Earning Your IT Degree Online
How would you like to earn over $100,000 a year, and all the freedom and security that entails, with just a bachelor’s degree? As a software developer, this life is within reach. Software developers create many of the applications and underlying systems that power the technology so prevalent in our lives. It’s a fast-growing industry starving for talent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment for software developers will grow 17% by 2024, far greater than the national average. Information security analysts, who fend off cyberattacks on private and public systems also enjoy a lucrative career. With just a bachelor’s degree and some experience, these professionals make over $80,000 a year. Earning an online degree in information technology prepares you for these careers, and many more.
As one of the top online degree paths, more and more traditional colleges are adding online IT degrees to their regular curriculums. Being a computer-based degree, the IT track is usually indistinguishable from traditional brick and mortar programs. Both online bachelor’s and master’s IT degrees are typically no quicker to earn than brick-and-mortar schools, though graduate degree programs often offer accelerated paths and asynchronous classes that may allow completion in as little as a year. Tuition can vary considerably depending on whether the university waives fees associated with physical attendance and whether students are in-state. However, attending an online program allows students to save on gas and vehicle depreciation. Most programs are offered entirely online, though some will require internships or occasional proctored testing. For the most part, attending an IT program online is an affordable and flexible option.
Job and Salary Outlook for IT Graduates
There are eight primary concentrations available for information technology degrees, most of which are growing significantly, according to the BLS. The demand for computerization is constantly growing, and enthusiastic, innovative students are in high demand.
|Career||Description||Employment Growth by 2024||Median Annual Salary|
|Computer Network Architects||Design and build communication networks||9%||$101,210|
|Computer Systems Analyst||Study and advise on the improvement of existing computer systems||21%||$87,220|
|Database Administrator||Store, organize, and secure data||11%||$84,950|
|Information Security Analyst||Protect systems against security breaches and attacks||18%||$92,600|
|Software Developer||Design and build web-based programs and apps||17%||$102,280|
|Web Developer||Build and maintain websites||27%||$66,130|
Types of IT Careers
Below are some examples of potential careers available for graduates of online information technology programs, including what you can expect as a median salary.
- Computer and Information Research Scientist
These professionals are researchers and innovators. They are responsible for researching the future of computation and information, seeking to advance technology and access.
- Software Engineer: $120,280 annually
- Staff Data Scientist: $141,250 annually
- Staff Software Engineer: $120,850 annually
- Computer Network Architect
For computers to be utilized to their full potential, they need to be able to connect to each other, and a computer network architect is the person in charge of that communication. Everything from vast webs to simple two-person offices is managed by these professionals.
- Computer Network Architect: $101,210 annually
- Computer Programmer
Computer programmers execute the code that makes all technology run. They can either specialize in one form of programming, like C++, or can be a generalized programmer, with a wide array of skills and expertise.
- Animation Programmer: $102,965 annually
- Computer Game Developer: $71,445 annually
- Special Effects Programmer: $63,970 annually
- Computer Support Specialist
Technology will need repair from time to time, and this is where computer support specialists are integral. They can either be experts tending to complicated systems, or advisers to those who have computers for everyday use, in less technological fields. They may also train or advise users on new software or equipment.
- Computer Network Support Specialist: $55,500 annually
- Information Technology Support: $45,691 annually
- Computer User Support Specialist: $49,390 annually
- Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts are one of the highest paid professionals among those with online IT degrees. Rather than focusing on maintenance, they study ways to make systems more efficient and effective. They also work on integrating systems and business practices to an organization’s specific needs.
- Computer Systems Analyst: $85,800 annually
- IT Business Analyst: $81,320 annually
- Information Technology Specialist: $53,741 annually
- Database Administrator
Database administrators are responsible for the curation, organization and access of information. They may also be tasked with maintaining the security of databases, as well as building warehouses specific to company’s database requirements.
- Database Administrator: $81,710 annually
- Data Architect: $115,429 annually
- Data Mining Analyst: $53,448 annually
- Information Security Analyst
Databases and networks don’t just need to be set up and maintained, they have to also be secured against possible threats. Breaches of company’s online security can result in serious loss of income or valuable information. Information security analysts are the guardians of those systems.
- Chief Information Security Officer: $240,000 annually
- IT Security Engineer: $91,450 annually
- Information Assurance Analyst: $72,990 annually
- Network and Computer Systems Administrator
Network and computer systems administrators are responsible for the day-to-day operations of networks and systems. They are point contacts in an organization when networks aren’t functioning properly.
- Senior Network Administrator: $85,601 annually
- IT System Administrator: $60,084 annually
- Windows Systems Administrator: $70,434 annually
- Software Developer
Software developers build the programs and underlying systems that make computers run. They are tasked with researching, maintaining, and securing software that they build.
- Software Developer: $100,690 annually
- Senior Software Engineer: $107,600 annually
- Programmer: $79,530 annually
- Web Developer
Web developers build and maintain websites. They can either focus on the customer-facing design on the site, or on the backend functions that make it run smoothly and easily.
- Web Designer: $64,970 annually
- Front End Developer: $70,000 annually
- Art Director: $109,234 annually
Types of IT Degrees
There several options when choosing an information technology online degree. It’s best to know in advance how far you would like to take your education, and the career path you would like to follow after graduation. This will help you avoid making costly mistakes when choosing an online tech school.
|Degree Level||Definition||Possible Concentrations||Median Annual Salary|
|Associate||Undergraduate degree, typically 60 – 90 credit hours and generally takes 2 years.||Web development, database management, programming||$61,000|
|Bachelor’s||Undergraduate degree, typically 120 – 180 credit hours and typically takes four years||Computer science, computing, information technology operation, information technology||$66,789|
|Master’s||Graduate degree, typically 30 – 64 credit hours, requires a bachelor’s degree, and generally takes two years||Cognitive computing, data Science and analytics, information dominance||$109,000|
|Doctorate||Post-graduate degree, typically 70 – 90 credit hours, and typically takes one to two years to complete||Human-centered computing, systems engineering, information science||$113,307|
|Certification||Degree or certificate program, typically 12 – 18 credit hours||CompTIA IT fundamentals, Cisco certified technician, Apple certified associate||Varies significantly based on the certification attained.|
IT Certifications and Licensing
When researching IT schools online, pay attention to what online IT certifications and licenses they offer. Information technology is a highly specialized industry, and attaining certifications are a great way to let potential employers know that you have the skills and knowledge that they are looking for. IT certificates typically require less credit hours than a full degree, and time spent earning them can often be transferred into a degree course. Here are some of the best ones to look out for.
- Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
This is a mid-level certification that proves your ability to problem solve across multiple types of systems. There are nine specializations you can focus on in this certificate: server infrastructure, desktop infrastructure, private cloud, enterprise devices and apps, data platform, business intelligence, messaging, communication and SharePoint. The certificate opens the door to being a systems administrator, field systems technician, or a systems engineer, and the exam is generally $150 to take.
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
This certifications can often lead to high pay. The CRISC prepares you to handle risks in both IT and business. There are four specializations: identification, assessment, response and mitigation, and control monitoring and reporting. The average salary for someone with this certification is $127,507.
- CompTIA A+ Technician
This is a basic entry-level certification. An A+ technician handles the maintenance of a variety of technologies, everything from printers to mobile devices. Earning the certification requires two tests, one multiple choice and one performance based exam. Possible jobs for A+ technicians include in-home support specialist, desktop support technician, and help desk technician. This is one of the top certifications to begin a career in information technology.
- Project Management Professional (PMP)
This is not an easy one to get, but it’s definitely worth it. You’ll need to already have 7,500 hours’ worth of leading and directing projects as well as 35 hours’ worth of PM education. Once you have your PMP, you won’t have any problem finding a job managing IT teams or helming computer projects.
College is expensive, and one of the ways to make that burden a little less heavy is by applying for scholarships. Scholarships can significantly reduce the price of education, and they don’t have to be paid back after graduation. Each year, American students leave around $100 million in unclaimed scholarships on the table due to a lack of qualified applicants. Here are ten scholarships worth looking into for your online IT degree.
- Wayne V. Black Scholarship
The Energy Telecommunications & Electrical Association established this scholarship as a memorial to Wayne V. Black as a way to honor him by providing a path for students to enter the industry. Recipients must be a U.S. or Canadian citizen or permanent resident currently enrolled full-time undergraduate student in good academic standing (minimum 3.0 GPA) at an accredited college or university in the United States or Canada, working towards a bachelor’s degree in one of the following: engineering/engineering technology, computer science/MIS, pre-law, political science, or telecommunications/information technology
- Amount: $5,000 maximum
- Deadline: Varies
- The NAVSEA Scholars Program
This scholarship is provided by the United States Navy’s Sea Systems Command to encourage STEM studies. It’s open to incoming college freshmen who must be American citizens pursuing a field of study in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics discipline at a Hispanic-Serving Institution with an engineering program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
- Amount: $10,000 maximum
- Deadline: April 30, 2018
- The Edison International STEM Scholarship
If you’re majoring in a STEM field like IT, this scholarship may be a great fit for you. You must describe your participation in faculty-mentored undergraduate programs or participation in an organization like Edison Scholars or MESA. Recipients must major in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics field, with preference given to Orange County Community College transfers. Fall semester first-time freshman who can demonstrate superior participation in high school STEM programs may be considered.
- Amount: $5,000 maximum
- Deadline: January 19, 2018
- Texas Space Grant Consortium Columbia Crew Memorial Undergraduate Scholarships
Created to honor the crew of the space shuttle Columbia, this scholarship embodies the drive to expand human knowledge. Recipients must be U.S. citizens and sophomore at a two-year institution, a junior or senior at a four-year institution or a first- or second-year student at a medical school registered full-time at a TSGC member institution in good standing.
- Amount: $1,000 maximum
- Deadline: May 1, 2018
- Technical Women's Organization Scholarship
Three of these scholarships encouraging study in technical field are awarded each year.
- Amount: $1,000 maximum
- Deadline: June 19, 2017
- (ISC)² Foundation Undergraduate Cybersecurity Scholarship
Cyber security is one of the fastest growing industries, and this scholarship is dedicated to filling those much-needed jobs. Consider applying if you plan to become an information security professional. Recipients must be pursuing a degree with a focus on cybersecurity or information assurance and have completed at least two full semesters of an undergraduate degree program by August of the calendar year in which scholarship funding will commence. Minimum GPA considered is a 3.0.
- Amount: $5,000 maximum
- Deadline: May 3, 2018
- ¡Adelante! Fund Ford Motor Company/Future Leaders Scholarship
If you are Latino, you might be eligible for this scholarship from a non-profit dedicated to training the next generation of Hispanic leaders in industry. Recipients must have completed at least 30 credit hours of college coursework prior to the upcoming fall semester, attended a high school within a 50 mile radius of San Antonio, of Hispanic descent, and maintain full-time enrollment status (12 hours) for the duration of the scholarship period. A minimum GPA of 2.75 is required, and winners will be invited to the Ford Blue Oval Scholars Program.
- Amount: $1,500 maximum
- Deadline: Varies
- Betty Stevens-Frecknall Scholarship
This scholarship, presented by the Foundation for Information Technology Education, is only available for students of information technology. Recipient must be an active AITP student member and declared computer science/CIS/MIS/IT major with an overall and major GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale (or equivalent). They must also be an American citizen or permanent resident enrolled as a full-time (12 semester hours or equivalent) undergraduate student at an accredited institution in the United States.
- Amount: $2,000 maximum
- Deadline: May 31, 2017
- Communications & Signals Functional Group Scholarship
Are you a railroad enthusiast who wants to bring cutting edge information technology to a grand old institution? If so, this is the scholarship you want to apply for. Priority is given to AREMA C&S Functional Group family members, including grandchildren.
- Amount: $2,500 maximum
- Deadline: December 11, 2017
- Future Leaders of IT Scholarship
This scholarship provides education assistance for those going into the Information management or engineering.
- Amount: $2,000 maximum
- Deadline: December 1, 2017
Whether you’re a new student, a recent grad, or an IT professional already out in the workplace, joining a professional organization can be an extremely helpful tool for advancing your career. The networking opportunities alone are worth it, especially in information technology, an industry that is constantly shifting and evolving. Many professional organizations will post about jobs internally before news of the openings reach the regular hiring channels.
In addition, they keep members updated on the state of the industry, including new certifications that might be lucrative opportunities for advancement. For students, there are mentorship opportunities, and occasionally scholarships awarded to new members. You can also hear from stars in the field as keynote speakers at organization conferences.
Perhaps the best benefit, though, is the prestige and credibility that being a member can lend you. It implies that you are a serious professional dedicated to your craft, and that you can be trusted to behave in an ethical manner. Here are five of the best IT professional organizations you may want on your resume.
- Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP): Originally founded in 1951, AITP came together as a group of machine accountants trying to stay on top of emerging technology. These days their members span every aspect of information technology, from mainframes to micro systems. Every year they hand out the prestigious Distinguished Information Sciences Award for outstanding contributions to the information processing industry.
- Association for Women in Computing (AWC): Without women like Ada Lovelace and Hedy Lamar, much of today’s technological achievements wouldn’t have been possible. The AWC was founded to help women continue to make great strides in the various information technologies through networking and support. Most chapters of the organization hold monthly meetings or dinners featuring presentations by leaders in the industry. Scholarships are also available to members.
- BDPA: For 40 years, BDPA has brought together African-Americans working in information technology. They give out scholarships and have regular conferences to assess the state of the industry. Members are encouraged to be active in philanthropy and within their community.
- Association of Software Professionals (ASP): Many software programs and applications are free these days, which has led to widespread piracy. The ASP is a close group of professionals that work together to test and perfect new creations in a safe environment free of the threat of theft.
- Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR): Technology has a human impact as its use becomes increasingly more routine in our everyday lives. CPSR specializes in making sure that impact is as positive for humanity as possible. They also run a series of books, the latest of which is Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution.
IT Internships and Externships
One way you can maximize your potential is through an internship. These allow a student to ease into the environment they hope to work in one day, while giving them the skills to be successful. Internships may involve being introduced to systems already in use to get a feel for their day-to-day application, partnering with emerging technologies in the process of being brought to market, or simply serving under a mentor in the field. They also give you a chance to apply things you are learning in online tech schools to the real world. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of an internship.
- Ask your professors, counselors, and advisers for advice. Future employers know that the next crop of eager young employees are coming out of college; make it a point to ask anyone who will listen if they know of internship opportunities. Chances are the people you interact with have been in your position, and will be happy to help.
- Professional organizations are your friend. The networking possibilities from professional organizations cannot be overstated. Often, they coordinate internship opportunities for members. Consider joining a few, or at least one, to begin to garner these lucrative connections.
- Ask a mentor. That’s what they’re there for, and the whole reason they got to be a mentor in the first place is because they have made something of themselves in the industry. If you don’t have a mentor, or don’t know where to start, begin by stopping by your school’s learning or career centers.
- Job fairs are always beneficial. IT can often feel like an antisocial industry, but going out and actually meeting people will have a positive impact on your career choices. Job fairs offer a unique opportunity to network with decision makers one-on-one. Many hiring managers attend job fairs looking for bright students to add to their teams.
- Job websites like Glassdoor, Monster, Looksharp, Indeed, etc. Many companies list all of their internship opportunities on the big job hunting websites. Keeping an updated LinkedIn profile is helpful as well, as hiring managers may look for qualified candidates on the social networking site.
One of the greatest tools of learning IT online is MIT’s OpenCourseWare. It’s not exactly like attending a traditional college course, but it is a great tool to get you going in your new career. Public and private universities share a wealth of information, videos, slides and other collegiate materials to aid students in completing their education. Lesson plans are generally structured as they would be in the classroom, giving a guided feel to the experience.
Most of the core classes that you will be taking as you pursue your degree have some counterpart in OpenCourseWork. It can be a useful tool to prepare you for actual class or for taking certification exams. It can also be helpful to those on the web developer track to build portfolios of work. There are a wide range of very specialized courses available, which can be helpful for such an evolving industry like IT. Even if these courses don’t directly contribute to your degree path, they can make you a more learned and valuable member of the industry.
Here are a few OpenCourseWork classes you might find to be helpful.
- ALISON ABC IT – Computer Training Suite (Concordia University)
- Biomedical Information Technology (MIT)
- Database, Internet, and Systems Integration Technologies (MIT)
- E-Commerce and the Internet in Real Estate and Construction (MIT)
- Fluency/Information Technology (UC San Diego)
- Foundations of Software Engineering (MIT)
- Generating Business Value from Information Technology (MIT)
- Health Information Technology Standards and Systems Interoperability (Johns Hopkins)
- Industrial Information Technology (Seoul National University)
- Information Technology and the Labor Market (MIT)
- Information Technology Essentials (MIT)
- Information Technology in the Health Care System of the Future (MIT)
- Integrating eSystems & Global Information Systems (MIT)
- Strategic Information Technology (Saylor Academy)
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