Is Computer Engineering Harder Than Computer Science?

With technology playing an increasingly pivotal role in our lives, many students are drawn to computer-related fields like computer engineering and computer science. But these two disciplines can seem closely intertwined, leaving prospective students wondering: between computer engineering vs. computer science, which program is more difficult?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Computer engineering is generally considered more difficult and rigorous than computer science overall. The heavy focus on advanced math and physics in addition to computing makes computer engineering a particularly challenging major.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll compare the academics, coursework, job prospects and other factors that distinguish computer science and computer engineering. With deeper insight into the key differences between the two disciplines, you’ll be able to determine which field aligns better with your strengths, interests, and professional goals.

The Core Differences Between Computer Science and Computer Engineering

Computer Science Curriculum and Focus

Computer science is a field that focuses on the theoretical foundations of computing and the development of software systems. It involves the study of algorithms, data structures, programming languages, and artificial intelligence.

Computer science students learn how to design and analyze algorithms, develop software applications, and solve complex computational problems. The curriculum typically includes courses in mathematics, logic, programming languages, and computer architecture.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer scientists often work in research and development laboratories, universities, and private companies, where they contribute to advancements in technology and innovation.

Computer Engineering Curriculum and Focus

Computer engineering, on the other hand, combines principles of electrical engineering and computer science. It focuses on the design and development of computer hardware and integrated circuits. Computer engineering students learn about digital systems, computer architecture, embedded systems, and electronic circuits.

They gain knowledge in both hardware and software aspects of computer systems.

Computer engineering graduates have a wide range of career options, including working as hardware engineers, system designers, or embedded systems developers. They may also work in industries such as telecommunications, aerospace, and defense.

Overlap Between the Two Fields

While computer science and computer engineering have distinct focuses, there is also significant overlap between the two fields. Both disciplines require a strong foundation in mathematics and programming.

Additionally, professionals in both fields often collaborate on projects, as their expertise complements one another.

Computer scientists and computer engineers may work together to develop innovative software applications or design efficient computer systems. This collaboration is essential in advancing technology and solving complex problems.

Why Computer Engineering is Considered More Difficult

Heavier Emphasis on Math and Physics

One of the main reasons why computer engineering is considered more difficult than computer science is the heavier emphasis on math and physics. Computer engineers need to have a strong foundation in mathematics, including advanced calculus, linear algebra, and probability theory.

They also need to understand the principles of physics, especially when it comes to designing and optimizing hardware components. This mathematical and scientific knowledge provides computer engineers with the tools they need to solve complex problems and develop innovative solutions.

More Complex Theory and Low-Level Implementation

In addition to the rigorous math and physics requirements, computer engineering also involves more complex theory and low-level implementation. Computer engineers not only need to understand the high-level concepts of computer science, but they also need to dive deep into the hardware and software components of a computer system.

They are responsible for designing and implementing computer architectures, developing software to interface with hardware, and optimizing performance at the lowest levels. This level of complexity requires a deep understanding of both theoretical concepts and practical implementation techniques.

Rigorous Engineering Accreditation Standards

Computer engineering programs are often subject to rigorous engineering accreditation standards, which further contribute to the perception that it is more difficult than computer science. These standards ensure that computer engineering graduates possess the necessary skills and knowledge to work as professional engineers.

As a result, computer engineering programs often have more demanding coursework, including additional engineering courses, design projects, and internships. The accreditation process ensures that computer engineering graduates are well-prepared for the challenges they will face in their careers.

Factors That Contribute to the Challenge of Computer Science

In-Depth Study of Programming and Algorithms

One of the main reasons why computer science can be challenging is the in-depth study of programming languages and algorithms. Computer scientists need to have a deep understanding of various programming languages like Python, Java, C++, and more.

They also need to be well-versed in algorithms, data structures, and logical reasoning. This level of expertise requires extensive studying, practice, and problem-solving skills.

Rapidly Evolving Languages and Tools

Another factor that adds to the complexity of computer science is the rapidly evolving nature of programming languages and tools. Technology is constantly advancing, and new programming languages and tools are being developed to meet the demands of the industry.

This means that computer scientists need to continuously update their knowledge and skills to keep up with the latest advancements. It can be challenging to stay on top of these changes and adapt to new technologies.

Need to Continuously Learn and Problem Solve

Computer science is a field that requires continuous learning and problem-solving. As technology evolves and new challenges arise, computer scientists must constantly update their knowledge and skills to solve complex problems.

This can involve researching new algorithms, finding innovative solutions, and collaborating with others in the field. The need to constantly learn and problem solve can be mentally demanding and requires a high level of dedication and perseverance.

How to Determine Which Field is Right For You

Analyze Your Strengths and Interests

When deciding between computer engineering and computer science, it is important to consider your strengths and interests. Computer engineering focuses on the hardware aspects of computers, such as designing and developing computer systems and components.

On the other hand, computer science focuses more on the software side, including programming and algorithm development. If you enjoy working with circuits, electronics, and physical components, computer engineering might be a better fit for you.

If you are more interested in software development, coding, and problem-solving, then computer science might be the right choice.

Consider Job Prospects and Goals

Another important factor to consider is the job prospects and your career goals in each field. Both computer engineering and computer science offer excellent job opportunities and high earning potential.

However, the demand for computer science professionals is growing rapidly, especially in fields such as artificial intelligence, data science, and cybersecurity. On the other hand, computer engineering professionals are in demand for roles related to hardware design, embedded systems, and semiconductor manufacturing.

Consider your long-term career goals and research the job market trends to make an informed decision.

Talk to Advisors About the Curriculum

To get a better understanding of the differences between computer engineering and computer science, it is recommended to talk to academic advisors or professionals in the field. They can provide insights into the curriculum and coursework for each program, helping you assess which aligns better with your interests and strengths.

Additionally, they can provide information on internship and research opportunities, which can be valuable experiences for your future career. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them and ask questions about the program’s requirements, projects, and potential career paths.


While both computer engineering and computer science feature rigorous course loads, computer engineering is widely considered the more difficult major overall. However, computer science presents its own academic challenges with the intense study of emerging languages, algorithms, and problem-solving techniques.

By weighing your personal strengths and career aspirations against the core focus of each discipline, you can determine which field better suits your abilities. Both paths can lead to fulfilling and lucrative tech careers for those willing to take on the challenge.

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