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The world is entering the fourth industrial revolution and information technology is at the heart of it! An information technology (IT) degree can offer versatility in terms of career outlook with applications in a number of tech-related fields, including computer hardware systems, network architecture, database management, cybersecurity and more. It's not just computers that these degrees focus on; you may find yourself learning about how humans and computers interact and how different computer systems can have an impact on businesses, communications and research.
According to the College Board, IT degree programs can suit individuals who are problem solvers, adaptable and like working with people.
If you are a tech-minded high school graduate or a working professional looking to acquire new skills or update existing ones, enrolling in an online information technology degree program could be the beginning of a satisfying career. Online programs may offer you the flexibility you are looking for to balance home life, work commitments and study, allowing you to progress at a pace that suits your lifestyle.
What is the difference between an information technology and a computer science degree?
While the two degree programs may look alike, they are actually very different.
Information technology mainly deals with how computer technology can help the end user. This may include implementing different computer systems in order to meet the needs of a business or individual. In short, information technology degree programs involve the practical application of technology.
Computer science is more theoretical and involves developing new methods and techniques in computing. Computer science degree programs are more mathematical in nature and involve understanding how different computer processes work.
A simple way to explain it would be that computer scientists learn to "speak" to computers and solve issues while IT professionals act as translators between computers and non-tech people.
What can I do with an information technology degree?
The sections below outline potential occupations with an IT degree and the duties that go with them.
- Meeting clients to discuss their needs and design ideas for websites
- Creating websites by writing code using programming languages like HTML or XML
- Integrating graphics and audio-visual media into websites and monitoring traffic
Network and computer systems administrators:
- Installing and upgrading computer network hardware and software according to an organization's needs
- Maintaining network and systems security
- Solving problems in the system and training users in their use
Occupations and Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the employment for IT and IT-related occupations is set to grow at 13 percent in the decade leading up to 2026. The 2017 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide states qualified candidates are hired at lightning speed. Employers are often eager to hire candidates who meet most of their criteria and are prepared to help them acquire any additional skills they need.
Here are samples of education level requirements for some occupations related to IT based on a 2017 survey conducted by O*Net.
The following table lists the various information technology career paths you may choose to follow, along with their hiring outlook, median wages and predicted employment growth using data from the BLS.
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
|Information Security Analysts||105,250||$99,690||28.4%|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||365,690||$149,730||11.9%|
|Computer Systems Analysts||581,960||$92,740||8.8%|
|Computer Network Architects||157,830||$107,870||6.4%|
Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals
An associate degree program in information technology can equip you with basic IT skills that can lead to entry-level technical and support-related positions.
A bachelor's degree is considered the standard for many careers in information management and database administration. For those already working in IT, a bachelor's degree program may provide an opportunity for continuing education, career advancement or for pursuing different employment options within the industry.
Master's degree programs in information technology are often considered to be a good option for students looking to advance into management roles, while a doctoral degree program is generally required for post-secondary teachers and researchers in the field.
The sections below discuss these degree programs in greater detail.
Online Certificate Programs in Information Technology
What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?
Information technology certificate programs can give students a broad overview of the IT field with the skills to install, maintain and configure computer hardware and operating systems.
Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Students may cover a variety of different IT aspects, including different operating systems, programming languages or networking. Courses may focus on topics like:
- Introduction to operating systems
- Microsoft office
- Fundamentals of troubleshooting
- Network security
Possible electives: Web-enabled database development; introduction to multimedia; LAN/WAN technologies
What can I do after earning a certificate?
A certificate in information technology can give graduates the opportunity to apply their skills practically in a number of different industries in basic entry-level job roles. Potential occupations you may have are:
- Help desk technical support
- User support specialist
- Computer support specialist
You may also be able to transfer the credits you have earned toward an associate or a bachelor's degree program in information technology. It can be worthwhile to check with your college regarding credit transfers.
Online Associate Degrees in Information Technology
What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?
Students may learn to build websites, manage databases and to use the latest tools of the trade. Some associate degree programs are designed to prepare students for industry certification exams issued by Microsoft and CompTIA, for example.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: Curricula include general education courses along with IT-based coursework. You may also have business-related topics included as a part of your core program. Some courses you may take are:
- Introduction to scripting
- Information technology concepts
- Desktop administration
- Business systems analysis and design
You may have to complete a capstone project or an internship to fulfill your program requirements.
Possible electives: Website development; software design and development concepts; network security
What can I do after earning an associate degree?
After earning an associate degree, you may be qualified to work in the areas of network support, software development, network architecture or web development. Potential jobs you may be eligible for are:
- Systems administrator
- IT specialist
- Security engineer
- Technical support specialist
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Information Technology
What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?
This degree program can equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to design and implement business information systems. Programs generally cover a broad range of related subjects, from networks and databases to software and websites, and may involve significant hands-on training.
Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study
General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Typical coursework: While curriculum varies from school to school, core courses often include programming, systems administration, information security, network architecture and ethics. Other topics you may study as part of your core program are:
- Core data structures with object-oriented programming
- Information modeling, storage and retrieval
- Human factors in information technology
- Network information communication technology
You may have to complete a capstone project as a part of your program.
Possible electives: Introduction to big data; managing the cloud; network forensics
What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?
Due to the breadth of the industry, numerous career options may exist for graduates of an online bachelor's degree program in information technology. A few of these include:
- Computer network administrator
- Database administrator
- Information security analyst
- IT project manager
Online Master's Degrees in Information Technology
What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?
Master's level programs can equip you with the technical know-how, critical-thinking abilities, and communication skills needed for leadership positions in the industry.
Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree
Typical coursework: The curriculum in these programs is usually designed to prepare you for management challenges in the technology industry. You're likely to study networking, common technology problems businesses face and solutions to these issues, IT research, and informatics. Other courses may include:
- Computer systems security foundations
- Information technology in the organization
- Enterprise data management
- Strategic management in dynamic environments
You may have to complete a capstone project as a part of your online master's degree program.
Possible electives: Security management; IT governance and risk management; virtual systems
What can I do after earning a master's degree?
There are a number of career possibilities for graduates with an IT master's degree, including managerial and leadership positions. Potential occupations are:
- Information security analysts
- Software developers
- Telecommunications engineering specialists
- Computer and information systems managers
Online Doctoral Degrees in Information Technology
What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?
There are two primary types of information technology degrees at the doctoral level:
- Doctor of Business Administration (DBA.) - DBA programs teach students apply complex theories in the real world
- Ph.D. in information technology -- are generally more research-intensive than DBAs, and students learn how to formulate new theories
Students of doctoral degree programs typically focus their research on a particular topic in information technology that interests them.
Typical duration: Five to seven years of full-time study
General prerequisites: Master's degree in information technology or a related field
Typical coursework: Core curricula in these programs emphasize understanding information technology research, managerial acumen needed to lead an organization's technology efforts, and advanced technical skills and thinking that contribute to innovation in the field. Coursework may include:
- Leading information technology strategic planning in complex global environments
- Enterprise systems architecture
- Business research: analysis and applications
- Guiding the implementation of information technology policies and processes
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.
Dissertation: The main part of your doctoral degree program is spent working on dissertation research. Dissertations are usually comprised of original research in the field and may include practical applications of the same. Dissertations are then presented to a panel of experts for review.
What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?
Doctoral degree holders can obtain high-level positions in the field of information technology and may even hold executive positions, such as leading departments and projects. Earning a doctorate may also allow you to pursue a career in academia or in research positions. Potential job roles are:
- College professors
- Chief information officer
- Technology researcher
- Lead systems analyst
Starting at the associate degree level, students can typically choose a specialization that aligns with their specific interests and career goals in the field of information technology. Specializations you may select are:
- Big data
- Business information systems
- Decision support systems
- Health information technology
- Software development
The Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the main professional accrediting body in the U.S. for information technology. ABET accreditation means that the program offers high-quality education that meets or exceeds required industry standards. The accreditation status of your program can play an important role when applying for federal funding scholarships or grants. 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.
Certifications for information technology majors are not mandatory. However, some professionals choose to obtain them as they can demonstrate expertise in the field. Some employers may also require you to hold certifications in the products you use. For example, vendors like Microsoft and Cisco offer popular certification programs. Some professional certifications are:
- Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW)
- Certified Technology Manager (CTM)
- Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO)