Online Computer Science Degree Overview
Computer science degrees are designed to teach students about the way that computers work on a software level, covering topics like programming languages, software platforms and architecture, system security and using computers to analyze data. Additionally, mathematics plays a large role, and thus many courses in math are commonly required. Computer science is a broad category, so these degree programs may have further concentrations in more specialized areas of the field.
Online Associate Degrees in Computer Science
Associate's degrees in computer science offer a basic look at the field of computer science, teaching students the necessities to enter the field. Associate's degrees commonly include some general education courses and most take about two years to complete. The degree may be called an Associate of Science in Computer Science or Associate of Applied Science in Computer Science. This type of degree is best suited for those who are interested in computer science, but hesitant to jump straight into a bachelor's program, or for those with work experience in the field who need the boost a degree provides. Additionally, credits from an associate's degree can usually be transferred into a bachelor's program, reducing the time needed to graduate. Deciding between an associate's degree and a bachelor's degree as a starting point is an important first step, so compare carefully.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science
Bachelor's degrees in computer science are the standard for most entry-level positions in CS. These programs combine general education with dedicated major courses to create well-rounded graduates and typically take around four years to complete. These degrees commonly go by names such as Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science. Computer science degrees may have varying requirements for admissions, particularly in areas like mathematics and intro computer science. Concentration and specialization options are common at this level, although availability will vary between schools. Some colleges even offer combined bachelor's and master's programs, enabling students to acquire both degrees in a faster time frame.
Online Master's Degrees in Computer Science
Master's degrees in computer science are designed for high-level positions, particularly those that spearhead projects or lead teams. Applicants to master's degree programs must hold a bachelor's degree to be accepted, although it need not be in computer science (though those with degrees in other areas may need specific undergraduate coursework). It commonly serves as the terminal professional degree in the field and goes by names such as Master of Computer Science, Master of Science in Computer Science, or similar. These degrees are likely to offer concentration options, enabling students to further hone a specialty in the field. They can usually be completed in under two years, and inclusion of a thesis varies between programs. While a bachelor's is the standard for entry-level careers, there are many advantages to earning a master's degree in computer science, not the least of which is a greater chance of promotion.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Computer Science
Doctoral degrees in computer science are oriented towards professionals who want to move into research and academic roles. They are fairly rare to find completely online; hybrid programs are more common. These degrees may be known as a Doctor of Computer Science or a Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science. To apply, it's usually necessary to earn a master's degree first. Doctoral programs in computer science usually offer concentration options as well and require a dissertation or doctoral project to graduate. Due to its research-based nature, these degrees can take anywhere from three to five years to complete.
Online Certificates in Computer Science
Certificate programs in computer science are available at both the graduate and undergraduate level and are usually structured around quickly building up a specialty in a particular area. Both types can typically be completed in under a year. Undergraduate certificates in computer science are often designed to introduce basic concepts of computer science and provide a foundation for entry into the field. They can be used to facilitate career changes or develop a further specialization, and in many cases, the course credits can later be transferred into a degree program, if desired.
Graduate certificates in computer science programs are designed for students who already hold a bachelor's degree, whether it's in computer science or another area. They can facilitate career transitions for those without a computer science degree, or allow those with one to dive into more advanced topics.
Computer Science Specializations/Concentrations
Computer science offers a wide variety of concentration options at most degree levels. A few common concentrations include:
- Data Analysis - This concentration will teach students how to gather and analyze data, the structure of databases, and data validation.
- Information Security & Networking - A concentration in information security and networking covers topics such as the fundamentals of networking technology and security policies and procedures.
- Software Engineering - Concentrations in software engineering are based around the processes for building software, and include software design and development, coding and programming, and interface design.
- Computing Systems - A concentration in computing systems takes a large-scale look at the nature of computer systems and focuses on how to develop them efficiently and effectively.
Curriculum/Coursework for a Computer Science Degree
Bachelor's degrees in computer science typically include a general education component, the major core courses, and elective/concentration courses in their curriculum. Aside from computer science courses, coursework in mathematics and college-level writing are commonly required.
- Introductory Computer Programming - this course teaches students the basics of programming for computers and may introduce several different languages and styles of programming.
- Writing Algorithms - students in this class have a chance to learn how to create and develop computer algorithms to accomplish specific goals.
- Database Systems - a course in database systems covers the creation, structure, and maintenance of databases of information, as well as how to utilize them and the information contained within.
- Network Security - courses dealing with network security dive into the prevention of intrusions and unauthorized access to computer systems and the data stored within.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Computer Science?
As with other bachelor's degree programs, an online bachelor's degree in computer science typically takes four years to complete. The actual completion time for this degree can vary, however. Some programs use an accelerated format, allowing them to be completed faster by increasing course load and taking courses year-round. Additionally, if a student has already completed some college-level course work, these credits can often be transferred into an online computer science degree program. Transfer credits can reduce completion time significantly--up to two years.
Differences Between Computer Science and Software Engineering Programs
There are many different degree programs related to computers, and it can sometimes be difficult for the layperson to tell them apart. Computer Information Systems, or CIS, takes a business-based approach, handling the data and systems most important for business computer networks. Information Technology, or IT, deals with system maintenance, upgrades, and installation. The field which causes confusion for many, however, is software engineering, as this is sometimes treated as a concentration within computer science. The key difference is ultimately similar to that between science and engineering in general: theory vs. application. Computer science is quite broad, and can set students up for a variety of future careers, depending on what aspects of the field they find most appealing. Software engineering, as a stand-alone major, is more focused, dealing specifically with programming languages and the basics of creating software applications. While software engineers take many of the same classes,these programs are designed to prepare students for a much more specific career path.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Computer Science Degrees
To ensure the quality of an educational program, students may want to limit their college search to accredited schools. Accreditation comes in a few varieties:
- National accreditation, which is usually reserved for technical and trade schools
- Regional accreditation, which is typically for non-profit academic institutions such as universities and colleges
- Programmatic accreditation, which certifies particular programs offered by schools as meeting the guidelines of relevant professional organizations
For computer science programs, regional accreditation from one of the seven regional agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is often most important, but programmatic accreditation is also valuable. Computer science programs may be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and their Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC).
Computer Science Licensure & Certification
Certification in the field of computer science comes in several varieties. Certifications are often available in programming languages, like the C Programming Language Certified Associate credential or the Certified Entry-level Python Programmer certification. These are designed to affirm your competency and ability with a certain language. There are also vendor certifications, like those from Microsoft or Cisco, which are maintained and awarded by software vendors and exist to certify competency with commonly used software platforms in business. More general certifications also exist, like the Software Professional certifications from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Computer Science Career Information
Some common careers in computer science which require bachelor's degrees are listed below.
Network and systems administrators are responsible for keeping a company's computer network and other systems operating. They update machines and monitor security, as well as install additions or modifications as needed, and recommending new modifications to executive leadership. They generally work in offices during normal business hours, but their responsibility for the network may require coming in after-hours to handle emergencies. Growth in the employment of system administrators was predicted to be 4% between 2019 and 2029, on par with the national average. According to 2019 numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a system administrator's median annual salary is $83,510. Employment is typically centered around urban areas, and especially in states with large populations like California and New York. As a result, many computer science schools are geographically close to these areas, such as the abundance of computer science schools in New Jersey.
Computer scientists are a more academic career, serving as those who invent new programming languages and systems as tools for the wider world. They study fundamental problems in the field of computing, design experiments to test hypotheses, and publish the results, as other scientists do. Computer scientists often work at labs and development centers, which may be corporate, government-aligned, or at research universities. They have normal full-time schedules, working alongside other experts such as computer hardware engineers. While many computer scientist positions may require a master's degree, others (particularly in government) only require a bachelor's degree in computer science. Employment of computer and information research scientists was projected to be 15% over the 2019-2029 timeframe, much faster than average. Much of this growth is attributed to the need for new tools to process massive amounts of data and the increasing importance of cybersecurity. The median annual salary earned by computer and information research scientists was $122,840, as of May 2019. Locations near major tech companies, research universities, and government computer science facilities employ most, so states such as Virginia, Maryland, and Texas all rank highly.
Computer Information Systems Manager
With the addition of work experience, a bachelor's degree can provide someone with much of what they need to find a role as a computer information systems manager. CIS managers direct employees in the information technology department, as well as steer the computer needs of an entire organization. This may involve making recommendations for improvements or equipment, setting both short-term and long-term goals for their department, and deal with outside companies, such as software vendors, to ensure that what is needed can be obtained. They usually work in office buildings, at full time or greater, and can be found in any urban area where corporations may have a headquarters. Employment of CIS managers is expected to grow at a rate of 10% over the next decade, with the cause being the increasing usage of cloud computing technology, as well as the importance of cybersecurity. While a bachelor's and experience can be sufficient for this position, a master's degree in computer science or business, may also be beneficial. The median salary for CIS managers each year was $146,360, making this one of the better-paying careers in this field.
As the name implies, software developers create software programs for computers using various programming languages. They write code, analyze user needs, test programs and work to ensure that all the various parts of a program can function together. This job often requires working as part of a team, collaborating to create a project far too large for any one person. Software developer jobs can be found across the country, with California's Silicon Valley as the place with the largest concentration. The rate of growth in employing software developers was predicted to be 22% between 2019 and 2029, due to the constant need for new software and security updates. The median pay for software developers and quality assurance analysts was reported in 2019 to be $107,510, far above the national average.
How to Become a Network Administrator
The first step to becoming a network administrator is to begin an education in computer science. Bachelor's degree programs in the field are often well-suited as preparation for this role, and some even feature concentrations in networking and systems administration. Network administrators need a good knowledge of how computers work on both the physical hardware side and the software side, so education in electrical engineering can also be beneficial. They may be hired directly or promoted from other IT roles. Another necessity for network administrators are vendor certifications, as these credentials prove you have the ability to use specific systems, which can help give employers confidence that you can responsibly handle their data. These certifications also typically require maintenance, which means that individuals with certifications are more likely to be up-to-date on developments within the field, allowing them to get a jump on problems. For particularly large businesses, a master's degree may be preferred, but a bachelor's and substantial experience can serve just as well.
How to Become a Software Developer
Aspiring software developers may want to focus their educational efforts on computer science or software engineering. A bachelor's degree is usually sufficient education, although a strong personal interest in coding and programming is often a bonus. Certifications in certain programming languages may be useful for that purpose and can help to guide your career towards specific projects or roles. Internships are often important, as they can serve as an icebreaker for your entry into the industry and begin building up experience with big-name employers quickly. Software developers need good communication and teamwork skills as well as analytical thought since they work collaboratively. Additionally, the field or industry for which the software is being developed is often relevant, so education in areas like finance, architecture or food science, among others, may also come in handy. Experienced software developers can advance to titles like software project manager or similar, where they begin to take more of a leadership role in collaboration groups.
Career Advancement for Computer Science Majors
There are two main paths that computer science majors can pursue if they wish to move up the corporate ladder. The first is to pursue higher degrees. While bachelor's degrees are sufficient to begin a career in computer science, many upper-level positions, particularly in management and team leadership, will prefer master's degrees. The master's need not be in computer science; a Master's of Business Administration (MBA), for example, can be quite valuable as well. For those working in academic realms, going a step further and earning a PhD can also help to secure respected senior roles. The other path, best suited for those working in the industry, is to obtain some of the certifications and licenses mentioned above. Certification in a programming language can be essential for software development, for example, while vendor certifications are useful for network administrator positions. Graduate certificates can also build expertise in niche areas, providing you with valuable skills.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Computer Science Degrees
Computer science falls under the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines, which means there are many forms of financial aid available. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is often essential to obtaining financial aid, even outside of the government. Accredited colleges and universities are the only ones eligible for federal aid, so look for schools that are recognized by the Department of Education or the CHEA. The FAFSA application requires specific information, such as your social security number (and your parents'), your driver's license number, colleges you hope to attend, and financial information on any savings, investments, or other assets, as well as those of your parents. This information is used to determine need, ensuring that funds are given to those who benefit most from assistance.
The provided information is assessed and reviewed, with the results summed up in the Student Aid Report. This document establishes the predetermined level of need and proves the award will benefit you. The report lists various types of assistance you are eligible for, such as grants (Pell Grants), work-study programs for the federal government, and offers for both subsidized and unsubsidized loans.
This may also qualify you for need-based scholarships or grants, as the SAR is often requested by awarding colleges and private organizations. While need is important, academic merit is also a factor, as well as race, gender, or attending a specific school. For STEM programs like computer science, there is a push for greater diversity, through initiatives to encourage women and ethnic minorities to enter the field. Since scholarships are often awarded to only a handful of people each year, it is best to apply for as many as possible. Still, one must ensure they meet the requirements before filling out an application.