In line with the growing nationwide demand for skilled professionals across all areas of information technology, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects network and computer administration jobs to grow by 6% over the next decade. Growth projections remain particularly high for large companies and the healthcare industry, both of which continue to invest in faster, better forms of technology to accomplish organizational goals, and which require skilled IT staff teams to maintain high standards on a daily basis.
According to PayScale, the median salary for full-time occupations in network administration rests at a healthy $56,000, and additional opportunities for career growth abound in the field. Network administrators can advance to information systems managers or computer network architects, each of which currently nets a median salary of more than $100,000 on the job market.
Should I Get an Associate Degree in Network Administration?
Although the majority of network administration professionals will ultimately earn a bachelor's degree to secure job growth opportunities or higher salary potentials, some employers will fill certain IT positions with promising individuals who hold associate degrees alone. Whether you choose to enter the workforce directly after graduation or make plans to transfer your first two years of study to a bachelor's program, an associate in network administration provides an excellent foundation in the field of information technology.
Network administration programs commonly appear as both online and on-campus offerings at technical schools and community colleges. Working professionals looking for a career change may prefer the online approach for its freedom to complete course requirements without attending in-person meetings (apart from the occasional proctored exam). High school graduates, however, will likely feel more at home enrolling in an on-campus program, attending lectures in a classroom setting, and engaging in hands-on learning among peers.
Although exact degree plans may vary depending on the school you select, network administration students will develop skills in the operation, installation, troubleshooting, and maintenance of computers and different types of networks. Core degree components include the study of best practices, network security, software, and client/server concepts. In addition to gaining the technical skills needed for employment, college enrollment frequently offers benefits in the form of career services, internship placements, and networking opportunities. Each of these services increases your value and competitiveness in the job market upon graduation.
What Can I Do With an Associate in Network Administration?
With the firm technical foundation and flexibility provided by an associate degree, graduates can pursue a variety of information technology careers, either by entering the workforce and searching out entry-level jobs or by enrolling in a bachelor's program for advanced study in network administration or a related field.
- Systems Administrator
Systems administrators oversee the maintenance and operation of computers within an organization. They manage user accounts, perform system and security monitoring, and provide tech support to colleagues. Most systems administrators hold bachelor's degrees. Earning an associate degree in network administration provides a solid first step toward this career.
Median Annual Salary: $60,604
- Network Administrator
Duties required of network administrators vary depending on the size of the company they work for, but they generally include the upkeep of hardware and software systems. Network administrators monitor for weaknesses and security issues, install updates, and may also design new networks. Associate degrees may be sufficient for entry-level employment.
Median Annual Salary: $56,623
- Information Technology Manager
In addition to supervising a company's technology infrastructure, information technology managers frequently hire, train, and supervise teams of other IT professionals who handle concerns of network security, maintenance, and software. Because the position involves direct supervision of employees, applicants may need a bachelor's degree, but an associate may be suitable for some companies.
Median Annual Salary: $84,982
How to Choose an Associate in Network Administration Program
When it comes to selecting an undergraduate degree, associate programs -- with their lower costs and shorter time commitments -- may require less extensive research than bachelor's degrees. But prospective students should still examine a variety of options before making a final decision.
One of the biggest decisions to consider when choosing a program is location. Will you study in person or online? The majority of brick-and-mortar community colleges and technical colleges do not offer on-campus housing, which requires students to commute. Online programs offer students the option to complete their coursework from home.
Once you decide your preference for taking courses online or on campus, confirm the schedule offerings of your school. Working professionals almost certainly will require part-time study, while graduating high school students can easily manage a full-time schedule. At a full-time pace, an associate degree in network administration will take about two years to complete. A part-time pace may increase this completion time to three or four years. While associate degrees generally cost much less per credit hour than bachelor's programs, factors such as in-state or out-of-state residency may affect your total out-of-pocket cost.
Beyond logistics and cost, explore curriculum, practical experience opportunities, and final projects. Investigate prospective course catalogs to determine if the learning goals align with your professional goals. Does the program include valuable real-world experience in the form of practicums or thesis/capstone projects? Make a list of your most important criteria and look for schools that match these preferences.
Associate in Network Administration Program Admissions
The admissions process for associate in network administration programs typically involves a simple set of forms and the submission of admission materials such as high school transcripts. Admissions to online programs, especially those in areas of higher demand, will often require more extensive application forms and materials like letters of recommendation or short essays.
For bachelor's programs, experts recommend applying to two "safety" schools, two "target" schools, and two "reach" schools. This advice applies less to associate programs. Though some students complete an associate degree to enter the workforce directly, most use associate degrees to supplement their ultimate bachelor's degree goals. This may make choosing one specific school or program over another less important than the quantity of credit hours earned. Associate degree students typically apply to only one or two programs, often according to the convenience of location, cost, or availability.
- Application: Depending on the complexity of information requested, college application forms can take anywhere from half an hour to a few days to complete.
- Transcripts: College admissions offices require applicants to submit official transcripts from their high school, including any dual-credit college courses taken. Your school may charge a small fee for this service.
- Application Fee: To discourage less-serious applicants, most schools charge a moderate application fee, typically $25-$90 for community colleges. Colleges may waive these fees for low-income applicants.
Educational Paths for Network Administration Associate Programs
Those with an associate in network administration degree may find it beneficial to carry their education forward to a bachelor's. The strong foundation of your degree opens the door to study in a variety of information technology specialities, including cybersecurity, data management/analytics, and IT management. While earning a bachelor's degree does not always guarantee a higher salary, advanced degrees frequently allow for a larger number of employment opportunities in specialized fields.
Many IT professionals with an associate degree earn a bachelor's degree to pursue jobs in the growing field of cybersecurity. In a cybersecurity bachelor's program, students learn skills to develop and maintain secure systems, assess vulnerabilities, and actively monitor the flow of network data and information.
- Data Management/Analytics
Bachelor's programs in data management and analytics develop students' in-depth understanding of database servers through data science, analytics, and manipulation. Students learn vital workplace skills in acquiring, validating, storing, and processing data. Additional courses in areas such as scripting language, machine learning, and technical communication provide a well-rounded foundation in information technology.
- IT Management
IT management degrees typically consist of a mix of technology courses and business administration courses, with the goal of developing simultaneous leadership and technical competencies. Students learn to apply different management theories and techniques within a technical environment to make decisions, develop strategies, and solve problems.
What Else Can I Expect From an Associate in Network Administration Program?
The section below provides a survey of information on program cost, length, and course subjects. While most associate degrees in network administration tend to come with standard curricula, lower tuition costs, and shorter enrollment times than IT bachelor's degrees, precise details may vary.
Courses in an Associate in Network Administration Program
The curriculum of your network administration degree will include a selection of general education courses, several focused network administration courses, and a few additional, related courses in information technology to develop your broader foundational knowledge. The sample courses listed below represent common course content but may not apply to every program.
Frequently studied over two semesters, introductory networking classes provide students with a general foundational knowledge of data communication concepts and network theory. Coursework typically emphasizes the understanding of IT terminology as well as a familiarization with network hardware, software, structures, and applications.
- Computer Technologies
Vital for students with interest in any information technology occupation, introductory computer science courses typically survey a variety of hardware and software topics. A well-rounded understanding of computer technology arises from the study of CPU architecture, memory, input/output devices, process and file system management, and operating system modules.
- Routing and Switching
Sometimes offered as independent courses and sometimes taught together, routing and switching classes introduce the different types of networks (local area, metropolitan area, wide area), concepts of switching configurations, and static and dynamic routing. Hands-on learning in a lab teaches students how to design, install, operate, and maintain small- to medium-sized networks.
- Principles of Information Systems Security
Introductory courses in information systems security focus on the study of security methodologies, contemporary cybercrime, and computer security laws. Through the development of foundational knowledge concerning encryption, access controls, and cloud security, these courses prepare students to analyze and develop effective security solutions within a network system.
- Introduction to Scripting
Beginning scripting courses introduce students to vital programming concepts including input and output, data types, variables, statements, and loops. With a curriculum focused on developing a foundational knowledge rather than mastery, students learn to construct simple programming language scripts through hands-on lab activities.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Network Administration?
On average, associate degrees require the completion of 60 to 66 credit hours over the course of about 21 classes. Typical full-time students will earn their degree in two years, while part-time students may take up to four or five years. For those who want to earn their degree as quickly as possible, many online programs now offer accelerated options, making it possible to earn an associate degree in network administration in as little as one year by increasing the per-semester course load.
However you decide to pace your learning, your ultimate tuition cost should remain about the same. Students enrolled for a longer period of time may accrue additional semester- or year-based costs, such as technology and library fees.
How Much Is an Associate in Network Administration?
Due to their smaller campus sizes, need for fewer resources, and smaller selection of degrees offered, community colleges and technical schools tend to offer significantly lower tuition rates than public universities and other four-year colleges.
Earning an associate degree is generally more affordable than earning a bachelor's degree. For example, CollegeBoard.org data shows that the average yearly cost of attending a two-year public college comes out to $3,500, while a year at a four-year public college averages out to $9,500. However, even at a two-year school dedicated to associate degrees, tuition prices may vary from one student to the next based upon state residency and even, in some cases, county residency.
To better estimate your total out-of-pocket cost, consider the expenses of other factors such as school fees, the cost to commute or find housing near campus, and the cost of books, supplies, and technology. Your total out-of-pocket cost may also increase or decrease according to your choice to study full or part time, as many scholarships allow only full-time students to apply for awards.
Professional Organizations in Network Administration
Affiliation with a professional organization not only provides an excellent addition to a future resume or cover letter, but often extensive online and in-person opportunities for networking, professional training and development, and career services or mentorship. Many of the top information technology organizations offer the benefits of membership at a reduced cost (or no cost) to interested students. Don't wait until after graduation to consider joining a professional organization in your field.
In addition to hosting an annual national conference and locally-arranged chapter events, this non-profit organization offers professional training and mentorship. Membership comes at no cost to students.
More than thirty local chapters comprise the Association for Information Technology Professionals. Free for students, membership includes certification and award opportunities, and an exclusive job board.
The Network Professional Association promotes best practices and continual professional development among network professionals. Members receive quarterly publications, access to chapter events, and exclusive software and discounts.