CIS vs. CS – What’s the Difference & Does It Matter?

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If you want to earn a degree that helps you gain computer skills, it can be strategic to first compare CIS vs. CS degrees.

CIS vs. CS

If you’re a little confused about the differences, you’re not alone.

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Keep reading to learn some of the pros and cons of each major and to discover how these two degrees can actually prepare you for quite different roles!

CIS vs. CS Degrees

If you’re interested in how information systems are actually used to get work done in large businesses, you might want to consider pursuing a CIS degree. A computer information systems degree can also help prepare you for managerial roles.

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If what you really want to study is coding, programming, and the principles of computer design, a CS degree may be a good fit for you. A computer science degree can help prepare you for jobs in the computer industry itself.

Another differentiation to consider is CIS vs. MIS. CIS addresses the technical issues of an organization. MIS emphasizes the business side. MIS concentrates on how computer information can help managers make decisions regarding productivity and efficiency.

Computer Information Systems (CIS)

Computer Information Systems curriculum

A CIS degree program trains you to understand how computer software and computer networks interact with routine business activities. This can include accounting, HR management, data storage, team collaboration, and more.

This means a CIS concentration is not designed to make you an expert in computer hardware and software, algorithms, or coding. Instead, you’ll learn practical know-how for helping design and manage workplace information technology (IT) systems and departments.

CIS Curriculum

CIS courses can help you learn to manage different aspects of workplace information systems, including network management, system design, collaboration software, and network and data security. The following are some CIS courses you may come across in your studies:

  • Introduction to CIS: This course is a broad overview of key components of IT systems and how they are integrated for business applications.
  • Introduction to Computer Programming: You’ll learn about practical coding principles and methods for improving and maintaining workplace IT systems along with methods for design, testing, and troubleshooting.
  • Network Management: This course is an introduction to contemporary practices for the design, management, and support of large computer networks.
  • Collaborative Networks: This course focuses on the critical role that virtual collaboration plays in today’s workplace, including data sharing, security, and connecting vertical and horizontal teams.
  • Solutions Design and Analysis: Unique workplaces often have unique IT needs, so this course helps students understand practical methods for assessing end-user needs and designing responsive IT systems.
  • IT Security Management: You’ll learn about security risk assessment and about industry best practices for implementing reliable data and network security systems, policies, and protocols.
  • IT Systems Integration: You’ll learn about real-life scenarios and challenges for large-scale integration of different IT software and systems, including database links, website functions, and information sharing across connected systems.
  • Database Management: You’ll learn about database functionality and management, including secure data storage and transmission, database algorithms, and machine learning.
  • IT Project Management: This course helps prepare you for the challenges of managing large IT projects, including effective team leadership skills.
  • IT Industry Research: This course covers professional resources and methods that you can use on the job in order to stay up-to-date on emerging IT innovations, technologies, regulations, and best practices.

CIS degree programs involve a lot of IT management topics, and some programs may also require additional business-related courses.

Computer Science (CS)

Computer Science Curriculum

CIS majors learn skills that can help them manage IT systems and support office workers. In contrast, a CS major is more likely to work in the software or computer industry or in more specialized technical support roles.

Common CS careers include software design and development, software engineering, software testing, computer programming, and computer engineering.

Computer Science Curriculum

A computer science curriculum involves learning about foundational principles of computing and topics related to programming, coding, and algorithms.

  • Foundations in Computer Science: You’ll learn about the development of computers and core concepts in software design and computer engineering.
  • Computer Programming: You’ll learn about operating systems and common programming functions, methods, and languages.
  • Mathematical Principles of Computing: This course focuses on mathematical and algorithmic structures related to computation, computer programming, coding, and machine learning.
  • Web Development: This course is an introduction to web technologies and web design engineering methods.
  • Operating Systems: This course provides an overview of operating system processes and utilities, including principles of inter-process communications.
  • Algorithms: You’ll learn about the mathematical rules and sequences used to design, model, or analyze computer algorithms.
  • Databases: You’ll learn about the design and operation of relational databases and database management practices.
  • Software Engineering: You’ll learn methods and work processes used by engineers for designing software to specification based on designated workplace functions.
  • Introduction to Cybersecurity: You’ll learn about specialized information security tools and methods while getting a hands-on feel for how cybersecurity specialists carry out security assessments.
  • Introduction to Artificial Intelligence: You’ll learn about core principles and computing processes related to artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as their applications.

CS degree programs are highly technical, and in many courses you’ll apply prerequisite math and science concepts.

CIS vs. CS Careers

CIS careers can involve collaborating and communicating day-to-day with a wide range of organizational team members from both inside and outside the IT department.

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Computer training and management skills are both beneficial for the CIS branch of the computer industry. CS careers focus more on highly technical computer industry roles related to hardware and software design, development, production, and testing.

Computer Information Systems Careers

Computer Information Systems Careers

A degree in CIS can help prepare you to support or lead IT departments in all kinds of companies and organizations.

Over time you might advance to more senior managerial roles. You might also specialize in supporting certain kinds of office software tools, managing and safeguarding databases, or supporting and designing complex IT networks.

1. Computer and Information Systems Manager

CIS professionals can assess organizational technology needs and help design, coordinate, and maintain large IT systems.

Managing these systems might also include testing systems, developing policies, directing IT-related professional development, and assessing needs for system upgrades.

2. Database Administrator

Database Administrator

Database administrators are responsible for specialized software and programming needs related to gathering, storing, and transmitting organizational data.

Database administrators can also play an important role in establishing appropriate data security tools, policies, and protocols.

3. Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Network and computer systems administrators can oversee, manage, and support day-to-day network information systems in the workplace. In this CIS job role, you would likely interact regularly with non-IT staff regarding needed IT solutions or assist with technical support needs.

Computer Science Careers

Computer Science Careers

A degree in computer science teaches foundational principles and concepts that can prepare you for further technical specialization in careers related to computer and software design, development, and testing.

CS majors tend to pursue jobs as software developers, programmers, web design engineers, or cybersecurity specialists.

1. Computer Programmer

Computer programmers develop and write code for new applications, or they can test, upgrade, or modify existing software programs. As a computer programmer, you might work with a technology company that develops computer operating systems.

2. Information Security Analyst

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts can conduct technical assessments of information security needs, risks, and threats for their organizations. They can also help plan, implement, manage, and monitor information security tools, policies, and protocols.

3. Software Developer

Software developers create new software programs or tools designed to perform specific functions. These software tools can provide needed workflow solutions or mobile communication functions among other applications.

CIS vs. CS – Pros and Cons

CIS CS
Pros
  • Less technically challenging
  • Requires less math and science
  • Covers practical IT and business management skills
Pros
  • More technological specialization
  • Specialized training can offer competitive edge
  • Job potential in growing computer-related industries
Cons
  • Less technical training in coding and software development
  • Requires both business and IT courses
  • May not prepare you for many high-tech computer industry jobs
Cons
  • Requires more math and science
  • More technically challenging
  • Don’t get management and “soft skills” training like in a CIS program

How Hard Is Computer Science?

How difficult computer science seems can depend on each individual’s aptitudes and interests. For one thing, the courses you’ll take in a CS program will sometimes require advanced analytical thinking and math, including calculus and discrete mathematics.

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Computer scientists also use, analyze, and develop algorithms. Some CS courses can even involve technical concepts used in physical sciences or electrical engineering.

Is CIS Easier Than CS?

A CIS degree typically won’t require as much advanced math and science as a CS degree. Helping support IT systems in organizations requires many different skill sets, including computer-related training, managerial skills, and an understanding of business environments.

With a CIS major, it’s necessary to learn effective business, communication, and management skills.

CIS or CS – Which Is Right for You?

CS and CIS degrees

If you envision yourself as a technical specialist at your workplace, and you like the idea of helping design and develop new software applications, then a computer science major might be a good path for you.

If you want to learn about computers so you can help others manage their computers and networks in general office settings, then you may want to consider a degree in CIS.

Understanding the differences between CS and CIS degrees can help you determine your next step. There are many fully accredited online CIS degree programs, as well as online CS degree programs, that offer a range of convenient study options. Plus, a growing number of universities offer an online masters in information systems for students wishing to pursue a graduate degree in the field.

So, why not get started today and see which schools offer the best programs for you and your goals?

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Keith Nickolaus
WRITTEN BY
Keith Nickolaus
Keith has a Ph.D. and Master's in Comparative Literature from the University of California - Berkeley and a Bachelor's in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A retired educator, Keith lives in Berkeley and researches and writes about trends in innovation, policy, and education leadership.