Earning Your Computer Science Degree Online
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in computer science are on the rise. The computer and information technology industry as a whole is projected to grow by 12% — or roughly 488,500 jobs — between 2014 and 2024. Niche technology occupations like computer systems analysts, information security analysts, software developers, and web developers are also expected to grow at above-average rates. These projections are due to a stronger emphasis on the use of computer systems and information technology across all industries.
The 2016-17 PayScale College Salary Report also notes that earning a computer science degree is a wise investment. This report outlined the relatively high salary expectations for students that obtain computer science degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degree levels. The table below features a detailed breakdown.
|Degree||Median Entry-Level Salary (0-5 Years)||Median Mid-Career Salary (10+ Years)||Salary Increase After 10 Years|
|Associate Degree in Computer Science||$40,400||$67,300||66.6%||Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science||$65,300||$107,000||63.9%||Master’s Degree in Computer Science||$84,800||$125,000||47.4%||Ph.D. in Computer Science||$118,000||$145,000||22.9%|
Job Outlook for Computer Science Graduates
As computer systems and information technology continue to become more prevalent across all industries, the job outlook for online computer science degree-holders should remain strong for the foreseeable future. The table below explores the expected industry growth and unemployment estimates for 10 of the most popular occupations among computer science majors. For comparison, the average occupation is projected to grow 6% between 2014 and 2024, and the unemployment rate for all industries is currently set at 4.4%.
|Occupation||Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)||Unemployment Rate (2017)|
|Network Architect||+9% (+12,700 jobs)||0.6%||Database Administrator||+11% (+13,400 jobs)||1.0%||Information Technology (IT) Manager||+15% (+53,700 jobs)||1.9%||Software Developer||+17% (+186,600 jobs)||2.0%||Computer Systems Analyst||+21% (+118,600 jobs)||2.4%||Computer Systems Administrator||+8% (+30,200 jobs)||3.1%||Computer Programmer||-8% (-26,500 jobs)||3.5%||Web Developer||+27% (+39,500 jobs)||3.6%||Computer Support Specialist||+12% (+88,800 jobs)||3.7%||Information Security Analyst||+18% (+14,800 jobs)||3.9%|
Computer Science Salaries
The computer science and information technology industries are quite extensive, and earning potential in these fields will largely depend on one’s specific job title. Using data from the BLS, the following table looks at the median annual earnings of 10 popular occupations among those who earn a computer science online degree.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary|
|Network Architect||$101,210||Database Administrator||$84,950||Information Technology (IT) Manager||$135,800||Software Developer||$102,280||Computer Systems Analyst||$87,220||Computer Systems Administrator||$79,700||Computer Programmer||$79,840||Web Developer||$66,130||Computer Support Specialist||$52,160||Information Security Analyst||$92,600|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
The average annual salary for all 10 occupations listed is $88,189. Comparatively, the BLS estimates that the median annual salary for all occupations is currently $37,040.
Computer Science Careers and Concentrations
Computer science is such a broad, multidisciplinary field that many colleges and universities allow online computer science degree students to follow specialized study tracks that focus on niche areas of the industry. Five common concentrations for computer science online degree-earners are listed below, along with careers and annual salary information associated with these concentrations.
- Data and Databases
A growing number of industries rely on computer programs used to collect, sort, evaluate, and store important data. Those who follow a data/database concentration track will learn the best practices for gathering and organizing data, as well as the technology tools and platforms used every step of the way. Careers related to this concentration include:
Online networks are used to link employees working with the same software programs and platforms. Most networks are classified as local area networks (LANs), which serve a relatively small number of people in a limited number of locations, or wide area networks (WANs), which provide coverage to a large number of people at a larger number of locations. Popular jobs related to a network-based concentration include the following:
The umbrella term ‘software’ refers to programs, applications, and platforms that are entirely digitalized; hardware, on the other hand refers to the physical components of a computer system. A software concentration is ideal for students who are interested in designing and developing, creating, evaluating, and marketing different software products. Careers in this concentration field include:
- Information Systems
The term ‘information system’ refers to the collective hardware, software, network, and data collection components that make up the computer system used by a particular company or organization. Students who follow an information systems concentration are often preparing for managerial roles where they will oversee the functionality and security of whole information systems. Some popular career paths related to information systems include:
The cutting-edge field of cybersecurity is dedicated to safeguarding computer and information technology systems against outside threats. These threats include hackers, cyberterrorists, and other criminal elements, as well as viruses, equipment malfunctions, and other technical issues that can compromise the security of sensitive information. Some common cybersecurity occupations include:
Types of Computer Science Degrees
Computer science is one of the select fields of study that is currently offered at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Those who complete their studies with an online computer science bachelor’s degree or associate degree will be qualified for a large number of entry-level jobs in fields like programming, information and data analysis, network administration, and web design. The master’s degree is designed for students who plan to enter advanced fields, and possibly pursue leadership roles later in their careers. The doctoral degree is aimed at those with an interest in scientific or academic research; many doctoral degree-holders go on to teach computer science at the postsecondary level, as well. The best online computer science degree programs will ready students for immediate entry into their career field of choice.
A detailed breakdown of these four computer science degree online pathways is featured in the table below.
|Computer Science Degree Level||Definition||Average Time to Completion||Possible Concentrations||Median Salary (10+ Years)|
|Associate||Introductory coursework that combines classroom lectures and hand-on technical training. Capstones are rare, but internships are widely available.||Two years||Computer programming, web design, information systems analysis, database administration||$67,300|
|Bachelor’s||A comprehensive curriculum that includes core undergraduate coursework and major-specific instruction; may also feature capstone and/or internship requirements.||Four years||Software development, IT management, network administration, web development||$107,000|
|Master’s||The master’s is designed to complement the bachelor’s by building on foundational concepts while also introducing more advanced theories and approaches. Capstones and internships are frequently required.||Two years||Software and hardware engineering, network architecture, information systems management||$125,000|
|P.h.D.||A graduate degree designed for students who plan to pursue careers in research, postsecondary education, or advanced tech leadership.||Six years||IT leadership, postsecondary computer science education, academic technology research||$145,000|
Computer Science Certifications and Licensing
Unlike fields where certification and licensure are required for employment ― such as nursing, teaching, and psychology ― computer science does not demand its employees to become officially certified or licensed. However, employees that earn professional credentials in certain fields stand to earn more money, enjoy stronger job security, and become eligible for a greater number of advancement opportunities. Some computer science professionals must also receive certification to use certain products; this is known as vendor certification. Vendor-neutral certification may be required for some jobs, as well; this type of certification evaluates employees on general technology knowledge and skills, and the certifier is not affiliated with one particular vendor company. The best online computer science degree pathways will prepare students for the certifications or professional credentials that are applicable to their field.
The table below outlines five professional certifications and credentials currently available to employees in the computer science and information technology industries.
|Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)||Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)||This credential is aimed at IT analysts and managers who are responsible for assessing, mitigating, and predicting different types of risks.|
|Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)||Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)||The CISM is designed for IT security analysts, computer systems administrators, cybersecurity professionals, and other employees who are tasked with optimizing IT security. Those who with to receive this credential must have at least five years of professional experience in their field.|
|Certified ScrumMaster (CSM)||Scrum Alliance||‘Scrum’ is a leadership philosophy focused on making teams adaptable and self-reliant. The CSM credential requires one course and a passing score on a two-day written exam.||Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer (CCEE)||Citrix||The CCEE credential was created to train developers, programmers, and designers how to use Citrix servers, programs, and platforms, which are used worldwide by thousands of companies and organizations.|
|Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)||International Council of E-Commerce Consultants||Ethical hacking is a term for hacking strategies used for legal, beneficial purposes. The CEH is a suitable credential for students with hacking proficiency that would prefer to use their skills for positive purposes.|
Computer Science Scholarships
Higher education represents a significant expense for most students today, and earning a computer science degree online can amount to thousands of dollars per year. To help alleviate this financial burden, a multitude of scholarships and grants are offered to computer science students at all academic levels. Unlike federal and private student loans, scholarships and grants do not need to be paid back, and will not affect the amount of debt a student has when they graduate. Scholarships come from a wide range of sources, including private companies, nonprofits, professional organizations, government agencies, and degree-granting institutions. Below we’ve listed details about 12 scholarship opportunities for those seeking online computer science degrees.
- (ISC)² Foundation Undergraduate Cybersecurity Scholarship
Applicants must be pursuing a degree in cybersecurity or information assurance, and must have completed at least two semesters of study prior to applying for the scholarship. A minimum 3.0 GPA is also required.
- Amount: $5,000
- Deadline: May 3, 2018
- (ISC)² Foundation Women's Information Security Scholarship
Applicants must be female students pursuing a degree related to information security.
- Amount: $10,000
- Deadline: March 15, 2018
- Adobe Research Women in Technology Scholarship
Applicants must be female undergraduate students who are pursuing degrees in computer science, computer engineering, or another technical field related to computing technology. Those with immediate family members who work at Adobe Research will be ineligible for this award.
- Amount: $10,000
- Deadline: November 4, 2017
- Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program
Applicants must be studying abroad as part of an accredited degree program for a period of at least two to four weeks, and must be receiving Pell Grant financial aid. Those who are majoring in underrepresented STEM fields (such as computer science) will be given preference.
- Amount: $5,000
- Deadline: March 1, 2018
- Blacks at Microsoft Scholarship
Applicants must be African-American high school seniors who plan to enter an undergraduate degree program immediately after earning their high school diploma and major in computer science, computer information systems, or other related technical fields. Applicants must also have a cumulative high school GPA of 3.3.
- Amount: $20,000
- Deadline: March 1, 2018
- Cognizant Making the Future Scholarship Program
Applicants must be sophomores or juniors in an accredited four-year program pursuing a degree in STEM and/or business with IT-related career plans.
- Amount: $5,000
- Deadline: March 31, 2018
- Davidson Fellows Scholarship
Applicants must be students 18 years or younger with advanced study skills who are able to complete courses at the graduate degree level. This award is available to students interested in different career paths, including STEM fields.
- Amount: $50,000
- Deadline: February 8, 2018
- Google Lime Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
Applicants must be enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program with a focus on computer science, computer engineering, or a related technical field. Students with visible or invisible disabilities are eligible for this award.
- Amount: $10,000
- Deadline: December 6, 2017
- Google SVA Scholarship for Student Veterans
Applicants must be student veterans (including the National Guard) who are enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program with a focus on computer science, computer engineering, or a related technical field.
- Amount: $10,000
- Deadline: November 4, 2017
- HENAAC Scholars Program
Applicants must be students of Hispanic descent that are currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program with a STEM emphasis. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.
- Amount: $10,000
- Deadline: April 30, 2018
- National GEM Consortium Fellowships
Applicants must be enrolled in a master’s or Ph.D. program with an emphasis on science, engineering, or a related STEM field.
- Amount: $16,000
- Deadline: November 15, 2017
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program
Applicants must be enrolled in research-based master’s or Ph.D. programs with a STEM focus.
- Amount: $44,000
- Deadline: Varies
Membership in a professional organization can be quite beneficial for computer science students at all degree levels. The best professional organizations offer a wide range of perks for members, including unlimited access to academic journals and data, invitations to conferences and other industry events, complimentary magazine subscriptions, and reduced fees for web tutorials and continuing education courses. Additionally, many organizations offer lower membership rates for currently enrolled students and young professionals. Some of the most popular professional organizations in the computer and information technology industry include the following five groups:
- International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology: This scholarly organization (IACSIT for short) is dedicated to publishing and promoting scientific, peer-reviewed research related to computer science and information technology. All qualifying members are allowed to submit academic proposals and evaluate the work of others. Selected contributors are invited to present their findings at conferences and seminars, as well.
- Association of Software Professionals: This trade organization was created to represent the developers and engineers that design and test software programs, applications, and platforms. All members gain access to a full archive of the ASP’s monthly newsletter, ASPects, as well as discounts on various software products, services, and continuing education opportunities.
- Network Professional Association: The NPA provides advocacy and professional development for computer networking professionals. A professional credential ― the CNP ― is available through the NPA. Members will also have access to an extensive online job center, electronic journal archives, and a comprehensive calendar of U.S. and international events.
- Association of Information Technology Professionals: The AITP was established in 1951, and is today one of the largest worldwide organizations in the computer and IT industry. In the U.S., the association sponsors 55 state chapters in nine different regions of the country, as well as postsecondary chapters at colleges and universities in 36 states.
- Data Management Association International: DAMA was founded in 1980, and has grown to represent thousands of members across the globe. The association currently sponsors 70 international chapters on six continents, and has a hand in dozens of conferences and networking events each year.
Computer Science Internships and Externships
Internships and externships are not typically required for students earning degrees in computer science. However, due to the high demand for qualified computer science and IT professionals, internship opportunities are widely available to students majoring in these fields. In programs where these are not required, students can usually choose to complete an internship as part of their elective coursework.
Internships and externships are designed to achieve two goals: equipping students with the foundational knowledge and skills needed to obtain an entry-level job; and giving students the opportunity to supplement their lectures and exams with exposure to a real-world workplace. Internships tend to be longer (sometimes up to one year), with students with a background in their field; externships, on the other hand, are usually much shorter (two weeks or less) and require less experience from participants. In most cases, interns and externs will be tasked with basic responsibilities at first; as they progress through the internship, their workflow will be more advanced and employer expectations will increase. For students in computer science and information technology programs, some of the most common types of internships include:
- Front-end engineering: These trainings will cover fundamentals of user-facing coding, testing, and removing bugs, and may be ideal for those seeking an online computer programming degree.
- Back-end engineering: These trainings include coding, testing, and bug removal that takes place on servers and databases; back-end engineering is also suitable for online computer programming majors.
- Information security: These trainings will introduce the best methods and strategies for identifying, evaluating, and addressing different types of information security threats.
- Data engineering: These trainings will prepare students to collect, organize, store, and retrieve datasets, as well as manage databases.
- Mobile technology: These trainings will help students gain experience in the design, testing, evaluation, and marketing of games, applications, and other programs for mobile devices.
Top internships and externships can be competitive, especially if space is limited to a select number of applicants. The best online computer science programs will produce students with the skills needed to excel at any internship or externship. To ensure they can compete for internship and externship spots, students should follow these tips:
- Frequently visit your school’s online career center to remain up-to-date on all current internship and externship opportunities. For some students, visiting the career at their brick-and-mortar campus may be most effective.
- Ask professors, academic advisers, and other faculty members about internships and externships — even if they don’t know of any opportunities, they can steer you in the right direction.
- Attend local and campus-based job fair to inquire about internships and externships with company representatives. In some cases, job fair presenters will hire interns on the spot.
- Job sites like Glassdoor, Monster, Indeed, and LinkedIn routinely post lists of internship opportunities, as well as helpful articles about applying for and participating in these training sessions.
- Some internships pay students a small stipend, but career relevance is the most important consideration; avoid participating in internships that pay a little but will not help you land the career of your choice in the long run.
- Consider an internship even if it’s not required as part of your program. Online computer science students can boost their hireability and earning potential by participating in these onsite training sessions.
In recent years, ‘open courseware’ has become a popular educational alternative among teachers and students alike. The term refers to specialized, module-based courses that help students gain knowledge and skills in niche areas of their field. Though these courses follow a standard curricula and are led by experienced educators, they are typically free-of-charge and accessible to anyone. However, with rare exceptions, open courses do not award transferrable college credit.
Open courseware is especially helpful for students who are preparing to take a relatively difficult course, present a capstone project, or build a portfolio. Open courseware may also serve as a refresher for college graduates who are hoping to bone up on a particular subject that is relevant to their career. A wide range of open courseware is offered to computer science students. The following list includes some available open courses concentrated in computer science and information technology.
- Automata, Computability, and Complexity (MIT)
- Bits: The Computer Science of Digital Information (Harvard University)
- Computer Science Seminar (Florida Institute of Technology)
- Data Structures (Virtual University of Pakistan)
- Introduction to Computer Science (Udacity)
- Introduction to Computer Science: Java (University of California-San Diego)
- Mathematics for Computer Science (ArsDigita University)
- Network Security (Open University)
- Software Engineering (Saylor)
- VLSI CAD: Logic to Layout (Illinois State University)
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