Virginia is home to several colleges and universities offering computer science programs. It also contains many large employers in the field. Ongoing state initiatives continue to push for more STEM students and professionals, and Virginia offers attractive options for individuals interested in a computer science education or career — or both. This page can help you determine whether pursuing a computer science degree in Virginia would suit your academic and career aspirations.
A constantly evolving and growing field, computer science supports a variety of careers, some of which are detailed below. This page also contains information related to the different degree types you can pursue, professional organizations that can help you during and after college, and which colleges and universities you might want to consider.
Ongoing state initiatives continue to push for more STEM students and professionals, and Virginia offers attractive options for individuals interested in a computer science education or career — or both.
Higher Education in Virginia
In October 2014, the state approved the Virginia Plan for Higher Education, which identified trends in the state’s higher education system and recommended steps to ensure prosperity and success. Education — specifically in the STEM and computer science fields — was found to be irrevocably tied to the health of the Commonwealth’s economic future. Virginia responded with a concerted effort to grow degrees and programs to support tech talent.
Virginia’s higher education system is led by 15 regional public universities, 13 of which offer graduate programs. These institutions include the College of William and Mary, Old Dominion University, and the University of Virginia. Additionally, the state contains 45 private four-year institutions and maintains more than 65 partnerships with out-of-state schools, encouraging Virginia students to consider distance learning.
Many colleges and universities have increased their annual tuition by more than 70% since 2002. Fortunately, the establishment of an increasing number of hybrid and online programs has helped improve accessibility to higher education for many Virginians; many online programs provide students with more flexibility and more cost-effective degree paths. Online computer science degrees in Virginia may expand even further as the state implements its higher education plan and grants more resources to STEM education.
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Computer Science Careers in Virginia
Finding qualified tech talent challenges recruiters across the country. Companies in all industries seek qualified professionals to fill computer science roles, and demand often outpaces supply. A robust job market awaits those with computer science degrees — both in Virginia and elsewhere.
Virginia employment remains on the upswing as the state recovers from the Great Recession. According to the latest State of the Commonwealth Report published by Old Dominion University, Virginia’s labor force in the fall of 2017 stood at a healthy 4.4 million — the largest it has been since such data were first collected in 1976.
With an awareness that STEM and computer science will continue to play a major role in the Commonwealth’s economic well-being, Virginia plans to continue focusing on tech and R&D over the next decade. A recent survey published by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that Virginia’s eighth congressional district (Arlington and Fairfax counties) employed the most high-tech sector workers and the fourth-most computer science workers among the 435 congressional districts in the country. Additionally, approximately 73% of all non-farming employment in the state is based in Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads.
Mean Salary for Computer Science Careers in Virginia
COMPUTER SCIENCE EMPLOYERS IN VIRGINIA
- Thomas & Betts Corp.: In 1958, Thomas & Betts invented the cable tie. Since then, this electronic connectors manufacturer has developed several new ways to efficiently distribute electricity. Students who earn degrees from computer science schools in Virginia — and especially those trained in product development — may find opportunities at this Roanoke-based company.
- University of Virginia: Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, this public university features 11 schools in Charlottesville plus another location in southwest Virginia. The school employs nearly 30,000 Virginians. Qualified computer science professionals are needed across this academic institution, from the main UVA campus to its hospital.
- VCU Health System: Operating as the medical campus for Virginia Commonwealth University, this healthcare provider serves residents throughout the Richmond area. In 2016, it helped over 110,000 people in need of emergency care and 640,000 more through its outpatient clinics. Combined with the university, VCU Health System represents the largest employer in Richmond, employing more than 22,000 workers.
HOW MUCH DO COMPUTER SCIENTISTS MAKE IN VIRGINIA?
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Computer Science Programs in Virginia
To meet the increasing demand for computer science graduates, Virginia’s higher learning institutions have created computer science programs at all degree levels. While undergraduate programs introduce computing concepts and fundamentals, such as information systems and computational thinking, advanced degrees let students pick concentrations, like computer networks and data science.
A growing number of schools continue to add online degree tracks. From Old Dominion University to Virginia Tech, students enjoy several options for online computer science programs in Virginia. In fact, some of the best computer science schools in Virginia offer hybrid and fully online programs, which more easily fit into students’ busy lives. These distance programs may also help learners save money, eliminating some of the costs associated with on-campus attendance (e.g., transportation or room and board).
Accreditation represents one of the most important factors to consider when selecting a school. In Virginia, the best schools hold regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). This accrediting agency boasts recognition from the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Many computer science programs also hold accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which provides specialized accreditation for programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. Although accreditation is voluntary, some professions require licensure, which typically means that students must earn an accredited degree.
TYPES OF COMPUTER SCIENCE DEGREES
Students can earn online computer science degrees in Virginia at the associate to doctoral levels. The following sections explore what you can expect to learn while pursuing each type of degree, as well as how long it usually takes to graduate. These timelines assume full-time study, and part-time students will take longer to complete their degrees. Some online programs also offer accelerated or intensive options, which can expedite graduation.
An associate degree from an online computer science program in Virginia helps graduates enter the field quickly, equipping learners with the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to work in some entry-level positions. An associate degree usually comprises 60 credits and typically takes two years to complete. This degree offers less education than a standard bachelor’s degree, but it typically costs much less and can still lead to employment opportunities.
Additionally, earning an associate degree allows you to complete about half of the requirements for a bachelor’s degree while paying a lower tuition rate. Associate graduates can then transfer most — or sometimes all — of their credits to a bachelor’s program.
The standard bachelor’s degree offered by online computer science programs in Virginia meets the education requirements for most jobs in the computer science field. This degree, which comprises around 120 credits and usually takes four years to complete, equips students with the fundamental skills needed to work in the field, while also offering some level of specialization.
Completing a bachelor’s degree opens up many more entry-level career options for computer science professionals compared to an associate degree. Those who already hold an associate degree and/or prior work experience may qualify for better positions and increase their earning potential by pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
A master’s degree benefits students with serious career aspirations in the field of computer science. These advanced degrees comprise 30-60 credits and generally take 2-3 years to complete. They also allow students to specialize in one or two aspects of computer science. Master’s students can expect to tackle more difficult concepts in greater depth and make their own contributions to the field.
Master’s students often have to complete a thesis or other final project, where they conduct research and experiments. A master’s degree can lead to more advanced positions in the field and increase a graduate’s earning potential.
A doctoral degree represents the highest academic degree a student can earn and usually takes 4-5 years to complete. However, program length can vary significantly, depending on the type of research a student pursues during their program. Doctoral graduates gain expertise in a particular subject, and they must complete a dissertation, which typically makes a more significant contribution to the field than a master’s thesis.
Most Ph.D. graduates continue to work in academia, conducting research, presenting papers, and teaching students. However, some of these professionals find work in the private sector, where a doctorate can qualify graduates for a variety of high-level positions.
Professional Computer Science Organizations in Virginia
Professional associations offer members a variety of benefits, including opportunities for networking, which may prove especially important to entry-level workers. Students and recent graduates can gain industry insights as well as resources for finding jobs and professional development. Mentorship opportunities, annual conferences, local meetings, and continuing education workshops represent additional benefits that can help professionals excel in their field.
- Association for Computing Machinery: ACM operates as a global organization and brings together more than 100,000 professionals in the computer science field. Local chapters can be found in many countries. Educators, practitioners, and theorists can join this association to network, share information, and advance their field.
- Mathematical Association of America: MAA — an interdisciplinary organization — can help computer science professionals succeed, even though the association does not focus primarily on computer science. Sharing knowledge and forming contacts with professionals in other fields can help members diversify their problem-solving abilities and develop new ideas.
- Computer Science Teachers Association: CSTA helps promote computer science education at the K-12 levels. Teachers enjoy opportunities to network and develop their professional credentials, ultimately providing better education to primary and secondary students.
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