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Guide to Accredited Online Computer Science and IT Colleges & Universities

If you are interested in a career that lets you work with computers, you should know the difference between information technology and computer science. These fields may seem similar because there is a lot of overlap in their coursework. However, these subjects lead to different careers. Information technology (IT) professionals use existing technology to configure computer networks that make business easier to conduct. They use practical, hands-on computer skills every day. An associates degree is often sufficient for IT professionals to find jobs like network architects, computer systems administrators and web developers. On the other hand, computer science professionals engineer computer hardware and software to create new technologies. Their coursework is grounded in mathematics and computing theory, and they need at least a bachelor's degree to be hired for positions like computer programmers, software engineers and research computer scientists. Read More


Table of Contents

CAlthough a degree in computer science can lead to many jobs, professionals can be classified into 3 broad categories:

  • Research Computer Scientists study computational science and theory. They create original technologies and discover more uses for existing technology. For instance, they may invent new computer languages, design the physical hardware of a computer or create artificial intelligence. They usually have a PhD and they work for universities, government agencies or corporate research and development firms.
  • Software Engineers design computer software like operating systems, business tools and computer games. They analyze the needs of computer users and build applications to meet those needs. The programs that they create rely on mathematical algorithms, which are sets of instructions that tell a computer what to do. Software engineers are categorized as applications engineers or systems engineers, depending on the type of software that they develop.
  • Computer Programmers s program the software and web applications that software engineers design. Programmers use a variety of coding languages like Python, C++ and Perl to convert software designs into instructions that computers can follow. They also write new code and update existing code to fix bugs.

Degrees

Certificate in Information Technology or Computer Science

IT certificates are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Certificate programs typically do not require students to enroll in degree programs, so they are a good option if you study fields like business, where some formal IT knowledge is beneficial. Undergraduate certificates are meant for students who have not yet earned a degree, while graduate certificates are designed for students who have already completed a bachelor’s program in any subject.

Undergraduate Certificates

You can earn an undergraduate certificate in information technology, which is the shortest educational route in the IT field. Note that some schools call this program by other names like IT management or IT fluency, but all of these programs teach fundamental IT theories and skills.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 12-18 credit hours
  • Coursework: There is no standard curriculum for undergraduate certificates in IT. Many undergraduate certificate programs offer flexible course designs so that students can tailor their educations to fit their career goals. Even so, undergraduate certificate programs typically offer introductory courses in information security, programming and IT management.
  • Employment prospects: An undergraduate certificate alone is usually not enough to qualify you to work in IT. These programs are intended to provide you with basic knowledge of the IT field, but you will not be an IT expert after completing an undergraduate certificate. However, if you also have a strong technical background and computer experience, you may be able to find an entry-level IT job like computer support specialist.

Graduate Certificates

IT graduate certificates teach more advanced IT skills than undergraduate certificates. They are designed to teach technical management skills and tools to working professionals so that they can manage their employees and projects better.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 12-20 credit hours
  • Coursework: Graduate certificates in IT focus on business management tools. The exact courses that you take will vary by program, but you are likely to take courses in information security, communication systems, database design and web application development.
  • Employment prospects: A graduate certificate in IT is designed to enhance your technical business and management skills. A graduate certificate by itself will not qualify you for a job in IT. But if you have a background in business, the IT knowledge and skills that you gain through a graduate certificate program may qualify you for promotions or management positions.

Associate Degree in Information Technology or Computer Science

An Associate of Arts (AA) in IT or Computer Science includes courses in the humanities as well as the sciences. This is an uncommon degree for these fields, but it is acceptable if you plan to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program.

Associate of Science (AS) in IT or Computer Science offers more math and science classes than the AA. This degree is a better choice than the AA if you want to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program.

An Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in IT or Computer Scienceteaches practical job skills that prepare students to enter the workforce immediately. This degree is best if you want to start working as soon as you graduate.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 2 years
  • Coursework: You can expect classes in information security, network administration and database management. Some programs offer courses in web development and design.
  • Employment prospects: You will be qualified to work as a computer security specialist or a computer support specialist. If you have a strong background in the principles of information technology, you may also be able to work as a web developer or computer systems administrator, although some employers prefer applicants who have bachelor’s degrees.

Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology or Computer Science

A Bachelor of Arts (BA) in IT or Computer Science offers technical courses in addition to electives that provide you with a broad education. The BA is a good option if you want to focus on IT communications.

A Bachelor of Science (BS) in IT or Computer Science has more science and mathematics classes that give you strong technical training. This degree is a good choice if you want to go to graduate school in a technical field.

A Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in IT or Computer Science is designed to teach you practical skills that prepare you for a job. This degree is best if you want to start working as soon as you graduate.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 120 credit hours (about 4 years)
  • Coursework: You will mainly take courses that are designed to give you a technical background. For example, you will take classes in information systems, data analysis, web development and software engineering. You will also take classes that teach you to communicate in the professional environment like technical writing, public speaking and introduction to business.
  • Employment prospects: A bachelor’s degree in IT will prepare you for all entry-level jobs in this field. Some of the careers that a bachelor’s degree in IT will qualify you for are network architect, computer systems administrator, database administrator and web developer.

Master’s Degree in Information Techology or Computer Science

Master Of Arts (MA) in IT or Computer Science offers classes that discuss theories of IT management and communications. This option teaches you how to manage projects and people who hold IT positions.

A Master Of Science (MS) in IT or Computer Science has science and mathematics classes as well as management courses. It is usually intended to be a terminal degree, so it is a good choice if you want to hold an advanced technical position.
A Master Of Business Administration (MBA)  has a core business curriculum that offers business and IT classes. An MBA is a good choice if you want to increase your IT knowledge in order to enhance your business skills.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 36-48 hours (2-3 years)
  • Coursework: Masters degree programs in IT are designed to train IT managers, so your coursework will include business, communications and IT classes. The exact courses that you take will vary according to the focus of your program. For instance, if you are an MA or MBA student, you will take classes about project management, organizational behavior and computer systems analysis. But if you are an MS student, you will take more technical classes like telecommunications engineering, data mining and nanotechnology. And no matter what the focus of your IT masters program is, you will take advanced courses in financial management, computer networks and information security. Finally, some IT masters programs also require you to complete a thesis.
  • Employment prospects: A masters degree in IT qualifies you for a variety of leadership positions in the field. For instance, you can manage corporate IT departments or work in a senior position as a web developer, network architect or computer systems administrator.

Doctorate in Information Technology or Computer Science

You can earn a PhD in general or in a specialized concentration like information systems, information security or software engineering. Either option will train you to conduct original research in the field. This option is primarily for individuals who want to work in an academic or academic research setting.

  • Credit hours/length of study: 72-90 hours (4-7 years)
  • Coursework: The classes that you will take in your doctoral program depend on the particular program that you pursue. For instance, if you earn a degree in general information technology, you will take classes in IT management, IT literature and research methods so that you will be prepared to write a dissertation. But if you specialize in a specific area of IT, your classes will be different. For instance, if you study information security, you will take advanced classes in network security, assurance controls and risk management in addition to research methods. And if you study information systems, you will take classes about object-oriented database systems, software engineering and algorithms.
  • Employment prospects: A doctorate prepares you to teach and conduct scholarly research at a university.

Check the Guide to Accreditation in Higher Education to learn more about accreditation and how to determine if the program you select meets the necessary standards.

Directory

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Professional Certification

If you decide to pursue a career in IT, you should consider becoming professionally certified. Dozens of professional IT certifications are offered by software vendors like Apple, Cisco and Microsoft and by third parties who certify specific skills. These certifications are not mandatory, and some IT professionals debate their value. However, they will enhance your resume by verifying your specific skills. Most of these IT certifications require you to pay a fee and pass an exam.

Some vendor-specific IT certifications are:

  • Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP): Awarded to computer support specialists who can address Mac OS X support and troubleshooting needs
  • Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE): Issued to IT professionals who can manage mid-sized computer networks
  • Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Awarded to IT professionals who are proficient with the Microsoft Windows operating system
  • Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD): Issued to programmers and software developers who can use Windows development tools to build software
  • Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE): Awarded to computer systems administrators who can manage Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers and systems

Some non-vendor IT certifications are:

  • Certified XML Expert (CXE): Issued to IT professionals who are proficient with XML markup language
  • Certified Web Professional Specialist (CWP): Awarded to Internet professionals who have at least 2 years of full-time work experience in the field
  • CompTIA’s A+: Issued to IT technicians who have demonstrated expertise in hardware and software troubleshooting and support
  • CompTIA’s Security+: Awarded to computer security specialists with at least 2 years of successful information security practice
  • CompTIA’s Linux+: Issued to IT professionals with at least 6 months of hands-on Linux experience
  • Project Management Professional (PMP): Awarded to IT professionals who are experts in managing projects on a large scale

Careers

Computer Science

  • Quality Assurance Analyst
  • Computer Programmer
  • Software Systems Engineer
  • Web Application Developer
  • Computer Science Professor
  • Research Computer Scientist

Information Technology

  • Computer Security Specialist
  • Network Architect
  • Computer Systems Administrator
  • Database Administrator
  • Information Technology Manager

Scholarships

Many scholarships available to computer science students are not exclusively targeted at computer science majors. These scholarships are available to students in all scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) fields, and as a result are exceptionally competitive.

Most scholarships for computer science are provided by engineering and computer science foundations and professional advocacy groups. These computer science scholarships are available to students across the country, and some provide awards to several students per year. However, because students from across the country can apply, you will have a much broader range of potential competitors than for state, university, or local scholarships.

Furthermore, as there are several organizations that want to encourage women to join technical and engineering fields, many computer science scholarships are available exclusively to women. These scholarships also require strong GPAs, with most requiring at least a 3.0, and some requiring a 3.5. Due to the lower number of female students in computer science, these scholarships also have fewer potential applicants, meaning a greater chance of receiving each award for which you apply.