As technology becomes more personalized, integrated, and straightforward, it also brings behind-the-scene challenges in the management and security of information. This may be why there is increased demand for talented individuals who can solve small- and large-school problems in the areas of cloud computing, cybersecurity, data analytics, and information infrastructure. The current environment makes it an ideal time for you to take steps toward completing an information technology degree.
Computer science employers are increasingly seeking IT candidates who also have a specialized or a combined degree in business and communications.
Over the next decade, careers in information technology are projected to rise by about 13%, faster than average for all other occupations. Evolving and new areas in cloud computing, data security, and collection of big data are expected to churn out a total of over 500,000 new jobs in the U.S. And the median annual wage for an IT position is also much higher than average, about $84,000 compared to a median wage of $37,000 for all jobs.
Read on to learn about career opportunities in the field, why an associate degree in information technology may be right for you, and what to expect in an information technology degree program.
Should I Get an Associate Degree in Information Technology?
How do you decide between an online or on-campus information technology program? An online program may be a good option if you work full time and are considering a career change, while an on-campus program may appeal to first-time freshmen or those looking to gain the hands-on experience necessary to enter an IT career right after graduation.
In either an online or on-campus IT program, you'll learn a well-rounded set of skills, including how to:
- Solve common IT-related issues like software and hardware malfunctions
- Use tools for maintaining IT security of systems
- Create software apps
- Install wireless networks
- Evaluate which IT tools are the best solution for an organization's needs
If you aren't certain about college-level exams or feel you're lacking the skills to succeed in school, most on-campus and some online associate degree programs offer services like free academic tutoring and time management strategies. If you're on campus or have the ability to commute onsite, many schools also offer opportunities to expand professional and personal networks through student clubs and community activities.
After graduation, an associate degree in information technology can help set you apart from the competition for entry-level IT positions, such as a help-desk technician or project manager. A degree also prepares you for more advanced study at the bachelor and graduate levels.
What Can I Do with an Associate in Information Technology?
Early on, work with a career advisor in your program to identify your personality and work strengths, and to narrow the existing and emerging career options for which an associate in information technology prepares you. IT positions are typically well suited for people who are analytical, detail-oriented, and natural problem-solvers.
- Help Desk Technician
Almost any industry that works with computers needs a help desk technician to help identify, troubleshoot, and solve common to high-level IT issues. An associate's degree can provide you with the skills and background needed to lead a project team and help implement permanent solutions to more complex problems.
Median Annual Salary: $41,758
- Information Technology Specialist
Information technology specialists are experts in IT products and services, and they help organizations manage digital information by building customized databases and software programs. Skill level and qualifications vary amongst IT specialists, who regularly have opportunities to learn and advance their skills as technology develops. An associate's degree can prepare for you earning more advanced certifications in areas like cybersecurity and network programming.
Median Annual Salary: $46,487
- Network Analyst
A network analyst ensures a company's computer network operates smoothly through regular maintenance and updates. They may also work with an IT team to design and implement network structure and functionality. While analysts usually have a bachelor's degree, individuals with an accredited associate's degree and strong interpersonal skills may also be excellent candidates for this position.
Median Annual Salary: $55,979
How to Choose an Associate in Information Technology Program
An associate degree typically takes two years to complete if you're a full-time student. If you choose to attend part time, expect to spend at least another year completing all required coursework. Other factors, such as whether a required class is offered every semester, may also affect when you graduate.
Most IT curricula require a communication course and precalculus math as part of the core requirements. Major requirements are IT-specific and include courses like networking concepts and introduction to computer security. Some associate-level programs also offer concentrations, such as programming and software development.
Several factors affect the cost of an associate degree in information technology: whether you attend part or full time, if you are a current or past military member or family member, and whether you choose an online or on-campus program. Required student and program fees also vary by school.
When deciding between an online or on-campus program, consider your work schedule, existing professional experience, and other time constraints. Some schools offer both options (on-campus and online) or a blended version (hybrid). Online programs typically provide more flexibility in schedule, or they offer classes in the evening, ideal for individuals with full-time jobs.
Students looking to attend an on-campus program may have more opportunities to practice skills under the guidance of faculty and to build a professional network. Programs may require a final project or exit survey in order to graduate, though this will vary by school and state.
Location may be important if you plan to participate in an in-person residency or pursue a career after graduation in the same region or state as the school. If you plan to relocate to complete a program, factors to consider include IT employment opportunities, cost of living, and quality of life.
While specializations are not available for all programs, example concentrations include management, networking, and programming and software development. Many programs also offer a variety of electives that allow you to tailor your degree to your career interests.
Associate in Information Technology Program Admissions
Whether applying for an online or on-campus program, expect to provide an official version of all transcripts, high school and postsecondary. If you're applying directly out of high school, many programs require SAT scores and a minimum number of units or credits taken in particular subject areas, such as one unit in advanced algebra or a similar course. When in doubt, contact an admissions adviser to ensure that you meet all admissions requirements.
- Application: Most colleges require an online application that can be completed in fewer than 15 minutes. First-time freshman may have access to the CommonApp, which they can use to apply to over 700 participating colleges and universities in the U.S.
- Transcripts: Most colleges require an official copy of your high school transcript and any postsecondary transcripts, if you have college experience. Official postsecondary transcripts usually cost a small fee and can be requested from the college's office of registrar.
- Application Fee: Many colleges require an application fee, typically $25-$60. Fees may be waived if you previously attended a school or are an active military member or veteran, though this will vary by school.
Educational Paths for Information Technology Associate Programs
Completing an associate degree in information technology can serve as a useful foundation for transfer into a bachelor degree program in computer science, programming, or a complementary field like business. According to 2017-2018 recruiting trends by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute, computer science employers are increasingly seeking IT candidates who also have a specialized or a combined degree in business and communications, for example.
If you're interested in pursuing more advanced study or exploring a range of careers, consider a bachelor's degree. Many bachelor's programs will accept credits from an associate degree or through completion of a prior learning assessment, which can help accelerate your completion of a bachelor's degree.
- Bachelor of Science in Business
A background in business broadens your potential for careers in project and department management. Business programs usually offer courses in leadership, human resources, accounting, and marketing. Some bachelor's programs also offer concentrations like management information systems or entrepreneurship and innovation.
- Bachelor of Arts in Communications
A bachelor's program in communications provides you with knowledge and skills to craft messaging and communicate with individuals, groups, and organizations. Program outcomes may include creating messages tailored to a specific audience and synthesizing research in the communications field. Since computers and mobile devices are primary sources of communication, understanding how different groups leverage these technologies is particularly relevant across business, nonprofits, and government agencies.
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Programming
If you're interested in becoming a computer programmer, web application developer, or information system analyst, a bachelor of science in computer programming may be a necessity. In addition to learning the most common programming languages, individuals learn database application and software development skills to prepare for working with dynamic and rapidly changing technology.
What Else Can I Expect from an Associate in Information Technology Program?
Associate in information technology programs will vary in the specific courses they offer. Pay attention to each program's curriculum before applying, and highlight any courses of particular interest to you. Determine if you will attend school part or full time, and whether you wish to complete your degree on-campus, online, or partially online. These decisions will impact your total costs and length of time you need to complete a program.
Courses in an Associate in Information Technology Program
While courses will differ depending on the school and program you choose, the following list showcases common courses found across most associate in information technology programs. Total credit hours required will also vary, but expect to complete a minimum of 60 credits to earn an associate degree in information technology.
- Introduction to Web Design/Development
If you're interested in a career as a web developer, this course provides a starting point for understanding how websites work and how they interact with computers, browsers, and mobile devices. Course projects may include building a functioning web page and creating models for a personal or business website.
- Fundamentals of Database Systems
This course typically explores the design, use, and implementation of database systems and applications, including big data systems. Coursework builds on a basic understanding of elementary programming and computer organization and prepares individuals for a career as a database systems developer and administrator.
- Project Management in Information Technology
Project management in IT includes the study of strategies and processes specific to IT, including how to create and implement a project plan that incorporates risk management and and tracking systems. A background in project management helps pave the path for varying levels of management roles, from project manager to chief technology officer of a business.
- Introduction to Data Communication and Networking
Data communication and networking examines how information is sent and received in a computer network. Students learn about Internet models, and the architectures and protocols of interconnected technologies. This course is a preliminary step in starting a career as a computer network architect or network system administrator.
- Introduction to Computer Languages
This course covers the functions and applications of languages that interact with computers, such as SQL, Java, and C++. Understanding how computer languages work and how to use them is essential to a career in computer programming or web and software application development.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Information Technology?
An associate in information technology usually requires two years to complete with an average of 60 total credits. Several factors can affect the length of time from your start date to graduation. Some associate programs offer the choice of attending full or part time, while many online programs are only offered part time. Moreover, programs may offer a required sequence of courses in their curriculum, with certain courses only offered during a particular semester, while other programs may provide more flexibility in the pace and order of completion.
Most programs with full- and part-time options offer flexibility in the number of credits you can take during a semester. Students who work part or full time may want to take one or two courses the first semester to determine a reasonable course load. Students interested in accelerating their degree completion may want to target on-campus programs that allow them to take additional courses during a semester or online and blended programs that allow them to finish requirements at their own pace.
How Much Is an Associate in Information Technology?
An associate degree program typically costs about $16,000, although total price can reach as high as $48,000 depending on factors such as:
- Online, on-campus, or blended program formats
- Part- or full-time status
- In-state or out-of-state tuition differences
- Number of credits or hours required to complete the degree
- Tuition discounts (common for military members, veterans, and their families)
Many online programs offer the same per-credit tuition rate to all students, which may end up costing less for out-of-state students but more for in-state students. Most programs also incur fees for course materials, technology services, and graduation. If you decide on an on-campus program, keep in mind the additional costs of housing, meal plans, and parking and commuting.
Research financial aid opportunities, including federal and state loans, as well as scholarship and grant opportunities. Most colleges provide incoming freshmen with access to dedicated financial aid officers who can help you find funding for tuition, books, supplies, and other resources. Some programs may also offer work-study programs, which can help offset your cost of tuition.
Professional Organizations in Information Technology
One of the best ways to increase your credibility and increase your chance of finding a full-time job during or after graduation is by joining a professional organization and building your social network. Many organizations are open to and encourage student membership by providing discounted membership rates. Some benefits from joining the following or similar organizations include discounts on annual conferences, connections to professional mentors who can offer advice and resources, and dedicated IT job boards.
CompTIA AITP is the leading national network for professionals in the IT field. Members can join local chapter meetings and other regional events, such as CompTIA ChannelCon.
The AWC is a well-known organization for women in all areas of computing, with local chapters nationwide and at select universities. Membership benefits include workshops, scholarships, and career planning resources.
CPSR is a unique professional organization focused on promoting responsible use of information technology. The organization and its members have been involved in projects like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Computers, Freedom, and Privacy. Membership includes access to a global network and exclusive forums and conferences.