If you dream of working in an exciting and lucrative field, consider earning an associate degree in computer science. The technology industry continues to grow and evolve, and businesses of all kinds demand skilled computer professionals. Technology companies of all sizes need software developers to design, develop, and implement cutting-edge programs and applications. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities for software developers will grow by 24% from 2016 to 2026, translating to more than 300,000 additional jobs.

Computer and information technology professionals earn substantially more than workers in other fields. These specialists earn around $85,000 annually, far more than the national median income of $37,690. Read on for a list of some of the best associate degree programs in computer science. The guide below details the general classes, requirements, and careers you can expect from a computer science associate degree.

Should I Get an Associate Degree in Computer Science?

A computer science associate degree can help you launch a career in computer and information technology. If you want to enter the workforce quickly and begin a career in software development, computer engineering, or information technology, this may be the ideal degree for you. Computer science programs often provide career counseling and networking opportunities to jumpstart your career.

This degree provides fundamental skills needed to excel in many technology-oriented positions. Coursework typically covers topics on software development as well as hardware maintenance. Students master essential programming languages such as Java and C++, and they learn to design, code, and test applications. Through hands-on projects, students often gain experience fixing bugs and other issues. These software-oriented courses appeal to students looking to create new programs or contribute to existing softwares.

Earning an associate degree also provides many benefits outside of the classroom. While students work towards a computer science associate degree, jobs fairs and other networking events on campus can prove essential for finding a job. In addition, career counselors can help students search for jobs and internships as they approach graduation. You can also increase your competitiveness by earning an associate degree in computer science; jobs in the field often require a college education.

On-campus computer science degrees are great for recent high school graduates who aim for positions that require an associate degree. Online associate degree programs in computer science may be better for full-time professionals or those looking to switch careers.

What Can I Do With an Associate in Computer Science?

Computer science associate degree jobs span many fields. Some graduates go on to plan and build applications as software developers or computer programmers. Others work as systems administrators who oversee, maintain, and protect important networks and infrastructures.

Network or Computer Systems Administrator

These professionals maintain the local networks and systems that allow an organization to function. They manage an organization's hardware and software, and make repairs when necessary. These professionals also regulate access to a company's network, adding and removing users as needed. Many employers require an associate degree for these positions.

Median Annual Salary: $81,100

Computer Support Specialist

These individuals, sometimes called technical support specialists, solve network problems and assist users with computer issues. They field customer support requests, help users work through problems, and repair equipment. As part of their daily duties, these professionals often maintain computer systems and train customers to use new hardware and software.

Median Annual Salary: $52,810

Computer Programmer

These professionals write code for applications and software. Computer programmers typically master one or more coding languages, such as C++ or Java, and help software engineers and developers create functioning programs. They test new applications and rewrite code as necessary. Programmers help software developers turn their designs and ideas into code.

Median Annual Salary: $82,240

Software Developer

These individuals design computer programs and applications. They determine a program's end result and work with computer programmers to achieve that goal. Developers manage a program's entire design from initial concept, to testing, to a final product. Most software developers have an undergraduate degree.

Median Annual Salary: $103,560

How to Choose an Associate Program in Computer Science

With so many excellent options for associate programs in computer science, prospective students often struggle to decide. Students should consider several factors when choosing between schools. Each program has specific courses, requirements, and other features that may appeal to you. Determine what characteristics you desire and try to find programs that fit those criteria.

Take into account each program's length. Some programs require students to earn the degree in exactly two years, while others allow for some flexibility. If you want to finish your associate degree faster, choose a school that offers accelerated programs. Or, if you need to balance other responsibilities with your schoolwork, you may prefer to study part time through an online program.

You should also consider each program's academic offerings. If you plan to specialize in a particular area of computer science such as game design, web development, or artificial intelligence, choose a program that offers the appropriate concentration. If you want to graduate having created a functional application, narrow your search to programs that incorporate hands-on projects.

In addition, consider each program's cost. Tuition costs may vary by thousands of dollars depending on your chosen school, and some schools may offer more financial aid than others. Be sure to only attend a school that you can afford in the long run.

Associate in Computer Science Program Admissions

Applying to associate degree programs in computer science may seem like a long and daunting process. Make sure you understand what schools expect ahead of time so you can submit applications and other materials before the deadline. At minimum, you must complete an application and submit official high school transcripts. Some schools also require applicants to submit personal essays or test scores. Keep in mind that the admissions process for online programs is typically more complicated than for on-campus programs.

Begin compiling a list of your favorite schools early on. High school students should start in their junior year. You should apply to 6-9 schools, making sure to choose a few schools that will most likely accept you, a few that you have a decent chance of getting into, and a few dream schools that might be challenging to get into.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Colleges typically ask students to complete a short application, which covers basic personal information. Students can complete the Common App once and submit it to many schools.
  • Transcripts: You must obtain an official transcript from your high school in order to apply to college. Some high schools charge a fee.
  • Application Fee: Colleges typically charge applicants $30-$100 to process their applications. Some schools waive application fees for low-income students or U.S. military veterans.

Educational Paths for Computer Science Associate Programs

After earning a computer science associate degree, many graduates go on to earn a bachelor's degree in a related field. While an associate degree can jumpstart your career, a bachelor's degree gives you a competitive edge and can lead to a much higher salary down the line. Associate degree holders in computer science earn an average of $57,000 per year, while bachelor's degree holders in the field earn $82,000 annually.

Computer Science

These bachelor's programs build on some of the basic concepts introduced in associate programs, and cover more advanced theories and techniques. Programs typically include advanced coursework on logic, algorithms, calculus, and programming. Students may have the option to take specialized courses in fields such as artificial intelligence or computer graphics.

Computer Engineering

While computer science programs focus mainly on software, top computer engineering programs cover the relationship between hardware and software. Through courses on circuitry, computer architecture, and electronics, computer engineering students gain an understanding of how hardware systems operate. Courses often incorporate practical experience in building and repairing computers.

Information Systems Management

Information systems degrees prepare students for roles building and maintaining computer networks. Students learn how various business and organizations use technology in their day-to-day operations. Information systems management students also develop the communication, critical-thinking, and decision-making skills needed to oversee complex computer networks.

What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Computer Science?

This section guides you through some of the key courses, costs, and requirements you can expect from an associate program in computer science. While specifics vary depending on the particular program you choose, the following section provides some general information about earning a computer science associate degree.

Courses in an Associate Program in Computer Science

Coursework differs between schools, but most associate in computer science curricula cover the same general topics. While you probably will not encounter all of the courses outlined below, this list provides an idea of some common courses found in associate in computer science programs.

Database Design

This course introduces students to essential database management systems and techniques. Students learn to develop applications and programs using standard database models. The class also covers the various types of databases that businesses use to store and organize data. The course prepares students for positions as software developers and systems administrators.

Introduction to Information Systems

This course presents a basic overview of the various information systems that businesses and other organizations use for their daily operations. The course incorporates topics on commonly used hardware and software, and touches on network management and design. Courses often include hands-on experience with databases and software packages.

Programming Fundamentals

In these courses, students learn the basic methods and concepts behind software development and design. Students explore the underlying algorithms, data structures, and processes that make programs function. In these courses, students often use basic programming languages to create simple applications. These courses prove essential for computer professionals in many positions.

Web Development

These courses prepare students for roles designing and maintaining websites. Web development courses cover the basics of web application creation and internet coding. Students learn to design web pages using programming languages such as HTML, XML, CSS, and JavaScript. These courses often include topics on both front-end and back-end development.

Computer Architecture

Through this course, students explore how computers and computing systems function. They study the essential components of a computer and how they are organized. The course covers topics such as memory architecture, processing, and digital logic. This course provides essential knowledge for students entering both hardware- and software-oriented fields.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Computer Science?

Students earning a computer science associate degree should expect to study for around two years. Most programs require around 60 credits, and students usually complete them in four semesters. However, depending on your chosen program, you may spend more or less time working towards your degree.

Students aiming to finish the degree in under two years may choose to double up on credits. Taking above the suggested number of credits each semester accelerates the path to an associate degree. Those who work full time or must manage other commitments may prefer to take fewer credits each semester. Many programs require students to pay a flat fee per credit, so the rate at which you earn your degree may not affect tuition costs. Note that some schools charge different tuition rates for full-time, part-time, and online students.

How Much is an Associate in Computer Science?

Tuition for associate degree programs in computer science ranges from approximately $6,000-$30,000 for a two-year program. Several factors affect the total cost of your degree. Tuition constitutes just one of the many expenses you must consider.

Whether you choose to study in your state of residence or in another state can drastically alter your tuition costs. Many associate-degree-granting institutions receive public funding and subsidize tuition for in-state students. Earning your degree in-state can lead to enormous savings. In-state students can pay as little as $100 per credit, while out-of-state students regularly pay $300 or more. Some colleges allow all online learners to pay in-state tuition, regardless of where they live.

Beyond tuition, consider costs such as housing, meal plans, and academic resources. Rent, utilities, and other essential expenses vary depending on where in the country you choose to study, so be sure to research typical living costs before committing to a college. Textbooks command high prices, often costing hundreds of dollars each. In addition, computer science students should consider whether they want to purchase a new computer or upgrade their internet.

Professional Organizations in Computer Science

Professional organizations offer invaluable resources to computer science students, graduates, and professionals alike. The many continuing education and networking opportunities that these organizations provide can help you accelerate your job search and maintain a competitive edge throughout your career. Members of the IEEE Computer Society gain access to more than 3,000 online courses along with mentorship opportunities. The Association for Computing Machinery's CareerNews newsletter keeps members informed about the technology career landscape.

Association for Computing Machinery

This professional organization works to advance the field of computer science and related professions. The association's Learning Center provides access to online IT courses, books, and instructional videos.

Association of IT Professionals

This organization accepts information technology professionals, students, and educators. The association helps members compare jobs and learn about developments in the IT field.

IEEE Computer Society

This group serves more than 60,000 members through conferences, publications, and professional development courses. Members gain access to a worldwide community of technology professionals.