Nearly every facet of modern life depends on computers and information technology. Consequently, the need for skilled professionals to create, administer, and maintain computer systems continues to expand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 12% growth in computer and information technology occupations from 2018 to 2028.
A computer science degree can lead to a variety of careers, depending on the individual’s specialty and education level. An associate degree provides the fastest path to entry-level positions in areas such as programming and information security. A bachelor’s degree can qualify degree-holders for careers in system architecture, network and database management, and electrical engineering.
Specialized leadership and research positions generally require a master’s degree or doctorate. Graduates with an advanced degree often pursue roles in systems analysis, hardware and software development, and postsecondary education.
Online programs at every degree level provide flexible and convenient options for working professionals. Earning a computer science degree online can help students enter the field or advance their computer science-related career. This guide covers various computer engineering degrees, information technology degrees, and employment prospects.
Associate Degrees in Computers and Technology
An associate degree is the quickest educational route to a computer-related occupation. Full-time learners typically complete associate programs in two years. Depending on the degree emphasis, associate-level students may receive training necessary to pursue a career in web development, desktop publishing, or video game design.
Many computer science associate programs focus on graphic design and desktop publishing. The median salary for desktop publishers is nearly $43,000 per year, while graphic designers earn a median annual salary of more than $50,000, according to BLS data.
The widespread popularity of video games drives demand for skilled professionals in the gaming industry, including game developers and quality assurance testers. Learners can pursue a computer science associate degree with a game design and development specialization. These programs typically include courses in animation, 3D modeling, and programming languages.
Bachelor’s Degrees in Computers and Technology
A bachelor’s degree often leads to a variety of high-paying career options in computer and technology fields. Learners can pursue a general bachelor’s in computer science or a more specialized degree in an area such as hardware engineering or software development. Most on-campus and online bachelor’s programs require 120 credits, and full-time students usually graduate in four years. Online programs may offer accelerated options, allowing learners to earn their degree sooner.
A bachelor’s in computer engineering, electrical engineering, or a related area qualifies graduates to work in computer hardware engineering. According to the BLS, hardware engineers earn a median salary of $114,600 per year, and the highest-paid professionals in the field work in research settings.
Software developers earn a median annual salary of $105,590 and typically hold a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or a related discipline. Aspiring software developers study programming, coding, operating systems, and software applications.
Master’s Degrees in Computers and Technology
Earning a master’s degree helps individuals gain the advanced training and leadership skills necessary to conduct research and supervise technological teams. While an undergraduate computer science degree can prepare learners for employment as computer network architects, hardware and software engineers, systems analysts, and information security analysts, a graduate degree qualifies degree-holders for more advanced positions and higher salaries. Master’s programs typically require 2-3 years, and graduates often pursue supervisory roles.
For example, the 2018 salaries of network architects ranged from below $60,000 to more than $164,000, with graduate degree-holders earning the highest salaries. A master’s in computer science prepares students for high-paying jobs in research and development.
Information security analysts can enter the field with a bachelor’s degree. However, analysts with a specialized master’s degree in information assurance, information systems, or systems auditing often earn significantly higher salaries than professionals with a bachelor’s. In 2018, the highest earners in the field made more than $150,000.
Doctoral Degrees in Computers and Technology
The most advanced academic degree available, a doctorate qualifies graduates for careers in higher education and government agencies. Doctorate-holders can also conduct high-level research within organizations. Earning a Ph.D. in computer science requires 5-7 years of study and a strong background in data analysis, coding, programming, and critical thinking.
Doctoral candidates conduct original research and write a dissertation. Individuals with a Ph.D. in the field often become computer and information research scientists who study areas such as robotics, machine learning, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.
After earning a doctoral degree, graduates can also work in the computer science department of a college or university. These professors teach undergraduate and graduate students, and they often conduct and supervise research. Additionally, an increasing number of researchers enter positions in government agencies and data-driven industries.
According to the BLS, computer and information research scientists earn a median annual salary of $113,370. However, compensation varies based on the type of employment environment. For example, universities typically offer lower salaries than private laboratories.
Certificates in Computers and Technology
Obtaining a certificate can help individuals advance their career or transition to a new field. Certificate programs help students gain key skills and often lead to salary increases. Whether acquired independently or as part of a degree, certificates typically take far less time to complete than a degree and are generally less expensive.
Many professional associations and nonprofits deliver certificate programs. For example, Microsoft offers several certificates, including the IT professional certificate and the certified technology specialist credential. Network design, system, and sales engineers often pursue the Cisco certified design associate credential.
CompTIA offers several vendor-neutral certifications for systems administrators, security managers, and network administrators. Unlike company-sponsored certificates, these credentials are not based on specific technology products or platforms.
Short-term boot camps are a popular option for professionals who want to quickly acquire or strengthen computer skills. Participants typically complete these accelerated learning options within three months.
Accreditation demonstrates that a school meets set standards of educational quality. Before enrolling in any computer science and technology program, prospective students should verify that the school holds regional accreditation. Seven independent accrediting agencies award regional accreditation to higher education institutions in the United States.
The other type of institutional accreditation, national accreditation, typically applies to vocational and career schools. Regional accreditation is more prestigious and typically requires institutions to meet more rigid standards. Credits earned from regionally accredited schools usually transfer easily. However, most regionally accredited institutions do not accept credits or degrees earned from nationally accredited schools. Students can check the accreditation status of their prospective institution through the U.S. Department of Education website.
In addition to institutional accreditation, students can look for programmatic accreditation from field-specific agencies. This type of accreditation demonstrates that a program prepares learners to succeed in the profession. ABET, the major accrediting organization for computer science-related fields, evaluates postsecondary programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.