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Information technology professionals work in every sector, helping organizations securely store data, create networks, and manage their hardware and software needs. New technologies like cloud computing and the growing need for information security result in a high demand for educated IT professionals.
An online information technology associate degree prepares graduates for careers in growing fields. In an associate program, students gain foundational skills and competencies in IT, including networking, web development, cybersecurity, and database management. IT students also learn valuable coding languages, which translate into careers as software developers and computer programmers. After earning an associate degree, graduates can transfer into four-year programs to earn their bachelor's in information technology or a related field like computer science, cybersecurity, or computer engineering. An associate degree also meets the qualifications for several high-paying information technology careers, including web developer, computer support specialist, or software developer.
This article introduces prospective students to the required classes, core skills and competencies, and the time commitment needed to complete an online information technology associate degree. It also provides information on professional organizations and certifications to help students prepare for careers in information technology.
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Why Get a Information Technology Associate Degree Online?
Students enrolled in online programs benefit from the convenience of completing coursework on their own schedule. Online information technology programs also confer computer-based skills that help graduates stand out in the job market. Accredited online programs make it easy for students to complete their degrees and apply for IT jobs.
- Online programs let students access lectures and course materials anywhere, at any time. Many schools also offer online tutoring and other resources to support students.
- Online programs offer plenty of flexibility. In an online program, students can arrange their coursework around other obligations. Online programs often offer multiple start dates throughout the year, making it easy to jump into a program quickly. Online degrees put control in the hands of students, who choose their schedule and pace for completing classes.
- Computer Based
- Students in online programs use the latest communication technologies to access class materials and interact with faculty and students. In an information technology program, computer-based learning enhances students' skills, building competencies in software programs that may help them in the job market.
Types of Information Technology Degrees
Associate of Arts (AA)
Associate of Science (AS)
Associate of Applied Science
Online Information Technology Associate Degrees: An Overview
Students earning an online information technology associate degree build valuable skills and competencies. After earning their degrees, graduates pursue various IT careers or earn a bachelor's degree in information technology. This section covers sample classes, competencies, and the length of an associate program.
Sample Courses for an Online Associate in Information Technology Program
An associate degree in information technology online provides basic knowledge and skills for entry-level IT careers. Many associate programs incorporate core classes that cover hardware management, software development, and networking. Students may also take electives to specialize their degrees in areas such as information technology management, programming and software development, or networking. In a two-year program, students build core competencies that prepare them to pursue a bachelor's degree in information technology or positions in IT such as computer support specialist or web developer. The curriculum varies depending on the program, but the following list covers common classes.
- Introduction to Information Technology
- IT students often begin the program with an introductory course, which covers fundamental IT knowledge of hardware, software, and networks. Students learn how operating systems function, study personal computer configuration, and learn how to install software and administer a system. The course also teaches basic troubleshooting and development skills.
- Software Development
- This course teaches basic concepts in software development and software engineering. It introduces students to multiple coding languages, examining the core principles behind programming languages like Java, SQL, and C++. Students design simple applications using coding languages, testing and troubleshooting their operation.
- Database Management
- Database management classes introduce students to database programming and provide core business skills. The course emphasizes basic knowledge of database management systems, including SQL coding language. Students also learn how to assess an organization's informational needs and design a database management system that fits their data usage.
- Networking classes introduce students to the concepts underlying network operations. Students study network design, different models for carrying data, wired versus wireless networks, and network design components. The class may also cover troubleshooting methods for recovering data from a network.
- Web Development
- Students learn how to design and create websites, with an emphasis on user experience and optimizing efficiency and speed. The class covers HTML, HTML5, and CSS to build web development abilities. The final project may require students to design a website using skills gained during the class.
Skills and Competencies Gained in an Online Associate in Information Technology Program
Students enrolled in associate programs in IT gain skills and competencies in the field, including software installation, network operations, and technical support. The program may also incorporate coding classes and courses on business skills, such as project management. Some programs allow students to specialize their degree through electives.
- Technical Support
- Students build technical support skills, learning how to troubleshoot different IT issues. These skills prepare graduates to work as IT specialists.
- Network Operations
- IT students learn about managing networks of different sizes. They learn how to install and operate a network, repair networks, and troubleshoot.
- IT professionals typically highlight coding skills on their resumes, and associate programs in IT may incorporate coding classes to offer students proficiency in different languages. Students may learn Java, C++, Python, SQL, and other popular coding languages.
- Software Installation
- IT students learn software installation skills, including reviewing software for necessary upgrades or updates. Students also learn about software operations.
- Basic Business Skills
- In the workforce, IT professionals often rely on business skills to design network plans or create security procedures for organizations. IT programs may also include project management training.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Information Technology Associate Degree?
In an associate degree in information technology online, students take general education classes and computer courses. Most associate programs take two years of full-time study, during which students complete around 60 credits. However, some programs may offer an accelerated option for students who want to finish their degrees in less time or part-time options for students balancing school with other obligations.
Program characteristics affect the length of online degrees. For example, some programs allow students to complete coursework at their own pace. This structure allows students to complete the requirements faster. In a cohort learning model, students enter the program as a group and progress through the material together, finishing at the same time. Programs offering shorter terms or summer sessions may offer a faster timeline for earning the degree.
Licenses and Certifications for Information Technology Students
IT professionals with an associate degree can demonstrate their skills and competencies to potential employers by completing certifications. Many certifications test entry-level IT skills and do not require work experience, appealing to professionals looking to change careers and recent graduates with an online associate degree in IT. With options from Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft, and other organizations, IT professionals can choose the certification that matches their career goals. Candidates typically must pass an exam, and certifications remain valid for up to three years.
Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician
Offered by Cisco, the credential demonstrates that professionals know how to install and operate networks. Designed as an entry-level certification, the credential requires an examination of network security, access points, and firewalls. After earning the certification, IT professionals pursue positions in network support.
Microsoft Technology Associate
Microsoft offers an entry-level certification for IT professionals with no work experience. Candidates take an examination which assesses their technical knowledge, fundamental IT concepts, and IT infrastructure skills. The credential helps professionals demonstrate their abilities.
CompTIA IT Fundamentals+
The CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ certificate demonstrates basic knowledge in information technology for professionals who do not possess work experience. Candidates must pass a 60-minute examination which covers IT concepts, software development, infrastructure, and database fundamentals. The certification prepares professionals for the CompTIA A+ certificate.
CompTIA offers the A+ certification for IT professionals with some work experience. The certification demonstrates core skills in nine areas of IT, including mobile devices, network troubleshooting, Windows operating systems, and security. Candidates take a 90-minute examination; CompTIA recommends a year of work experience before attempting the exam.
IT professionals with a focus in security may prefer the CompTIA Security+ credential. Candidates take a 90-minute exam on security threats, risk management, network architecture, and access management. CompTIA recommends two years of IT experience with a focus on security before attempting the exam.
Accreditation for Online Associate in Information Technology Degrees
Accreditation acts as a marker of academic excellence, ensuring that a college follows best practices for educating students. During the accreditation process, agencies evaluate a program's graduation requirements, faculty qualifications, and student learning outcomes. Attending an accredited school benefits students in multiple ways. An accredited degree meets more certification and licensing requirements, and the credits earned from an accredited institution will transfer more easily to another institution. Associate degree students considering transferring into a bachelor's program should choose an accredited college to maximize their transfer credits.
Schools typically undergo either regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation reviews liberal arts and research institutions, including community colleges. National accreditation typically evaluates vocational or technical colleges. Regional accreditation is the highest standard and meets the qualifications for federal financial aid. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology also accredits some IT programs, though not at the associate level.
Accrediting agencies are independent, nonprofit organizations that evaluate colleges and universities. However, accrediting agencies must also gain certification from the Department of Education (ED) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to offer accreditation. These organizations oversee accrediting agencies and maintain lists of accredited programs. By monitoring accrediting agencies, ED and CHEA ensure that the accreditation process runs smoothly. Prospective students can research a school's accreditation status by visiting its website or by looking at the lists of accredited schools on the ED website and the CHEA website.
Career and Salary Outlook for Associate in Information Technology Graduates
An associate degree in information technology online prepares graduates for in-demand careers like web developer, computer support specialist, or information security analyst. They may also qualify for positions as software developers. With an associate degree in IT, professionals can work as customer service representatives for computer and technology companies, applying their knowledge to provide customer support.
Web developers oversee the design and creation of new websites. They blend programming knowledge with graphic design skills to manage the visual and technical side of the site. Web developers oversee site performance, such as speed and traffic capacity, and they may create content for the site. Candidates with associate degrees may qualify for opportunities as web developers, depending on the company.
Median Annual Salary
Computer Support Specialist
Computer support specialists help users and organizations manage their computer systems, software, and hardware. They may provide technical support or help organizations with their computer networks. Computer support specialists may provide 24-hour services, requiring night and weekend hours. Some positions require a bachelor's degree.
Median Annual Salary
Software developers create computer programs, including writing code and designing applications or systems to run the software. They conduct maintenance and collaborate with other developers. While most positions require a bachelor's degree, some companies hire candidates with an associate degree.
Median Annual Salary
Customer Service Representative
Customer service representatives process orders, provide information about products and services, and manage complaints. With an IT background, graduates work as customer service representatives for software companies, computer companies, or other tech-related companies.
Median Annual Salary
Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts create security plans to protect their organization's computer networks and systems. As experts in cybersecurity, they implement security measures and monitor the security of computer systems. Many positions require a bachelor's degree, while some hire applicants with an associate degree.
Median Annual Salary
Educational Paths for Information Technology Associate Degree Graduates
After completing an online information technology associate degree, graduates can transfer to a four-year college or university to earn a bachelor's degree. An associate degree may meet the general education requirements for a bachelor's program, meaning transfer students complete their bachelor's degree in as little as two years. Many community colleges boast transfer agreements with local four-year institutions, making it easy to enroll in a bachelor's program.
With an associate degree in information technology, students can pursue bachelor's degrees in IT, computer science, cybersecurity, or related fields. Completing a bachelor's degree increases earning potential. While early career professionals with an associate degree in IT earn $40,900 a year, according to Payscale, professionals with a bachelor's in IT earn $54,800 on average. Earning a bachelor's degree translates to higher salaries and more career opportunities.
Bachelor's in Information Technology
In a bachelor's program, IT majors expand their skills in network design, creating systems, and designing databases. The degree also prepares graduates to work as network managers and software developers.
Bachelor's in Computer Science
A computer science or applied computer science program will add technical skills to IT graduates' knowledge. Programs may offer specializations in cybersecurity or programming.
Bachelor's in Computer Information Systems
Computer information systems programs often combine technical knowledge with business training. Students learn how to manage computer systems by applying their information systems knowledge.
Bachelor's in Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity majors learn how to secure online systems and design cybersecurity solutions for businesses. The degree incorporates information systems management with internet security.
Bachelor's in Computer Engineering
In computer engineering programs, students learn how to design computer equipment, applying theoretical and research knowledge to the design of new equipment. The degree may require engineering classes in other disciplines.
Professional organizations help IT students and professionals expand their skills and knowledge while building a strong network of colleagues and mentors. Many organizations host events and conferences that provide opportunities to network with other IT professionals. They may also offer certifications, continuing education programs, and webinars to gain additional skills. Students benefit from career services, including job boards and career counseling, which can help them transition from school to the workforce.
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