Study Telecommunications: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a telecommunications program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Telecommunications Associate and Bachelor's: Degrees at a Glance

Telecommunications graduates install and repair data, wireless and voice networks. Telecommunications programs are typically coupled with an additional topic, such as telecommunications and computer networking or telecommunications and electronics. While an associate degree can get you into the field as an entry-level equipment installer, a bachelor's degree typically gains you more advanced networking systems administrator positions. Some network administrator jobs may be available with an associate's degree, but they will require certification and experience.

Telecommunications is a growing field; however, your potential growth is dependent on your area of interest. For instance, you can gain an entry-level career as a telecommunications equipment installer, which was projected to see fast-as-average growth of about 15% from 2010-2020. However, network administration careers were expected to see a faster-than-average growth of 28% from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Associate Bachelor's
Who Is this Degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level jobs within telecommunications - People interested in networking or management positions within telecommunications
- Individuals seeking entry-level network administration careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Telecom station installer ($53,000)*
- Telecommunications line installer ($51,000)*
- Network systems administrator ($74,000)*
- Computer systems analyst ($82,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements None beyond courses - Telecommunications internship
- Capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma - High school diploma
- Some programs require an associate's degree
Online Availability Rare Yes

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

Associate Degree in Telecommunications

Associate degree programs in telecommunications allow you to explore the field through different concentrations, such as computer systems networking and telecommunications or electronics and telecommunications. You may also choose to complete a general program in telecommunications, which explores concepts in router management, wireless communication, basic electronics and digital switching systems. As you evaluate programs, you may want to look for programs that provide lab opportunities and hands-on practical experience with routers and networks. Some programs may provide basic training in specific systems, such as Linux and Cisco. If you're looking for advanced practical experience, you should keep in mind that internships at this level are rare. In some cases, an associate degree program may be used as a stepping-stone for a bachelor's degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Provides career-specific skills in networking, telecommunications and emerging technologies while requiring only a few general education courses
  • Prepares new graduates for telecommunication installation careers
  • Students gain experience with transmission media and networks (fiber optics, wireless networks and wired lines)

Cons

  • Networking careers typically require additional on-the-job experience or certification
  • Limited practical experiences
  • Increased competition in the field leads to employers requiring additional education

Courses and Requirements

Courses in an associate degree program cover general education and technical requirements. You explore local area networks and wireless area networks, as well as how to set up and maintain these networks. Some programs examine electronic principles and digital switching applications. Emerging technologies are commonly emphasized so that you can stay abreast of the latest technologies.

Examples of courses you might take at the associate level include:

  • Local area networks
  • Programming
  • Networking technologies
  • Network security

Online Degree Options

Due to the hands-on nature of the work, online associate programs in telecommunications are exceedingly rare. Offered fully online, this program may be designed for current telecommunications workers. Online 2-year programs will follow the same curriculum as a standard classroom setting; however, you will have to utilize simulations and at-home lab kits to gain an understanding of signal transmissions and electrical circuits.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Since certification may be required for some positions, you could consider completing degree programs that provide certification training. For example, the Electronic Technicians Association (ETA) International offers stand-alone certifications that you can complete once you've gained competence in a specific area. Certifications that you may qualify for during the duration of your program include fiber optics installer or telecommunications electronics technician.

Bachelor's Degree in Telecommunications

A 4-year degree program in telecommunications trains you to develop, manage and implement networks in business organizations or information technology departments. Some programs offer specializations in management and emerging technologies. A good portion of the curriculum is devoted to liberal arts and science requirements. The program may include several laboratory experiences for working with routers and digital switching technology, as well as computer network simulation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Provides management and business courses for an overall IT and business education
  • Develops interpersonal and team-working skills
  • Multiple opportunities for practical experience and training

Cons

  • About half of the program is devoted to general education requirements
  • Some programs require students to possess an associate degree or work experience for entry
  • Network administrator career requires continuing education to keep up with technological advancements

Courses and Training Requirements

These 120-125 credit-hour programs examine concepts in programming, networking communications, security systems and telecomm policy. In some schools, you may also be required to fulfill a foreign language requirement. In addition to coursework, you can complete an internship and capstone project in telecommunications, which allows you to gain real-world experience and network with current networking professionals.

Common courses that you might find in a bachelor's degree in telecommunications program include:

  • Data and voice communications
  • Electrical circuits
  • Transmission technology
  • Wireless networks

Online Degree Info

Distance learning bachelor's degree programs in telecommunications are available, although they aren't very common. The technical requirements of the degrees are the same in both online and on-campus programs; however, online programs are typically accelerated or 2+2 programs, which require an associate's degree (or 64 college credits) to gain entry. Additionally, some programs may even require students to hold prior work experience to gain entrance. Concentrations may be available to online students in the areas of wireless communications, network security or system administration. Programs are typically offered fully online.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Within a telecommunications bachelor's degree, you can choose to join a student organization that specifically focuses on telecommunications. These organizations provide you with access to current professionals in the field and may include field trips or work experiences.

Additionally, students can choose to gain certifications in specific areas of competence. For example, Cisco offers certification in telecommunications specialties, such as network security, design and wireless networking. The entry-level certifications don't require any prerequisites; therefore, you can earn certification after gaining competence through your coursework.

Degree Alternatives

If you're more interested in computers than networking, you might want to consider completing a bachelor's degree in computer science. While computer science programs may explore data systems, these programs place more emphasis on programming, software engineering and systems architecture. Job growth for computer and information systems managers was projected to grow about as fast as average, at 18%, from 2010-2020, stated the BLS, and the median salary was $118,000 in May 2011. Additionally, the BLS states that most computer systems managers typically hold several years of relevant experience in the field. Since computer science is a strong component of networking and telecommunications, this may be one alternative to consider.

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