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

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Associate and bachelor's degrees in computer software can lead to careers in software maintenance or design. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Computer Software: Degrees at a Glance

Programs in computer software teach you about the operating systems of computers. Through these undergraduate programs, you will learn how to develop, maintain and operate software. While both associate and bachelor's programs are available, many software-related careers require a bachelor's degree. If you are considering a bachelor's degree program, you may want to consider one that is accredited by ABET.

With the growing presence of computers, a degree in computer software might seem like a good idea. However, the job prospects can vary greatly depending on the type of career that you pursue. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for programmers are expected to increase 12% from 2010-2020. Some growth may be hampered by jobs being outsourced to other countries. Over the same time period, the BLS anticipated that employment opportunities for software developers would increase 30%.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working in computer maintenance or support Individuals who want to design and test computer software
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Computer support specialists ($52,000)*
- Computer programmer ($76,000)*
- Computer programmer ($76,000)*
- Software developer, applications ($92,000)*
- Software developer, systems software ($100,000)*
Time to Completion Two years (full-time) Four years (full-time)
Common Graduation Requirements Approximately 60-65 credits Senior design project
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- SAT/ACT or other placement test scores
- High school Diploma
- SAT/ACT scores
- Some programs require math and science courses
Online Availability Some courses can be found online Some courses available online

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

Associate Degrees in Computer Software

Associate degree programs are generally offered in topics related to computer software, such as information technology, computer programming and computer applications. These 2-year programs include basic general education requirements in English, business and math. You can study computer software through these programs to prepare for entry-level positions or apply your credits to transferring to a 4-year bachelor's degree program.

Pros and Cons


  • Credits may directly transfer toward a bachelor's degree
  • Programs can be devoted to specific computer topics
  • Programs are available online


  • May not be sufficient for many computer software careers
  • There aren't many ABET-accredited associate programs
  • May be focused more on the maintenance of software as opposed to design

Coursework and Requirements

Associate programs often include courses devoted to a specific type of programming, such as C++ or Linux. You can gain introductory training in skill areas that include understanding project management, installing networks and problem solving computer-related issues. Some of the courses that you may take include:

  • Network infrastructure
  • Digital electronics
  • Data communications
  • Programming fundamentals
  • Web design

Online Information

Fully online associate programs in computer software are rare. You may be able to complete some of your elective or general education courses online, but most programs are campus-based. If you're interested in online programs, you can find a variety of related programs in areas that include computer information technology and computer engineering technology. At this level, related online programs can prepare you for similar entry-level positions, as well as transfer to a 4-year computer software program.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

You may want to consider earning professional certification, which the BLS notes can help you find computer positions without a bachelor's degree. You might consider certification like the Certified Software Development Associate (CSDA) credential offered by the IEEE Computer Society. The CSDA credential will require a degree or programming experience. You can also consider taking elective coursework in additional programming languages to build your technical expertise.

Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Software

Bachelor's degree programs in computer software are typically offered as software engineering programs, such as the Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering. These programs include sequences in advanced math, including calculus and differential equations. You will also study topics like computer science and electrical engineering. The skills you can gain through a bachelor's degree program in computer software or a similar area include how to solve engineering problems and apply computer science theory to technical application.

Pros and Cons


  • A bachelor's degree will qualify you for most software jobs
  • You can study specific areas of software, such as operating systems and microprocessors
  • You can learn how to design software components


  • Computer software programs aren't available online
  • May need to earn a degree from an ABET-accredited program
  • You may be competing for positions against applicants with an associate degree and experience

Coursework and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in this field can teach you how to apply engineering, math and scientific principles to solve problems. Bachelor's programs may also include a senior design project as a capstone requirement. Potential courses include:

  • Database management systems
  • Microprocessors
  • Software systems architecture
  • Project management
  • Software engineering fundamentals

Online Information

ABET indicated in 2012 that a majority of the programs they accredited were offered on-site rather than online. You will find that of the few approved programs available on-line, none are specific to computer software or software engineering. You can find related programs in areas like computer science; however, these programs may not cover all of the same topics. You may consider completing some of your general education courses online and doing your major requirements on-campus.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Many engineering schools offer cooperative education and internship programs. These provide you with opportunities to gain practical experience. You may also consider joining a club to gain additional technical expertise in an area like robotics. Similar to graduates of an associate program, you may also consider pursuing professional certification. In addition to the CSDA credential from the IEEE Computer Society, you can also pursue the more advanced Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) credential through the organization.

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