Is Computer Engineering a Good Degree?

Computer science is a college major that 50% of you want. The other 50%, meanwhile, want electrical engineering.

Here’s a solution to this dilemma: computer engineering (also referred to as CompEng, CoE, or CpE).

These days, there are a total of 4.44 million computer engineers in the workforce, making $82,681 to $103,11 per year.

As a STEM, it’s no wonder that computer engineering is one of the hardest majors out there. Students learn about making computing devices and the principles of electricity.

A computer engineering program costs $8,356 at public institutions for residents and $41,242 at private schools in tuition, on average.

As a Director of Engineering, I know a thing or two about computers.

Let me give you some information about the industry so you can decide whether a computer engineering degree is worth it for you.

computer engineering

Computer Engineering vs. Computer Science

While both computer engineering and computer science are in the STEM field and center around computers, they are separate disciplines.

Computer engineering is about computer hardware or the physical components of computer systems. Computer science, meanwhile, is about computer software or programs.

Computer engineering is a combination of computer science and electrical engineering.

It utilizes both fields for researching, designing, developing, and testing computer hardware or the physical parts of a computer system (CPU, motherboard, network card, drives, etc.) as well as various computer-related equipment.

On the other hand, computer science focuses on designing, testing, implementing, and maintaining computer software — programs consisting of data and a set of instructions necessary to operate computers and make them do tasks.

In computer engineering, there is also a little software involved. This means that you will learn about coding and using programming languages, too, albeit not as intensive as if you’re a CS major.

So, which is harder: CompEng or Comp Sci?

Well, it depends on the strengths of the college student.

Computer engineering requires research, networking, problem-solving, math, physics, and computer science skills. Meanwhile, CS requires analytical thinking, multiple coding, and testing and debugging skills.

Is Computer Engineering Hard

Because computer engineering is a part of the STEM, which consists of some of the most difficult majors college students can choose from, majoring in it can be quite challenging.

There are simply lots of math and physics as well as logical thinking and problem-solving skills involved in computer engineering.

Prior to declaring computer engineering as your major, make sure that you are really passionate about it.

As mentioned earlier, computer engineering is a broad discipline. And it’s due to this why, at most colleges and universities with computer engineering programs, undergraduate students can choose from different specializations.

Computer engineering majors at UC Santa Cruz, for instance, can concentrate on any of the following:

  • Computer systems
  • Digital hardware
  • Networks
  • Robotics and control
  • Systems programming

When majoring in computer engineering, you will have to take some really challenging courses — they are the reason exactly why the major is really difficult.

Some lower- and upper-division core courses you might encounter in your last two years of college are:

  • Abstract data types
  • Applied discrete mathematics
  • Calculus for engineering, science and mathematics
  • Computer architecture
  • Computer systems and assembly language
  • Computer systems and C programming
  • Engineering ethics
  • Introduction to data structures
  • Introduction to electronics
  • Introduction to physics
  • Logic design
  • Mathematical methods for engineers
  • Microprocessor system design
  • Signals and systems

Please take note that some core courses have labs, which will require you to devote more time to them.

Besides choosing a concentration of your liking, you can also refine your bachelor’s degree in computer engineering by pairing the major with the right minor.

When it comes to choosing a minor, it can be something that complements computer engineering or one that allows you to pursue a particular passion of yours.

But if the goal is to earn additional skills that can boost your resume as a computer engineering major, opt for one that pairs with it, depending on the predefined career path you like.

Here are some of the most popular minors among those who are majoring in Comp Eng:

  • Accounting
  • Business administration
  • Business management
  • Communications
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Foreign language
  • Information technology management
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Statistics

What Do Computer Engineers Do

Here are just some of the things that you can do with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering:

computer hardware engineer

1. Computer hardware engineer

  • Median annual salary: $128,170
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 2%

The primary role of computer hardware engineers, or simply hardware engineers, is to come up with computer systems and components.

Many specialize in products with computer components in them, such as smart devices. Computer hardware engineers are involved in all production aspects, from researching, designing, testing to manufacturing.

Most employers prefer individuals with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from a program that’s accredited by a professional organization.

One example is the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

2. Computer support specialist

  • Median annual salary: $57,910
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 9%

Also sometimes referred to as help-desk technicians, computer support specialists provide a lending hand by maintaining computer networks in a company or organization or assisting individuals who use computers.

Massive hardware or software companies and technical support service firms are some of the biggest employers of computer support specialists in the US.

And speaking of which, in the country, the state of Texas employs the most number of computer support specialists, totaling 68,740 — each one makes a mean wage of $52,530 per year.

3. Computer programmer

  • Median annual salary: $93,000
  • Job outlook in 10 years: -10%

Earlier, it was mentioned that computer engineering is more on hardware, while software engineering is more on software.

Despite this, computer engineering majors also learn how to code and use programming languages. This is exactly why those with a bachelor’s in computer engineering may also take on computer programming jobs.

In most instances, computer programmers work closely with software developers.

However, there are cases in which their duties and responsibilities overlap, depending on their employers and/or the industry they are a part of.

4. Forensic computer analyst

  • Median annual salary: $61,930
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 16%

What forensic computer analysts do is retrieve and analyze data that can be linked to criminal activities.

They do so using special software and various skills and techniques computer engineering majors have obtained in college as well as from training and real-world experience.

Needless to say, they work with investigators.

It’s also a part of the job of forensic computer analysts to write reports based on their findings and, in many instances, testify in courtroom proceedings.

They are tasked, too, with protecting and securing computer systems.

5. Computer systems analysts

  • Median annual salary: $99,270
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 7%

Referred to as systems architects at times, computer systems analysts examine the computer systems and methods used by businesses and organizations.

Afterward, they come up with designs and solutions to correct flaws and improve efficiency.

Computer systems analysts can have specializations, such as IT system upgrading and computer programming.

Since a lot of computer systems analysts are hired by money-making enterprises, it’s a good idea for computer engineering majors to have minored in a business-related discipline in order to become more marketable.

6. Database administrator

  • Median annual salary: $98,860
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

In a nutshell, database administrators are responsible for creating systems in which various types of data, ranging from company financial records, customer identification to product details, are stored.

Also a part of the everyday tasks of database administrators is making sure that sensitive data stored in systems they designed themselves are out of harm’s way.

Because they use all kinds of database software and languages, some employers may prefer database administrators with certifications in the products of their preference.

7. Information security analyst

  • Median annual salary: $102,600
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 33%

Computer engineering majors serving as information security analysts are some of the highest-paid in the industry.

Their job has the highest projected growth rate, too, from 2020 to 2030 at 33%. Every year within the decade, it’s estimated that more than 16,000 job openings are available for information security analysts.

Designing and implementing security measures to protect computer systems and networks — such is what information security analysts do. Besides a related bachelor’s degree, some also obtain certifications in the field.


8. Software developer

  • Median annual salary: $110,140
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 22%

Despite the job title, it’s not just individuals with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering who can work as software developers.

Just about anybody with a degree in a related field, such as computer science, computer engineering or information technology, can work as one provided that he or she has excellent coding skills.

Since software developers usually have to collaborate with others, it’s a must for them to have team working skills, too.

It’s not unlikely for some employers to prefer senior-level software developers with a master’s degree.

9. Electrical engineer

  • Median annual salary: $101,780
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 7%

Earlier, it was mentioned that computer engineering is a combination of computer science and electrical engineering. As a result of this, computer engineering majors are eligible to take on electrical engineering jobs.

In a nutshell, electrical engineers are tasked with designing, developing and testing all kinds of electrical equipment, depending on their employer or the industry they are a part of — telecommunications, electronic components, research, etc.

It’s also a part of their duties and responsibilities to oversee the manufacture of the equipment they produce.

10. Computer network architect

  • Median annual salary: $120,520
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 5%

Because computer networking involves the use of special networking devices or equipment, computer engineering majors make for some of the most qualified computer network architects.

As the job title suggests, what computer network architects do is design and build data communication networks for computer systems.

In the US, it’s in California where the most number of computer network architects work — the state employs 20,700, each one of them making a median salary of $129,240 per year.

Best Colleges for Computer Engineering Majors

computer engineer

Because computer engineering is a hard major and employers only want the best candidates, make sure that you shortlist only the right institutions for the job.

Prior to applying, check that the school’s engineering program is ABET-accredited.

Having ABET accreditation is not a requirement. However, it’s not uncommon for many employers to have a penchant for applicants who have completed an ABET-accredited computer engineering program.

That’s because having the accreditation is an indicator that the program has met high STEM standards.

The following are some of the top US schools for computer engineering majors you might want to consider:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology$72,462
Stanford University$78,218
University of California – Berkeley$41,528 (in-state) and $71,282 (out-of-state)
Carnegie Mellon University$76,760
University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign$31,102 (in-state) and $48,552 (out-of-state)
Georgia Institute of Technology$29,802 (in-state) and $50,914 (out-of-state)
University of Michigan – Ann Arbor$31,484 (in-state) and $67,802 (out-of-state)
Cornell University$78,992
Princeton University$68,044
Purdue University – West Lafayette$22,782 (in-state) and $41,584 (out-of-state)
University of Texas at Austin$28,928 (in-state) and $57,512 (out-of-state)
University of Washington$29,319 (in-state) and $56,688 (out-of-state)
University of California – San Diego$35,311 (in-state) and $65,065 (out-of-state)
University of Wisconsin – Madison$27,158 (in-state) and $55,046 (out-of-state)
Columbia University$77,603
University of Maryland – College Park$27,807 (in-state) and $53,919 (out-of-state)
University of Pennsylvania$81,110
University of Southern California$80,151
Duke University$77,069
Harvard University$75,891
Rice University$69,557
Virginia Tech$27,755 (in-state) and $46,295 (out-of-state)
Johns Hopkins University$67,667
Ohio State University$28,664 (in-state) and $50,648 (out-of-state)
Texas A&M University – College Station$31,467 (in-state) and $58,024 (out-of-state)
Best Schools for Computer Engineering Major

Earning an online degree in computer engineering is also possible for non-traditional students who cannot attend on-campus classes. It’s also a wonderful option for low-income students, especially if they attend a public online institution where tuition costs are lower for state residents.

Best Online Schools

But before you enroll in an online bachelor’s degree program for computer engineering:

Check for accreditation

While there are legit online schools out there offering computer engineering degrees that are worth something, there are also diploma mills that confer totally worthless degrees.

Make sure that the online school’s accreditor is recognized by both the US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Determine available locations

As stated earlier, some core courses of a bachelor’s degree program in computer engineering have labs.

Chances are that the online school will require you to attend physical lab sessions from time to time. This is why you should determine whether or not there’s a campus or an office near your area.

Without any more ado, here are some legit online schools where you can major in computer engineering:

Regent University

  • Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Cost: $450.00 per credit hour
  • Acceptance rate: 50%
  • Average starting salary: $33,500 per year
  • Accreditor: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

University of Arizona

  • Location: Tucson, Arizona
  • Cost: $500.00 (in-state and out-of-state) per credit hour
  • Acceptance rate: 85%
  • Average starting salary: $39,500 per year
  • Accreditor: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

Florida International University

  • Location: Miami, Florida
  • Cost: $205.57 (in-state) and $618.87 (out-of-state) per credit hour
  • Acceptance rate: 58%
  • Average starting salary: $38,500 per year
  • Accreditor: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

Old Dominion University

  • Location: Norfolk, Virginia
  • Cost: $374.00 (in-state) and $407.00 (out-of-state) per credit hour
  • Acceptance rate: 95%
  • Average starting salary: $36,600 per year
  • Accreditor: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

Oregon State University

  • Location: Corvallis, Oregon
  • Cost: $346.00 (in-state and out-of-state) per credit hour
  • Acceptance rate: 82%
  • Average starting salary: $40,000 per year
  • Accreditor: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

Is Computer Engineering a Good Major

Computer engineering is a good degree because it’s in the STEM field, where there are plenty of job opportunities and the pay is great. The best-paid 25% of computer engineers make an average of $164,930 per year.

However, computer engineering is considered one of the hardest engineering majors around.

One more suggestion: before enrolling in a bachelor’s degree program in computer engineering, see to it that it has the accreditation of ABET or any other similar accrediting agency for a resume that potential employers will find irresistible.

Read Next: Is Physics a Good Degree?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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