What Is the Difference Between Computer Science and Computer Programming?
Computer science and computer programming are closely linked, so it's easy for the distinction between the two to become slightly blurred. There is a fair amount of overlap in the online courses required to earn a bachelor's degree in either subject. However, the focus of these two degree programs is different, and they're designed to prepare graduates for particular types of jobs in technology.
Computer science degree programs typically concentrate on the theory of computer processes and the practice of designing software systems. Math and logic play a prominent role in the computer science curriculum, although most programs include some practical skill-building courses in programming languages and coding. Entry-level positions for computer science graduates include systems analyst, data scientist, and network administrator. Some computer science students choose to specialize in a particular subject, such as artificial intelligence, data science, or machine learning.
Computer programming degree programs, by contrast, focus on the application of those theories. Students learn to use programming languages and tools to write instructions that enable computers to perform tasks. Graduates often become software developers, web developers, and computer programmers (see Careers below for more information). Computer programming students sometimes specialize in the development of particular products, such as websites or mobile applications, or in using a specific programming language.
Common Computer Programming Courses
The curriculum for an online computer programming degree provides students with opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge, and course projects enable students to develop collaborative work and project management abilities. An overarching objective in most programs is to develop a professional portfolio that graduates can use to demonstrate their skills when applying for jobs. Additionally, most programs culminate in a senior capstone project, which is another significant contribution to each student's portfolio of work. Students who've had relatively little professional programming experience may want to build up their resumes by selecting a program that requires an internship.
An overarching objective in most programs is to develop a professional portfolio that graduates can use to demonstrate their skills when applying for jobs.
The following core courses are often included in an online computer programming bachelor's program.
Data Structures and Algorithms
This course provides programming students with an essential understanding of how data structures and algorithms are used together to solve computational problems. Topics may cover array, string, and linked list data structures as well as algorithms for sorting, searching, and string processing. Courses generally feature hands-on projects, such as analyzing a social network or sequencing a genome.
Early projects in this course aim to teach students the fundamentals of database management, including how to configure tables and populate them with data. More advanced coursework introduces students to various programming languages that are used to interact with databases, and it's designed to teach them how to develop database-access web applications.
Operating Systems and Networking
In this course, students typically learn about the basic abstractions, mechanisms, and implementations of operating systems. They may also learn about computer hardware and architecture while exploring motherboard, processor, memory, and storage technologies. Real-world projects address additional topics, such as computer network topologies, interconnecting devices, and user account management.
Software Development Foundations
Standard Programming Languages
Most degree programs require online students to take two or three introductory courses in common programming languages — usually C++, Java, and Python. Some also offer advanced electives in these languages. Courses are designed to explain how these programs keep track of data, process information, and solve problems. As students practice building, compiling, and debugging code, they may also explore data types, variables, conditional statements, functions, and loops.
Many schools offer areas of specialization or emphasis for students pursuing online computer programming degrees. Choosing a program with a concentration gives students a chance to study a subject that personally interests them. It could also allow them space to develop specialized problem-solving skills that may set them apart as well-qualified candidates for particular technology jobs. A concentration generally requires taking three or four related courses, which count toward fulfilling a major's core or elective requirements. The following are some common concentrations available for computer programmers.
One field that is experiencing a growing need for trained information technology professionals is cybersecurity. Graduates with expertise in this area know how to protect systems from hackers and security threats. Courses typically cover topics such as network security, risk assessment, cryptography, regulations, and ethical issues.
All types of organizations are increasingly reliant on data, so this is also a career path that's expected to grow substantially in the coming years. Data specialists understand how to create structures and write code that collects, organizes, and manipulates data. Enrollees with this concentration often study analytics, data visualization, and probability and statistics.
With an emphasis on gaming, this specialization's curricula aims to teach students about the processes and technologies involved in game development. The courses focus primarily on the computer graphics and modeling skills needed to work in this field but may also include animation, character development, and creature design.
Mobile Application Development
Students who enjoy finding creative solutions to common problems may want to specialize in developing mobile apps for iOS and Android operating systems. For this concentration, students typically take dedicated courses on programming languages, such as Java and Python. Coursework may cover cloud computing, the Internet of Things, smart devices, and cross-platform operating systems.
While most online computer programming degree programs include a course on operating systems, a concentration in this area features a number of dedicated courses on the C and C++ programming languages. Other advanced topics include concurrent execution, memory management, file systems, and data security.
Accreditation for Online Computer Programming Degrees
Accreditation is an important factor to consider when evaluating which schools to attend for an online bachelor's degree in computer programming. Enrollment in an accredited college or university is required to qualify for federal financial aid, and it may also be necessary to transfer credits to another school or enter a master's program. To obtain accreditation and meet rigorous standards of excellence, colleges and universities must undergo an extensive, multi-year analysis of their academic programs, faculty members, and other services.
In addition to earning recognition for the institution as a whole, schools can also seek accreditation for individual degree programs. The programmatic accrediting agency for all computer science and computer programming degree programs is the Computing Accreditation Commission, which is one of four commissions operated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation each offer a database of recognized schools and CAC-accredited programs.
Funding an Online Computer Programming Degree
Distance learners enrolled in accredited online programs in computer programming have the same access to financial aid as on-campus students. Enrollees may qualify for low-interest federal or private loans, but they should also apply for gift aid that doesn't require repayment, including government- and school-sponsored grants and scholarships. Depending on their prior experience, some students may also be eligible for military tuition discounts. Prospective students can apply for financial assistance by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
Some private organizations fund scholarships in order to support computer programming students. Applicants typically have to submit separate applications for these scholarships, which may include writing an essay or personal statement. The following list includes some examples of potential scholarships aimed at students in this field.
All students studying computer science or a closely related field are eligible for this $10,000 annual scholarship, especially those who identify with groups historically excluded from the technology industry (women, Black, Latinx, etc.).
This $10,000 award is available to female undergraduate and graduate students majoring in computer science and related subjects.
Up to 20 scholarships in amounts ranging from $1,000-$5,000 are awarded each year to high school seniors and undergraduate college students enrolled in cybersecurity, information assurance, or a similar program.