The Student Newspaper of Highline College

Choosing the right computer science degree or certificate

  May 26, 2022
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Highline offers more than 30 different computer science programs, including certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees. With so many options, it can be confusing to decide which program is right for you.

Many students who plan to transfer from Highline to a four-year university opt for an associate degree. Highline offers an associate of science and an associate of arts, both with an emphasis in computer science. 

Melchizedek Belihu is an associate of science student aiming for a career in software development. He chose the AS track to transfer his credits to improve his job prospects. 

“The associate of science requires a lot of computer science classes, like Object Oriented Programming. You also have to take several computer science electives which help you gain in-demand skills that employers are looking for,” said Belihu.

Another associate in science student, Emily Vorng, expressed similar feelings.

“One difference between the AS and AA degree is that you’re required to take more science and math classes. For example, you have to finish the entire calculus and physics series for the AS degree,” said Vorng. “I think there are pros and cons to both degrees, but I chose the AS because of the technical focus and the skills I would gain.”

On the other hand, an AA lets you take a wider variety of classes, in addition to computer science topics. This gives you more room in your schedule for arts and humanities courses.

David Pak, an associate of arts student, said he chose his degree because he wanted an interdisciplinary education. He also realized that his credits would transfer smoothly to the University of Washington, where he plans to continue his education after Highline.

“Highline’s associate of arts aligns with UW’s Computer Science program and general education requirements. Since Highline’s AA requirements include art classes, I’m able to use those credits to fulfill UW’s visual and performing arts (VLPA) prerequisites,” said Pak.

While you can also transfer credits from the AS degree, you will not be able to finish the visual/performing arts requirements for the University of Washington. Instead of taking those classes at Highline, you will take computer science electives. However, some electives are restricted and may not transfer to the university.

Outside of an AS or AA degree, you can pursue one of Highline’s 13 associate of applied science degrees. The AAS degrees let you focus on more specific subject areas within computer science, like web design or technical communication.

Many AAS degrees also require an internship as one of the professional-technical core courses. This pathway is a good choice for students shooting for practical workplace experience as soon as possible.

Another way to attain a specialized computer science education is through certificates. Examples include certificates for Animation, Introduction to Web Support, or CAD Technology. Certificates do not require as many credits as an associate’s degree, which make them an attractive option for students looking to finish their program on a faster timeline.

Chance Robison is working on his own certificate in Digital Forensics and Investigation. This certificate explores digital data and how to put together a case with forensic evidence.

“I have always been interested in computers and understanding more of their potential functions and features. I also want to understand them more on the base level,” said Chance. “Computers kind of blow my mind when I think about them and what we use them for on a daily basis now.”

A more general associate degree would not necessarily focus on the topics in forensics and investigation that fascinate Chance, he said.

However, an associate degree does help students transfer to one of Highline’s degrees. These include the bachelor of science in computer science and the bachelor of applied science in cybersecurity and forensics.

The bachelor of science in computer science is a partner program between Highline and Central Washington University. The curriculum focuses on networks, databases, machine learning, big data analysis, cybersecurity, and data mining.

The bachelor of applied science in cybersecurity and forensics is supported by Highline’s Computer Science and Computer Information Systems Department. The completion of a two-year degree is required to join the program, which teaches students how to identify and respond to cyber threats.

Having a bachelor’s degree can open up more job opportunities with higher salaries. Today, many computer science job listings require a bachelor’s degree. Even if the degree is not required, it can help give you a competitive edge.

When deciding which program best fits your needs, be sure to consider your specific computer science interests, your timeline, and your goals after graduation.

Catherine Rasgaitis is web editor of the Thunderword.