Studying Computer Science: Degrees at a Glance
Computer science is a quickly evolving field with a number of possible career paths for graduates. An associate or bachelor's degree program will give you the skills you need to move on to a career in the field. You'll take both theoretical and practical courses to build a solid foundation of knowledge, as well as elective courses that align with your own interests and strengths. Graduates work in a variety of different professions; many jobs require a bachelor's degree, but there are also opportunities for associate degree holders. After earning an associate degree, you may work as a computer support specialist - the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected an 18% increase in this field from 2010-2020, which is about average growth. Careers for bachelor's degree holders generally have a higher growth potential - for example, the BLS predicted that software developers would experience a 28% increase over the same time period (www.bls.gov).
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals interested in computer support careers or in transferring into a bachelor's program||Individuals interested in careers in one of many fields of computer science or in advancing to graduate study|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| - Computer support specialist ($52,000)* |
- Network and computer systems administrator ($74,000)*
| - Computer programmer ($76,000)* |
- Computer systems analyst ($82,000)*
- Database administrator ($77,000)*
- Systems software developer ($100,000)*
|Time to Completion||2 years of full-time study||4 years of full-time study; 2 years of full-time study or 4 years of part-time study after completing an associate degree|
|Common Graduation Requirements||- Curriculum of core courses and electives||- Curriculum of core courses and electives|
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or equivalent||High school diploma or equivalent|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Associate Degree in Computer Science
Many students first earn an associate degree before advancing into a bachelor's degree program; however, earning a bachelor's degree is not always required for career paths in the field. For example, associate degree holders can go on to work as computer support specialists. A bachelor's degree is often essential for advancement, though, and opens the door to a wider variety of possible professions. Associate degree programs are most commonly available at community colleges, both as traditional classroom programs and online programs.
Pros and Cons
- Computer support specialists have opportunities to advance in their careers; you might move into a position as network and computer systems administrator over time
- Earning an associate degree will allow you to begin your career more quickly than earning a 4-year bachelor's degree would; you may be able to complete your bachelor's degree part-time while already establishing your career
- Online options are available for these programs
- Computer support specialists and network and computer systems administrators may be required to work night and weekend hours
- Most jobs in the computer science field require a bachelor's degree
- Associate degree programs do not often offer the option to select a specialization track
You will take a sequence of required courses in foundational topics in computer science in an associate degree program. Core courses will be in areas such as computer science, data structures, and programming. Your core courses will prepare you to take more in-depth courses and electives, as well as provide the skills needed for real world applications, such as coding, testing, and designing computer programs. You'll also be required to take general education courses, such as English composition, humanities, math and physics.
Some common required courses include:
- Computer Architecture
- Data Structures
- Systems Analysis
- Operating Systems
Online Degree Options
Online options for earning an associate degree in computer science are available - some are available completely online, while others are a combination of some online classes and some on-campus classes. Students in online programs can expect to take similar classes to those taken by students in traditional associate degree programs.
Getting Ahead with this Degree
Many students in associate degree programs have an ultimate goal of transferring into a bachelor's degree program. If you plan to transfer, it may be useful to complete electives that prepare you for your chosen track in your bachelor's degree program. You could also consider earning certification in specific products from product vendors or software firms, such as Microsoft or Cisco. This can show employers that you are competent in these products and can help you stand out from the competition. Some product certifications may be required if you work as a network and computer systems administrator.
Bachelor's in Computer Science
In a bachelor's degree program in computer science, you will explore a variety of theoretical and practical topics, working on both research and application-based projects. You may learn to design computer programs, analyze system structures, or de-bug programs. If you are transferring into a bachelor's degree program from an associate degree program, you can expect to delve deeper into the topics that you had previously studied. A bachelor's degree will prepare you for a variety of career paths, including software development and database administration.
Pros and Cons
- Many programs offer the option to select a track that interests you most
- Online options are available for these degree programs
- A bachelor's degree is essential for many careers in the field and will allow you more opportunities to advance in your profession that would an associate degree
- Some programs require programming experience before you can begin
- Many careers available to bachelor's degree holders require long hours, and you may be asked to work more than 40 hours per week at times
- Previous work experience is often necessary to break into certain professions, such as information security analysis and network architecture
Courses and Requirements
As a student in a bachelor's degree program in computer science, you will take a variety of required courses similar to those taken in an associate degree program, as well as electives. You will explore topics in computer programming, systems architecture, and programming languages. Many universities offer both Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degrees; the former focus on a core of science and applied mathematics, while the latter include requirements in humanities and social sciences. You might choose a B.S. program if you want to enter a career in science and engineering, while a B.A. program may be better suited to your needs if you want to work in a social science field. Students often go on to select one of several specialty tracks in areas such as computer graphics or game development.
Online Degree Options
Online degree options are available to students interested in earning bachelor's degrees in computer science. These programs offer the same solid foundation in essential skills and theoretical study that on-campus programs do, and graduates qualify for the same positions that graduates of traditional programs do. You can go on to work in a number of industries, such as business, government, or education.
Stand Out with this Degree
One way to stand out while earning your computer science degree is to enroll in an honors program. Requirements include taking special honors courses and maintaining a high grade point average. Graduate-level courses are often available to you in these programs. You might also attend seminars and complete a capstone project or senior thesis. Deeper exploration of computer science topics and collaboration with experienced faculty members can better prepare you for your chosen career or for advanced study in a graduate program. Completing an honors program is an achievement that you could put on your resume.