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Computer science degree programs offer a versatile technical credential, with applications in the world of IT, software development, scientific research and development, and beyond. The sheer variety reflects growing opportunities in careers requiring a computer science degree which include software developers and computer and information research scientists. In 2017, nearly 5.4 million individuals worked as technology professionals across the U.S. economy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that individuals working in the field of computer science should be able to find creative solutions to solve computer problems by "thinking out of the box," and have an analytical thought process in order to interpret complex data.
An online computer science degree program can help you develop these skills, whether you are setting off on your career as a recent high school grad, a career changer or are simply looking to develop your skills in computer science. The flexibility offered by online programs can suit individuals with family, work or other commitments or professionals looking for a career change.
What do computer scientists do?
The sections below outline common professions within the computer science field and their related duties.
- Creating, administering and maintaining databases according to employer needs
- Ensuring databases operate smoothly, are backed up and remain secure
- Modifying database structures as needed and updating them when necessary
Computer systems analyst
- Studying and installing computer systems for an organization to help them work efficiently
- Designing and implementing new computer systems or customizing existing ones
- Training end users and writing instruction manuals
Computer and information research scientists
- Studying and solving a host of computing problems for various industries
- Inventing new computing methods, tools and languages
- Exploring computing issues, conducting research and publishing their findings in academic journals
Occupations and Career Outlook
There are numerous specialized career paths available under the general umbrella of computer science, and some have a slightly brighter outlook than others. The BLS projects employment for computer and information technology occupations to grow at a rate that is 13 percent faster than the average for all occupations. In fact, these occupations are expected to add over half a million jobs by 2026! According to CompTIA, a leading tech association, nearly 4 in 10 U.S. IT firms in 2017 reported having job openings and have been actively recruiting candidates for technical positions
The following table lists the occupational outlook for professions related to computer science along with their job openings, average salary, total employment and job outlook using data from the BLS:
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
|Software Developers, Applications||849,230||$106,710||30.5%|
|Information Security Analysts||105,250||$99,690||28.4%|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||27,920||$119,570||19.2%|
|Software Developers, Systems Software||394,590||$111,780||10.8%|
|Computer Systems Analysts||581,960||$92,740||8.8%|
|Computer Science Teachers, Postsecondary||32,230||$91,590||8%|
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
An associate degree may help you obtain entry-level positions in the field of computer science while a bachelor's of computer science degree is often a prerequisite for business-related positions in technology. A master's degree in computer sciences may suit individuals who wish to enter the field of computing research or for high-level positions in the field of computer sciences.
Take a look at the education level most web developers have:
Online Certificate Programs in Computer Science
What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?
Online computer science certificate programs can give students an overview of different computer science principles and introduce them to emerging technologies in the field. Students may also be able to choose electives based on their areas of interest and the particular focus of the online computer science program. Students may want to consider mathematics and statistics, economics, and administration as part of their elective courses as these subjects may complement the certificate program adding to their skill sets .
Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Students can learn to solve computing problems, learn a programming language and design algorithms. Coursework may include:
- Fundamentals of web development
- Computer architecture
- Fundamentals of computer science concepts
- Fundamentals of software project management
Possible electives: Data mining; computer programming languages; artificial intelligence; computation of scientific applications
What can I do after earning a certificate?
According to a report by Burning Glass Technologies on the impact of computer science skills on jobs, even basic training in computer sciences can support a range of job market functions like building websites or solving financial data problems.
An online certificate in computer science may allow you to obtain entry-level positions. Jobs you may be eligible for are:
- Help desk technical support
- User support specialist
- Visual basic developer
- Multimedia developer
Online Associate Degrees in Computer Science
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
Online associate degree programs in computer science can offer a versatile introduction to the IT field, and typically focus on as hands-on practice in computer applications for the business environment. Programs are usually designed to help students develop a broad skill set in technology platforms, databases, graphical applications, spreadsheets, and operating systems.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: You may find these courses in your curriculum:
- Computer architecture and organization
- Principles of computer organization
- Database management systems
- Object-oriented programming
- Programming languages: principles and practice
As a part of your online computer science degree program, you may need to complete a practicum.
Possible electives: Math; CSC, CIS, engineering; natural science
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
Associate degree programs in computer science may work as a stepping stone toward a bachelor's degree or help you obtain entry-level positions as a:
- Programmer analyst
- Systems analyst
- Data analyst
- Software developer
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
The coursework for an online bachelor's degree program in computer science covers a range of topics and can give students the opportunity to build a varied skill set.
Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: The curriculum generally focuses on programming languages, mathematics, data structures, logic and computation, and computer architecture. Students can learn design, development, support and management of hardware, software, and systems integration. Courses may include:
- Problem solving in computer science
- Introduction to Structured Query Language (SQL)
- Mobile programming
- Introduction to computer security
- Computer platform technologies
You may have to complete a practicum as a part of your program requirements.
Possible electives: Software engineering; security risk management; machine learning; scripting for the web
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
Many employers prefer candidates to have at least a bachelor's degree for business-related positions in technology. Potential occupations include:
- Business intelligence analyst
- Computer programmer
- Computer systems analyst
- Database administrator
- Information security analyst
Online Master's Degrees in Computer Science
What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?
Online master's degree programs in computer science explore advanced computer science topics so that students can gain in-depth knowledge of current issues and advancements in technology.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree in computer sciences or a related subject
Typical coursework: Students can usually take courses in diverse topics in computer sciences and may also be able to choose an area of concentration. Coursework may include:
- Analysis of algorithms
- Fault-tolerant computing
- Machine learning
- Software testing and analysis
- Introduction to computer graphics
You may have to complete a master's thesis as a part of your program requirements.
Possible electives: Foundations of artificial intelligence; web technologies; database systems
What can I do after earning a master's degree?
A master's degree in computer sciences can allow you work in a range of different industries in high-level management or research positions. Occupations and/or titles you may be able to pursue are:
- Computer and information research scientists
- Software Development Engineer (SDE)
- Security engineer
- Software Development Engineer, Test (SDET)
Online Doctoral Degrees in Computer Science
What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?
Students interested in doctoral studies in computer science may choose from two types of degree programs. Both are academically equivalent and provide an intensive, research-based curriculum.
- Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) — this is the most common doctoral degree in computer science.
- Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) — students may choose a specialization in applied computer science.
Students of online doctoral degree programs in computer sciences can expand their expertise in areas of computer science of their choosing.
Typical duration: Five to seven years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Master's degree in computer science or related field; bachelor's degree with a certain amount of work experience in the field
Typical coursework: You may find the following courses:
- Testing of integrated circuits and systems
- Computer vision and image processing
- Current topics in computer science and information systems
You may have to pass a set of comprehensive exams covering both core topics and individual areas of expertise before you advance to Ph.D. candidacy.
Dissertations: The second half of a computer science doctoral program is spent working on dissertation research. 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.
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
A Ph.D. in computer science may lead to a development or management role in an industry or an academic career.
DBA programs can help prepare graduates for both leadership and technological roles. Potential jobs you may be eligible for are:
- Geospatial information scientists and technologists
- Search marketing strategists
- Document management specialists
- University professor
The BLS estimates that job openings in the computer sciences field will likely come from the increased use of cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security. Evolving technology has also given rise to new computer science specializations. Specializations you may be able to find include:
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning
- Big data analytics
- Cybersecurity and information assurance
- Enterprise information systems
- Parallel computing
- Software engineering
- Systems software
The Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the main professional accrediting body for computer science programs. Specialized programmatic accreditation demonstrates that the program offers quality education that meets or exceeds the standards set by professionals in the field.
Attending an accredited online computer science degree program can also be a prerequisite for receiving federal funding, scholarships or grants, if you meet qualifying factors. Additionally, most universities only accept credits from accredited institutions or programs making it an important factor to consider if you plan to continue with your education.
Professional certifications in the field of computer sciences may not be mandatory, but they can serve to demonstrate your expertise in a particular aspect of the field. Some companies may also require their employees to have certifications in the products they use. The Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) offers the following certificates:
- Certified Computer Scientist
- Computer Science Associate
- Certified Computing Professional