Here you are, ready to take on this confusing labyrinth full of dead-ends and crossroads, also known as the CSE pathway. But what exactly counts as CSE? The school of Computer Science and Engineering is split into the following degrees: Computer Science, Software Engineering, Computer Engineering, Bioinformatics Engineering, Masters of IT (postgraduate). Many of these have a lot of overlapping courses, but exactly how different are they from each other? Hopefully, this page will be helpful in answering all of your burning questions! We’ll be comparing the undergraduate degrees and seeing how each of their first-year courses look in detail.

Overlapping Courses

CSE degrees are all based on very similar foundations, with the same courses required across the board. This means your first year at university requires a more rigid structure, where there are courses you practically must take.


Level 1 COMP Courses Level 1 MATH courses
COMP1511 MATH1131/ MATH1141
COMP1521 MATH1231/ MATH1241
COMP1531 MATH1081

Computer Engineering is the only degree that does not require MATH1081; though it has many mandatory physics courses to ensure everyone has fun. Please note that you don’t have to complete some of these courses in your first-year; double degree students will find it particularly difficult to figure out their structure to fit them all, but it is still highly recommended that you take at least ⅔ of each COMP and MATH courses in your first year.

The Specifics

But what courses am I taking? Though the mandatory overlapping courses will eat up most of your first-year credits, there are still key distinctions to be made between the different degrees.

1. Computer Science (CS)

CS is a heavily software-focused degree that actually comes with a lot of flexibility due to it having more gen-eds (electives not in CSE), and free electives (electives from any faculty), compared to the three other degrees. This means that if you are interested in having the option to study a wider range of content - whether that be philosophy, languages, more comp courses, or anything else - CS is quite a good fit for your academic pursuits. All the other degrees in CSE have a very rigid structure without much room at all for academic freedom which could leave you slightly unsatisfied. CS is also the only degree without an honours attached on the end, making it a three-year degree. However, it is very common to see students deliberately taking less courses in a year (called underloading), so as to delay their degree and squeeze the most out of the uni experience.

2. Software Engineering (SENG)

SENG is similarly software-focused, but is slightly different. It’s a four year degree compared to CS which is three, due to the honours year (where you write a thesis) being in-built into the course structure. However, it does teach you software skills as well as CS does, and it has a stronger emphasis on the implementation of software with a few more team based courses (i.e. ENGG1000, SENG2021); a simulation of an actual job workplace. SENG and Comp Engg have a further competitive edge due to their in-built industrial training period; essentially a taste-tester of post-uni work life. So, if you enjoy working in teams and seeing small previews of real-life applications, SENG might be the one for you.

3. Computer Engineering (Comp ENGG)

Comp Engg is where things get a little more distinct. Put simply, this degree finds the middle ground between software and hardware, where you will get to study and understand both sides of tech. You can think of it as the child of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering - so it’s quite an all-rounded tech degree. You’ll get to learn about computers (obviously),  but also about the systems in place for gaming, cars, supercomputers and more. Of course, if you heavily prefer one over the other, many would say that it’s more worth it to stick to one of the two aforementioned degrees rather than Comp Engg. Otherwise, taking a double degree is also a common approach for when you feel torn between two different degrees or interests.

4. Bioinformatics Engineering (BINF)

BINF is an interesting one, because it’s a hybrid degree between tech and life science (whereas Comp Engg is a hybrid between tech and tech). Huh, what’s life science??? Great question. The life science that BINF focuses on regards general biology, but genetics in particular. UNSW proposes that the purpose of this degree is to address the issues of processing and analysing large amounts of genetic information for topics such as cancer, so you can get an image of the reasoning behind such a hybrid degree. If you like software, biology and the thought of potentially changing the world with a major breakthrough in medicine and/or technology, this just might be for you. (I cannot guarantee that the last statement will ever happen.)

For more help planning your degree, check out Circles from CSESoc's Projects Team: a handy tool that lets you visually map out what courses you need to take and when, from first year to the end of your degree.

Employability Comparison

One of the biggest questions that people have regards employability. Will I lower my chances of employment if I choose one degree over the other? The short answer is no. All four degrees will equip you with the necessary skills and appeal to work at most software engineering related jobs. Comp Engg and BINF will obviously allow for a more specific and specialised job within their respective focuses of study mentioned above. Contrary to what biased CS and SENG students may say to gain the upper hand, companies and recruiters couldn’t care less about the pedantic details between the two courses. They are basically treated the same, so choose between the two based on the comparison in this article. One thing to note is that some overseas companies/uni’s prefer four-year degrees - something to keep in mind if you want to work or study a master’s degree overseas.

Hopefully by now you’ve got a much better understanding and distinction between the four CSE undergraduate courses. If you want more specific information regarding any of these degrees, or course enrolment, make sure to check out the UNSW handbook (for the specific degree) and the CSESoc Enrolment Guide. Trust me, those two will make your transition to uni, and general student life so much easier.

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