Computer engineering vs computer science: Which master’s is right for you? | Top Universities

Computer engineering vs computer science: Which master’s is right for you?

By Chloe Lane

Updated February 3, 2023 Updated February 3, 2023

Sponsored by the University of Texas at Arlington 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) job roles are growing every year. 

If you’re interested in problem-solving and technology, you may be trying to choose between a master’s course in computer science and a master’s in computer engineering. While these two programmes have many similarities, there are also some key differences.  

The US’s University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) offers both master’s programmes, MSc Computer Science and MSc Computer Engineering, as part of their College of Engineering.  

Read on as we reveal the differences between the two programmes to help you decide which is right for you. 

What will you learn in these programmes? 

Both the MSc Computer Engineering and MSc Computer Science provide graduates with the latest theoretical and hands-on skills needed to gain employment in the IT industry or to continue their education with a PhD.  

The MSc Computer Engineering will give students the knowledge and skills to work with the latest computer organisation technology and computer hardware, such as microprocessors, memory chips and data storage devices. Students will also learn to design and test embedded systems. 

Contrastingly, the MSc Computer Science is more focused on theory and software. It will teach students the fundamental concepts of algorithms, programming languages, data structures and core mathematical foundations.  

Admissions criteria for the programme 

The admissions criteria for both programmes are similar, and at the University of Texas at Arlington’s College of Engineering both programmes are very competitive. The UTA only accepts the best candidates for the programme.  

Aspects of your application that will be considered for these programmes are:  

  • GPA 
  • Performance in computer-related classes 
  • TOEFL or IELTS (for non-English-speaking candidates) 
  • GRE, and reputation of the university where you did your undergraduate studies  

Relevant recent work experience is also considered, particularly in cases where computer science was not studied at undergraduate level.  

Options to specialise 

Both programmes will usually have options to specialise so you can tailor them to your career goals. 

At the UTA, MSc Computer Science students will get the option to specialise in either computer architecture and systems, or embedded systems. They will gain an in-depth knowledge of their chosen major and the ability to apply this knowledge in a range of subject areas to solve real-life problems. 

Similarly, if you study the MSc Computer Engineering at UTA you will select one of eight graduate tracks to follow: 

  • Data analytics (database systems, data mining, cloud computing, big data, and others) 
  • Intelligent systems (knowledge representation, knowledge acquisition, machine learning, neural networks, parallel AI, and others) 
  • Networking, telecommunications and mobile computing 
  • Software engineering (environments, formal verification, testing, and others) 
  • Multimedia systems (authoring, compression, collaboration, and communication) 
  • Theory and algorithms 
  • Bioinformatics 
  • Information and cybersecurity 

Assessment methods 

At UTA, you can also choose the assessment methods for each programme, with the option to decide whether you would like to complete a thesis. 

Thesis options 

If you choose to do a thesis, students will select one of the specialisations above and complete eight modules, plus a number of courses from their selected track.  

For computer engineering, this will be a combination of core computer engineering classes such as computer organisation, digital logic, digital signal processing and circuits.  

For computer science, students will choose between core modules such as algorithms, distributed systems, compilers, data modelling and computer organisation.  

Students will also complete a thesis on a topic of their choice, which will be overseen by a committee of at least three members. 

Non thesis options 

If you decide not to do a thesis and have an exceptional academic background and GPA of 305 or higher, you can complete a 30-hour non thesis.  

Computer science students will select 10 courses from a list of core classes and select both specialisations above, and computer engineering students will select 12 courses from a list of core classes. 

A 36-hour option is available for students who are not interested in completing a thesis and have an average academic background in computer science. 

Job prospects for computer science and engineering degrees 

Whether you decide to study a computer engineering or a computer science master’s degree, both programmes are likely to lead to similar careers and you will enjoy excellent job prospects. 

A master’s in computer science will provide graduates the latest theoretical and practical skills in their selected tracks, whether that’s artificial intelligence or data analytics. Typical careers include computer programmer, systems manager, software developer and security analyst. 

A master’s in computer engineering will give graduates the knowledge and skills required to design and test embedded systems using microcontrollers, system-on-chip, and FPGA devices. Typical careers include multimedia programmer, hardware engineer, industrial engineer and forensic computer analyst. 

This article was originally published in February 2023 .

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Written by

As Content Editor for and, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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