Online Computer Science Degree Guide
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Computers are at the heart of today's world. Virtually every industry uses technology to drive business, and that requires someone to write code, fix problems that occur, design new systems, and administer databases. Because of the diversity of skills you learn — as well as the increasing demand for skilled professionals in this field — a degree in computer science prepares you to contribute meaningfully to a new and dynamic economic landscape.
Now is a great time to get an online computer science degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer scientists can expect the industry to expand by 16% between 2018 and 2028, representing a much faster-than-average rate of job growth. Given that technology is integral to modern business, demand for computer science graduates is high and that trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Earning a computer science degree online opens a number of doors. Computer science graduates pursue a wide variety of positions after college, most of them quite lucrative. They can work as software developers to create the applications we use every day, or take positions as IT managers. Graduates may also work in web design, database administration, networking, systems analysis, game development, mobile development, or even upper-level management. Computer scientists also work in just about every field you can imagine, including banking, insurance, healthcare, fashion, architecture, and multimedia.
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Types of Online Computer Science Degrees
Like any other field of study, computer science offers degrees at varying levels. An online associate in computer science program teaches entry-level skills like writing basic code, while a four-year bachelor's program develops advanced techniques and can feature a concentration in areas like security, design, informatics, or software development. An online master's degree in computer science lets students specialize further and pick up management skills. As the saying goes, the more you learn, the more you earn, and that holds true in computer science.
Featured Online Computer Science Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
|Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science||$85,870|
|Graduate Degree in Computer Science||$93,180|
Associate Degree in Computer Science
Many aspiring computer scientists begin their studies in an online associate degree program; according to Monster, it's among the most profitable two-year majors. Computer science online degrees are now available at most community colleges, many of which have open-door admissions policies, making it an easy way to get started. Additionally, most two-year schools only require a high school diploma or GED. Some also request placement test scores, but they typically administer these exams themselves, making it a straightforward process for new students.
Most associate programs require 60 credits for a diploma, which usually takes two years to complete for the average student. One of the main advantages of completing the first two years of study at a community college is, of course, the price. Tuition can cost a fraction of what four-year universities charge, and the coursework is usually very similar.
Once students finish their online associate degree, they can either transfer into a online bachelor's program or move straight into the workforce. Many entry-level jobs in systems analysis, computer programming, web design, and tech support require only a two-year degree, with graduates earning as much as $65,750 right out of school, according to PayScale. Once settled, students can continue to work while returning to school for an online computer science degree.
Associate in Computer Science Degree Programs
Associate Computer Science Example Courses:
Every associate program has general education requirements, and calculus fulfills the math credit. It also provides an understanding of the differential equations on which computer science is built.
Programming in Java
Java is one of the most used computer languages, and all computer science majors need a fundamental understanding of it. Many bachelor's-level computer science degree online programs require applicants to have studied languages at the associate level.
Computer Science I
Students learn the basics of the discipline in this course, including data storage, number systems, character processing, language syntax, and program control structures.
Linux Operating Systems
The open-source Linux system is commonly used by computer programmers, and this course explores hardware configuration, command line use, and file management.
This course explores construction of mobile applications for the Android mobile platform.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
Earning a bachelor's degree in computer science online offers a comprehensive start in the field. These programs include many of the same courses as associate programs, but continue into advanced skills in the junior and senior years. A high school diploma is all that's typically required to enroll, though some online computer science programs also require SAT scores. Most follow the same four-year model as on-campus programs and require 120 credits to complete.
Just as in any other field, programs vary by school, but students earning their computer science degree online learn basic languages like C++, Java, and Python. They'll also explore operating systems, software development, testing platforms, and include work in networking. Many programs require distance learners to complete an internship. Some also boast a variety of concentration areas, so that students can begin to define their careers while still in school. These careers might include artificial intelligence, computer graphics, systems architecture, computer security, software engineering, game programming, or bioinformatics.
Once they've earned their diplomas, online computer science graduates have the world at their doorstep: they can enter the workforce in a wide variety of fields or go back to school for a master's. Graduates of online computer science bachelor's degrees can also step into positions in software development, computer systems analysis, web development, network systems administration, game design, and IT at any number of companies.
Most Affordable Bachelor's in Computer Science
Bachelor Computer Science Example Courses:
Computer Platform Technologies
The class takes students through the interaction of hardware and software, including central processing unit architecture, memory, operating systems, and file systems.
Computer Science in Business
This course examines how computers are used in today's business and industry. Topics include data types, applications, and arrays.
Though it doesn't directly relate to computer science, a writing class is one of the pillars of general education requirements at most colleges. Everyone needs to know how to effectively communicate and develop arguments.
This class immerses students in the finer points of application development, writing the software code that drives today's machines.
Course topics explore whether someone can be hacked with integrity, while also discussing the parameters of legitimate data breaching.
Online Master's Degree in Computer Science
Online computer science master's degrees provide students with yet another step up the career ladder. Graduate studies allow distance learners to concentrate in a field of interest, providing expertise that separates graduates from the rest of the pack. These programs also include classes to prepare graduates for management positions. Most require a bachelor's degree — usually in computer science — and many also require the GRE or GMAT.
Most universities design online computer science master's degrees as two- or three-year programs, and students need to complete 30-40 credits to take home a diploma. Many graduate-level computer science degrees require some sort of internship, while others mandate that students complete a thesis, capstone, or research project. The best online graduate computer science programs provide a choice of concentrations in areas like data security, analytics, networking, software engineering, or artificial intelligence. Some specializations are even industry-specific, such as biocomputation, game development, or finance.
An online master's degree in computer science provides new graduates with several options. They may work as software engineers, Java developers, systems engineers, user experience engineers, and project managers in information technology. According to the BLS, job growth among computer science graduates is especially strong for those with a master's degree — demand is predicted to jump almost 16% by 2028. Companies are willing to pay for better-educated computer scientists, too. Salaries for master's level graduates, according to PayScale, usually start around $93,000. Master's programs also, of course, lay the foundation for a doctorate in the field.
Master's in Computer Science Degree Programs
Masters Computer Science Example Courses:
Foundations of Artificial Intelligence
The ability of computers to think forms the basis for this class. Topics include the uses of AI, how it's constructed, and whether it's safe.
This course explores the various platforms and systems involved in internet connectivity, web design, and the history of the web. Languages, software, and systems are all covered.
Advanced Topics in Computer Vision
Topics include object recognition, visual surveillance, sensors, and other optical applications of computer technology.
One of the hottest areas in computer technology today, network security keeps our data safe. Degree candidates learn about network architecture, threats, risks, and access controls.
Students work with their advisors to create a thesis project, often related to their area of specialty. These classes are often worth double or triple the credits offered for other courses.
Online Doctoral Degree in Computer Science
As with most disciplines, the doctorate is the highest degree available in computer science. Those with an interest in teaching, conducting research, or serving in leadership capacities at the highest levels will find this to be a valuable credential. Ph.Ds are also more sought after by employers; the BLS estimates that the number of computer science jobs requiring a doctorate will rise by more than 15% by 2022.
Most online doctoral programs in computer science require a master's degree and GRE scores, though some will accept student with only a bachelor's. Work experience in the field is a major plus, as is prior research experience. Many of the better programs admit only students with impressive academic track records. Requiring a GPA of 3.5 or better is not uncommon.
Online computer science doctoral programs tend to be extremely rigorous. The time and total credits required vary by program, but most take at least five years and require 70 or more credits. Most universities require degree candidates to complete a dissertation or final project. Many also have teaching and research requirements, and students often win fellowships or assistantships. Specializing is very common at the Ph.D level. Students typically declare an area of focus in fields like artificial intelligence, design, systems engineering, networking, security, forensics, or bioinformatics.
Once students earn a doctorate, career options include college professor, data engineer, hardware researcher, applied research manager, systems security administrator, and CEO of tech company.
Doctorate Computer Science Example Courses:
Students delve into algorithms, computational equivalence of machines, time and space complexity measures, and other high-level studies in complexity.
Advanced Operating Systems
A more thorough look at the applications that make computers run, this course explores multitasking, synchronization, system architecture, and client-server models.
This class dives into probabilities, neural networks, tree models, kernel functions, and accuracy estimation as it explore how computers learn.
Distance learners study patterns, relationships, warehousing, rule mining, and the human factors in extracting useful information from raw computer data.
The degree candidate's dissertation usually stretches across many semesters and accounts for as many as 15 credits. Students pitch their prospectus in the first few years of their program and are supervised by their adviser while they complete it.
Online Computer Science Concentrations and Specialties
Computer science is an umbrella term for virtually all tech disciplines that relate to computing devices, and the field encompasses a wide variety of specialties. Because virtually every industry now leans on some degree of digitization, graduates who earn their computer science degree online can select from an array of computer science career possibilities and concentrations. Several concentration possibilities are listed below.
|Computer Graphics Specialist||$48,870|
|Data Mining Specialist||$60,000|
|Mobile Applications Developer||$73,020|
|Network Security Analyst||$75,880|
This specialty relates to the aesthetics of software, operating systems, and web sites. Graduates with computer graphics backgrounds spend their days creating visuals, creating concepts, writing code, and laying out pages. They might work as game developers, animators, or software engineers.
Data mining specialists pore over computer data to find patterns, trends, and useful information for corporations, insurance companies, social media sites, and government agencies. They write code to funnel information, detect patterns, and analyze data from a variety of angles.
Students who choose to concentrate in mobile computing study issues related to smartphones, tablets, GPS, and other handheld devices. They might work in application development, hardware design, or operating systems for any number of private sector companies.
Network security specialists protect data from hackers, phishers, foreign governments, and malware threats. Graduates take positions at big tech firms, government agencies, and corporations in almost every sector. They spend their days analyzing threats, building firewalls, or making security decisions in high-level meetings.
Software engineers write the code that drives applications that run the computers we all use. They, too, work in virtually all fields, identifying needs, planning, writing code, and maintaining software.
Career and Salary Outlook for Computer Science Graduates
New graduates with the best online computer science degrees find themselves with many options. Because computer science and programming lies at the heart of so many industries and fields, there is no shortage of career paths for qualified candidates. Computer scientists work on Wall Street and Main Street, in private companies, nonprofits, and the government. They run academic laboratories, teach classes, conduct research in hospitals, analyze data for the military, and, of course, develop projects for Silicon Valley startups and titanic tech companies.
Introverted genius types might find themselves immersed in cutting-edge research in labs. Gregarious sorts could start their own mobile application company. The possibilities are manifold for those holding online computer science degrees.
|Software Development Engineer (SDE)||$99,690||$122,660||$137,390|
|Android Software Developer||$89,270||$93,320||$113,600|
|Cyber Security Engineer||$74,880||$100,810||$117,840|
|Software Development Engineer, Test (SDET)||$68,240||$98,340||$108,610|
Computer and Information Research Scientists
Research scientists work at the cutting edge of technology. They typically develop new uses for software and hardware, and write applications and design supercomputers. Most employers in this field look for graduates with master's degrees or higher.
Programmers are the code experts that write the software we use every day. In many cases, these are entry-level positions that pay graduates of online computer science bachelor programs very well from the start.
Information Security Analysts
These positions provide the safeguard to an organization's valuable data by building firewalls and analyzing threats. Professionals in these jobs might work in banking, insurance, high-tech giants, the military, or any other company that wants to protect its intelligence.
Network and Computer System Administrators
Almost every organization has a networked computer system, and someone has to design, install, and maintain them. This is another lucrative field for new graduates with just a bachelor's.
Web developers design and maintain websites. It's one of the more profitable positions someone with an associate degree in computer science online can land.
Featured Online CS Programs
Computer Science Licenses and Certifications
In most cases, computer scientists don't necessarily need licensure or certification to do their work. But adding these credentials can give you a leg up in the employment search, and set you apart from others. They not only demonstrate proficiency in an area, they can also open doors for graduates with an online computer science degree. Below are just a few examples of certifications available to a CS professional.
Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
CISSP certification demonstrates you have the skills to protect information from hackers. Administered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium aka (ISC)2, it sets the global standard in computer security. Prerequisites consist of five or more years of relevant work experience, passing a background test, and then passing the 250-question examination with a score of 700 or better. Upon successful completion of the $699 test, you must also win the endorsement of a member of the (ISC)2. More and more companies are specifically advertising for CISSP-certified help. According to PayScale, it's also a lucrative credential: most who hold it command $100,000 or more.
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
Cisco's entry-level network certification, the CCNA, comes in a variety of specialties, including cloud computing, security, data center, industrial, collaboration, service providing, wireless, cyber ops, and routing and switching. Most of these credentials require no prerequisites — just passage of an exam — and cost $300. The CCNA credential can open doors by proving to employers that you can plan, install, and manage a network. According to the InfoSec Institute, it's among the best known credentials in the IT industry — and in high demand.
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Cisco's professional network option is a slightly more demanding credential than the CCNA. As a result, applicants must have certification at the associate level. The CCNP is divided into the same fields as the CCNA (minus the cyber ops and industrial options), and students must pass several exams per certification. Each exam is two hours and costs $200. The credential demonstrates to potential employers that you have high-level networking skills and experience. According to PayScale, these certified professionals can earn nearly $96,000 per year.
Administered by the Computing Technology Industry Association, A+ tests a student's grasp of entry-level IT concepts. It is the certification organization's most basic exam, and recognizes that the holder has foundational skills in hardware, networking, security, and perhaps most importantly, troubleshooting. This is the desired credential for companies hiring for tech support personnel. The $211 exam consists of 90 multiple choice and drag and drop questions and takes an hour and a half to complete.
One of several other CompTIA exams, the Network+ credential requires proficiency in networking. It shows potential employers that the holder can plan, implement, and maintain a wired or wireless network. The exam is 90 questions and takes 90 minutes to complete. The cost is $302. According to PayScale, the average salary for Network+ certified IT personnel is nearly $66,000.
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
Tech giant Microsoft offers systems engineer certification in five areas: cloud computing, business applications, data management analysis, mobility, and productivity. These credentials demonstrate to potential employers that the holder has advanced skills in one or more areas of Microsoft products. The company regularly updates the requirements and skills to keep the credential relevant, and it continues to be sought after by IT employers, especially in systems and networking. Applicants qualify by passing exams, and most cost $165.
The Best States for Computer Science Careers
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|State||Employment||Hourly mean wage||Annual mean wage|
Software for Computer Science Students
Every new student in a computer science program wonders what software to buy. For most, the advice is the same: It depends. The software you need hinges on your interests and your course of study. Software developers might want Linux, Unix, Bash, Vim, or any number of other tools. Students interested in machine learning might consider MatLab. If you're into theory, all you may need is Google Chrome and a compiler. Many students also like to use open source applications because they can move between Windows and Mac.
Earning an online computer science degrees requires a list of needed applications, and some programs will even pass on savings and discounts — which is music to college students' ears.
Programming Languages for Computer Science
A general-purpose computer language, C has become one of the most widely used programming languages. Known for writing operating systems, it's now used in a wide variety of industries. Many of the major tech companies use it create their products, and it's among the more common languages in IT. Anyone with aspirations in tech support must be familiar with it.
Developed as a rival to Java, C# is a more modern object-oriented language commonly used to develop applications, websites, games, and mobile apps. Its use is widespread across industries.
Along with HTML, CSS is a web development tool. Cascading Style Sheets let web designers create static web pages, and programmers use CSS wherever the internet needs development.
The code that drives the internet, HTML provides the framework for web pages. Web and game designers — among others — should be comfortable with it.
Java helps big websites with high traffic volume run smoothly. Many of the major online retailers use it and it is a helpful language for web designers and web specialists. Programmers also use it to build Android applications in backend capacities at most of the nation's largest companies.
Like Java, PHP is a server-side language. It's open-sourced and useful across platforms. It tends to run on smaller sites, however many web designers and developers use it across the web.
Known for its simplicity, Python is yet another web application tool. Some consider it the most beginner-friendly language. Like Java, it's often employed on high-volume web servers. It's also useful in academic and research settings and is popular among data analysts.
Like Python, Ruby is a highly productive and relatively easy language to learn that is commonly used on the web and open source platforms. Its code is often used on the backend of web projects and it helps construct many major sites.
SQL or "Sequel" is a language programmers use to communicate with databases. Used to funnel information out of massive strings of data, it's commonly used to manage data in apps. This language is handy for data analysts, insurance companies, governments, and anyone else interested in extracting information from data.
One Computer Science Major to Another
Founder/Developer, Strongr Fastr
What type of student succeeds in a computer science program?
As with most academic programs, I think anyone who's motivated and has a strong work ethic can succeed in computer science (CS). But the people who really excel also tend to be really good at analyzing, thinking about, and solving problems. And if you don't at least somewhat enjoy that kind of work then you probably don't want to succeed in CS anyway, because that's 80% of the job.
What was it like transitioning from from the classroom to the workforce?
For me the transition was difficult, but ultimately gratifying. The structure of a workplace environment is inherently different from an academic environment. In school, the problems you're solving are usually very discrete and well-defined: you get an assignment or project, you do it, and your solution either works or it doesn't.
The real world can be more difficult in that the problems you'll be solving are frequently amorphous and ill-defined. So oftentimes, a big part of the job is taking some poorly defined issue (this thing is broken/bad) and winnowing it down into a more specific, well-defined problem (this thing is bad because of specific issues X, Y, and Z), and this usually isn't a trivial job. Even after that, there will almost always be multiple solutions to a problem, and you will have to take in lots of different inputs (user feedback, available resources, time constraints, etc.) and synthesize that into a single design/solution.
That can be overwhelming if you're used to just being handed a spec and implementing it, as with most coursework. But once you get the hang of it, it's also a lot more gratifying when you do get a project done.
What tips do you have for recent CS graduates seeking employment?
In the current environment, if you're a competent problem solver and programmer (preferably with a decent GPA and/or good internship experience) it should be pretty easy to find a job. But you shouldn't just take the first job offer you get and you also probably shouldn't just take the highest offer. The best jobs are the ones that will help you build up your skill set in areas that interest you or that will make you more valuable in the future, so focus on finding those jobs to the greatest extent that you can.
How important is networking and what are some easy ways to stay connected to other professionals in the industry?
I haven't used networking much in my career, but I know developers who have gotten most of their jobs that way, so it's definitely something you shouldn't overlook. Most cities will have local tech meetups, which provide a good way to stay connected to other developers and stay on top of industry trends. If you're doing remote or freelance work, or just want the extra space, getting a spot in a local, co-working space can also be a really good way to connect with other people in the industry.
How important is professional certification?
In terms of software development, I don't think it's very important at all. Most companies will validate your skills with coding tests and technical interviews anyway, so you should focus on being able to do well with those kinds of things. The best way to do that is by getting experience on the job or through independent/open source coding projects. If you want to be a database administrator or something like that, it's probably a different story, but I'm not all that familiar with the more IT side of things.
What does continuing education look like to you?
I've already hinted at this, but if you're in a good job at a good company, continuing education will basically be part of the job. You should feel like you're constantly learning new things and becoming a better developer, or at least that you have the opportunity to do so. I quit my first job because I felt like I was stagnating professionally. More accurately, it felt like the skills I was developing were too company-specific and wouldn't help me in my career outside that company. But after I left, I probably learned more marketable skills in six months building my own startup than I did in the two-and-a-half years at that job. If you feel like you're not learning enough on the job, you can also sort of force this process by working on side projects to help you learn about specific areas that interest you or that you want to improve upon.
What advice would you give an undergrad student considering a graduate degree in computer science?
It really depends on why you want to get the degree. If you want to get a Master's/Ph.D. because you have a real passion for the discipline, and have some specific facet of computer science you want to explore further and ultimately work or do research in, then getting a graduate degree is probably a good idea. If you just want to get an advanced degree because you think it will help you generally get a good job or a better paying job, then it's probably not the best course of action. When you factor the opportunity costs of not working, plus tuition and fees and everything, getting an advanced degree is an expensive proposition. It's entirely possible that you could actually develop your marketable skills more in two to four years at the right job, at the right company, than while working on an advanced degree.
What advice would you give those considering a coding bootcamp or a degree in computer science?
If you just want to become a solid, employable coder as quickly as possible, a coding bootcamp is probably the better way to go, mainly because of time and cost-effectiveness. That being said, I think there's real value in getting a four-year computer science degree, because there's a lot more to the discipline than knowing the mechanics of how to write code. And I think this “extra stuff” ultimately lays the foundation for solving a lot of the more complex problems you'll run into in your career, where someone who only did a coding bootcamp might struggle. Not only that, but a lot of companies won't even look at you if you don't have a full degree.