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An associate in computer engineering gives students foundational technical skills. Programs vary in focus, usually covering topics like programming, operating systems, and computer hardware. Many programs also feature courses in software engineering or development.
Learners can typically complete a computer engineering associate program in about two years. This marketable degree can provide a quick path to entry-level tech careers and act as a base for future educational upgrades.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer engineers enjoyed a median salary of nearly $120,000 per year as of 2020. Associate degree-holders can pursue multiple technology career paths. This guide provides detailed information about computer engineering associate degrees, including admissions processes, typical courses, and costs.
What to Expect From an Associate in Computer Engineering Program
Associate in computer engineering programs are often standalone degrees. However, graduates of accredited programs may apply their coursework toward the first two years of a bachelor’s program. In this sense, associate degrees also function as stepping stones to four-year credentials.
Credit requirements vary. At the lower end, computer engineering associate degrees cover about half of the usual 120 credits needed for a bachelor’s. Others feature more intensive structures, consisting of up to 90 credits.
Major requirements cover core computer engineering coursework. Electives allow students to pursue related areas of interest.
Most schools offer three types of courses in their programs: major requirements, electives, and general education classes. Major requirements cover core computer engineering coursework. Electives allow students to pursue related areas of interest. General education courses round out the curriculum with classes in the humanities and sciences.
Learners applying for an associate in computer engineering program usually need a high school diploma or equivalent. Most programs recommend a strong background in math and physics. Applicants without this foundational knowledge may need to complete preparatory courses before securing full admission.
Associate degrees in computer engineering assume incoming students have a basic understanding of computer systems and programming languages. Most programs include introductory classes in these subjects. Even so, incoming students with some level of practical knowledge may enjoy an advantage.
Associate degrees in computer engineering assume incoming students have a basic understanding of computer systems and programming languages.
Minimum GPA requirements vary, but usually start in the 2.0 range (on the 4.0 scale). Schools may request SAT or ACT scores. Some institutions also prompt applicants to take placement tests in the subject they plan to study.
Degree and Concentration Options
At the associate level, computer engineering programs usually lead to one of two degree types. These include the associate of science (AS) and the associate of applied science (AAS).
Though similar, AS and AAS designations have some notable differences. With a stronger focus on academic theory, AS programs prepare learners for eventual entry to bachelor’s programs. AAS degrees place more emphasis on practical skills and thus serve students planning to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.
That said, AS and AAS programs both qualify graduates for entry-level jobs and bachelor’s degree transfer. The BLS notes that bachelor’s graduates earn an average of about 40% more than people with associate degrees. Thus, associate degree-holders often choose to upgrade to four-year credentials.
Schools rarely offer concentrations at the associate level. If you want to specialize in a particular computer engineering subfield, bachelor’s and master’s programs offer more options.
Comparing Similar Degrees
Schools feature many undergraduate programs in areas similar to computer engineering. Examples include:
Associate Degree in Computer Science: General computer science programs cover similar topics to computer engineering programs, but may focus more on troubleshooting, software, operating systems, and programming.
Associate Degree in Software Engineering: Computer engineering programs emphasize hardware and system design. Learners with a stronger interest in software development can pursue this degree instead.
Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering: These four-year programs study computer engineering topics in more depth and detail.
The data below summarizes the key features and differences among these programs:
Areas of Focus
Associate Degree in Computer Engineering
System design | Electronics and circuitry | Hardware design and development | Programming languages
Similar to associate degrees, but in greater depth | Specializations in topics such as programming, system design, robotics, machine learning, networking, and hardware engineering may be available
Learners interested in computer circuitry, hardware components, network design, and system design often find computer engineering programs a strong match. Students drawn to programming, analytics, user interfacing, game design, and computer applications may thrive in software engineering or development programs. General computer science degrees offer balanced structures that cover multiple areas.
Learners interested in computer circuitry, hardware components, network design, and system design often find computer engineering programs a strong match.
Students seeking fast, efficient workforce entry may prefer an associate degree’s compact timeline. Bachelor’s programs can lead to more career opportunities but also require a greater up-front time investment.
Associate in computer engineering programs usually feature core and elective courses. Students must complete all core courses, and they can choose their electives from a list of approved options.
Each school develops its own computer engineering curriculum. As such, course lineups vary among schools. The following list highlights some common classes in computer engineering associate programs:
Computer Theory: This course develops students’ understanding of the theories and principles underlying computer system design. Topics include logic, data registries, computer circuitry, and Boolean algebra. The class structure may combine lectures with lab-based practical learning.
Introduction to Computer Programming: The course explores computer programming fundamentals with an emphasis on simple programming languages. Students also examine elements common to multiple programming languages.
Introduction to Electrical Engineering: In this course, learners apply engineering principles to computer circuitry and hardware. Depending on the degree’s structure, this course may be required or elective. When offered, it usually falls in the program’s upper semesters.
Introduction to Software Engineering: This popular elective introduces students to software engineering development models. Specific topics typically include state-, function-, and object-oriented programming; prototyping; and the product development lifecycle.
How Much Will a Computer Engineering Associate Degree Cost?
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tracks higher education costs nationwide. For the 2019-20 academic year, the NCES reports the following averages for tuition, fees, room, and board at two-year institutions:
Public institutions: $11,069
Private institutions (nonprofit and for-profit): $26,749
All institutions: $11,391
Computer engineering associate program costs generally align with these averages. However, cost of attendance depends on many factors. Key examples include:
Whether you attend a public institution in or out of state (out-of-state learners usually pay more).
Whether you study in person or online.
The school’s profile, reputation, and prestige.
Financial aid can help you meet your computer engineering associate degree costs. First, look into non-repayable sources of aid like scholarships and grants. Should you still need help, consider federal or private loans as a last resort.
An associate in computer engineering may appeal to people seeking a quick, efficient path to an entry-level tech job. This degree carries even more value when paired with optional computing and technology certifications.
Historically, the technology industry has placed more importance on skills and abilities than academic degrees. Even so, degrees communicate a candidate’s commitment to the industry and demonstrate a baseline knowledge level.
Computer engineering associate programs feature compact graduation timelines. These degrees make a strong match for learners who want the benefits of a degree while minimizing costs and time commitments.
Choosing the right program requires careful research. As you investigate programs, consider the factors most likely to impact your educational outcome and job prospects. These points differ for everyone, but often include:
Graduation and job placement rates
Transferability of credits toward bachelor’s programs
Quality of on-campus computer labs and technical facilities
Endorsements from specialized accrediting bodies add further value to computer engineering associate programs. ABET acts as the key accreditor of computer science and technology programs. ABET-validated degree tracks meet particularly high academic standards and merit extra attention.
Should You Get Your Associate Degree Online?
Online learning has made major strides over the past decade and continues to grow. Technology-related degrees translate well to the virtual classroom. Course content for these programs does not typically depend much on real-time interactions.
Succeeding at online learning does demand high levels of independence and self-motivation. If you thrive in these areas, an online degree might work well for you.
However, some people prefer the structured environment of traditional campus-based programs. Think about which format makes a better match for your learning style and apply those insights to your program search.
What can you do with an associate degree in computer engineering?
An associate in computer engineering can lead to entry-level roles in many technology sectors. Computer engineering graduates may qualify for jobs designing and testing hardware components. They can also work in areas such as programming, web design, IT, and information security.
Can you get a job with an associate in computer engineering?
Yes. Tech employers often value skills and abilities over academic background. You do not need an advanced degree to land a well-paid job with growth potential.
Is an associate in computer engineering worth it?
Earning a degree shows employers that you are committed to the industry and your career path. An associate degree also develops important professional skills. These factors may give associate in computer engineering graduates a job market advantage.
What other jobs are available in computer engineering?
Computer engineering programs build technical skills that transfer well to many roles. Examples include programming, tech support, IT support, cybersecurity, and web development.