to various software development methodologies such as waterfall and agile.

Software Engineering II

This course is a continuation of Software Engineering I, designed to build on the concepts of software engineering. In this course, students will learn more advanced concepts of software engineering, including testing and verification, design patterns, and software architecture.

student sitting on chairs in front of chalkboard in a computer science class
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Linear Algebra

This course covers the basics of linear algebra. The students will learn about vectors, matrices, and operations on them. They will also learn about the different types of linear transformations and how to use them to solve problems.

Digital Logic Design

Digital logic design is the process of designing digital circuits. In this course, students will learn about the different types of digital logic gates and how to use them to create Boolean functions. They will also learn about the different types of digital circuits, such as combinational and sequential circuits.

Computer Architecture

Computer architecture is the process of designing computer hardware. In this course, students will learn about the different components of a computer system and how they interact with each other. They will also learn about the different types of computer architectures, such as Von Neumann and Harvard architectures.

Discrete Math

Discrete math is the study of mathematical structures that are discrete in nature. In this course, students will learn about the different types of discrete structures such as graphs, trees, and boolean functions. They will also learn about the different operations on these structures, and how to use them to solve problems.

Probability & Statistics

This course covers the basics of probability and statistics. The students will learn about the different types of data, measures of central tendency, and measures of dispersion. They will also learn about the different types of probability distributions and how to use them to solve problems.

Principles of Programming Languages 

Programming languages are the different ways in which computer programs can be written. In this course, students will learn about the different features of popular programming languages, such as syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. They will also learn about the different types of programming languages, such as imperative, functional, and logical languages.

Operating Systems

An operating system is the software that manages the computer hardware. In this course, students will learn about the different aspects of an operating system, such as process management, memory management, and file management. They will also learn about the different types of operating systems, such as monolithic, microkernel, and distributed.

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Algorithms

Algorithms are the different ways in which computer programs can be written. In this course, students will learn about the different types of algorithms, such as search algorithms, sorting algorithms, and graph algorithms. They will also learn about the different data structures that can be used to implement these algorithms, such as arrays, linked lists, and trees.

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Computer Networks

Computer networks are the different ways in which computer systems can be connected. In this course, students will learn about the different types of computer networks, such as local area networks, wide area networks, and the Internet. They will also learn about the different protocols that are used to communicate between computer systems, such as TCP/IP, UDP, and HTTP.

Theory of Computation

The theory of computation is the study of the different ways in which computer programs can be written. In this course, students will learn about the different types of computations, such as Turing machines, finite state machines, and pushdown automata. They will also learn about the different complexity classes, such as P, NP, and EXP.

Database Systems

A database is a collection of data that can be accessed by computer programs. In this course, students will learn about the different types of databases, such as relational, object-oriented, and NoSQL databases. They will also learn about the different database management systems, such as MySQL, Oracle, and MongoDB.

Computer Ethics

Computer ethics is the study of the different ways in which computer technology can be used. In this course, students will learn about the different ethical issues that can arise from the use of computer technology, such as privacy, security, and intellectual property. They will also learn about the different ways to resolve these ethical issues, such as codes of conduct and policies.

Senior Project

In the Senior Project, students will work on a team to design, implement, and evaluate some sort of computing system. They will use the knowledge they acquired throughout their undergraduate education. The project will be done over the course of two semesters, and the students will give a final presentation at the end.

Electives

Computer science students can also take elective courses to further their education. These courses can be about anything related to computer science, such as human-computer interaction, computer graphics, or artificial intelligence. Students can also take courses outside of computer science, such as business or psychology.

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Other sample computer science curriculum schedules

Would you like to see more curriculum schedules from computer science schools? Below we present you with a few links to the actual curricula of several universities in the United States.

Conclusion

As you can see, a typical undergraduate computer science curriculum involves a mix of core CS classes, like data structures and algorithms, as well as math and science courses, like calculus and probability & statistics.

While it may seem like a lot of work, remember that you’ll have access to some of the brightest minds in the field as your professors and teaching assistants.

You’ll also be surrounded by like-minded students who are passionate about computer science and problem-solving.

So if you’re up for the challenge, an undergraduate computer science degree could be the right choice for you!