Students interested in earning a degree in computer science have a variety of degree levels from which to choose, including programs that award an associate, bachelor's or master's degree. While there is some overlap between the programs, associate degree programs typically address the fundamentals, bachelor's programs narrow the focus, and master's degree programs allow for specialization in a concentrated area.
A high school diploma or equivalent is required for undergraduate study, and a bachelor's degree is needed for graduate study. A student can expect to spend two years on an associate program or four years on a bachelor's program, which includes the internships required for most undergraduate programs. Master's programs take two additional years after obtaining a bachelor's degree and generally require a thesis or research project. It varies by program, but some may be fully available online.
Associate of Science in Computer Science
Computer science at the associate degree level covers a wide range of fundamental studies, including information systems, computer hardware, software development and graphic design. Coursework is usually offered through traditional classroom and lab sessions that provide hands-on training with personal computers. Students might be able to apply credit toward a bachelor's degree.
Coursework examines methods of improving information systems, networking capabilities, software applications and graphics used in game design and web development. Students learn how to fix common computer problems, debug applications and use programming languages to design new software programs. Students acquire skills to identify the various parts of a computer's architecture, maintain databases, manage files and use graphic and web design tools. Course topics might include:
- Object-oriented programming
- Programming languages
- Computer hardware
- Website development
- Database design
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Bachelor's degree programs in computer science offer areas of concentration in software engineering, information technology and information systems. Students might need to participate in on-campus labs.
Computer science courses are comprised of topics in programming, operating systems, algorithms, computation and processing, with an emphasis on algebra and discrete mathematics. Students develop, design and test software programs, improve computer functionality and manage digital projects. Courses teach the basics of human/computer communications, fundamentals of software engineering and both the positive and negative impacts of computers on society. Core courses of the major include:
- Performance analysis
- Network security
- Java programming
- Data models
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Master of Science in Computer Science
An advanced degree program in computer science can lead to upper-level supervisory, project management or executive positions. Studies in computer science comprise a wide array of topics, with a substantial amount of coursework devoted to database management, operating systems, security and communications.
Skills acquired include development with numerous programming languages, design planning, implementation and software development. Students learn graphic, game and software design, computer architecture and legal issues in web development. Core coursework and electives might include the following topics:
- Storage systems
- Access control
- Project management
- Quality assurance
- Internet security
Popular Career Options
Jobs for graduates of an associate degree program are available in several disciplines, including software development, network security and computer repair. Graduates can usually qualify for entry-level employment in the following positions:
- Graphics designer
- Web developer
- Network administrator
- Computer support technician
- Telecommunications specialist
Graduates with bachelor's degrees qualify for entry- and mid-level jobs in a variety of industries, including business, finance and government. Popular careers for graduates are:
- Software engineer
- Applications programmer
- Systems analyst
- Database administrator
- Network architect
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Master's degree holders typically qualify to advance a technical career into management. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information systems managers earned a mean annual salary of $141,000 as of May 2015. The highest incomes were earned by those in securities exchanges, magnetic and optical media manufacture and reproduction and wireless telecommunications (except satellite), which each garnered mean salaries of over $170,000 per year. The BLS further projected demand for these managers would increase 15% between 2014 and 2024, largely due to the emergence of new technologies and the need for personnel to oversee the correlative transitions.
Continuing Education Information
Completing formal education through a college program is often sufficient to gain entry into the technology industry, though professionals with some experience in the field could also earn industry certification that might advance a career, improve employment opportunities and increase salary potential. Vendors, such as Microsoft, Cisco and Novell offer a variety of certification options specific to their technologies. Technology experts can also pursue vendor-neutral credentials in a number of disciplines, such as networking, administration, security or internet technologies.
Those who are mathematically and technically inclined can take advantage of the continual need for the management and development of software and technology by pursuing a degree in computer science. Degrees are available at all levels, and at the higher levels students may be able to choose which industry interests them most.