Computer Information Science Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Info

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What will you learn in a computer information science degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Computer Information Science: Degrees at a Glance

Computer information science professionals work in a number of occupations in the technology industry. Specialists obtain work in government agencies, consulting firms, research facilities and non-profit businesses. Pursuing an associate's degree will offer the knowledge and skills required for entry-level jobs in data or networking management, computer programming, security or computer support. A bachelor's degree can set you on a career path toward information and computer systems management. While licensure isn't required for these professions, certifications are available.

The job outlooks vary by the career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment opportunities for computer programmers will increase 12% from 2010-2020, while database administrators will see a 31% increase over the same time period. Increases in employment are due to the growing reliance many industries have on technology. The BLS does indicate that some job growth is hampered by outsourcing.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in entry-level opportunities in the technology industry People who want to pursue a career in computer or information systems management
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Computer support specialist ($52,000)*
- Network or computer system administrator ($74,000)*
- Computer programmer ($76,000)*
- Database administrator ($77,000)*
- Computer systems analyst ($82,000)*
- Computer and information systems manager ($126,000 - people with 5 or more years' experience earned this salary)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Nothing beyond the typical associate's degree coursework - Senior project
- Professional 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 Information Science

The associate's degree offers subject matter that focuses on the management, operation and design of computer information systems. General education courses and science-based courses provide a well-rounded education complemented by a strong technical background. You will learn current terminology, research methods and conventional computing practices. Colleges offer a number of concentrations to meet your career goals. For example, you may select an associate's degree in information systems security, computer programming, computer science or computer support management.

Pros and Cons


  • You may gain a competitive edge for positions that only require a high school diploma, such as computer support specialist.
  • You will gain strong technical skills through courses in the sciences and laboratory courses in programming
  • Many programs have transferable coursework that can be applied to a bachelor's degree program


  • Competition against bachelor's degree holders will be keen
  • Advancement opportunities may require that you continue your education
  • May focus on the practical aspects more than the technical aspects

Courses and Requirements

Associate's degree programs last two years and typically require at least 60 credits. While the curriculum depends on your major, the following topics are usually included: troubleshooting, operating systems, programming languages and computer management. Some programs offer concentrations, or even sub-concentrations in a specific operating system, such as Windows or LINUX/UNIX. Preparatory courses for industry-standard specifications may also be available. The following courses are common to these programs:

  • Algorithm design
  • Discrete structures
  • Database applications
  • Network security
  • Systems analysis and design
  • Visual Basic programming
  • Object-oriented programming

Online Course Info

Several colleges offer an associate's degree through a distance-education program. You can take all of the required courses online or in a hybrid format. These programs provide courses similar to those offered at traditional campuses, although some schools offer an Associate of Arts rather than an Associate of Science. The Associate of Arts may not offer the same number of mathematics or science-based courses.

Stand Out with This Degree

A diverse skill set, experience and certification play a significant role in obtaining employment. Computer support specialist jobs usually require some college, but obtaining advanced positions in programming or network and computer system administration may present a challenge. You can take the following steps to boost your marketability:

  • Participate in internships, collaborative projects and cooperative education to gain the experience that may improve job prospects.
  • Learn multiple programming languages during your studies.
  • Obtain the appropriate certifications for industry-standard organizations.

Bachelor's in Computer Information Science

Bachelor's degree programs offer an in-depth education in the sciences, mathematics and information technology. Upper-division courses coupled with concentrations may provide a business foundation. You can select from concentrations in several areas, including computer science or software engineering. Students may spend long hours in the laboratory learning programming languages, database system design and debugging techniques.

Pros and Cons


  • Pursuing a computer science degree will prepare you for graduate studies
  • More specific majors or concentrations are available, such as computer science or information systems
  • Some programs offer a business concentration, which can improve employment prospects


  • Salaries for some careers are comparable to salaries earned by associate's degree holders (Computer programmers earned $76,000 vs. database administrators who earned $77,000)*
  • May not prepare you for a career in computer and information research science
  • Specialized degrees may limit your job opportunities

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

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs require extensive laboratory work and a capstone course. Supporting coursework in advanced math and science is typically required. You can select a concentration in business, mathematics or a technology-focused area. Common core courses may include:

  • Discrete math
  • Language processors
  • Software architecture
  • Computer engineering
  • Data and program structures

Online Course Info

Online bachelor's programs offers coursework quite similar to campus-based programs. You can expect to consult with an advisor to ensure that you follow your degree. Some programs require a capstone course and electives to ensure depth of knowledge. Keep in mind that some on-line programs may require the completion of lower division coursework prior to admission.

Stand Out with This Degree

Taking industry-specific classes, such as financial accounting or healthcare business, will provide the knowledge you need to enter your field of choice. As with most technical positions, pursuing certification in a programming language or software will enhance your skills and demonstrate to employers that you possess the skills required to perform the job. You will usually need to pursue continuing education courses to keep your technical skills updated.

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