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How to Choose a Computer Science Specialization

By the OnlineU team | Updated 10/5/2022

Computer science can be a fascinating subject to study if you're interested in how technology is shaping our economy and society. As an extremely broad discipline, however, there are many specialization options to choose from for prospective students, and selecting the right one can seem overwhelming at first. Continue reading to learn more about the degree concentrations in this field and how to choose one that suits your professional goals.

By the OnlineU team | Updated 10/5/2022

Computer science can be a fascinating subject to study if you're interested in how technology is shaping our economy and society. As an extremely broad discipline, however, there are many specialization options to choose from for prospective students, and selecting the right one can seem overwhelming at first. Continue reading to learn more about the degree concentrations in this field and how to choose one that suits your professional goals.

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Choosing the Right Specialization

When choosing a specialization, it's important to consider what kind of computer science career you're interested in. For instance, if you aspire to work in a sector where data security and confidentiality are important, such as government, a cybersecurity specialization might suit you well. By contrast, if you want to explore your options when you graduate, an information technology concentration will likely prepare you for careers in a wide range of industries.

Alongside future career paths, think about what interests you in this vast field. Some computer science specializations involve working heavily with data, which equips students with software training and statistical knowledge. Others can train them to build entirely new software or help create new forms of artificial information. Any specialization will entail a unique focus, and you should ensure that this focus is something you want to learn more about.

Bachelor's in Computer Science Specializations

At the bachelor's level, you can choose a specific degree track within a computer science major or a program that focuses exclusively on a particular subfield within the discipline. Degrees at this level are designed to introduce students to the various aspects of computer science rather than explore a particular subject area in detail. Nevertheless, choosing a bachelor's specialization can open the door to unique career paths. Below is a list of popular computer science specializations at this level.


Potential Careers: Information Security Analysts

The cybersecurity specialization gives students an overview of modern computing challenges, teaching them to counter threats like viruses, malware, and potential data breaches. Common courses include network security, network architecture, and ethical hacking. Students may also explore the legal and ethical provisions that regulate access to data.

Game Design

Potential Careers: Video Game Designers

For those interested in designing video games, this concentration offers a comprehensive introduction to how digital interactive experiences are developed. Students typically take classes in machine learning and computer graphics and may also have the chance to learn more about the video game industry.

Information Technology

Potential Careers: Network and Computer Systems Administrators, Information Technology Project Managers

As a distinct subfield within computer science, information technology explores how data is shared, stored, and utilized by individuals and organizations. This may include learning about both hardware and software applications, with students taking classes in areas such as cloud computing, network security, and data management.

Software Engineering

Potential Careers: Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers

Software engineers are trained to develop, test, update, and maintain computer programs that meet specific needs. These may include antivirus software, communications technology, and other specialized apps. Students enrolled in the software engineering track tend to take classes in math, programming, and computer architecture.

Computer Graphics

Potential Careers: Web Developers and Digital Designers

Computer programs and applications typically need to be visually appealing for users. Students pursuing a specialization in computer graphics learn how to develop, update, and troubleshoot images, pictures, and layouts so that they are accessible. Common courses in this track include 3-D design, computer animation, media publishing, and backend development.

Master's in Computer Science Specializations

Specializations are more common at the master's rather than bachelor's level. This is because, with advanced coursework, graduate school is designed to help students delve deeper into the subfields of a particular discipline. With computer science, you can choose from the following areas of concentration.

Artificial Intelligence

Potential Careers: Robotics Engineers

Artificial intelligence is perhaps one of the most promising areas of computer science work. It focuses on a program or computer's capacity to solve problems and make decisions and is widely being used in fields such as healthcare, finance, and transportation. Students choosing this specialization study cognition, modeling, robotics, and natural learning, to name a few subjects.

Computing Systems

Potential Careers: Computer Network Architects

Students enrolled in a computing systems master's program are trained to look at the bigger picture and design the next generation of computing hardware and software. They take a range of courses, from real-world computing and data management to software theory and artificial intelligence.

Data Science

Potential Careers: Database Administrators and Architects, Data Scientists

In a world where information is being produced and consumed at an exponential rate, data science helps us understand how to order, analyze, and use it to meet specific needs. This concentration includes courses that focus heavily on developing data literacy, such as statistics, data management, and cybersecurity. Students also learn about data ethics and the laws that govern informational exchange.

Health Informatics

Potential Careers: Health Informatics Specialists, Medical and Health Services Managers

The healthcare industry is increasingly relying on technology to deliver care. In turn, those opting for the health informatics concentration gain an understanding of how computer science can be used to make diagnoses, curate patient information, and streamline the billing process. They take classes in bioinformatics, algorithm development, and databases.

Human-Computer Interaction

Potential Careers: Web and Digital Interface Designers

Also known as user experience, this concentration is based on how to improve our ability to interact with computing systems. This may include designing better hardware or developing features such as voice and face recognition. Common courses in this concentration include classes in subjects like design thinking, information visualization, and social computing.

Machine Learning

Potential Careers: Robotics Technicians

A subset of artificial intelligence, the machine learning concentration is concerned with computer systems' ability to develop independently of human inputs. Individuals working in this field receive much of the same training as those in artificial intelligence but go deeper in their efforts to understand how programs make predictions. Therefore, students take classes in modeling, cognition, computer perception, and robotics.

Programming Languages

Potential Careers: Computer Programmers

Programming languages form the backbone of many computer science tasks, especially coding. In this concentration, students gain familiarity with widely used languages, including Java, Python, and R. Coursework is largely focused on studying these languages, their various pros and cons, and the different applications they can be used for.

Theoretical Computer Science

Potential Careers: Computer and Information Research Scientists

Computer science theorists explore the mathematical theories that allow computer systems to function. This research-heavy specialization focuses on how to improve these principles to drive advancements in computer science as a whole. Students learn about algorithms, cryptography, and other advanced concepts related to computational mathematics.

What's the Best Computer Science Specialization for Me?

The best computer science specialization will vary depending largely on your career goals. In other words, there is no single area of concentration that is intrinsically better than the others. A good rule of thumb is to consider your personal interests and abilities when choosing a specialization. For instance, if you enjoy math and have a natural talent for the subject, computer science theory or data science can both be considered good options. On the other hand, artificial intelligence and software engineering may benefit creative students who want to build products and innovate.

Overall, most computer science specializations require a critical perspective, problem-solving abilities, and analytical skills and are likely to suit students with these competencies.


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