Associate Degree in Computer Science

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Guide to an Associate Degree in Computer Science

Written by Doug Wintemute


What Is an Associate Degree in Computer Science?

Computer science associate degrees train students to provide people and organizations with technology-based solutions to various problems. Students learn how to improve organizational operations, secure information systems, and enhance products and services.

According to BLS employment data, computer occupations are projected to grow by 12% from 2018-2028.

Computer science associate degrees prepare students for entry-level positions in computer science as well as more advanced degrees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for computer and information technology careers exceeds $88,000.

Read on to learn more about associate degrees in computer science, including common courses and potential careers and salaries for graduates.

Should I Get an Associate Degree in Computer Science?

Graduates with an associate degree in computer science enjoy many benefits, several of which we highlight below.

  • Career Opportunities: Computer science graduates enjoy access to an array of careers, titles, and industries. Most organizations rely on people with computer and technology skills to keep their businesses operating smoothly.
  • Job Growth: Graduates of computer science programs join a popular, steadily growing industry. According to BLS employment data, computer occupations are projected to grow by 12% from 2018-2028.
  • Salary Potential: Salary expectations vary by field and employer, but the median annual salary for all computer occupations more than doubles the national median salary for all workers.
  • Career Development: Information technology careers offer room for growth and development. Through experience and continued learning, professionals can advance through the professional ranks, often taking on more responsibilities and earning more as they rise.
  • Continued Learning: After they complete their degrees, computer science graduates can continue their training through bachelor's degrees and/or industry certifications.
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Admission Requirements for an Associate Degree in Computer Science

Admission requirements for computer science associate degrees vary by program. Some programs feature open admission policies, which admit most students with high school diplomas or GEDs. Other programs feature additional requirements, such as minimum GPAs and standardized test scores.

Some of the more competitive programs, for example, require students to demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants may also need to submit professional recommendations and essays.

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

Computer science associate degrees open many pathways for graduates. The training provides a solid foundation for the workforce and more advanced education and credentials. The following sections look at these options in more detail.

Career and Salary Outlook for Computer Science Graduates

Diverse and far-reaching, the computer science field comprises information technology professions in most industries. Depending on graduates' interests and program choices, they can select from a variety of career paths, such as computer support specialist and web developer careers. These careers offer median annual wages of $54,000 and $75,000, respectively. Graduates can also work as computer systems administrators and computer programmers, who make median annual salaries of around $80,000.

The following list outlines potential careers for graduates with a computer science associate degree.

Web Developer
These professionals design and create websites for individuals and organizations. They make sure their clients' sites look and operate appropriately. They may create content and troubleshoot when needed. Web developers lean on skills in design and programming and typically need associate degrees.
Computer Support Specialist
Computer support specialists provide advice and troubleshooting services for computer users. They may run tests and analyses to find problems and evaluate systems' overall effectiveness. Many employers seek candidates with associate degrees.
Computer Systems Administrator
Computer and network administrators oversee organizations' network and computer systems. They evaluate the systems in place and look for inefficiencies. They also update and improve organizations' computer and technology needs. Many employers require candidates to hold bachelor's degrees.
Computer Programmer
Computer programmers write code for computer programs and applications. They follow the instructions and design laid out by engineers and designers. They also test and troubleshoot applications to find issues or bugs. Most computer programmers hold bachelor's degrees, but many employers hire candidates with associate degrees.
Desktop Publisher
Desktop publishers design the structure and layout of various publications, including newspapers, marketing materials, and books. They work with writers and designers to create the optimal look and format. Most desktop publishers hold associate degrees in design or computer-related disciplines.

Associate Degree in Computer Science 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 $50,000 $57,000 $66,000 $70,000
Computer Support Specialist $40,000 $45,000 $51,000 $52,000
Computer Systems Administrator $50,000 $55,000 $62,000 $67,000
Computer Programmer $53,000 $58,000 $70,000 $78,000
Desktop Publisher $41,000 $46,000 $52,000 $55,000
Source: PayScale

Continuing Education in Computer Science

Students who continue their computer science education can expand their career opportunities. Advanced degrees may lead to more job opportunities, organizational advancement, and increased salaries. With higher levels of education and more experience, learners may qualify for more professional certifications, as well.

Bachelor's in Computer Science

Bachelor's degrees in computer science typically take four years to complete. Many programs offer specializations in areas like network administration, cybersecurity, and programming. The additional training qualifies graduates for more advanced information technology professions and higher salaries.

For admission, applicants usually need a high school diploma or equivalent. They may also need to submit ACT or SAT scores, letters of recommendation, and essays.

Master's in Computer Science

Master's in computer science programs delve into advanced topics in computer research and development. Most programs last two years, but they vary in structure, either preparing students for further study and academic careers or readying them for the professional world. Master's graduates enjoy easier access to management and leadership positions.

For admission, applicants typically need bachelor's degrees and GRE or GMAT scores. They may also need relevant computer training at the undergraduate level.

Ph.D. in Computer Science

Doctoral degrees in computer science require a great deal of commitment. These programs typically last five years, and enrollees complete extensive research on one or more computer science topics. Graduates usually pursue careers in research or academia, and they qualify for high-level management positions.

For admission, applicants need master's degrees, usually in related disciplines.


Earning Your Associate Degree in Computer Science

Generally, computer science associate degrees comprise 45-60 credits and take around two years to complete. Most associate degrees emphasize foundational training, both in general education and computer science courses. The following sections outline various types of associate degrees and common courses.

Comparing Associate Degree Options

Prospective students should consider degree type and how it affects career and education opportunities. The following list examines some popular types of associate degrees.

Associate of Science
AS degrees typically focus on more practical training than other types of associate degrees. Common concentrations for this degree type often include career-specific topics, like network engineering, computer information systems, and software development. Students looking to enter the workforce immediately after graduation should consider an AS in computer science.
Associate of Applied Science
In many ways, AAS degrees resemble AS degrees. However, most institutions view AAS programs as terminal degrees. For that reason, concentrations typically include topics in career fields, such as computer programming and information technology administration. This degree type works well for students seeking the most direct route to computer science careers.
Associate of Applied Business
Like AAS degrees, AAB degrees emphasize career training but with a special focus on business. Students who want to pursue business-related computer science careers immediately after graduation benefit from this degree.
Associate of Arts
One of the more common degree types, an AA in computer science focuses on humanities and computer science training. Students may pursue concentrations in areas like computer information systems. The degree serves as great preparation for a bachelor's program.

Popular Associate Degree in Computer Science Courses

Each school features its own program structures and curricula, but the following list outlines common courses found in computer science associate degree programs.

  • Computer Networking

    Associate-level computer networking courses explore common computer network designs and functions. Students learn about the various components within networks, plus their architecture, protocols, and applications. The course prepares students for network and information systems administrator positions.

  • Cybersecurity

    Cybersecurity courses focus on securing and safeguarding computer systems and networks. The training explores various security protocols for individuals and businesses. Learners review common types of attacks, vulnerabilities, and defenses. Professionals in cybersecurity and system administration particularly benefit from this class.

  • Programming Languages

    This course examines common programming languages. Students look at the basic construction of programming languages, including syntax, semantics, and parsing. The training also explores how and which languages are used in various types of program development. Aspiring programmers, developers, and designers benefit from these courses.

  • Database Management

    Students in database management courses learn to design, use, and manage the most popular types of database systems. The training delves into the various languages and functions of database management systems, along with their implementation and administration. Prospective network administrators and computer systems specialists can utilize this training.

  • Computer System Organization

    In this course, learners examine computer hardware in detail, including the makeup of current computer systems, how they function, how they integrate various data and programs. Students also look at basic assembly language and architecture. Aspiring network and computer systems administrators and programmers find this training useful.


Selecting Your Associate Degree in Computer Science Program

To choose the right program, aspiring enrollees must consider and rank which factors mean the most to them, such as accreditation status. Attending an accredited school expands employment, financial aid, and education opportunities.

Students should also look for programs that match their career goals, needs, and interests, weighing factors like program length, tuition costs, and course and concentration offerings. Prospective learners might also consider faculty qualifications and class sizes to find the most suitable programs for them.

Should You Get Your Associate Degree in Computer Science Online?

Online learning has expanded education access and flexibility nationwide. Students can now attend programs across the country from their homes and study while maintaining employment. Expanded search options also allow learners to find the best programs for their goals.

Online learning suits most computer science students. The discipline obviously relies on information technology programs and applications, and most of its training emphasizes independent work and study. Many general education courses in associate degrees also fit online learning mediums.

Before selecting online programs, however, candidates should consider how online study works for them. An online learning format typically requires more self-discipline and self-motivation than an on-campus format.

Accreditation for Computer Science Schools and Programs

Learners should verify a school's accreditation status before committing to a program. Schools may hold regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology accredits computer science programs.

Accreditation benefits students in several ways. For example, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, many professional licenses and certifications require an accredited degree.

Students can verify a school and program's accreditation status through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Resources

Professional Organizations for Computer Science

Computer science students and graduates can take advantage of professional organizations. Many professional organizations offer benefits like continuing education, professional development, and networking opportunities. They may also offer professional discounts and access to job opportunities.

The following list outlines three popular professional organizations for computer science professionals.

Paying for Your Associate Degree Program in Computer Science

Education expenses often represent a point of stress for applicants, but most learners can access an array of financial aid opportunities, like loans, scholarships, and grants. Unlike loans, grants and scholarships do not require repayment. The following link provides more information on computer science scholarships and how students can apply for them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth getting an associate degree in computer science?
Associate degrees in computer science lead to rewarding IT careers and provide a foundation for advanced training in the field.
What can I do with an associate degree in computer science?
After earning computer science associate degrees, graduates can pursue bachelor's degrees. They can also enter the workforce, taking on careers in areas like web development, systems administration, and programming.
How long does it take to get an associate degree in computer science?
It typically takes students two years of full-time study to complete associate programs, but accelerated programs exist. Some programs, particularly online degrees, allow students to complete courses at their own pace.
What classes are needed for an associate degree in computer science?
Programs vary considerably between schools, but computer science students should expect to study topics in networking, programming, database systems, and security. All associate degrees also include general education courses to provide learners with a well-rounded education.

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