Ultimate Computer Science Degree Shootout: Top 15 Affordable vs. Top 15 Cost-no-object Programs

This resource is intended to serve as a comparison of schools in the computer science field and consists of two fifteen-school lists. One list is comprised of high-quality, affordable (under $25k net price per year) computer science degree programs. The other list is comprised of the absolute top ranked computer science programs in the United States, regardless of price.

Almost everyone interested in computer science knows the top schools. Stanford, MIT, and Harvard are all obviously among the usual suspects. These schools, however, are famously difficult to get into. So what happens if you aren’t among the 8% of students that can get into one of these schools? What if you can’t afford some of the other outstanding but expensive programs at other schools? That’s where this list comes in.

We’ve identified five key points of comparison that will enable prospective students to see differences and similarities between what are the top schools, and what are the accessible, affordable, but still high quality options. The five data points are Acceptance Rate, Graduation Rate, Recognition, Tuition, and Return on Investment. The schools are listed in order of least to greatest return on investment, because this will allow students to see what they can expect in terms of the economic value of their education. For information about sources, see the note at the end of this article.

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The points of comparison chosen for this list reveal some interesting things. There seems in many cases to be an inverse relationship between acceptance rate and graduation rate. The higher the acceptance rate, the lower the graduation rate. While there are exceptions to this, and the disparity between the two statistics varies from school to school, one thing this might indicate is that while schools may be more accessible, this does not mean that the programs are necessarily easier. This is good news for students seeking a rigorous, thorough, high quality education.

This list also seems to bear out the common assertion that computer science is a strictly merit based industry. The ROI for many of the top schools that are also more affordable, and in general more accessible, tends to be competitive with the top schools in the industry. It appears that in computer science, what you can do, tends to outweigh where you go to school.

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Another interesting thing one might note is that there seems to be diminishing returns when one considers that in most cases, going to a reputable school at half the cost of a top school, does not necessarily mean half the earning potential.

This list isn’t here to tell you to go to one school over another. It’s merely intended to give you the data required for you to make an informed decision about your computer science education, and to show you the quality options out there that not as many people are talking about.

Top 15 Affordable Computer Science Degree Programs

#15. West Virginia University: B.S Computer Science

The B.S. in Computer Science program at WVU offers students many options. Students can concentrate their efforts in a variety of areas. The school also offers a dual degree program in Computer Science and Computer Engineering for students that wish to pursue both sides of the field.

Acceptance Rate: 85%
Graduation Rate: 57%
Recognition: #112 by U.S. News
Tuition: $19,632
Return on Investment: $288,800

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#14. University of North Carolina at Charlotte: B.S. or B.A. in Computer Science

The CS department at UNC Charlotte is focused on providing a strong program for students interested in any of the three major roles played by computer scientists. These three general roles are: the design and implementation of software, discovering new ways to use computers in a variety of areas, and applying their knowledge to known issues in computing and solving those problems.

Acceptance Rate: 69%
Graduation Rate: 54%
Recognition: #101 U.S. News
Tuition: $18,636
Return on Investment: $296,100*

#13. University at Buffalo: B.A. or B.S. in Computer Science

SUNY Buffalo offers students a wide range of choices, including a couple different five years combined bachelor’s and master’s programs. These include a B.A. in CompSci/MBA program, and a B.S./M.S. in Computer Science. The program also offers a joint program through the physics department in Computational Physics.

Acceptance Rate: 57%
Graduation Rate: 72%
Recognition: #63 by U.S. News
Tuition: $20,151
Return on Investment: $627,800

#12. Oregon State University: B.A. or B.S. in Computer Science

OSU offers programs in Computer Science and Engineering through a department in which both disciplines are combined. The school also offers an online undergraduate computer science program designed for professionals that have already earned a bachelor’s degree.

Acceptance Rate: 79%
Graduation Rate: 61%
Recognition: #67 by U.S. News
Tuition: $23,514
Return on Investment: $631,000

#11. Arizona State University–Tempe: B.S. in Computer Science

Arizona State sees computer science as the field of the future. It is used to create everything from video games, to business software and information systems. In addition to its regular bachelor’s degree ASU offers two accelerated degree programs involving computer science. These are Bachelor in Computer Systems Engineering plus Master’s in Computer Science, and B.S./M.S. in Computer Science. Both programs can be completed in five years.

Acceptance Rate: 80%
Graduation Rate: 59%
Recognition: ARWU Top 100
Tuition: $23,654
Return on Investment: $669,000

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#10. University of Maryland–Baltimore County: B.S. in Computer Science

UMBC is prolific in its issuance of computer science and IT degrees, and is one of the top schools in the number of these degrees and certificates conferred. The school offers undergraduates many research opportunities in areas that include: human and computer interaction, intelligent computerized tutoring systems, and exploring predictive model uncertainty.

Acceptance Rate: 63%
Graduation Rate: 65%
Recognition: #70 by U.S. News
Tuition: $21,642
Return on Investment: $720,700

#9. University of Utah: B.S. in Computer Science

The University of Utah is the premier research institution in the state. The school offers a traditional undergraduate program in computer science, and also a B.S./M.S. accelerated program. The focus of the program is on providing students with the right mix of theory and practice that will enable them to achieve their career goals in the short term, and remain adaptable enough to succeed in the rapidly advancing field in the long term.

Acceptance Rate: 82%
Graduation Rate: 60%
Recognition: ARWU top 75
Tuition: $23,736
Return on Investment: $720,800

#8. SUNY at Stony Brook: B.S. in Computer Science

Undergraduates interested in doing computer science research should seriously consider Stony Brook. The school was recently one of ten universities to receive a National Science Foundation award for integrating research and undergraduate education. The school also offers an accelerated B.S./M.S. program in Computer Science.

Acceptance Rate: 39%
Graduation Rate: 66%
Recognition: ARWU Top 100
Tuition: $19,935
Return on Investment: $742,800

#7. University of Minnesota–Twin Cities: B.A. or B.S. in Computer Science

The faculty in the computer science department at the University of Minnesota is top flight, remaining active at the highest levels of research in the field, one of which was recently elected to chair ACM SIGSPATIAL. The B.S. degree is administered through the College of Science and Engineering while the B.A. degree is through the College of Liberal Arts.

Acceptance Rate: 44%
Graduation Rate: 75%
Recognition: ARWU Top 75.
Tuition: $19,805
Return on Investment: $767,000

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#6. North Carolina State University at Raleigh: B.S. in Computer Science

This program was designed to afford students the knowledge necessary for success in their professional career, or graduate study. The school has been recognized for its excellence by the Computer Accrediting Commission of ABET and has been named a Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance by the NSA.

Acceptance Rate: 50%
Graduation Rate: 74%
Recognition: ARWU top 100
Tuition: $21,661
Return on Investment: $785,000

#5. University of Idaho: B.S. in Computer Science

The University of Idaho has recently established the Center for Secure and Dependable Systems, a research hub for computer scientists to experiment in the realm of information assurance. The computer science faculty also spearheaded a university wide interdisciplinary research effort called the Initiative for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies.

Acceptance Rate: 66%
Graduation Rate: 54%
Recognition: #50 by Payscale for Computer Science ROI
Tuition: $19,600
Return on Investment: $788,700

#4. Iowa State University: B.S. in Computer Science

Non-majors (prospective students and advanced high school students) that are interested in Computer Science as a possible profession can take online courses. While these courses don’t count toward the degree, will help to prepare the student for the program, and give them an idea of what to expect.

Acceptance Rate: 83%
Graduation Rate: 68%
Recognition: ARWU top 150
Tuition: $20,278
Return on Investment: $827,000

#3. SUNY at Binghamton: B.S. in Computer Science

This program is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET. The program focuses on providing the students the fundamental skills necessary for success in computer science, including those necessary to work effectively in development teams.

Acceptance Rate: 43%
Graduation Rate: 81%
Recognition: #112 by U.S. News
Tuition: $18,464
Return on Investment: $896,000

#2. Brigham Young University: B.S. in Computer Science

The computer science program at BYU trains students to be successful leaders in the computer science field. Boasting an ROI that rivals and/or tops most of the top Computer Science schools in the country, BYU is very accessible, with a strong graduation rate and one of the lowest tuitions on this list.

Acceptance Rate: 49%
Graduation Rate: 78%
Recognition: #90 by U.S. News
Tuition: $18,636
Return on Investment: $937,500

#1. California Polytechnic State University: B.S. in Computer Science

Cal Poly shines in most comparisons to the 15 best schools in the U.S. for Computer Science. Great acceptance and graduation rates, very high ROI, affordable tuition even for out of state students, and a great reputation in the field are all hallmarks of the fantastic B.S. in Computer Science program at Cal Poly.

Acceptance Rate: 31%
Graduation Rate: 70%
Recognition: #19 by Payscale for Computer Science ROI
Tuition: $19,884
Return on Investment: $988,300

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Top 15 Ranked Cost-no-object Computer Science Degree Programs

#15. University of Texas at Austin: B.S., B.A., or B.S.A in
Computer Science

Flexibility is one of the chief for students at the University of Texas at Austin. The school offers B.S., B.A. and B.S.A programs in computer science. This ensures that regardless of a student’s goals in studying the subject, they will be able to study what they want, how they want, setting them up to meet their individual career goals. Students can also enroll in a 5-year B.S./M.S. in Computer Science program.

Acceptance Rate: 40%
Graduation Rate: 79%
Recognition: #8 by ARWU, #9 by U.S. News
Tuition: $33,842
Return on Investment: $811,000

#14. Princeton University: B.S. in Computer Science

The computer science department at Princeton is research oriented, even at the undergraduate level. There is opportunity for undergraduates to become involved in larger research projects, and each undergraduate will work on an independent research project throughout the program.

Acceptance Rate: 7%
Graduation Rate: 97%
Recognition: #4 by ARWU, #8 by U.S. News
Tuition: $40,170
Return on Investment: $829,600*

#13. University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign: B.S. in Computer Science

The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign is another of the top universities offering students great flexibility in their choice of programs. The new CS+X program is a new partnership between the College of Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts that allows students to combine their computer science education with another area of study of their choice.

Acceptance Rate: 62%
Graduation Rate: 84%
Recognition: ARWU #14, U.S. News #5
Tuition: $29,132
Return on Investment: $860,900

#12. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor: B.S. in Computer Science

UM–Ann Arbor offers students both a traditional program from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and a B.S. program through the School of Literature, Science, and the Arts. The LSA program is very flexible, and allows the student to choose from among several tracks early on including: Artificial Intelligence, Bioinformatics, Economics and Computation, Security, Software Development and many more.

Acceptance Rate: 33%
Graduation Rate: 90%
Recognition: #16 ARWU, #13 U.S. News
Tuition: $40,392
Return on Investment: $944,400

#11. University of Southern California: B.S. in Computer Science

USC, as one of the top schools in the world for computer science, is devoted to preparing students for entering the CS field at one of the most exciting points in its history. The school offers both a traditional computer science program, and a program specifically for students interested in video game development, as well as a joint degree for students that want to major in computer science and business administration.

Acceptance Rate: 20%
Graduation Rate: 91%
Recognition: #10 by ARWU, #20 by U.S. News
Tuition: $46,298
Return on Investment: $960,000

#10. California Institute of Technology: B.S. in Computer Science

Caltech offers students the chance to study either a traditional computer science program, or one that is more heavily focused on computational mathematics. There is also a broad selection of research projects that students can be a part of even at the undergraduate level.

Acceptance Rate: 11%
Graduation Rate: 93%
Recognition: ARWU #13, U.S. News #11
Tuition: $41,538
Return on Investment: $968,500*

#9. University of Maryland–College Park: B.S. in Computer Science

The combined B.S./M.S. five year program will be attractive to students that wish to earn both their undergraduate and graduate degrees at this prestigious computer science school. UMCP is one of the most accessible and affordable schools among the top ranked computer science programs in the world.

Acceptance Rate: 47%
Graduation Rate: 84%
Recognition: ARWU #15, U.S. News #15
Tuition: $28,348
Return on Investment: $1.02 Million

#8. University of California–San Diego: B.S. in Computer Science

Computers have changed the world in drastic ways over the last forty years. Computer scientists are the driving force behind radical innovation in computing. UCSD seeks to train up the next generation of computer scientists to not only innovate, not only develop, but to focus their talents on using technology to solve the major problems facing the world today.

Acceptance Rate: 38%
Graduation Rate: 86%
Recognition: #11 by ARWU, #15 U.S. News
Tuition: $36,149
Return on Investment: $1.06 Million

#7. University of California Los Angeles: B.S. in Computer Science

UCLA gives students the chance to earn a degree in either Computer Science, or Computer Science and Engineering. The computer science program is primarily for students with a software focus, while the computer science and engineering program is for students with a strong interest in both software and hardware.

Acceptance Rate: 22%
Graduation Rate: 90%
Recognition: #9 by ARWU, #13 by U.S. News
Tuition: $35,575
Return on Investment: $1.08 Million

#6. Cornell University: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

The computer science major at Cornell is a joint effort of the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Engineering and is open to students in either college. Because all students in the school can take a computer science minor, students in the program will have interdisciplinary interaction with students from other majors taking computer science courses for their minor.

Acceptance Rate: 16%
Graduation Rate: 93%
Recognition: #7 ARWU, #6 U.S. News
Tuition: $45,358
Return on Investment: $1.08 Million

#5. Carnegie Mellon University: B.S. in Computer Science

CMU has long been one of the top schools in the country for STEM disciplines. The school is widely regarded as housing one of the best computer science programs in the world. CMU offers students a traditional computer science course, and also offers an array of interdisciplinary computer science studies that focus on the relationship between computer science and music, the arts, and computational biology.

Acceptance Rate: 25%
Graduation Rate: 88%
Recognition: #6 by ARWU, #1 by U.S. News
Tuition: $47,642
Return on Investment: $1.2 Million

#4. Harvard University: Computer Science Concentration

At Harvard the view of computer science is that it is inextricably linked to other disciplines, so at the undergraduate level, students must take computer science as a concentration that informs another area of study. This helps students understand the role the discipline plays in modern times, and allows them to broaden their horizons beyond just the basic mechanics of the field.

Acceptance Rate: 6%
Graduation Rate: 97%
Recognition: #5 ARWU, #18 U.S. News
Tuition: $42,292
Return on Investment: $1.3 Million

#3. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: B.S. in Computer Science +

MIT is another of the top flight schools that takes an interdisciplinary approach to computer science at the undergraduate level. Students must pick a course that pairs computer science with another discipline: Molecular Biology, Engineering, or Electrical Engineering. This pays off as the average graduate from these programs earns an average starting salary of $90,000 per year.

Acceptance Rate: 8%
Graduation Rate: 93%
Recognition: #2 by ARWU, #1 by U.S. News
Tuition: $43,498
Return on Investment: $1.3 Million

#2. University of California Berkeley: B.A. or B.S. in Computer Science

The two options for computer science at UC–Berkeley are identical in the computer science education they offer. The differentiation is entirely a matter of what other courses you take. The B.A. track you take more humanities, while in the B.S. track you take more engineering.

Acceptance Rate: 18%
Graduation Rate: 91%
Recognition: #3 by ARWU, #1 by U.S. News
Tuition: $35,742
Return on Investment: $1.46 Million

#1. Stanford University: B.S. in Computer Science

Stanford is a school where graduates seem to start their own businesses as often or more often than they go to work for somebody else. The combined net worth of all companies started by Stanford graduates would be equal to the seventh largest economy in the world. This is a school of innovators, and forward thinkers and the computer science program embodies those values.

Acceptance Rate: 6%
Graduation Rate: 96%
Recognition: #1 by ARWU, #1 by U.S. News
Tuition: $43,683
Return on Investment: $1.7 Million

*Computer Science Specific ROI Unavailable so overall ROI was used instead.

Sources

Payscale.com was used for the return on investment information. The search used in the link is the search used to find the information. The ROI is specific to the computer science major, except for instances in which the school’s computer science ROI wasn’t available, in which case the overall ROI was used instead.

The National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator was used for information on acceptance rate, graduation rate, and tuition rates. The tuition posted is tuition only and does not include the cost of room and board, or fees associated with the program.

The Academic Ranking of World Universities (abbr. ARWU) was one of the ranking authorities consulted to determine the quality of programs included in these lists.

U.S. News and World Report was one of the ranking authorities consulted to determine the quality of programs included in these lists.

The methodologies used by ARWU, U.S. News, and Payscale are available from the linked websites.