Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Programming

Oct 20, 2021

Online Computer Programming Degree Overview

Online degree programs in computer programming aim to equip students with knowledge and skills in multiple programming languages and provide students with hands-on training in the field. Although online computer programming degree programs are relatively rare at different degree levels, students can still gain computer programming skills and knowledge through related online degree programs in fields like computer science. Here we examine a brief overview of the various online degrees in computer programming-related areas available at each degree level.

Online Associate Degrees in Computer Programming

At the associate degree level, students can pursue online degrees in areas like programming and software development, as well as closely related areas like computer information systems and computer science that include topics and training in computer programming. Usually, these degree programs are available as Associate of Science (AS) degrees and may require around 60 credits of coursework. Often, credits from these programs can be transferred and counted toward a related bachelor's degree. Some programs may be self-paced but are usually designed to be completed in 2 years. Students in these programs typically gain experience with multiple programming languages, such as Java, C++, and Python, as well as hands-on experience with other programming tools and software used in the field. Students may form a professional portfolio with examples of their work throughout the program.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Programming

While there are some online bachelor's programs in computer programming available, online bachelor's programs in computer science with an available concentration in the field could also be available. Typically, these degree programs award a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree and require around 120 credits. Students study a range of programming languages but may also be trained in areas like information systems, ethics, and leadership in the field. Many of these programs conclude with a culminating experience of some sort, such as a senior project, internship, or capstone project. These programs can prepare students to enter the career force and/or continue their education with a master's degree in the field.

Online Master's Degrees in Computer Programming

Usually, at the master's level, online degrees specifically in computer programming are not available; however, there are many online master's programs in computer science available that include training and coursework in computer programming, as well as other areas. These programs are typically available as Master of Computer Science (MCS) degrees and may require around 32 to 35 credits, depending on the program. Some students can complete these programs in as little as 1 year, full-time, while some part-time programs may give students up to 5 years to complete the program. Students may need to complete a final capstone course, but usually, these are non-thesis degrees.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Computer Programming

Similar to master's degree programs, online doctoral programs are usually available in computer science and not specifically computer programming. These degrees may be offered as a Doctor of Computer Science (DCS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree, and some are available in hybrid formats. Some online programs may require in-person symposiums or other requirements, and typically, students have to complete a dissertation. These programs may require between 60 and 100 credits of coursework, which is usually customizable to match students' research interests and/or may offer additional areas of concentration. Students may be able to complete these programs in as little as 36 to 40 months.

Online Certificates in Computer Programming

Online undergraduate and graduate certificate programs are available in computer programming and related areas like computer programming languages. These certificates may be more common at the undergraduate level, and some certificates can be completed in as little as 3 months, while others may allow students up to 3 years to finish. Students may need to complete around 4 to 6 courses, and some programs may offer different tracks to help students focus their studies. In general, these programs are designed to provide students with an overview of computer programming languages and skills used in the field.

Computer Programming Specializations/Concentrations

Online bachelor's degree programs specifically in computer programming typically do not offer additional areas of concentration. However, students in these programs are exposed to a number of programming languages, and may be able to choose electives to help them focus their studies in various areas of interest. Computer programming may be offered as its own concentration for online bachelor's degrees in areas like computer science.

Curriculum/Coursework for a Computer Programming Degree

While there are some free computer program courses available online, an online bachelor's degree in the field may provide students with more hands-on skills in the field and/or a well-rounded education. This is due to bachelor's programs requiring general education courses and electives in addition to core computer programming courses. Online computer programming classes usually train students in multiple programming languages, including:

  • Java
  • C++
  • Python
  • SQL
  • C#
  • .Net framework
  • JavaScript

Several of these online bachelor's degree programs also conclude with a culminating experience of some sort. Depending on the program, students may be able to chose between a capstone project or internship experience, some of these programs may require a year-long senior project where students apply skills that they have learned throughout the program. Other common course topics for these degree programs may include:

  • Database application
  • Computer programming
  • Enterprise applications
  • Object-oriented programming
  • Computer security/cybersecurity
  • Computer architecture
  • Operating systems
  • Software engineering

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Computer Programming?

Usually, online bachelor's degree programs in computer programming are intended to take around 4 years to complete, just like traditional on-campus programs. However, there are some programs that may allow students to finish in less time on average, such as programs that can be completed in 32 months. Students may also be able to graduate faster with transfer credits. Some programs may allow students to transfer in up to 90 credits of coursework. Students who already hold their associate degree may be able to transfer credit and graduate in as little as 2 years.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Computer Programming Degrees

Online bachelor's degree programs in computer programming do not typically have subject-specific accreditation, but often these programs are offered by accredited institutions. Accreditation is important for several different reasons, including access to financial aid, employer preference, and transferability of credits. Many schools that offer online degree programs in computer programming hold regional accreditation from organizations like the Higher Learning Commission. This means that programs at the institution have met the organization's standards for academic quality.

Although computer programming degrees do not usually have program-specific accreditation, some online degree programs in computer science do. Some of these programs may be accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This means that these programs have met standards set specifically for computing-related programs to help ensure academic quality.

Computer Programming Licensure & Certification

It is fairly common for computer programmers to be certified in specific programming product(s) and/or programming language(s) that they use on a consistent basis. Depending on the employer, some certifications may be required. Typically, these certifications are offered by the vendors of these programs. For example, Microsoft offers certification in SQL server and .NET, while Oracle offers a few different Java certifications. Usually, professionals can become certified by learning or updating their skills in the specific language or tool and then taking and passing an exam. Some certifications may require professionals to renew or maintain their certification with an exam and/or additional training. There are also some professional organizations, like the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP), that offer professional certifications for the field of computing, such as the Certified Computing Professional (CCP) designation.

Computer Programming Career Information

Many graduates of bachelor's programs in computer programming go on to become a computer programmer. However, the knowledge and skills learned in a computer programming degree program can be easily applied to a range of different computer- and technology-related positions. Graduates may work in an array of industries, such as the government, healthcare, manufacturing, consulting, and more. The specific education and/or experience requirements may vary by job, but graduates with a computer programming degree may be able to pursue careers with titles like:

  • Computer scientist
  • Web application developer
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Computer and information systems manager
  • Systems programmer
  • Mobile game developer
  • Geospatial information technologist

How to Become a Computer Programmer

Students wondering how to become a computer programmer online should earn at least a bachelor's degree in the field. Although some employers may hire those with only an associate's degree, a bachelor's degree may help students specialize in multiple programming languages, which may be preferred. Experience in the field may also be seen as a benefit and may come through internship experiences and/or other learning opportunities. Many programmers may be required or decide to pursue certification in a specific programming language or tool. Certification and other advancement opportunities for computer programmers, such as education, may help these professionals move into leadership and management roles. Education may also affect pay, with the average pay for a computer programming master's degree typically being higher than that of a bachelor's degree.

Computer programmers help create software programs and different applications by writing code, which they must test and adjust as needed. These professionals typically use multiple languages, update programs as needed, and simplify code writing when possible with code libraries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of computer programmers was $86,550, as of 2019. The BLS reported a decline of 9% in jobs for these professionals from 2019 to 2029.

How to Become a Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts also usually need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but it may not always be required, depending on the employer. These analysts need to have a degree in a computer science-related field and usually have taken courses in computer programming and information technology (IT). Some of these professionals may earn a master's degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to learn the business side of an organization or a master's in a computer-related field for more technical positions. It is fairly common for computer systems analysts to take continuing education courses to stay updated on technologies in the field. Advancement usually comes with experience and/or education.

Computer systems analysts utilize business and IT skills to analyze an organization's computer systems and ensure they are running as efficiently and effectively as possible to meet set goals. This may require them to design systems, update old systems, install new systems, and train users on systems as needed. As of 2019, the BLS stated that these analysts made a median annual salary of $90,920 and had a job outlook of 7% from 2019 to 2029.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Computer Programming Degrees

Being able to afford a postsecondary education can be a challenge, so many students may need to research their financial aid options. Students may prefer to pursue scholarship and/or grant opportunities, as these forms of financial aid do not need to be paid back. However, students usually need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) first to see what kinds of federal loans and/or grants they are eligible for. Then scholarships can be used to help cover the remaining costs. Scholarships are available from a wide range of organizations for an array of reasons, such as interests/talents, merit, financial need, and more.

Scholarships are also widely available for computer science-related majors. Many schools' computer science departments offer scholarships, and there are some computer science-related organizations that may also offer different types of awards. These awards vary in amount and the requirements needed to qualify. Some are even open to high school students preparing to enter college and planning to study computer programming. A couple of examples of scholarships for computer programming students include:

  • Marjorie H. Beaty Math/Computer Science Scholarship- This scholarship is offered at the University of South Dakota for majors in math or computer science. It is open to undergraduates and graduate students, but students must be a resident of the state and have financial need.
  • ACM/CSTA Cutler-Bell Prize in High School Computing- The Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) awards up to 4 high school students $10,000 prizes for demonstrating excellence in the field of computer science.

Difference Between Computer Programming and Computer Science Degree Programs

It may be a challenge for students to decide whether to pursue an online bachelor's degree program specifically in computer programming or one in computer science. These fields do have some similarities, including that professionals from each area are likely to work closely together on different computer-related projects. Each subject area also provides students the chance to further specialize in a particular area, whether that is specific programming languages for programmers or different areas of computer science for computer science majors. However, there are some differences between the two subjects.

Computer science can be thought of as the larger, overarching subject that explores more of the theory behind computer processes, while computer programming is the application that makes those processes work. Computer programming focuses on creating the code for operating systems and software, whereas computer science examines computational systems and computers as a whole. Computer science may also include additional subfields like artificial intelligence (AI), software engineering, database systems, and more.

Professional Organizations in Computer Programming

There are many different professional organizations available for professionals working in the field of computing. These organizations are intended to help further advance the field with research, education, and professional development opportunities. Some of these groups may be focused on a specific population within the field and/or even provide resources for students who have not yet begun their careers. Explore a few of the available professional groups for computer programmers below:

  • Association for Computing Machinery- The ACM offers membership, chapters, and student resources, including awards in computing that can help pay for school. The group also hosts a number of conferences and events, provides access to publications, offers an online learning center, and is highly involved in public policy and diversity for the field.
  • Association for Women in Computing- The AWC is focused on females in the field of computing to help advance women in the profession. The organization provides membership, awards, professional networking and mentoring opportunities, as well as continuing education.
  • Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals- The ICCP primarily provides a variety of professional certifications for computing professionals, including those in areas like computing, business intelligence, data science, cybersecurity, and more. However, professionals can also become members and benefit from the group's conferences and training materials.
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