The demand for computer and information technology professionals continues to expand across the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an overall 13% increase in employment for these occupations through 2026, and a hefty 24% increase for software developers during this same period. Illinois, recognized as a major financial, industrial, and research hub, offers unique opportunities for computer science graduates in areas such as software development, computer systems analysis, and computer programming.
The Illinois Technology Research Corridor that runs along Interstate 88 through the suburban counties northwest of Chicago has attracted the corporate headquarters and regional offices of several Fortune 500 companies who employ computer science specialists, technicians, and managers. Employment prospects expand beyond the Chicago metropolitan area to smaller cities and towns throughout the state, at colleges and universities, research institutions, healthcare facilities, and government offices.
Chicago, the nation’s third most populous city, has emerged as one of the nation’s largest technology centers, second only to Silicon Valley.
Higher Education in Illinois
Institutions within Illinois offer quality undergraduate and graduate degrees. The University of Chicago and Northwestern University — both private schools — have strong reputations for academic rigor. The University of Chicago is recognized nationally and internationally for its quality programs, while Northwestern University has garnered prestige for its programs in journalism, law, and medicine. UChicago offers a variety of online certificate programs and courses, and Northwestern provides online degrees and certificates.
Illinois is also home to many respected public universities, including the University of Illinois at Chicago. UIC provides quality instruction with an affordable price tag; its medical school, engineering, and computer science programs are all highly regarded. The computer science program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also boasts a strong reputation. Both schools offer fully online undergraduate and graduate programs.
Computer Science Careers in Illinois
Computer science graduates may pursue many lucrative career options, though some occupations are in higher demand. According to the BLS, software developers and programmers are one of the most common computer and mathematical occupations in the nation, followed by computer user support specialists and network and computer systems administrators. These national trends are reflected in the Illinois computer science industry.
The largest number of computer science professionals in Illinois are located in the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights area, where computer science employees earn an average salary of $88,360, according to the BLS.
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Median Salary for Computer Science Careers by Degree
COMPUTER SCIENCE EMPLOYERS IN ILLINOIS
- IBM: IBM is a manufacturer and marketer of computer technology. They hire computer science graduates who specialize in engineering and programming, and also employ researchers in the computer science field.
- J.P. Morgan Chase & Company: This multinational bank is a top employer in Illinois, and hires systems analysts and data scientists to ensure the secure functioning of business processes. Many large banks are making heavy investments in machine learning, which requires computer science specialists.
- United Airlines: Based in Chicago, United is one of the nation’s largest major airlines. The company employs computer science professionals to manage its infrastructure of computer and information systems.
HOW MUCH DO COMPUTER SCIENTISTS MAKE IN ILLINOIS?
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Computer Science Programs in Illinois
Students in computer science programs in Illinois can customize their degrees to fit their career goals. The University of Chicago, which is among the best computer science schools in Illinois, offers a bachelor’s in computer science that includes specializations such as programming and web design.
UChicago’s master’s program balances theory with applied technical experience.
Even students who do not reside in the state can earn a computer science degree in Illinois. Online programs are ideal for distance learners or busy students balancing professional or personal responsibilities. Flexible online programs may be self-paced or accelerated.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offers a fully online master’s in computer science program, which is taught asynchronously through Blackboard. Though the program usually takes three years to complete, part-time learners can take up to five years. This level of flexibility makes earning an online computer science degree in Illinois the ideal option for many students.
When researching prospective computer science degrees, Illinois students should look for regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. However, computer science programs may also hold field-specific accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
TYPES OF COMPUTER SCIENCE DEGREES
Illinois is home to over 300 institutions of higher education, including some of the nation’s best private and public universities. The state offers several options for studying computer science. Students exploring online computer science programs in Illinois can pursue associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. While many entry-level positions require only an associate degree, employment possibilities, earning potential, and opportunities for career advancement increase with a four-year or graduate degree. Students interested in teaching or research careers require at least a master’s degree or doctorate.
An associate degree in computer science introduces students to the basic procedures and languages to program and maintain computers and computer systems. While some students view this as a terminal degree before entering the job market, many online learners enter an associate program to complete most of the general education requirements required to transfer into a four-year school. An associate degree may appeal to students just beginning to explore career prospects in computer science. It also provides a desirable credential for students eager to enter the workplace with marketable skills without spending four years in an undergraduate program.
An associate degree requires between 60-66 credits and typically takes two years to complete. While each online program differs in its requirements, all degrees offer courses in computer programming, database management, operating systems, and networking. While some positions may require a bachelor’s degree, graduates of online associate programs often find employment in programming, systems analysis, software development, cybersecurity, and network administration.
A bachelor’s in computer science, viewed by many employers as the minimum-level credential for their open positions, ensures that job applicants possess the specialized training to move beyond entry-level tasks. Industry, government, education, and healthcare rely on well-trained computer science professionals to design and apply computer hardware and software. These professionals must also have the problem-solving skills to maintain and protect these systems. For students seeking higher-level research, teaching, and supervisory careers, a bachelor’s also provides the academic foundation for graduate training at the master’s and doctoral level.
An online bachelor’s typically requires 120 credits of coursework, and is usually completed within 3-5 years. While undergraduate programs do not share a common curriculum, coursework generally equips students with a knowledge of operating systems, programming languages, database management, and system architecture. Graduates can expect to earn higher than average salaries, especially in high-demand careers such as hardware engineering, software development, and network administration.
Designed for math- and science-proficient students, as well as working professionals already employed in computer technology or engineering fields, an online master’s in computer science opens numerous career opportunities in technological development and research. Employers in high-demand and high-paying fields like software development, information security, and database administration increasingly hire professionals with master’s-level training. These professionals create and perfect emerging technologies and applications, and manage and protect computer systems and networks.
Several online computer science degrees in Illinois have designed master’s programs that feature flexible schedules and convenient course delivery formats. These may be particularly appealing to computer science and engineering professionals with three or more years of experience who seek career advancement, or who desire to transition into more challenging and better compensated fields.
Most programs require between 30 and 45 credits and take 1-2 years to complete. Coursework and concentrations vary by program, but they usually emphasize core areas like computer language theory, applied algorithms, data structures, database systems design and management, and network administration and security.
As the most advanced educational credential in computer science, a Ph.D. requires an exceptional academic and technological background, and a predilection for independent study. The online format provides an ideal platform for the self-directed research demanded by most Ph.D. programs.
An online Ph.D. in computer science can open doors to the most professionally prestigious and financial rewarding positions. Popular careers for graduates of doctoral programs include hardware and software engineers, network architects, and business intelligence analysts. Many Ph.D. graduates establish research-based or consulting companies that provide services to government, education, and corporate clients. Additionally, most universities require a Ph.D. for faculty positions. Professors seeking tenure or a promotion in rank must have completed a doctorate.
Online Ph.D. programs require 72 to 90 credits in foundational courses and specialized fields such as machine learning, robotics, human-computer interactions, and graphics and visualization. In addition to rigorous coursework, the majority of programs require a dissertation. Most students finish the degree in 4-5 years.
Professional Computer Science Organizations in Illinois
In a constantly changing field like computer science, students and graduates must stay apprised of the latest developments. Professional organizations provide opportunities for members to network and share the latest industry news. Many organizations provide resources such as webinars, annual conferences, and job boards to help members develop professionally and advance their careers.
- Association for Computing Machinery: Based at the University of Illinois, this 50-year old student organization boasts over 500 members. It sponsors several special interest groups in areas such as game building, mobile development, robotics, artificial intelligence, and security. ACM publishes a weekly newsletter and maintains a resume book to connect students entering the job market with major corporate recruiters.
- Illinois Technology Association: ITA provides services to growth-state technology companies in Illinois. This nonprofit offers opportunities for c-suite executives to network and share strategies. It also sponsors a Talent Portal for members seeking job placements and professional development workshops. ITA hosts the annual CityLIGHTS awards, honoring industry leaders in the Illinois technology community who have accomplished significant achievements.
- Illinois Computing Educators: As the Illinois affiliate of the International Society for Technology Education, ICE promotes innovative practices in computing education. It offers professional development opportunities including the ISTE certification for educators, teaching resources, and online training workshops. ISTE also sponsors an annual TECH Student Showcase, where students from over 100 Illinois schools demonstrate pioneering uses of digital learning technology for the classroom.
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