Why Choose an Associate Degree in Computer Science?
Earning an associate degree in computer science can prepare you for entry-level employment or further education. While you can learn the basics of computer languages, troubleshooting, programming, and design on your own, many employers prefer to interview and hire formally trained applicants.
Experts anticipate that employment opportunities for computer scientists will increase throughout the next decade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), web development jobs will increase by 15% from 2016-2026, adding nearly 24,400 new positions to the economy. An associate degree is all some jobs require, and these programs prepare you to earn a bachelor's degree in the subject as well.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, web development jobs will increase by 15% from 2016-2026, adding nearly 24,400 new positions to the economy.
While pursuing your computer science associate degree, you develop an understanding of the basic principles and practices needed to program and maintain computers and computer systems. You also complete many of the general education courses required by most four-year schools.
Computer science programs usually provide students with hands-on learning experiences, requiring them to complete an internship or demonstrate proficiency in lab work as a graduation prerequisite.
Students can find computer science associate degrees under many titles. Along with the common associate of science in computer science title, you may also encounter the following:
- Associate of arts in computer information systems
- Associate of science in information science
- Associate of science in information technology
- Associate of science in technology (computer technologies)
- Associate of applied science in technical studies (computer technologies)
- Associate of science in information sciences and technology
- 2 Years
U.S. Associate Graduates in CS, 2008-2015
Average Annual Tuition, 2017-18
Online Associate Degree in Computer Science
Computer and information science departments embrace the convenience of delivering quality education online and feature curriculums well-suited to the online format. Students receive lecture theories through discussion boards and digital reading materials.
Online students also enjoy a more flexible schedule than their on-campus counterparts. Like residential students, distance learners must submit assignments and take exams by certain dates, but they can usually watch lectures at their convenience. With access to digital library materials and virtual office hours with professors and academic advisers, online computer science students enjoy the same resources as their on-campus peers.
As a computer science student, you can expect an online program to provide:
- Quality Education: Students, even those working full-time jobs, report that their online education remains similar in quality to traditional programs. Additionally, students claim that they work harder in online courses.
- Personalized Schedule: Many distance learners maintain responsibilities outside of school. Online students can review materials, complete assignments, and take tests at their convenience.
- Option to Transfer: Most associate programs offer coursework that fulfills the general requirements for a bachelor's degree. Depending on which four-year school and bachelor's program you choose, most, if not all, of your credits should transfer.
- Comprehensive Learning Experience: Online coursework ensures that students receive a thorough understanding of the basics of computing.
Courses in an Online Associate in Computer Science Program
Each computer science associate degree offers unique learning opportunities, including different specializations and electives; however, some fundamental classes make up the degree's building blocks. Below are some of the most common courses offered in online computer science associate programs.
- Introduction to Computer Programming: This course lays the foundation for the skills that computer science students cultivate throughout their programs. Learners come to understand a basic coding language, which can vary depending on the school. Most importantly, degree candidates learn the logical methods for programming. With these skills, students excel in other areas of computer science, including software and website development.
- Database Fundamentals: In addition to programming, database management remains one of computer science's foundational skills. This introductory course teach the basics of designing databases and effectively using them. Colleges sometimes vary in the types of programming languages they use in these classes, but many rely on SQL.
- Introduction to Operating Systems: Each computer uses an operating system, which computer science professionals must learn to use. This course allows learners to understand many of the standard operating systems. Students may also learn how to link systems and get them to work together.
- Programming II: This class builds on concepts from introductory programming courses. Students learn to create, test, and improve programs. Learners may also study different programming languages, algorithms, engineering processes, and organization methods. Some programming courses structure themselves around projects, which learners can use for their portfolios.
- Computer Networking Fundamentals: This introductory course teaches students internet basics, how computers communicate with one another, and how to manage these connections. Degree candidates learn internet protocols and communication models. With these theories, learners build their computer science knowledge and careers. Professors concentrate on different approaches but teach many of the same basics.
Career Paths for Graduates of Associate in Computer Science Programs
Computer science associate degree jobs are available in a variety of areas, including programming, cybersecurity, network administration, systems analytics, and support. Some employers in these career paths require applicants to hold bachelor's degrees, but others accept candidates with online computer science associate degrees and work experience. Graduates choose career paths based on their interests. Most of the following professionals work typical office hours. Each computer science professional should possess strong technical skills, but some jobs require more interpersonal or management talents.
Computer Systems Analysts
Also known as systems architects, these professionals examine an organization's information infrastructure and suggest improvements. They may also oversee full overhauls of computer systems. Organizations ask these professionals to help decide what kinds of information technology staff they need and where they fit into the company structures.
Median Annual Salary
Projected Growth Rate
Information Security Analyst
These professionals find ways to keep networks safe from hackers and data breaches. As computer system attacks grow in sophistication, information security analysts learn new ways to protect their clients or employers. The BLS projects fast growth in this sector that quadruples the average rate.
Median Annual Salary
Projected Growth Rate
These professionals write the code behind software and applications. They often specialize in one or two coding languages. Although the minimum education remains an associate degree, competition in this area remains tough. The BLS projects the number of computer programming jobs to shrink considerably. Candidates can use specializations and certifications to set themselves apart.
Median Annual Salary
Projected Growth Rate
Computer and Information Systems Managers
Many organizations require large teams to handle their computer information needs. CIS managers oversee these groups, set budgets and goals, and make department plans. Many employers require candidates for these positions to hold bachelor's degrees and at least five years of relevant experience.
Median Annual Salary
Projected Growth Rate
Computer Support Specialists
These support technicians help users and workers diagnose and fix computer problems. They may work for organizations that help home users or as part of an organization's IT department assisting other employees. An associate degree remains appropriate for many of these positions, although some specialized support professionals need bachelor's degrees.
Median Annual Salary
Projected Growth Rate
Associate in Computer Science Salary Outlook
Several factors affect how much graduates earn in these fields. In addition to location and individual employers, a professional's experience impacts earning potential. The table below demonstrates how much several types of IT professionals make over time.
Associate in Computer Science Salary
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Entry-Level Salary||Mid-Career Salary||Late-Career Salary|
|Computer/Network Support Technician||$44,855||$37,000||$43,000||$52,000|
|Information Technology Specialist||$55,023||$42,000||$52,000||$75,000|
|Help Desk Technician||$40,054||$35,000||$40,000||$46,000|
|Support Analyst, Information Technology||$52,542||$45,000||$53,000||$64,000|
Educational Paths for Graduates of Associate in Computer Science Degrees
While associate degrees in computer science help graduates break into IT careers, many go on to earn bachelor's degrees as well. The advanced diplomas open more opportunities and can lead to higher pay. For example, PayScale reports the average graduate with an associate degree in computer science earns $59,000 per year. Meanwhile, candidates with bachelor's degrees in the same subject make $82,000 annually on average. Below are some of the bachelor's programs into which associate graduates transfer.
Bachelor's in Computer Science
These programs allow associate graduates to dive deeper into computer science. Some programs offer specializations in areas such as cybersecurity and systems management. Students take advanced courses in areas such as ethics in information technology and database management.
Bachelor's in Computer Engineering
On average, graduates with these degrees earn $83,000 annually. Learners with associate degrees take courses in subjects such as circuits, logic design, and computer architecture. Graduates fill positions including systems analysts, testing engineers, and IT consultants.
Bachelor's in Information Technology
Transfer students in these programs study areas such as data management, network security, cloud computing, and emerging technology. Learners may also earn certifications including CompTIA A+, CIW Site Development, and LPI Linux Essentials.
Accreditation remains the most powerful indicator of a program's quality. Regardless of enrollment level or area of study, all degree seekers should confirm their prospective school's accreditation status before enrolling. Accreditation remains particularly important for students in specialized subjects, such as computer science, where individual program accreditation is often as important as school-wide accreditation.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) does not directly accredit schools. Instead, the government enforces universal standards for accrediting bodies. All accreditors must be officially recognized by the ED or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to be considered official.
U.S. colleges and universities can receive two types of institution-wide accreditation: national and regional. Unless you enroll in courses at a vocational or technical school, regional accreditation remains the only school-wide accreditation to consider. Regional accreditation is more common. More than 85% of the nation's degree-granting institutions boast regional accreditation. When a school holds regional accreditation, it ensures that:
- The school has earned the country's most widely recognized accreditation status
- Credits are transferrable to other regionally accredited schools
- Students can qualify for federal financial aid and corporate tuition reimbursement plans
Employers, graduate schools, and professional organizations may not recognize your computer science degree if your program does not hold accreditation. You may also not receive the quality education you need to compete for positions in the field. You can confirm the accreditation status of any postsecondary school in the country by searching the ED's database.
Program accreditation matters more than regional accreditation for most technical programs. If you pursue a bachelor's in computer science, for example, you do not need to worry about program accreditation as long as your school is regionally accredited. On the other hand, if you seek a bachelor's of engineering with a concentration in computer science, you should confirm program accreditation.
While many fields rely on multiple agencies to evaluate programs, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) remains the only recognized U.S. accreditor of undergraduate and graduate programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. ABET maintains four commissionsresponsible for accrediting specific program areas and degree levels:
- Applied Science Accreditation Commission
- Computing Accreditation Commission
- Engineering Accreditation Commission
- Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission
More than 3,400 programs at 700 colleges and universities have received ABET accreditation since
1932. You can find ABET-approved programs through its accredited program
Unaccredited or falsely accredited schools that attract students with low-effort, high-cost programs remain diploma mills for a reason. They sell degrees, not education. Protect yourself and confirm a school's accreditation status before you apply.
Applying to a Program
Admission requirements for associate degrees do not vary greatly by school. Though some may require supplemental materials, applicants generally must be at least age 18 and possess either a high school diploma or a GED. See below for more information about how to get into a computer science associate program.
General Admission Requirements
Depending on where you apply, you may need to submit any of the following with your official transcripts to prove you hold a diploma or GED:
- Completed application
- College transcripts (if applicable)
- International students may need to submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
- Passing scores for math or English placement tests
International students may need to submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
Professional organizations provide opportunities for computer science workers to grow, network, and learn. Depending on the group, members may enjoy access to local meetings, annual conferences, career coaching, resume workshops, online learning, and certification exams. Some organizations allow students to join, which allows them to find mentors and connect with potential employers. Organizations often charge for membership, which can pay off in the networking opportunities alone. The list below shows just five of the significant groups in computer science.
- Association for Computing Machinery ACM members join nearly 100,000 colleagues and students. Benefits include access to a learning center, print subscriptions to the organization's journal, and a career newsletter.
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers IEEE stands out as the world's leading professional organization for the field. The group offers three membership levels, including one for students. Members gain access to IEEE's resources, including online courses, certification practice exams, and conferences.
- Institution of Engineering and Technology IET members join from 150 countries around the world. They enjoy access to the organization's career manager, continuing education, conferences, and mentor programs. Members also gain access to IET's extensive library of resources and journals.
- International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology This organization connects computer science professionals from around the world. Members pay less than nonmembers to attend the global conference. The group also hosts online continuing education.
- Computing Research Association CRA offers many valuable networking opportunities and advocates for the computing industry in the halls of legislative bodies.
Scholarships and Financial Aid
At accredited schools, students enrolled in full-time or part-time study may apply for federal financial aid. To determine how much aid you can receive, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to an NCES report, the percentage of students receiving financial assistance at nonprofit two-year schools has increased over the past decade.
Students can look beyond federal aid to finance their degree. Many schools award scholarships to students within certain departments. Contact your target schools to learn about their financial assistance packages.
Sources for Aid and Awards
Students can explore hundreds of online scholarships available to undergraduates from all schools. Although competitive, students should still pursue these awards. See below for a few scholarships intended for tech and computer science students.
Scholarships for Online Computer Science Programs
National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) Foundation STEM Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The NSHSS Foundation welcomes high school seniors with GPAs of at least 3.0 to apply. Candidates must show an interest in pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering, or math. The foundation seeks to award learners from underrepresented backgrounds and financial difficulties.
Who Can Apply: Adobe, the software giant, seeks to increase gender diversity in computer science with this significant scholarship. Women studying computer science at an accredited university at any level can apply. Candidates should demonstrate strong academic records and send three professional references.
Amount: $10,000, a mentor, one-year subscription to Creative Cloud, and an internship interview at Adobe
Who Can Apply: Computer science students who complete excellent technological projects may apply for the IEEE Presidents' scholarship. Candidates present their projects at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. There, volunteers and IEEE members decide which learner wins the award.
Amount: $10,000 over four years
Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Each year, Coca-Cola awards 200 of these scholarships to associate-level students. Applicants must maintain membership in honor society Phi Theta Kappa. Candidates should demonstrate GPAs of at least 3.5 and enroll in at least six semester hours.
Niche Community College Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Niche awards this scholarship exclusively to community college students, but applicants can show current enrollment or merely the desire to attend school. Candidates must only create accounts and give their personal information to apply. Learners do not need any particular major to qualify.
(ISC)² Undergraduate Cybersecurity Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Students who wish to study computer science with specializations in cybersecurity may qualify for this award. Candidates should present GPAs of 3.3 or above. Applicants can hold citizenship in any country and attend school either online or on campus.