Degrees in Computer Programming

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What Is Computer Programming?

A computer programming degree paves the way to lucrative programming careers and in-demand information technology (IT) occupations. Programmers transform program designs into code and ensure that software programs and computer applications run correctly. Most professionals specialize in several programming languages.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer programmers earn a median annual salary of $89,190 per year as of May 2020. The agency projects much-faster-than-average growth for computer and IT occupations from 2019 to 2029. This demand is linked to a greater need for information security, cloud computing, and data storage.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer programmers earn a median annual salary of $89,190 per year as of May 2020.

The industries that employ the most computer programmers include computer systems design, finance and insurance, manufacturing, and software publishing. Many programmers also work remotely. Most entry-level jobs require at least a bachelor’s, but programmers can sometimes start their career with an associate degree.

Employers may require programmers to earn certifications in specific programming languages. After gaining relevant experience, professionals seeking career advancement can pursue jobs as computer systems analysts, software developers, or computer and information systems managers.

Why Get a Degree in Computer Programming?

It takes time, money, and hard work to earn a computer programming degree, but many students can master the in-demand skills needed to pursue lucrative tech jobs. Below, we describe some of the benefits of earning a degree in computer programming.

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High-Paying Jobs
Computer programmers earn a median salary of $89,190 per year as of May 2020. Other top-paying careers for graduates with degrees in computer programming include software developers, earning a median annual salary of $110,140 annually, and information security analysts, earning a median annual salary of $103,590.
Technical Skills
Computer programmers learn in-demand technical skills. Most specialize in several programming languages. Professionals also develop general IT skills applicable to other tech positions.
Room to Grow
Experienced computer programmers may transition into higher-paying careers in software development or computer and information systems management. They can also pursue other IT management jobs.
Networking Opportunities and Job Search Help
Most schools with computer programming degrees offer career services like resume writing assistance, interview preparation, and access to job boards and professional networking events.

When Is a Computer Programming Focus Better Than a General Computer Science Degree?

Consider your academic interests, personal strengths, and long-term career goals when deciding whether to pursue a computer programming or general computer science degree. A computer programming concentration may be the best option for students pursuing programmer jobs after graduation.

Employers offering computer programming positions typically prefer applicants with in-depth programming knowledge. Computer programming majors master several programming languages and can hit the ground running at new programming jobs.

When Might a General Computer Science Degree Be Better Than Computer Programming?

A general computer science program provides a broad overview of computing theory and develops a variety of computer science and tech skills. Students might earn a general computer science degree instead of a computer programming degree if they want a more versatile education that explores many tech topics, including software development and network architecture.

Computer programming degrees prepare graduates specifically for jobs writing code. Students considering other tech careers may benefit from a general computer science curriculum. Many of these programs also offer concentrations or courses in computer programming.

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What About Other Computer Science Specializations?

Besides computer programming, computer science includes subfields in information security, artificial intelligence, data science, and software engineering. Some general computer science programs offer concentrations in these areas.

Schools also provide separate degrees in computer engineering, information technology, computer forensics, and data management. Learn more about select computer science concentrations below.

Computer Engineering

Computer Engineering

Computer Forensics

Computer Forensics

Database Management

Database Management

Information Technology

Information Technology

Information Systems

Information Systems

Network Administration

Network Administration

Software Engineering

Software Engineering

Web Development

Web Development

Computer Science Bootcamps

Computer Science Bootcamps

Types of Computer Programming Degrees

Students can pursue several different degrees in computer programming, including associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Generally, higher credentials may lead to better job and salary opportunities.

However, earning a degree takes time and money, so degree-seekers should calculate the potential return on investment before enrolling. Below, we explain what to expect from computer programming associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs.

  • Associate Degree in Computer Programming

    Associate degrees in computer programming take two years or less to complete and require about 60 credits. An associate in computer programming makes sense for students who lack time and/or money for a longer program but want to get started in the field.

    Learn More About Associate Degrees in Computer Programming

  • Bachelor's Degree in Computer Programming

    A bachelor’s degree in computer programming typically takes three to four years of full-time study to complete and requires about 120 credits. Most computer programmer jobs require a bachelor’s degree. Some examples of bachelor’s degree students include recent high school graduates, working adults seeking a career change, and programming professionals who want to increase their salary potential.

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  • Master's Degree in Computer Programming

    Master’s degrees in computer programming usually take two years or less to complete and require 30-45 credits. A master’s in computer programming may make sense for career changers or programmers wanting to expand their career opportunities and salary potential. Many master’s candidates go back to school after gaining professional experience and earn their degrees while working.

    Learn More About Master's Degrees in Computer Programming

  • Ph.D. in Computer Programming

    A computer programming Ph.D. prepares graduates to teach programming at the university level or conduct advanced research in the field. Most schools offer general computer science Ph.D. programs that may include a programming concentration. A doctoral degree usually takes 4-6 years to complete.

Computer Programming Jobs

A computer programming degree prepares graduates for jobs like computer programmer, computer systems analyst, and software developer. Other possibilities include information security analyst and computer and information systems manager positions. Available opportunities vary depending on degree level, professional experience, and skillset. No degree guarantees a job, and specific requirements vary by employer.

Experienced programmers may qualify for higher-paying occupations like software developers ($110,140) or computer and information systems managers ($151,150).

Potential salaries vary by employer, level of education and experience, and geography. The BLS reports that computer programmers earned a median salary of $89,190 a year as of 2020. Experienced programmers may qualify for higher-paying occupations like software developers ($110,140) or computer and information systems managers ($151,150).

Earning professional certifications demonstrating proficiency in specific computer languages can give job applicants a competitive edge.

Below, we describe what to expect from some potential computer programming jobs, including median annual salary, typical duties, and required education.

    • Computer Programmers

      Computer programmers help computer applications and software programs run by writing and testing code. Most professionals hold a bachelor’s, but some employers accept applicants with an associate degree. Typical job duties include using libraries to simplify code, expanding computer programs, and using a variety of computer languages.

      Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
      Job Outlook (2019-29): -9%
      Median Annual Salary: $89,190

      Learn More About Computer Programmers

    • Computer Systems Analysts

      Computer systems analysts, also called systems architects, help organizations make their computer systems more efficient. They create solutions using their business and IT acumen. Professionals use techniques like data modeling, coding and debugging, and software quality assurance. Computer systems analysts usually specialize in the computer systems used by their employers.

      Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
      Job Outlook (2019-29): +7%
      Median Annual Salary: $93,730

      Learn More About Computer Systems Analysts

    • Computer and Information Systems Managers

      A well-paying career for experienced computer and IT professionals, computer and information systems managers oversee the computer-related activities for their organizations. Typical job duties include analyzing computer needs for the organization, managing maintenance of computer hardware and software, and supervising other IT professionals.

      Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
      Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
      Median Annual Salary: $151,150

      Learn More About Computer and Information Systems Managers

    • Software Developers

      A fast-growing and well-paying occupation, software developers create the systems and applications that run on computers and other devices. They need at least a bachelor’s degree. Major employing industries include computer systems design and related services, manufacturing, and software publishing.

      Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
      Job Outlook (2019-29): +22%
      Median Annual Salary: $110,140

      Learn More About Software Developers

    • Information Security Analysts

      A lucrative, in-demand career, information security analysts protect computer systems and networks by planning and enacting security measures. They typically work in the computer systems design, finance and insurance, management, and information industries. Information security analysts often work as part of a team in an IT department.

      Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
      Job Outlook (2019-29): +31%
      Median Annual Salary: $103,590

      Learn More About Information Security Analysts

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Additional Resources for Computer Programming Students

Accreditation for Computer Programming Schools and Programs

Computer programming students should attend an accredited school. Accredited colleges prove to accrediting agencies that they offer a rigorous education by demonstrating quality in academic programs, faculty, and student support services.

There are two types of accreditation for U.S. higher education institutions: regional and national. Regional accreditation is generally considered more reputable and rigorous than national accreditation. Some computer programming programs also hold separate programmatic accreditation from ABET, demonstrating an additional level of academic quality.

Accredited colleges prove to accrediting agencies that they offer a rigorous education by demonstrating quality in academic programs, faculty, and student support services.

Attending a regionally accredited institution allows students to more readily get financial aid, transfer credits to another school, and apply for graduate programs and professional certifications. Earning a degree from a nationally accredited school may make it more difficult to perform the actions described above.

Students can look up accreditation information for their school in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Paying for Your Computer Programming Degree

A college education is a large investment. Financial aid can help pay for a computer programming degree, including scholarships, grants, student loans, and work-study funds. Learn more about financial aid and scholarships for programmers below.

Learn More About Financial Aid and Scholarships

Professional Organizations for Computer Programmers

Stay up to date with new developments by joining professional organizations for computer programmers and other IT professionals. Industry membership groups also offer networking opportunities, access to resources and information, exclusive job boards, and professional discounts for training seminars, conferences, and workshops.

Many groups offer reduced membership rates for students and recent graduates. Continue reading to learn about several computer programming professional associations.

  • IEEE Computer Society The IEEE Computer Society connects computer science and engineering professionals globally. Member benefits include access to publications, technical committees and local member groups, professional networking events, and job boards.
  • Association for Computing Machinery The world's largest computing society, the ACM invites researchers, educators, and professionals to participate in networking events, career development workshops, and industry dialogue. Members can use ACM's career and job center, subscribe to the digital library, and receive conference and workshop discounts.
  • Computing Research Association The CRA advances computing research and prepares computing professionals to succeed. The group offers conferences and a job board, advocates on relevant policy issues, and publishes position papers.
  • International Web Association Founded in 1996, the IWA represents more than 300,000 web professionals globally. The organization offers certifications, educational workshops, a job board, and industry news.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is computer programming hard?

    Developing computer programming skills takes time and work. Just like learning a new language, many people can succeed if they apply themselves. The difficulty of the work varies by individual.

  • Is a computer programmer a good career?

    Computer programming careers pay more than average and offer the satisfaction of honing problem-solving skills. The BLS projects a decline of 9% for computer programmer jobs from 2019-29, but programmers can use their tech skills in other in-demand computing and IT jobs.

  • What do you need to be a computer programmer?

    Most entry-level computer programmer jobs require a bachelor’s degree. However, some employers hire programmers with an associate degree. Earning professional certifications in programming languages can increase job opportunities.

  • Should I go to college for coding?

    Coding is one important part of programming. To become a professional computer programmer, you typically need a bachelor’s degree.



Feature Image: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images

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