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What Is Information Technology?
Information technology (IT) specialists help individuals and businesses solve real-world computer and network problems. IT professionals help protect systems from hackers, provide tech support to computer users, or manage the day-to-day operations of companies' technology systems.
Although related to computer science, IT emphasizes practical, hands-on work while computer science focuses on software development, network engineering, and computing theory.
IT professionals help protect systems from hackers, provide tech support to computer users, or manage the day-to-day operations of companies' technology systems.
IT emerged as a distinct discipline after the advent of natural language programming in the 1950s. Colleges and universities began offering IT coursework in the 1980s. In 2021, the tech industry may employ 12.4 million workers, representing one of the fastest-growing career fields in the U.S.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information technology workers earn a median annual salary of $91,250 as of May 2020. The BLS also projects 531,200 new jobs in the field from 2019-2029. Additionally, experts project that cybersecurity careers will increase by 31%.
People who thrive in IT careers typically possess strong problem-solving skills, a knack for numbers, and the ability to work alone and on a team. A bachelor's or master's degree can help professionals get started in the lucrative IT field.
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Why Get a Degree in Information Technology?
Earning an IT degree requires time, discipline, and a serious financial investment. However, data from the Lumina Foundation indicates that people with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $32,000 more annually than those with only a high school diploma.
College graduates are also less likely to be unemployed and more likely to have insurance than people without a degree. The benefits of pursuing a degree in information technology at any level include the following:
- Increased Career Opportunities
- The BLS projects that the U.S. economy will add 531,200 computer and information technology careers between 2019 and 2029. This 11% projected growth rate outpaces the average for all occupations.
- Well-Paying Job Options
- Information technology professionals earn a median annual wage of $91,250, according to the BLS. The best-paying technology jobs require graduate degrees, and most entry-level IT careers demand at least a bachelor's degree.
- Personal Growth
- Higher education encourages personal growth. College or graduate school exposes students to diverse perspectives, valuable peer relationships, and mentorship opportunities. Degree-seekers also acquire critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Staying Ahead of the Technology Curve
- Disciplined study in a university setting helps IT professionals stay on the cutting edge of technological change. Maintaining up-to-date knowledge and skills allows IT professionals to help set trends and get recruited for top jobs.
When Is an Information Technology Focus Better Than a General Computer Science Degree?
An information technology program may feature similar requirements as a general computer science curriculum. However, information technology emphasizes solving technical problems while computer science explores theories and processes.
When considering the relative merits of computer science vs. information technology, prospective students should think about how they like to work — behind a desk or with people in the field? Students looking to graduate school should consider whether their research interests align more closely to application development or real-world problem solving.
An IT degree best supports tech careers such as computer user support specialists, IT project managers, and network and computer system administrators.
When Might a General Computer Science Degree Be Better Than Information Technology?
Students who love math, computer science theory, or software engineering and development may prefer a general computer science program over an IT major.
Computer scientists write code, build systems, and improve programs. In graduate school, computer science students may conduct research in artificial intelligence, game design, or human-computer interaction.
Computer science majors often pursue positions as software developers, computer network architects, or computer science researchers. In these roles, they may update software, manage a team of specialists, or publish articles in the field.
What About Other Computer Science Specializations?
Besides IT and computer science, students can focus on other areas of computer technology, including cybersecurity, machine learning, bioinformatics, or computational biology.
Degree-seekers can explore these computer science topics by pursuing a relevant major or declaring a specialization within their computer science program. Prospective students who want to learn more about these options can click on the links below.
Types of Degrees in IT
Aspiring IT professionals can launch their careers by earning an academic degree. In some cases, employers also require certifications, which many schools incorporate into the curriculum.
An associate degree provides a basic academic foundation for an IT career. A bachelor's degree opens the door to most IT jobs, while a master's degree can equip students for management roles. Professionals interested in teaching or research should look toward a Ph.D. in the field.
Associate Degree in Information Technology
In an associate-level program, degree-seekers complete general education credits along with coursework in computer networks, IT systems, and software development. Typically, an associate degree provides half of the credits needed for a bachelor's degree in IT.
Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology
A bachelor's in information technology prepares early career professionals for roles in the industry. In a bachelor's program, students learn the fundamentals of cybersecurity, programming, and computer systems administration. Most information technology careers require at least a bachelor's degree. It is also a common prerequisite for admission to a graduate program.
Master's Degree in Information Technology
When mid-career professionals want to advance their skills, they often turn to a master's degree in IT. These programs usually require 30-36 credits and take about two years to complete. A graduate degree can prepare current IT professionals for supervisory roles or for a Ph.D. in information technology.
Ph.D. in Information Technology
The Ph.D. in information technology emphasizes original research and prepares experienced technology professionals for careers in postsecondary education. IT doctoral programs take learners on a deep dive into economics, psychology, computer science, and organizational behavior. Most students need 4-6 years to complete a Ph.D., but some degree-seekers can take up to seven years.
Information Technology Career and Salary Outlook
The BLS projects that the U.S. economy will add 531,200 new jobs in computer and information technology careers between 2019 and 2029. That is a jump of 11%, making tech careers one of the fastest-growing fields.
Most computer and information technology jobs pay salaries far above the national median. For example, information security analysts earn a median salary of $103,590, software developers earn a median of $110,140, and database administrators earn a median of $98,860. A degree in information technology can equip aspiring computer science professionals for any of these careers.
Most computer and information technology jobs pay salaries far above the national median.
While candidates with associate degrees may gain access to entry-level tech positions, most employers hire professionals who hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Depending on the role, employers may expect their employees to earn certifications such as Network+ or certified information systems security professional. These certifications usually complement but do not replace a bachelor's degree in the field.
The jobs below represent a sample of careers in information technology:
Software developers create computer programs. These professionals may develop systems that control networks or create applications that perform specific tasks. Software developers must hold at least a bachelor's degree in a related field and have hands-on experience with computer programming. Some experienced developers move into IT project management roles.
Network and Computer Systems Administrator
Network and computer systems administrators manage computer network operations. These professionals may install new hardware or software, make upgrades, maintain security, train new users, and solve various computer problems. New administrators typically hold a strong academic or practical background in networking, computer programming, or systems design.
Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts protect data and technology resources from cyberthreats. They may investigate breaches, install data encryption software, recommend security enhancements, or conduct penetration testing. In addition to a bachelor's degree, many information security analysts need licensure or certification to validate their knowledge and skill in the field.
Database administrators store, manage, and retrieve data such as customer records or financial information. They may create backups, merge old databases into new ones, or maintain the structure and operational efficiency of a data management system. Database administrators typically need a bachelor's degree, knowledge of database languages, and certification in relevant tech products.
Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts combine business intelligence with information technology. They improve organizational efficiency by reviewing computer systems and processes. These professionals may recommend new technologies, configure existing networks, and design and test new systems. A computer systems analyst typically holds a bachelor's degree and maintains expert knowledge of business and technology.
Additional Resources for Information Technology Students
Accreditation for Information Technology Schools and Programs
In the U.S, accreditation can take the following forms — regional, national, or programmatic.
Regarded as the most valuable form of accreditation, regional accreditation represents a stamp of approval from one of six regional accrediting bodies recognized by the Department of Education. These accreditors generally offer their endorsement to liberal arts colleges, community colleges, and research universities.
National accrediting agencies only review trade schools. For instance, a national accrediting body might approve cosmetology schools, vocational institutions, or Bible colleges.
Accreditation impacts employability, financial aid, credit transfers, and admission potential into advanced IT programs.
Programmatic accreditors provide accreditation to a single program or department within a larger institution. One programmatic accreditor, ABET, authorizes IT programs.
Degree-granting institutions should hold either regional or national accreditation. Accreditation impacts employability, financial aid, credit transfers, and admission potential into advanced IT programs. Prospective students should prioritize schools that hold regional and ABET accreditation.
Paying for Your Information Technology Degree
Higher education requires a sizable investment. For many students, financial aid makes an information technology degree possible. Fortunately, many public and private donors offer funding to qualifying students. The federal government provides undergraduate grants, work-study programs, and military benefits. Private donors extend grants, scholarships, and other aid packages. Learn more about financial aid below.
Professional Organizations for Information Technology
Professional organizations offer individuals an excellent way to network and access information and resources. Members can stay up to date in the field through training seminars, workshops, discussion forums, blogs, and journals that these organizations sponsor.
Joining a professional association in information technology gives students access to job boards and prospective mentors, publications, and events about industry topics. The four associations below represent several IT membership organizations.
Frequently Asked Questions About IT Degrees
What is information technology?
Information technology (IT) refers to using computers to store and retrieve information. IT helps people carry out their work by using efficient technology to enhance productivity. The discipline includes hardware, software, databases, and telecommunications.
Which information technology jobs are in high demand?
Almost all technology jobs are in high demand. The BLS projects 11% job growth for computer and information technology careers between 2019 and 2029. Software developers and information security analysts enjoy strong career prospects.
What does an IT job consist of?
IT jobs fall into two broad categories — network administration and support and programming and software development. IT professionals may write code, support applications, or assist users with troubleshooting and configuring their devices.
Is getting a degree in IT hard?
With more degree requirements, tech-related majors may seem harder than programs in business or the humanities. Still, IT curricula require fewer challenging math courses than engineering degrees. IT also offers a broader curriculum than general computer science.
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