Is Computer Programming Hard in College? What to Expect

You will be surprised at how many people end up not attending college because it is a somewhat intimidating place even before you set foot in one. Perhaps you are already intimidated, and that is why you have found yourself reading this article. Well, don’t worry. We will try and answer as many of your questions as possible, starting with: is college hard for programmers?

Computer programming in college can be challenging at times. However, you will have every resource you need at your disposal. If you use initiative and possess discipline, you should be fine in college. So, going to college to learn to program is the best thing you can do if you want a career in development. 

In this article, we want to answer as many questions as we can. Not only are we going to tell you what you should expect in college, but we are going to focus on computer science degrees. That is the most common way people start their development careers. So, for everything you need to know, keep reading.

What Degrees do Programmers Have?

We first want to aim a few sections at those considering becoming computer programmers, software developers, or whatever you like to call it. To start, let’s clear a quick misconception. You do not really find any “computer programming college degrees.” Instead, you learn it as a byproduct of a greater degree. Let Me explain.

There are three common degrees that people who wish to be programmers can pursue. I am not saying that “computer programming” degrees do not exist. They are not common. Below is a list of the three most common degrees that programmers have. We will discuss the different levels in the next section.

  • Computer Science
  • Software engineering
  • Information Technology

Computer science is the most common degree. Many employers will advertise job positions, and under the requirements, you will see a “computer science degree” as a minimum requirement. The next is information technology which covers a much less technical curriculum in terms of IT. However, you still learn the fundamentals of programming.

I have written an extensive article about the differences between software engineers and programmers. I highly recommend you give that article a read after going through this one. Perhaps we can help you decide what path do you wish to pursue.

Software engineers are in charge of a broader range of duties. They will know everything about a program, including the back-end, front end, debugging the software, and much more. These degrees are not very common when comparing them to the previous two, and those with a bachelor’s in computer science can become software engineers.

Video: Coding Career Paths

Different Levels of Degrees that Programmers Have

In this section, we want to talk about the different levels of degrees that programmers have because it may help you decide how far you want to pursue your education. Once you understand how far you want to go with your education, it will be easier for you to know what to expect when you step through College doors.

Please note that we are not discussing boot camps or self-learning programs until the end of the article. Instead, we are focusing on college degrees. So, here are the two most common levels of degree that you can have as a computer programmer.

  • Associates degree
  • Bachelors degree

When advertising for positions, most companies will require a minimum of a bachelor’s in computer science. When you look at most computer programming jobs on the labor statistics, whether it be software development or web development, most developers have a bachelor’s.

Some programmers only have an associate’s degree. Many factors prevent people from pursuing a bachelor’s, mainly you are looking at financial reasons. It is a lot easier to obtain an associate’s degree from a community college than paying to get your bachelor’s from a private institution.

Some programmers might pursue a master’s degree. It is not necessary, but it can push someone’s career a lot further than the previous degrees. Most people who do a masters will do so while working. On this link, you can find an in-depth article on whether it makes sense to do a masters degree in software engineering.

What Skills Do Programmers Need For College to Make it Easier?

When you prepare for College with the hopes of becoming a computer programmer, you need to possess a few skills. Some of these can be taught, while others are natural traits that you should have picked up early on in life or have been born with. At the end of the section, I do have some good news. So here is a list of skills that you should possess.

  • Reasoning: in college, you are going to learn how to use logic when writing code. If you have good reasoning skills, you should not have a problem, and college will be a little bit easier for you.
  • Problem-solving: In theory, you will learn how to solve problems that may arise when working in IT. If you have good problem-solving skills, you will do well when it comes to practical work.
  • Writing: I doubt this needs much explanation, but programmers do a lot of writing. Obviously, that writing involves writing code.
  • Creativity: I guess you could say that creativity will come in handy during college as a sub-skill of problem-solving. See, you will need to find creative ways of getting around obstacles.
  • Organization: You will need to be organized. Turning up late for a class could mean that you miss out on valuable information. Also, it would help if you did not forget your tools, such as your laptop. Then when it comes to writing code, your organizational skills play a significant role in whether or not you write bad code or clean code.
  • Mathematics: Some colleges require that you have a good background in mathematics. Depending on how technical the field is that you want to enter, mathematics can play a significant role in the code you are writing. At the same time, it might not be as relevant for things like web development.
  • Patience: Doing a degree in computer science is not going to be easy. If anyone says that it is so, they are lying, or they are a super genius. It would be best if you were patient and understand that what you are learning is a skill set that many people have spent decades perfecting.
  • Discipline: you will need to have discipline. It is one thing to make sure that you are never late for class but staying focused throughout your lessons can be challenging. Coding can feel monotonous at times, and if you can keep focus throughout your college years, you have a promising career ahead of you.

The good news is that most people, at least in my experience, possess most of these skills naturally. Computer programming is a profession that lends itself to adaptability. What exactly do I mean by this? There are many programming pathways that you can choose from, and you can set yourself on a path that is suitable to your skillset.

While you are at College, you can expect to find out what path suits you the best. For example, if you have good organization skills, you could pursue a career and databases. If you are creative, you could pursue web development or application building.

What Should Programmers Expect in College?

Colleges and universities around the world and even in the USA are all different. You will find that some use modules that others do not and vice versa. Regardless, it would be best if you were prepared to learn a few fundamentals. 

Within each module, you will have levels, so do not be intimidated. For example, you will be introduced to programming. From there, you will go to a slightly more advanced module, and in your final year, while learning “advanced system architecture,” you will have a great understanding beforehand.

With that out of the way, here are a few things you can expect to learn in college.

Computer Science Theory

You can think of this as your introduction to computing. If I had to compare this, I would say that this module is all about advanced architecture, networking, and much more. It would help if you also considered that you would be learning about things that most people, even those with an A+ and N+, don’t have access to.

Introduction To Programming

In your introduction to programming, you are going to learn a lot. You will start by learning things such as different types of syntax, what different languages do, all about object-orientated programming, and much more.

During your introduction to programming, you might learn about different types of coding software and how each language interacts with that software. However, you are not exactly going to be at a level where you can build applications yet.

More Programming

We are trying not to list specific modules because they can change according to which university or college you are in. Some might call this the second introduction to programming, while others might call it advanced programming.

At the end of the day, you can expect to be put on a task to learn everything you need to know about programming.

Visual Programming

Visual programming is known as a VPL. Instead of writing code, the code is written for you already. You will develop programs by using and manipulating visual assets rather than writing the code for each element.

There are a lot of use cases for a VPL, so it is essential to learn. However, finding a job with just this skill will be highly challenging. You still need to know how to write code effectively and efficiently. The more effective you are, the more chance you stand of landing a good job when leaving college.


Every computer science degree should have a few mathematics modules. We need to remember that programming is mostly about logic, and so is mathematics. They work together. The type of mathematics you will be learning is advanced algebra.

In real-world situations, you need to have a good understanding of math. Even if you are not using numbers in your program, maths comes into play. 


We have briefly discussed that programming is about logic. Well, every university or college computer science degree should have a module that focuses on logic. This can be in statistics, mathematics, or anything else where logic needs to be applied.

Advanced Programming

During your advanced programming module, you will be writing code. At this point, you should know how to use programming languages within the programming software. You should quickly learn your way around when it comes to starting a new program.

During your advanced programming courses, you will be thrown real-world scenarios where programs need to be debugged, problems need to be solved, and code needs to be rewritten efficiently and cleanly.

It is at this point, perhaps in your second or third year where you could call yourself an efficient entry-level programmer. I know that sounds harsh, but it takes years of real-world experience to become a mid-level coder.

System Architecture 

I have said multiple times that most software engineers hold a specific degree, and that is one in computer science. The main reason for this is that you will spend a lot of time learning about the architecture of a PC.

I am not talking about basic stuff where you can explain how the processor, motherboard RAM all work. No, the system architecture is highly complicated.

For example, system architecture could include how the system software or even your software interacts with the CPU. You will learn about controllers and, again, how the CPU interacts with the hard drive, motherboard, and RAM.

It goes a lot deeper than that, and we would need to write an entire module to explain it. That is why computer science degree holders are so valuable as programs because understanding how your software interacts with the whole system can make you a much better program.

coding in college
It is normal to get stuck at some coding/programming challenges. Stackoverflow is a great resource to help you find answers to everything related to programming and writing code.

What Should Programmers expect After College?

It may seem pretty simple. After college, you will find a job. However, as abundant as software development and web development jobs are, finding that entry-level position can be challenging, especially when you consider finding one in your preferred field.

You will need to have a medium to display your knowledge and understanding of programming. This can be done via a portfolio. In some cases, you might be lucky to get an internship while in college. An internship automatically shows your proficiency and that you have work experience.

Those that do associate’s degrees do not often qualify for college internships, and therefore you need to find a way to display your proficiency. For web developers, this is relatively easy. You simply build one or two websites, add functionality to them and use them as your portfolio. Suppose you managed to get a few freelance clients, fantastic. Now you have a portfolio with references.

How Much Does an Associate’s Degree Cost for Programmers?

Getting an associate’s degree opens up a lot of doors for anyone. It is a way around many obstacles that we face when we try and attend a four-year college. It pushes aside the need for specific academic high School and SAT results. It is also significantly cheaper than going straight to a four-year college.

Getting an associate’s degree can cost as low as $5,000 per year if you attend a community college. It takes two years to complete the degree. If you go to a private institution, it can cost up to $30,000 per year. The path you choose is up to you.

If you are struggling financially or cannot get into the top university, community college is a great option. Also, in my experience, community college places a heavy emphasis on computer programming within their curriculums.

Earlier, we discussed the fact that it is uncommon to find programming-specific degrees. However, many community colleges have started incorporating these specific degrees into their services. If you do not plan to pursue further education beyond an associate’s degree, I highly recommend getting a programming-specific degree.

How Much Does a Bachelor’s Degree Cost For Programmers?

The college fees can differ each year and per college. You also have to factor in-state vs. out-of-state fees. Then, different programs have different costs. We can give you an average outlook. So, let’s get into it.

A four-year degree can cost approximately $35,000 per year. That includes accommodation. On the higher side, Harvard and other colleges charge upward of $50,000 per year only in tuition fees.

College Entry Requirements for Computer Programmers

We all know that when it comes to entry requirements for college, some people meet the standards and surpass them significantly but still don’t get in, while someone else with a less impressive academic record might impress the college a little bit more. However, it is best if you meet most of the standards put out by colleges.

By completing high school, you should have all the necessary subjects required to pursue a degree in computer science. However, you need to meet the minimum scores and pass marks in the SAT or A levels, depending on where you live.

Here are the most important subjects you need to do well in to pursue a computer science degree in college.

  • Maths
  • Science
  • Physics (Sometimes)
  • English

Is College Necessary to Become a Computer Programmer?

This is quite a sensitive subject because the answer depends upon you. I always say that programming in any field is one of the most accessible careers to pursue, even without a degree. Many employers want to know whether or not you can do the job, that is it.

It also runs a bit deeper than that. There is an understanding that it is possible to become self-taught through the wealth of resources available to anyone who wants to study it online when it comes to coding. Many of these online resources are 100% free.

You can also attend a programming Bootcamp. These are often specialized, and you can select what type of programming you want to learn and the languages you prefer. If you decide to go on a boot camp, you will find that many people attend boot camps even with a degree because it helps them branch out into the desired field.

You will need a strong portfolio if you are trying to pursue a programming career without a degree. There are multiple ways you can achieve this. You can start by building an application. After all, if you are self-taught, you should be able to do so.

What to Expect From Programming Boot Camps

Programming boot camps are accelerated learning camps. You should select a specific camp for whatever you want to go into. For example, if you’re going to become a game developer, you will go to a Bootcamp focused on gaming development.

If you have a degree or not and you want to learn how to use Java, Python, C++, or even C#, you select which boot camp you want to go to, and that’s it.

You can expect to learn a lot from boot camps, and you can expect to learn a lot in a brief period. While many boot camps do try and offer their students one-on-one tutoring, it is hard to find the time not only for you but also for the educator.

For this reason, you should expect to pay attention 100% of the time. You don’t want to miss a single thing because everything happens so fast. What I can say is that most people who go to these boot camps become much better developers.

Video: How to Choose a Coding Bootcamp

Is it hard to Teach Yourself Programming?

I do not care what anybody says. Yes, teaching yourself how to become a developer can be challenging. This notion that it is “easy “is a very dangerous one because it gives people greater expectations than they should have.

However, it is possible to teach yourself how to be a programmer, and it is possible to get a job as a self-taught programmer. All you need is a portfolio to demonstrate your skills.

You will need to be wise in how you access resources. For example, you could use Udemy for some fundamental concepts, but you need to use forums and websites such as stack overflow to get many required study materials.

To be a self-taught developer means you will have not to be afraid to ask questions. Most developers are extremely friendly people and don’t mind helping you out. That’s not to say they will do everything for you, but they don’t mind answering questions, at least in my experience.

Final thoughts.

We have reached the end, and I sincerely hope you take the advice and information in this article and use it as best you can. My advice would be to go to college. Please don’t listen to people when they say you don’t need a degree. It is a way for people to sound “hip and cool,” but in reality, if you want a good-paying job, the easiest way to get it is to get a college degree first.