Associate Degree in Computer Programming in 2020

Guide to an Associate Degree in Computer Programming

Written by ComputerScience.org Staff Writers


What Is an Associate Degree in Computer Programming?

An associate degree in computer programming provides a foundation in computer science (CS) and information technology (IT). Often engaging students through projects and hands-on lab learning, these programs cultivate analytical, problem-solving, and technical skills. Graduates can pursue entry-level technical careers or related bachelor's programs.

Potential roles for graduates include computer support specialist, web developer, and computer programmer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median annual salaries for these positions as $54,760, $73,760, and $86,550, respectively.

Since many computer programming jobs require bachelor's degrees, associate degree graduates often pursue continuing education. With a computer programming bachelor's degree, graduates qualify for more computer science careers, including systems analyst and systems specialist.

Should I Get an Associate Degree in Computer Programming?

Computer programming associate degrees offer many benefits, including salary and career advancement. Below, we cover several benefits of earning an associate degree in computer programming.

  • Salary Advancement: According to PayScale, professionals with an associate in computer programming earn an average salary of $60,000 annually.
  • Career Advancement: Computer programming associate degrees meet the educational requirements for several entry-level technology jobs, such as computer support specialist and web developer.
  • Networking Opportunities: Computer programming associate degree programs often facilitate professional networking with peers, faculty mentors, and computer programming professionals.
  • Programming Skills: Students gain programming skills and knowledge that apply across industries, including common programming languages such as CSS and Javascript.
  • Internship Experience: Many associate degree programs include an internship that gives students hands-on experience in the field.

Admission Requirements for an Associate Degree in Computer Programming

Admission requirements vary by school, but most computer programming associate degree programs require a high school diploma or equivalent. Many programs also require a minimum GPA and standardized test scores. Some programs offer test score waivers to students with prior college coursework or related work experience.

Applicants must also typically submit official transcripts, an application fee of around $50, and a personal statement or essay. Students demonstrating financial need or active military status may qualify for fee waivers. Other possible application requirements include letters of recommendation, interviews with admissions counselors, and school-specific entrance exams.

What Can I Do With an Associate Degree in Computer Programming?

Equipped with foundational knowledge and skills in computer science, programming, and information technology, graduates with computer programming associate degrees often pursue entry-level technology careers or continuing education programs. Continuing education may take the form of professional certification or bachelor's degree programs. The sections below outline common career and educational paths for associate degree graduates.

Career and Salary Outlook for Computer Programming Graduates

Some associate in computer programming graduates seek entry-level jobs as computer support specialists or web developers -- careers that pay median annual salaries of $54,760 and $73,760, respectively, according to the BLS.

Other graduates use their associate degree to qualify for bachelor's degree programs, which can lead to higher-paying technology careers with advanced responsibilities. Professionals with bachelor's degrees in computer programming or related fields may pursue many of the top careers in computer science, including computer programmer, systems analyst, and computer systems specialist. The PayScale salary data provided in the table below indicates that salaries for these professions often fall into the $50,000-$80,000 range.

Graduates who acquire professional certifications, advanced degrees, and relevant professional experience may qualify for promotions to cutting-edge research careers, lucrative opportunities in data science, or positions with more authority, such as computer and information systems manager.

Web Developer
Often specializing in either back-end or front-end web development, these professionals help design and create websites and web applications. Daily tasks typically include communicating with clients, writing computer code, creating applications, and collaborating with designers or technicians. The BLS projects demand for web developers to increase 13% between 2018 and 2028.
Computer Programmer
Programmers write the code that operates computer programs and applications. These professionals spend considerable time testing applications and programs and correcting coding errors. Computer programmers often use code libraries and coding languages such as C++ and Java. Programming jobs often require a bachelor's degree, but an associate degree in computer programming helps qualify graduates for related bachelor's programs.
Programmer Analyst
Programmer analysts design, write, and test computer codes and programs. They record their work using diagrams or flowcharts so that other IT professionals can address problems or update programs. Programmer analysts usually hold bachelor's degrees in computer science or a related field.
Computer Systems Specialist
These specialists install, troubleshoot, and maintain information and computer systems. They also assess company technology needs and recommend software, hardware, and data programs and updates. An associate degree in computer programming can help graduates prepare for the computer-related bachelor's degree typically needed for this career path.
Computer Support Specialist
Computer support specialists assist customers, clients, and company staff with hardware, software, and network issues and questions. They maintain networks by running tests and maintenance checks and addressing issues as needed. These professionals may work in IT departments at various kinds of organizations or for computer manufacturing companies.

Associate Degree in Computer Programming Careers: Median Salaries by Experience, 2020
Job Title Entry Level (0-12 Months) Early Career (1-4 Years) Mid-career (5-9 Years) Experienced (10-19 Years)
Web Developer $50,371 $57,101 $66,110 $70,404
Computer Programmer $53,003 $57,527 $69,871 $77,860
Programmer Analyst $55,495 $60,976 $70,932 $77,052
Systems Specialist $55,623 $55,796 $63,389 $72,032
Computer Support Specialist $14.91/hour $16.98/hour $20.46/hour $50,960/year
Source: PayScale

Continuing Education in Computer Programming

Graduates with an associate degree in computer programming are well prepared to pursue a related bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree in computer programming can open the door to many lucrative IT and CS opportunities.

Professionals seeking additional career advancement can pursue a master's degree after earning their bachelor's. A master's degree is particularly applicable to research positions in the field.

Associate graduates can also pursue certifications, which demonstrate expertise in a particular area to potential employers and typically cost less and take less time to complete than bachelor's and master's degrees.

  • Bachelor's: Traditional bachelor's degree programs in computer programming take about four years to complete. Many students transfer the credits from their computer programming associate degree toward a bachelor's degree, often completing the four-year degree in just two additional years of study. Bachelor's degrees often offer concentrations in areas including cybersecurity, data analytics, mobile analytics, and game development.
  • Master's: Professionals seeking career and salary advancement can pursue a master's degree, which qualifies graduates for leadership positions in the field. Traditional master's programs take about two years to complete. They may offer specializations in areas like software engineering, computer security, and data science.
  • Additional Certifications: Offered by professional organizations, technology companies, and schools, certification programs help job-seekers demonstrate expertise in specific programming languages like CSSLP or C++. Certifications often take less than one year to complete and cost much less than academic degree programs. Many certification programs require prior relevant coursework or degrees.

Earning Your Associate Degree in Computer Programming

Students interested in computer programming often begin their educational journey with an associate of science (AS) or an associate of applied science (AAS) in computer programming. Both degree paths feature core coursework on programming languages, database and data management, networking, and software maintenance. Learners study topics like web design, operating systems, software development, and mathematics.

Many associate programs offer concentrations in areas like software or hardware engineering, computer information systems, and information security. Other popular concentrations include software quality assurance, computer networking systems, network administration, and software architecture.

Associate degrees in computer programming usually require 60-90 credits and take approximately 18-24 months of full-time attendance to complete. Online associate programs often boast flexible pacing and attendance options.

Comparing Associate Degree Options

Associate degree programs related to computer programming may fall under a variety of similar titles. Associate of arts (AA) degrees in information technology provide foundational coursework in core IT topics, such as networking and information security, while AAS degrees in computer programming focus more heavily on programming and technical support skills. An AS degree in computer programming emphasizes general technical skills and specializations in chosen fields.

AAS in Computer Programming and Development
This technical degree cultivates skills in programming, troubleshooting, and business applications. With requisite certifications, education, and skills, graduates can work as PC or microcomputer application specialists, application developers, and computer programmers.
AS in Computer Programming and Analysis
This degree examines programming languages, data communications, systems analysis, and database applications. Students can often choose from specializations and electives in areas such as networking, software applications, and programming. This degree often transfers well to four-year degree programs in technical fields.
AA in Information Technology
A rare program sometimes found at liberal arts schools, AA in IT programs usually serve students new to IT. These programs offer basic courses in networking, information security, and computer hardware and software. Some programs prepare students for career certifications. Graduates may find work as web designers or computer support specialists.

Popular Associate Degree in Computer Programming Courses

The curricula for associate degrees in computer programming vary considerably based on school, degree type, and available concentrations, but all programs provide core courses on database management, mathematics, software maintenance, and programming languages. Popular elective course areas include IT security, software engineering, networking, and video game programming.

Many computer programming associate degree courses feature student projects and hands-on learning opportunities in labs. Some programs require capstone projects or internships. The following list outlines common courses found in these programs.

  • Foundations of Computer Programming

    This course introduces students to foundational programming and design concepts, principles, and techniques. Students learn the basic structure of code statements and expressions and may compare code in various programming languages. Topics covered often include conditionals, pseudocode, variables, and strings.

  • Database Systems and Management

    In this course, students learn to design, develop, and administer database systems. Database systems and management courses typically focus on writing and executing the SQL statements used to manage data. Common topics include data warehousing, relational databases, and foundational database diagramming tools.

  • Java Programming

    Java courses familiarize students with this foundational software programming language. The project-based course encourages students to solve problems and build applications with Java. Other course topics may include database programming, loops, and object-oriented development.

  • Web Development

    In this course, students learn how websites function and how to design and create them. Covering full-stack web applications, the course introduces students to front-end technologies, such as HTML forms, and back-end technologies, such as Node modules. The course usually culminates in a project involving webpage and model building.

  • Video Game Programming

    This course teaches students to create entertaining and/or educational applications. Learners study topics like hardware techniques, three-dimensional rendering, and vector display. The course may also cover visual analytics, information visualization, and social media visualization.

Selecting Your Associate Degree in Computer Programming Program

Selecting the right school requires careful consideration of several factors such as program curriculum, pace, cost, and performance measures. The list below outlines several key considerations for prospective students.

Accreditation

Students should always attend accredited schools. Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to factors like faculty qualifications, academic rigor, and student learning outcomes.

Concentrations/Specializations

Computer programming associate degree programs offer different specializations, which can include cybersecurity, software support, networking, and/or programming.

Online vs. In-Person

Online programs typically boast greater flexibility and affordability than in-person programs, but often require more self-directed study. Some students prefer the structure of in-person programs.

Program Length

Most associate programs take two years of full-time student to complete, but some programs may feature accelerated or part-time schedules.

Earning Potential

When evaluating programs, students should research program performance measures such as graduation rates and post-graduate salary statistics.

Alumni Network

Larger schools often develop more extensive alumni networks, although the close-knit networks associated with smaller schools can benefit local jobseekers.

Staff Credentials/Diversity

Major research institutions often hire faculty with impressive credentials, such as terminal degrees and extensive publications in their field. Accomplished, diverse faculty often facilitate a more current, global educational experience.

Should You Get Your Associate Degree in Computer Programming Online?

Associate in computer programming degrees are well-suited for online learning. Though some programs require set meeting times, many online programs provide asynchronous courses that do not require students to log on at a set time.

However, students should determine if the flexibility of online education suits their learning preferences, as it often requires more self-direction than on-campus learning. Online learning typically offers fewer in-person interactions, networking, and mentoring opportunities, while offering the same level of academic rigor.

Accreditation for Computer Programming Schools and Programs

Accreditation signifies that schools meet educational standards established by objective accrediting agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CHEA's national and regional accreditors evaluate programs and schools based on criteria such as faculty credentials, academic resources, and performance.

Regional accreditation involves more rigorous standards, so regionally accredited schools and programs typically warrant greater respect from employers and other schools. Many schools only recognize transfer credits and degrees from regionally accredited institutions. Additionally, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid.

Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredits computer programming programs.

Resources

Professional Organizations for Computer Programming

Computer programming students seeking mentorship, career planning, professional networking, and educational resources can join the professional organizations like the three described below. These organizations often feature student memberships and school or local chapters. Through conferences, publications, and continuing education offerings, professional organizations help keep students and professionals current on trends and shifts in the fields of CS and IT.

  • International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology Serving CS and IT academics and researchers, IACSIT runs global conferences, workshops, and academic publications that support interdisciplinary research and collaboration.
  • Computing Technology Industry Association A global organization for IT professionals, CompTIA maintains chapters at many postsecondary schools and in nine U.S. regions. CompTIA offers training, professional certifications, conferences, and discussions of IT trends and analysis by field.
  • Association for Women in Computing Founded in 1978 in Washington, D.C., the AWC helps to advance the computing careers of women professionals through mentorship, networking opportunities, and local chapters.

Scholarships for Associate Degree Programs in Computer Programming

Students can take advantage of financial aid opportunities to help offset the cost of their degree, including loans, grants, and scholarships. The following list outlines several scholarship opportunities for computer programming students.

Google Lime Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Google awards this scholarship to qualified students with disabilities enrolled full time at accredited schools in the U.S. or Canada. For consideration, applicants need evident academic merit, leadership potential, and enthusiasm for computer science. Application materials include transcripts, essays, a current resume, and one recommendation letter.

Amount: $10,000 USD or $5,000 CAD

Apply for Scholarship

The National Society of High School Scholars Foundation STEM Scholarship

Who Can Apply: High school senior applicants with 3.0 minimum GPAs and interest in STEM fields may apply. NSHSS prefers applicants from underrepresented backgrounds who demonstrate financial need.

Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship

IEEE Presidents' Scholarship

Who Can Apply: IEEE chooses scholarship winners based on projects entered at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Winning projects demonstrate excellent understanding in computer science or related fields, such as electrical or electronics engineering.

Amount: $10,000, spread over four years

Apply for Scholarship

Adobe Research Women-in-Technology Scholarship

Who Can Apply: To support gender diversity in tech, Adobe awards this scholarship to qualifying female sophomore, junior, or senior undergraduates pursuing computer science or related technical degrees. Eligible candidates must possess strong academic records and submit resumes, transcripts, reference letters, and essays.

Amount $10,000, an Adobe Research mentorship, a Creative Cloud membership, and a possible Adobe internship

Apply for Scholarship

(ISC)² Undergraduate Cybersecurity Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports current and aspiring computer science students interested in cybersecurity. Applicants must hold a minimum 3.3 GPA and submit transcripts, essays, a resume, and a letter of recommendation.

Amount: $1,000-$5,000

Apply for Scholarship

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with an associate degree in computer programming?
Graduates with a computer programming associate degree can work in roles such as computer support specialist, technician, and web developer. Many associate degree graduates also pursue bachelor's programs in related fields.
How much can I make with an associate degree in computer programming?
PayScale salary data indicates a $60,000 average annual salary for professionals with this degree; however, salaries vary based on factors such as experience, location, and employer.
Is an associate degree in computer programming enough?
Many computer science careers require CS-related bachelor's degrees, although some associate degree graduates start with entry-level technical support jobs and work their way up the career ladder from there.
How long does an associate degree in computer programming take to complete?
Traditional associate degree programs typically take two years of full-time study to complete, but some programs offer accelerated and/or part-time schedules.
Can I be a computer programmer with an associate degree?
Associate degree graduates usually start in lower-level technician positions. However, some computer programmer employers consider associate degree-holders who can demonstrate requisite programming skills and related professional experience.

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