CS vs. Information Science

Andrea Michael

Comparisons & Contrasts

As a student interested in the tech field, two of SCI's undergrad major programs are likely to stand out: computer science and information science. These two majors will both give you technical credibility, and both supply students with programming knowledge. There's no "right" answer for which one you should take, it all depends on your academic and career priorities and interests.

The biggest difference between the two can be seen clearly from their contrasts in core coursework -- CS excels in depth, whereas IS thrives in breadth. Unlike the CS major program, the ~30-credit major of IS jumps around from technical topic to topic like a hot potato. One semester you might take Intro to Telecommunications and Networking, and the next you could take User-Centered Design. A few years back (circa 2018), the IS department provided different "specializations," or groupings for its core coursework and upper-level electives (of which only 9 credits, or 3 classes, were required). These specializations were "Game and Simulation Development," "Human-Centered Computing," "IT Consulting and Data Analytics," and "Networks and Security." Although none of these specializations are binding whatsoever and no IS major ever had to pick one, it just goes to show how much variety the major has to offer.

For the most part, the IS classes are not as technically rigorous as CS classes. The focus for IS classes is more to get students well-acquainted with the higher-level concepts and technical big picture, with several of its upper-level electives being intro classes. As a result, IS majors are essentially required to gain a breadth of knowledge across technical topics and are well-positioned to explore their interests in follow-up courses.

Being Decisive

The two majors are not mutually exclusive! I'll say that again for the people in the back -- the two majors are NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE! There is a massive amount of overlap between the majors in the early and middle stages of both majors' core requirements. It's very feasible and useful to double-major with CS and IS, but in the case that you can't (or don't want to, you do you), here's some pointers for choosing IS:

  • You've tried CS in the past but haven't decided if coding is the move
  • You're very interested in what the tech industry has to offer in careers besides software engineering or away from the programming scene
  • You're short on time! The 30 credits required for IS can be sprinted in 2 years
  • You're curious about how programming or software development fits into the larger technical picture of users and business

Addressing the Superiority Myth

As stated earlier, IS classes aren't as difficult as CS classes. This isn't because students of one major are smarter or more worthy than the other -- this is purely a result of differing focus and emphasis. The CS major prepares students well to become software engineers / developers. The IS major prepares students well depending on their interests outside of software development, such as product management, IT, business analytics, and more. The IS major won't be rigorous for you -- the department leaves that job to you as an IS major to find what motivates you, take the appropriate classes for it, and seek out challenges.

Last updated: Jul 15th 2020