Undergraduate Computing Degrees – Should I go to a 4-year college program?

Independent of the planned major, the decision of attending a 4-year college program versus a 2-year program can be a complex one. Factors students and their parents consider include financial considerations,  family considerations, the parents’ educational experience, and the student’s confidence, preparedness and ultimate career goals.

Four-year Programs

A student interested in computer science who has done well in math and science classes should consider a 4-year program.  Such a program will teach important underlying concepts of computer science, offer courses giving an overview of the field, give the background needed to create software and systems, and prepare the student for future changes in the field. Students typically also have valuable internship opportunities in the summers and have the opportunity to be involved in research.

Quora is an online collaborative information-sharing platform promising to connect  you to everything you want to know.  While it may offer almost too much information, it often contains good advice and insight. Here is an argument about the benefits of being surrounded by peers in an immersive environment of attending a good undergraduate institution.

Two-year Programs

A 2-year program typically focuses on learning the use and management of existing tools. Based on the student and their expectations, a  Community College (CC) may be a good option.  For example, a student whose goal is a 2-year technology degree or certificate and who find calculus very challenging may find a CC to be a good match. In deciding how to advise a student, one should evaluate all academic abilities, not only their performance in computing classes.

Many students  who enroll in a CC plan to transfer to a 4-year college. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) indicates that about 80% of the incoming CC students plan to transfer to a 4-year institution. However, only about 25% of all CC students actually matriculate to a 4-year college.  After a successful transfer, students often realize that credits do not transfer as expected. For many, classes are  harder than expected and the competitive level is far higher than at the CC. Encourage an academically strong student to consider a 4-year program.

What type of program a student attends has an impact on the type of jobs available to the student after graduation. The US Department of Labor maintains information about jobs for various disciplines and the education expected for an entry-level position. See this link for jobs related to computing.

For-profit Institutions 

Many students first become aware of for-profit colleges and universities through their advertisements. For-profits include University of Phoenix, Stratford University, DeVry University, and others. They typically advertise in magazines, TV, and on websites, promising jobs after graduation. Students often are not aware of the difference between a for-profit and a not-for-profit institution. For-profits promise to help students get loans and that “even you will graduate.” The education, however, is generally poor and not highly valued by employers. 

Online Programs

Online degree programs are playing an increasingly important role in higher education.  Online programs are mainly targeted at people who cannot easily devote the time to complete a degree program on campus. Most online programs cater to adults who have other work or family obligations. Online courses are usually offered asynchronously, which means students can do the work at whatever time of day is convenient for them, and courses are often completed in a matter of weeks rather than an entire semester. Online learning is not for everyone. Students often feel isolated when learning online due to lack of contact with peers and instructors. To be successful in an online class, students must be self-disciplined and able to work independently. Dropout rates tend to be much higher for online classes than for their face-to-face equivalents.  There also exist many for-profit programs in the online learning space and some are of questionable quality.


A recent development is the emergence of months-long coding bootcamps. Bootcamps are generally not suited for 18-year olds and are typically pursued by professionals having a degree in another field.  The marketing done by Bootcamps can be slick and promise quick success.  For example,  LearningFuze gives an argument for going to a bootcamp based on opportunity cost.  

Scholarships in Computer Science

Students with good academic records should consider applying for scholarships.  Many scholarship opportunities exist. Guidance counselors in the high school are a good resource. A student admitted to a university should ask the Admissions Office or the Division of Financial Aid what scholarships exist that he/she is eligible for. One site is Scholarships in Computer Science.