Computer Systems Degrees: Bachelors, Associates & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in computer systems? Find out degree program requirements, online options and info on courses and computer systems training programs.
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Studying Computer Systems: Degrees at a Glance

The computer systems field employs people across a range of occupations. Professionals work in two areas: computer systems engineering and computer information systems. Computer systems engineering professionals evaluate a company's technology requirements, install and manage computer systems. They may also create equipment. Computer information systems specialists implement and manage systems that contain company data.

The associate degree program can prepare you for entry-level support opportunities in a range of industries. The bachelor's degree program might make some management positions available to you. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported slower-than-average through faster-than-average job growth for several careers in the field. Computer hardware engineers would see 9% job growth over the 2010-2020 decade, while computer support specialists could expect 18% growth.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People seeking entry-level support jobs in the computer technology industry People who want to pursue a career in computer systems administration or management
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Computer support specialist ($52,000)*
- Computer programmer ($76,000)*
- Database administrator ($77,000)*
- Computer hardware engineer ($101,000)*
- Computer and information systems manager ($126,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 60 credits - Roughly 120 credits
- Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Associate's in Computer Systems

The associate's degree program offers the foundation required to understand computer hardware, software, operating systems and networking standards. Schools design their programs to deliver training in common vendor software and hardware, including Cisco, Microsoft and Linux systems. Programs are usually math and science intensive and might require the completion of programming coursework. Some programs offer a concentration in computer networking, programming or Web development. In addition, curricula might prepare you to take industry-standard certification exams.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Computer programmers earned a relatively competitive mean annual salary of about $76,000*
  • Programs might offer an area of concentration, which provides in-depth training in Web development or computer maintenance
  • Many programs transfer to a bachelor's degree program, should you decide to continue your education

Cons

  • Computer programmers would only see a 12% increase in jobs over the 2010-2020 decade**
  • Competition against bachelor's degree holders might present a challenge for computer support and programming positions
  • Pursuing certification will extend your training and require additional financial resources

Courses and Requirements

The associate's degree program develops skills in a range of computer systems topics, including security, design and installation. You might spend substantial time in a laboratory environment working on programming, networks or systems design projects. Many programs offer an internship or cooperative education program. The courses you take depend significantly on your selected concentration. Following are some common courses offered by the programs:

  • Technical mathematics
  • C++ programming
  • Systems analysis
  • Linux and Shell programming
  • Computer and network security
  • Hardware support
  • Networking

Online Degree Info

The online associate's degree program offers courses similar to traditional programs. Schools design online programs to emphasize the development of business solutions using a range of technologies. Programs deliver courses in database management, Web publishing and computer programming. Keep in mind that you might need access to current technologies, including debugging software, for example, to participate in online courses.

Stand Out with This Degree

Improving job prospects might require that you pursue additional credentials through a certification process. The type of certification you pursue depends on your selected career path. The Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) offers two certifications that do not require professional experience: the Associate Computing Professional and the Information Systems Analyst. You can also pursue four additional certifications once you gain a minimum of 12 months of experience. In addition to certification, consider taking advantage of internships and cooperative education opportunities, which can provide hands-on exposure to computer systems in a business environment.


Bachelor's in Computer Systems

The bachelor's degree program delivers broader training in computer systems, networking and engineering topics. Several courses are similar to those offered by the associate's degree program, although the bachelor's level offers advanced coursework. Many universities offer their computer systems programs through a school of business and combine training in business functions and technical infrastructure. The technical nature of the program might require that students purchase software programs at discounted rates.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Computer and information systems managers earned a competitive mean annual salary of about $126,000*
  • The BLS projected 31% job growth for database administrator positions over the 2010-2020 decade**
  • Employers are seeking job candidates with higher education

Cons

  • Associate's degree holders earned comparable salaries; computer programmers earned a mean annual salary of about $76,000 and database administrators earned roughly $77,000*
  • Hardware engineers could expect slower-than-average job growth of 9% over the 2010-2020 decade**
  • You might experience competition from master's degree holders for computer hardware engineering opportunities

Courses and Requirements

The bachelor's degree program offers a broader knowledge of computer systems and the opportunity to take advanced coursework. Programs deliver training in computer system administration, performance analysis, networking and systems programming. You can expect to take courses in systems analysis, project management, database design and implementation, Java programming, algorithms, software management and advanced artificial intelligence. In addition, many programs culminate in a senior project.

Online Degree Info

The online computer systems bachelor's degree program emphasizes a range of courses, depending on your selected concentration or field. For example, you might find programs in information technology that deliver coursework in operating systems and management information systems. Some online programs provide training in information management that emphasizes financial accounting and e-commerce. Keep in mind that locating an online program accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc.) will provide the best return on investment; many employers prefer candidates with ABET-accredited credentials.

Stand Out with This Degree

Similar to the associate's degree program, seeking certification might improve your marketability. ICCP offers four professional-level certifications that you can obtain with a bachelor's degree. In addition, pursuing relevant certification from Microsoft, Cisco or CompTIA might improve job prospects. Graduating from an ABET-accredited program will play a significant role in landing some opportunities, including hardware-engineering jobs. Entry-level positions offered by smaller firms or businesses might help you gain the experience required to pursue computer and information systems management positions.

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