Best Colleges for Computer Science Majors

Students in a computer classroom.

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With excellent job prospects and good starting salaries, computer science is one of the more popular undergraduate majors in the United States as well as the world. An undergraduate degree in computer science can lead to careers in a wide range of fields including medicine, finance, engineering, communications, and, of course, software development.

Students who major in computer science should have strong math and problem-solving skills. Required math courses are likely to include calculus, statistics, discrete mathematics, and linear algebra. Several programming courses are also part of the curriculum, and students often learn languages such as C++, Java, and Python. Other typical courses focus on operating systems, data structures and algorithms, and machine learning. Majors include numerous elective courses so that students can specialize in an area of interest such as artificial intelligence or game design.

The great majority of four-year colleges and universities in the United States offer a computer science major, so choosing a school can be daunting. The 15 schools below tend to rank among the top undergraduate computer science programs in the country. All have excellent facilities, a faculty with strong research accomplishments, a breadth of opportunities for gaining hands-on experience, and impressive job placement data. The schools have been listed alphabetically, since the computer science programs vary significantly in size, curriculum, and areas of specialization.

California Institute of Technology

Beckman Institute at Caltech
Beckman Institute at Caltech. smerikal / Flickr

Caltech often vies with MIT for the #1 ranking in the country among engineering schools, and its computer science program is similarly strong. The program is smaller than most on this list, with about 65 bachelor's degree students graduating each year. The small size can be an advantage: Caltech has a stunning 3 to 1 student/faculty ratio, so students have plenty of opportunities to get to know their professors and conduct research.

Along with the major in computer science, Caltech offers majors in applied and computational mathematics, and information and data sciences. Students can also choose to minor in control and dynamical systems. Research opportunities abound on campus, at nearby JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program (SURF).

The school's location in Pasadena, California, puts it near many high tech companies in Southern California. A total of 95% of all Caltech students take at least one computer science class, and 43% of new computer science majors are women—a strong number for a male-dominated field.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University Campus
Carnegie Mellon University Campus. Paul McCarthy / Flickr

According to CSRankings.org, Carnegie Mellon University ranks first in the country for the size of its computer science faculty and the number of publications produced by them. The university awards roughly 170 bachelor's degrees in computer science annually, and the school also has robust graduate programs in fields such as artificial intelligence, computer security, and computer networks.

CMU's School of Computer Science is home to numerous departments and institutes, including the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Machine Learning Department, Robotics Institute, Language Technologies Institute, and Computational Biology Department. The result is that undergraduates have excellent opportunities for conducting research, and any motivated student can graduate with a strong resume with lots of practical experience.

Along with computer science, CMU offers bachelor degree programs in computational biology, artificial intelligence, computer science and the arts, music and technology, robotics, and human-computer interaction. The attractive campus in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has a breadth of other strengths in STEM fields, and CMU consistently ranks among the nation's top engineering schools.

Columbia University

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Columbia University, one of the eight prestigious Ivy League schools, may not immediately come to mind when thinking about top STEM options, but the school's computer science program is unquestionably one of the best in the country. The school graduates about 250 computer science majors annually and even more master's degree students. With its large size, the program has strengths in many areas, including computer and network security, machine learning, natural language processing, computer architecture, and graphics and user interfaces.

Columbia computer science undergraduates find a wealth of research opportunities in the program's 25+ research labs, and opportunities exist to conduct research for both academic credit and pay. Columbia's location in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan is another advantage, and many potential employers are nearby.

Cornell University

McGraw Tower and Chimes, Cornell University campus, Ithaca, New York
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Cornell University is arguably the strongest of the Ivy League schools for STEM fields, and the university graduates over 450 students each year in computer and information science fields. Cornell's computer science major is interdisciplinary and is affiliated with both the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering.

Research is central to the program, and its faculty members have won two Turing Awards and the MacArthur "Genius Grant." The university has research strengths in a broad range of computer science fields including artificial intelligence, computational biology, computer architecture, graphics, human interaction, robotics, security, and systems/networking. Many CS undergraduates conduct research through independent study working with a faculty member or doctoral student.

Cornell is located in Ithaca, New York, in the heart of the Fingerlakes Region of Upstate New York. Ithaca frequently ranks as one of the best college towns in the nation.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech

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Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Georgia Tech consistently ranks among the nation's best engineering schools, and as a public university, it represents an exceptional value, especially for in-state students. Computer science is the university's most popular undergraduate major, with over 600 students earning a bachelor's degree each year.

Students majoring in computer science at Georgia Tech can select one of eight "threads" to create an undergraduate experience that matches their specific interests and career goals. The areas of focus are devices, info internetworks, intelligence, media, modeling and simulation, people (human-centered computing), systems and architecture, and theory. Students who would like to graduate with considerable work experience in the field should look into Georgia Tech's five-year co-op option.

Harvard University

Harvard University

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Harvard University has many distinctions, including being the nation's most selective university and one of the world's most prestigious institutions of higher education. The school's computer science program lives up to that reputation. About 140 students earn a bachelor's degree in computer science each year, and a similar number earn graduate degrees. Prominent computer science research areas at Harvard include machine learning, visualization, intelligent interfaces, privacy and security, economics and computer science, operating systems, graphics, and artificial intelligence.

Harvard computer science students all complete a senior research thesis, and they also have many opportunities to conduct research throughout their college years and over summers. With an endowment of over $40 billion, the university has the resources to support faculty and student researchers. Ten-week summer opportunities are available through the Program for Research in Science and Engineering. In addition, the Harvard College Office for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships works to help computer science students find meaningful research opportunities both on and off campus.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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For numerous STEM fields, MIT consistently ranks at or near #1 in the nation—if not the world. Computer science is the institute's most popular major by a significant margin.

Along with MIT's popular Course 6-3 (Computer Science and Engineering), students can also choose from Course 6-2 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), Course 6-7 (Computer Science and Molecular Biology) and Course 6-14 (Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science).

Like Caltech, MIT has an impressive 3 to 1 student/faculty ratio, and students find a wealth of opportunities to conduct research with a faculty member or graduate student. The great majority of MIT students complete at least one UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity) project before graduation, and many complete three or more. Students can choose to conduct research for either pay or credit. The institute's breadth of research fields is impressive and includes big data, cybersecurity, energy, multicore processors and cloud computing, robotics, and nanotechnology and quantum information processing.

Princeton University

Princeton University
Princeton University. Allen Grove

Yet another Ivy League school on this list, Princeton University graduates about 150 computer science bachelor's degree students each year and another 65 or so at the graduate level. Undergraduate computer science majors can choose from bachelor of arts (A.B.) or bachelor of science in engineering (B.S.E.) degree path. Princeton has a strong independent work (IW) program built into the curriculum, so students graduate with hands-on experience.

Princeton's computer science faculty members have a wide range of areas of expertise. The most popular research areas are computational biology, graphics/vision/human-computer interaction, machine learning, policy, security and privacy, systems, and theory.

Stanford University

Stanford University
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Stanford University is another powerhouse in STEM, and computer science is the most popular area, with over twice as many majors as any other undergraduate program. The university typically awards over 300 bachelor's degrees in computer science each year.

Stanford has notable research strengths in robotics, artificial intelligence, foundations of computer science, systems, and scientific computing. The program also encourages interdisciplinary work and has collaborations with chemistry, genetics, linguistics, physics, medicine, and several engineering fields.

Stanford's location near Silicon Valley provides computer science students with a wealth of opportunities for internships, summer work, and employment after graduation.

University of California - Berkeley

University of California Berkeley

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UC Berkeley is one of the most selective public universities in the country, and it has long been well known for its strong programs in engineering and the sciences. With over 600 bachelor's degree computer science students graduating each year, it is the second largest program at the university, trailing slightly behind biology. Students can earn a B.S. degree in computer science through Berkeley's College of Engineering, or they can earn a B.A. degree through the College of Letters and Sciences.

UC Berkeley's Electrical Engineering and Computer Science program (EECS) is home to over 130 faculty members. A total of 60 research centers and labs are affiliated with the program, and faculty and students conduct research in 21 areas, including signal processing, graphics, artificial intelligence, education, human-computer interaction, integrated circuits, design automation, and control, intelligent systems, and robotics.

The beautiful campus in the Bay area provides further opportunities because of its proximity to the many high-tech companies in Silicon Valley and the city of Berkeley itself. It is also noteworthy that the program's faculty and alumni have founded over 880 companies.

University of California - San Diego

San Diego Super Computer Center at UCSD
San Diego Super Computer Center at UCSD (click photo to enlarge). Photo Credit: Marisa Benjamin

UCSD is the most stem-focused of all the University of California campuses, and each year the university graduates over 400 computer science majors, another 375 in mathematics and computer science, 115 in computer engineering, and around 70 in bioinformatics. Like all strong computer science programs, UCSD provides plenty of opportunities for students to gain hands-on research experience. Popular options include working with a faculty member through independent study or directed group study.

The UCSD computer science curriculum is designed to give all students breadth of knowledge in areas such as computer systems, security/cryptography, programming systems, and machine learning. California's technology hot spots are not limited to Silicon Valley, and students will find plenty of internship, research, and employment opportunities in the San Diego region.

University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, UIUC
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, UIUC. Christopher Schmidt / Flickr

While the East and West Coasts dominate this list, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign gives students an excellent place to study computer science in the Midwest. The university awards about 350 bachelor's degrees in computer science each year, as well as a similar number of degrees in computer engineering. UIUC has several interdisciplinary degree options as well, including a B.S. in mathematics and computer science and a B.S. in statistics and computer science.

Many computer science students stay on campus in the summer to take advantage of the Illinois Computer Science Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a 10-week program in which students conduct research under the guidance of faculty mentors and graduate students. The university has a dozen areas of research specialization, including interactive computing, programming languages, computers and education, artificial intelligence, and data and information systems.

UIUC takes pride in the outcomes of its program, as typical starting salaries for its students are in the $100,000 range, nearly $25,000 above the national average.

University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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Computer science is the most popular major at the University of Michigan; the university awards over 600 bachelor's degrees in computer science each year. Degree options include a B.S.E in computer science, B.S. in computer science, B.S.E. in computer engineering, B.S.E. in data science, and B.S. in data science. A computer science minor is also an option.

Michigan's CSE faculty researchers are affiliated with one or more of the program's five labs: Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Computer Engineering Laboratory, Interactive Systems Laboratory, Systems Laboratory, and Theory of Computation Laboratory. The university also has research centers focused on areas such as machine learning, computer security, digital curricula, and future architectures. With the size of the program and breadth of faculty research interests, undergraduates have opportunities to conduct research in a wide range of computer science specialties.

University of Texas - Austin

University of Texas at Austin

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UT Austin's computer science program has a largely undergraduate focus, with over 350 students graduating each year. Undergraduate computer science majors can choose from five areas of concentration: big data, computer systems, cybersecurity, game development, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and mobile computing.

UT has several initiatives to get students involved with research. The Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) engages students from their first year at the university, and they can then build on this experience by participating in the Accelerated Research Initiative (ARI) as upperclass students. The university also works to connect students with faculty researchers through Eureka, a searchable database of research opportunities on campus.

University of Washington - Seattle

Trees and campus building at University of Washington
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The University of Washington's main campus in Seattle is home to one of the nation's top undergraduate computer science programs. Washington's Information School and Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering award over 750 bachelor's degrees each year in computer science, informatics, and information technology. The university's highly regarded CSE program has 20 areas of expertise, including natural language processing, robotics, data management and visualization, computer architecture, augmented and virtual reality, animation and game science, and machine learning.

Washington works to maintain strong relationships with industry and has a robust Industry Affiliates Program with dozens of members including Amazon, Cisco Systems, Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung, and Starbucks. Over 100 companies attend the CSE Autumn and Winter career fairs.