Computer science degrees offer a versatile technical credential, with applications in the world of IT, software development, scientific research and development, and beyond. According to a March 2010 report by the Computing Research Association, the number of computer science bachelor's degrees awarded has risen 14 percent since 2008. This increase reflects growing opportunity in computing careers; several of the nation's fastest-growing careers require a computer science degree, including software developers and network systems analysts.
Choosing the Right Online Computer Science Degree
Computing Research Association Chair, Dr. Eric Grimson explains the appeal of computer science degrees in a press release from the organization: "The best and brightest students recognize that computer science is a field that offers tremendous intellectual excitement, great job prospects and the ability to change the world."
Computer science training is available at every level of the post-secondary system, from technical certificates to research doctorates.
- Bachelor of Science: The standard entry-level qualification for most computing careers is the Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in computer science. This four-year credential incorporates both general education and computer science fundamentals, with some opportunity for specialized electives in the final two years of the program.
- Associate of Applied Science: The A.A.S. in computer science takes a more applied approach to the degree, emphasizing training in database management systems, computer networking and programming languages.
- Graduate Degrees: The M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science offer the opportunity for original research in computing. Graduate degrees may lead to a development or management role in industry or a university professor career.
- Certificates in Computer Science: Computer science certificates focus on a particular topic, technology or vendor. They may be completed in a few weeks or less and are designed to be mid-career continuing education credentials.
The online technology degrees are self-paced and accessible from any Internet-connected computer, making it ideal for working professionals looking to upgrade their education or change careers. Find out what can you do with a degree in computer science.
What to Expect in a Computer Science Program
The computer science curriculum covers math and technology topics relevant to the development of computer systems and software applications. Course topics include:
- Applied mathematics: calculus and discrete mathematics
- Software development: object-oriented data structures and algorithms
- Programming languages and compilers
- Computational theory
- Database and information systems
- Graphics and visualization, including user interface design
- Computer systems and networks: distributed systems, operating systems design, local and wide area networks, system security
In addition, computer science programs may include instruction in business management or specific applications of computing skills, such as scientific research or manufacturing.
There are numerous specialized career paths available under the general umbrella of computer science, and some have a slightly brighter outlook than others. A bachelor's degree in computer science, information systems, or a related discipline is typically required for employment in any of the following positions:
Computer and information research scientists work at the cutting edge of the IT field, coming up with solutions to contemporary problems in computing and developing innovative uses for existing technologies. The expected 15 percent rate of employment growth in the field from 2012 to 2022 may appear modest when compared with other red-hot computer science careers, but it's still faster than the national average across all occupations.
Oregon offered an average 2013 salary of $133,640 to IT researchers, according to the BLS, earning it the position of highest-paying state in the field. The national median salary for computer research scientists was $106,290 in 2013.
Software developers, who design software programs and develop the systems of code that run them, constitute one of the more creatively oriented careers available to graduates with computer science degrees. Jobs in software development are also predicted to experience rapid growth, with a 22 percent increase in employment expected by 2022.
The median annual salary for software developers was $101,410 in 2013, with the top 10 percent taking home $150,760 or more and the lowest 10 percent earning up to $63,140. Strong computer programming skills are a big plus for anyone looking to break into the field, and a master's degree in computer science can be equally attractive to established companies and exciting new startups.
Information security analysts assess the risk level of communication networks and recommend or implement data encryption protocols, firewalls or other security measures. They also have the fastest growing job in the IT field, according to BLS projections, with an employment increase of 37 percent expected between 2012 and 2022.
While jobs in the field may only list a bachelor's degree in computer science as an employment requirement, employers often prefer candidates who also have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Science (MS) degree in information systems. The median annual salary for information security analysts was $106,290 in 2013, with the top 10 percent of earners making $158,800 or more the same year.
Salary Info for Computer Science Graduates
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national salary average across all occupations checked in at a fairly comfortable median of $35,090 in 2013. For computer and mathematical occupations, however, which is the occupational category where a degree in computer science is most valuable, the median salary was reported as $77,860. That's more than twice the national average, for anyone who's keeping score.
Here are some computer science jobs projected by the College Board to be in particularly high demand over the next several years, along with their 2013 median annual salary as reported by the BLS:
- Computer software engineer, applications: $96,260
- Computer software engineer, systems software: $104,480
- Computer systems analyst: $85,320
- Network systems and data communications analyst: $77,910
Despite being home to Silicon Valley, California's average wage of $95,320 for computer science careers was the second highest in the U.S. in 2013. Washington took the top spot, offering an average 2013 income of $97,520 for jobs that require a computer science degree.
Online Associate Degrees in Computer Science
Online associate's degree programs in computer technology offer a versatile introduction to the IT field, with career training in computer applications for the business environment. Graduates develop a broad skill set in technology platforms, databases, graphical applications, spreadsheets, and operating systems. Courses may include computer programming, Computer Information Systems (CIS), network administration, and other information technology topics.
An associate's degree in computer technology can lead to a wide range of entry-level information technology careers. You may install, test, evaluate, and maintain electronic systems and equipment, or work in an organization's IT department, in field service, sales, or manufacturing.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science
As technology continues to evolve, the demand for computer science professionals should remain constant. A bachelor's degree in computer science online will help students prepare for careers in the software and Web technology industries, with graduates commonly taking positions as computer programmers, software developers and Web developers. The bachelor of computer science is often a prerequisite for business related positions in technology, such as systems analyst and computer and information systems manager. Students learn design, development, support and management of hardware, software, multimedia and systems integration.
What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Computer Science Entail?
For full-time students, a bachelor's degree in computer science typically takes four years to complete. Some institutions offer accelerated programs where students take courses year-round and earn their degrees in less than four years. Curriculum for a computer science bachelor's degree program customarily focuses on programming languages, mathematics, data structures, logic and computation, and computer architecture. Example topics may include:
- Operating Systems: This course focuses on the theory and practice of modern operating systems. Topics include system calls, executing and managing resources, memory management, file systems, directories, crash recovery, security, networking and others. These classes are typically a mix of lecture and practice, with students engaging in intensive programming projects. Students will be prepared to develop software for common operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, Linux and several mobile operating systems.
- Artificial Intelligence: This course covers the study and design of intelligent systems -- systems that learn from experience, plan their actions and solve complex problems. Real world applications include robots that plan their own actions, webcrawlers that efficiently locate information, intelligent assistants that help people in their daily lives and game-playing systems that perform better than human players. Some applications of AI technology in pop culture include Watson, the IBM computer that defeated two "Jeopardy!" champions in 2011, the iPhone personal assistant Siri, and the Xbox 360 Kinect.
- Game Design: One area of computer science that has gained popularity in recent years is game design, which focuses on the development of interactive computer games. In addition to the technical aspects of computer gaming, these courses cover design of environments, storyline, graphics, music, character and the overall artistic vision of games. Some colleges have Bachelor of Computer Science degrees with concentrations in game design where students are fully prepared to enter the gaming industry upon graduation.
Bachelor's of computer science programs usually break up into general education classes (English, social sciences and math), core requirements, and support courses and specialized electives that may include statistics, technical writing and computing security.
Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Computer Science
As the technology landscape continues to evolve, the software and technology industries will maintain a high demand for computer science degree holders. One popular career is computer programmer, which is expected to increase in employment by 12 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2013). One issue to be aware of for computer programmers is the outsourcing of programming projects and jobs to countries with drastically lower wages. The best way to counter this is through education and gaining practical experience. Many programmers telecommute, and approximately 25 percent of programmers live in California, New York, and Texas (bls.gov, 2013).
Another career path is software developer, which has a projected growth rate of 30 percent according to the BLS, well above the national average for all other occupations. Software developers are in charge of the entire development process behind software programs and work closely with programmers, although they may program as well. Computer software is in increasingly high demand and software developers are benefiting from this growth.
Other potential occupations for those with a bachelor's in computer science:
- Web developer
- Web designer
- Database administrator
- Information systems security
Online Doctoral Degrees in Computer Science
Earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in computer science opens doors to opportunities on the cutting edge of the field and qualifies graduates for research jobs in academia, research and development, and government.
The most common doctoral degree in computer science is the Ph.D., but some schools offer a Doctor of Computer Science (DCS) instead. The two degrees are academically equivalent and both provide an intensive, research-based curriculum.
Due to momentous gains in technology, more and more businesses require leaders with technological savvy. Though less prevalent, a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) with a specialization in applied computer science is rising in popularity. These DBA programs help prepare graduates for both leadership and technological roles.
Which Doctoral Program Is Right for You?
Admission requirements for a Ph.D. in computer science vary widely from one school to another. Some schools require applicants to hold a master's degree in computer science, while other schools only require a bachelor's in a related field. Regardless of the admission requirements, applicants will need a strong quantitative background to be competitive.
Fully online computer science doctoral degrees are available, and online schools tend to offer the DCS degree. Online computer science doctorates provide students the ability to complete their coursework at their own pace, and some offer flexible enrollment dates. Online doctoral programs commonly require students to attend short, intensive residences that enable interaction and networking opportunities with faculty and fellow classmates.
What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Computer Science Entail?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a doctoral degree in computer science typically requires at least five years of study beyond the bachelor's degree, and includes advanced courses in computer and software systems, artificial intelligence, microprocessors, and digital communications.
Breadth curriculum, which calls for several different classes encompassing core disciplines within the field, is required at many schools. Students typically complete these core courses early in the program before moving on to specialize in a particular area of computer science. Comprehensive exams, which are administered before students can advance to Ph.D. candidacy, cover both core topics and individual areas of expertise.
The second half of a computer science doctorate program is spent working on dissertation research. Some schools, such as Stanford University, allow students to start with smaller research projects as soon as the Ph.D. program begins, helping form the base of the more in-depth dissertation.
Dissertations are based upon original research and should help contribute to the world of computing. Once the topic is approved by a faculty committee, the dissertation begins with in-depth, exhaustive research and concludes with an oral presentation and defense of the work. The project showcases investigative research and analysis skills learned throughout the program.
Deciding to earn a doctoral degree is a life changing decision. Browse through the schools below to get more information about online doctorate in computer science programs or to arrange to speak with an admissions representative.