Network Information Systems: Associate, Bachelor & Online Degree Info

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

With a networking degree, you could manage computer servers, WAN and LAN networks, telecommunications and telephony services. You might design network systems, choose or install hardware and software or support and train end-users. Employers generally prefer a degree, but courses, diplomas and certifications might also be accepted. You'll need to be a lifelong learner to keep up with changes in this field. Degrees are not usually titled 'networking information systems'; the more common options are programs in information systems with a networking specialization or network information technology programs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that network and computer systems administrators would experience 28% growth from 2010-2020, which was significantly faster than the average for all occupations. An associate's degree may lead to a network support specialist job and, in some cases, a network administration position. Bachelor's degree holders may qualify for work as database administrators, information systems managers, network engineers and network administrators.

Associate Bachelor's
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals who want an entry-level technician or support position in the network information field Individuals interested in networking management positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Information systems operations coordinator ($57,000)*
- LAN support worker ($50,000)*
- Help desk support assistant ($39,000)*
- Computer systems manager ($135,000)*
- Client/server database administrator ($94,000)* - LAN/WAN administrator ($73,000)*
- Network engineer ($57,000)*
- Network administrator ($54,000)*
Time to completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 10-12 courses in networking-related studies
- General education courses
- Approximately 20-25 specialized courses that focus on networking, information systems and computer technologies
- General education courses
- Capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Courses may be offered online A few courses are offered online

Source: * (May 2012 figures).

Associate's in Network Information Systems

Associate's degree programs can teach you how to test, evaluate and maintain network and Internet systems to ensure that they operate reliably. You might learn to install hardware, software and operating systems. Most associate's programs consist of four semesters of coursework, with a few of your courses being dedicated to general studies. Internships are available in some programs, and you might even be able to get academic credit for completing one. Completion of an associate's program may prepare you to take some basic certification exams that could lead to the CompTIA A+ and Cisco Certified Network Associate certifications.

Pros and Cons


  • Only takes about two years to complete and usually prepares you for the same entry-level positions as a bachelor's degree
  • Starting salaries may be comparable to those of applicants with bachelor's degrees
  • Credits may be transferable to a 4-year institution if you decide to continue you education
  • Prepares you for a variety of positions in a growing career field


  • Employers may prefer a bachelor's degree*
  • You might be equally competitive with a diploma or industry certifications
  • Limited number of elective options means you may not be able to specialize in a particular area of networking

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

After you fulfill general education requirements, you'll take courses in microcomputer maintenance, programming fundamentals, network administration, LAN implementation and Internet security. Most associate's programs are designed to give you the essential skills needed for networking jobs, but you won't really focus on one specific area. The amount of electives you can choose in your area of focus depends on what the school offers; some may allow you to select up to four electives in networking, while others have a set course plan for network information students.

Online Course Options

Fully online programs in networking information systems are not currently available, but some schools may offer some of your required courses in an online format. If you opt for a partially online program, you'll typically have similar course options as you would in an on-campus program. Some schools have courses designed to prepare you for relevant certifications, so you could earn course credit and get ready for the Network+ exam at the same time.

You can also find a number of supplemental online courses offered by various computer associations, such as the Association of Computing Machinery. These types of courses do not count towards your degree, but may be useful for professionals looking to keep up with industry changes.

Standing Out With This Degree

Attending industry or professional association events could help you make valuable contacts. Your school may have opportunities for you to compete in technology contests or join a computer club, which can give you some hands-on experience before you start searching for a job.

Only having a degree may not be enough in the networking information systems field; you'll probably want to obtain some type of certification to have the best job opportunities. If you were not able to take a certification course during your studies, you can prepare for a certification exam after you graduate. The designation you'll want to pursue depends on the type of job you're after, but starting with a basic networking certification can be useful for a variety of jobs.

Bachelor's in Network Information Systems

A bachelor's program teaches you to manage networks that support an organization's technical infrastructure. You'll learn skills in programming, systems development and management from your core courses. You may be able to specialize in a number of areas, including network security, programming, database administration, technical operations management or network engineering. Schools sometimes offer co-ops to bachelor's students, which are joint programs between the school and a particular employer that give you a chance to work and earn course credit at the same time. You'll have more elective options at the bachelor's level, so you have a better chance of learning about the specific networking subjects that interest you.

Pros and Cons


  • Prepares you for a variety of jobs in a growing field
  • Employers typically prefer bachelor's degree holders
  • You can tailor your education to your area of interest through elective courses and internships
  • Can lead to management-level positions in networking and IT systems


  • Starting salaries in some fields may be similar to those offered to graduates with an associate's degree
  • Bachelor's holders may still need industry certifications to be considered for some positions
  • Some of the entry-level jobs you are qualified for only require an associate's degree

Courses and Requirements

You'll typically cover similar topics in a 4-year program as you would in an associate's program, but you have more freedom to select advanced topics in your areas of interest. Coursework is typically more in-depth and will cover more ideas, since you'll probably take at least 20 courses that pertain to networking and information systems. Some of the courses you might take include:

  • Computer cyber ethics policy
  • Mobile computing
  • Network security engineering
  • Storage area networking
  • Web applications and server administration
  • Network design
  • Installing and maintaining networks

A bachelor's program often requires you to complete a specialized project or capstone course where you'd use the concepts you've learned over the course of the program in a comprehensive assignment.

Online Degree Options

Most bachelor's degree programs in this field are held on-campus, although you may have the opportunity to take some courses in an online format. Online courses are comparable to on-campus courses, except you'll be interacting with professors and students through writing. If you happen to come across a school that claims to offer a strictly online program in network information systems, make sure to find out if it is accredited by an agency approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

You could take some courses that focus on emerging fields like security, cloud computing and the managed service sector to give you an edge after you graduate. You may want to take advantage of any study abroad leadership opportunities and internships or co-operative joint ventures that give you real experience in the IT industry before you graduate. Although not all schools may offer a Network+ course that gives you credit, it may benefit you to take one that prepares you for the exam. If you've got a degree, a networking certification and some experience from an internship or a co-op, you'll have a huge advantage over other applicants who've also just graduated.

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