Computer Hardware Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a computer hardware degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate's and bachelor's degrees and potential careers.
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Study Computer Hardware: Degrees and Training at a Glance

Computer hardware refers to equipment like circuit boards, microprocessors and routers. As a student studying computer hardware, you'll learn about the inner workings of a computer and the relationship between the hardware and software. Depending on your education level, you may perform standard repairs and upgrades or do research and development. When looking for programs, you may want to consider those that are approved by ABET, formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. According to ABET, accreditation may be required by some employers or for state licensure.

While many careers in computer hardware pay better than average, many have lower than average outlook projections. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that job opportunities for electrical and electronic technicians were expected to grow just two percent from 2010-2020, while jobs for computer hardware engineers are only projected to increase nine percent. This is due largely to outsourcing.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to work on the practical side of computers, doing repairs and carrying out designs from engineers Individuals who want to research and design new forms of computer hardware
Common Career Paths (with median annual salary) - Computer Support Specialists ($48,000)*
- Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technicians ($57,000)*
- Electro-mechanical Technicians ($51,000)*
- Computer Hardware Engineer ($99,000)*
- Electrical Engineer ($86,000)*
- Electronics Engineer ($92,000)*
Time to Completion 2-years full time 4-years full time
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma (with scientific and math requirements)
Program Requirements - Capstone project - Senior design project
Available Online None found at this time None in computer hardware but some in related areas

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May, 2011 figures).

Associate's Degree in Computer Hardware

At the associate's level, you may consider computer engineering technology or related programs. According to ABET, engineering technology programs are more focused on the implementation of design, rather than engineering programs, which concentrate on conceptualization.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Not as many high level math and science courses as engineering programs
  • Focused on the practical applications of computer hardware
  • Emphasize technical skills
  • Some programs are transferable to a 4-year college with the completion of additional coursework

Cons

  • Typically not sufficient for an engineering position
  • A limited number of programs are ABET-accredited

Courses and Requirements

These programs typically include coursework and labs in both computer hardware and software. Requirements from outside the engineering core include trigonometry, calculus and physics. Some computer engineering technology programs include a computer hardware track. Some of the courses you may take include:

  • Electrical circuits
  • CAD for electronics
  • Microcomputer systems
  • Computers in engineering technology

Online Degree Options

Due to the amount of labs and hands-on training involved in these programs, on-line programs are not available. Some general education courses that may be part of your degree could be available online, depending on your school of choice.

Stand Out with this Degree

Since many engineering technology programs include coursework in specific programming languages, like C++, you may consider becoming certified in one or more programming languages. Some colleges offer certificates that can be completed in one or two years, some of which may be completed online. Developing good communication skills can also be beneficial since you may have to explain problems with computer terminology to individuals who are unfamiliar with it.

Bachelor's Degree in Computer Hardware

If you are seeking a bachelor's degree program related to computer hardware, you may want to consider computer engineering programs. These programs prepare students to design and develop computer hardware systems. The capstone requirement is typically a senior design project.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • May prepare you for engineering positions, which pay more than technicians on the average ($99,000 vs. $57,000)*
  • Most programs include coursework in computing areas outside of hardware, like networking and operating systems
  • May provide opportunities to study sub-fields of computer hardware

Cons

  • Must complete significant advanced math and science courses
  • Often necessary to attend a program accredited by ABET
  • Many programs have minimum high school math and science requirements for admission

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May, 2010 figures)

Courses and Requirements

During the first two years of a program, you will typically complete your non-engineering requirements. These include coursework in calculus, physics, differential equations and linear algebra. Additionally, you will take foundational engineering courses. In the final two years, you will take coursework specific to computer engineering. Some of the course topics include:

  • Discrete structures
  • Computer architecture and design
  • Analog electronics
  • Information communication

Online Degree Options

Similar to associate's degree programs, bachelor's degree programs require many labs and are typically offered only on-site. There are a few ABET-accredited programs available on-line in areas related to computer hardware, such as computer networking and computer information systems, but none in computer engineering.

Stand Out with this Degree

You may want to consider becoming professionally licensed. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) indicates that only licensed engineers may offer their services to the public or be principals in a firm. The path to licensure includes graduating from an accredited program, earning work experience and passing two NCEES-administered exams. While in a program, you may take advantage of research and co-op opportunities to gain experience and become more familiar with computer technology. Similar to graduates of an associate's program, you may also consider becoming certified in a programming language.

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