Associate's programs are more likely to include preparatory coursework for specific certifications. Both associate's and bachelor's programs cover core computer technology topics through lecture-based sessions and hands-on computer labs. Working IT professionals can pursue post-baccalaureate graduate certificates in computer technology through evening, weekend or online coursework.
Both Associate of Applied Science in Computer Systems Technology and Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Technology degrees require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED. Completion of prior classes in math, natural sciences and computer science--in addition to communication skills--can strengthen an application to a bachelor's program.
Associate of Applied Science in Computer Systems Technology
This 2-year program introduces students to the basics of machine hardware and software, operating systems, networking and wireless technology. Some programs prepare students specifically for professional certification, such as the Computer Technology Industry Association's A+ or Network+ options or Microsoft's Technology Associate (MTA) or Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) options. While previous computer experience may benefit applicants, it is not necessarily required.
Classes cover general math, science and English, in addition to introductory coursework in business, communications, psychology and topics that cover:
- Operating systems and software
- Hardware and electronics
- Networking and databases
- Website design
Bachelor of Science in Computer and Information Technology
Expanding upon the elements of an associate's degree program, bachelor's degree programs provide more in-depth education in computer and information technology. While these broader, interdisciplinary curricula do not reflect industry certification as closely, coursework can help prepare students for national exams and offer a greater variety of career options, including management and business.
To prepare for careers in management, students take classes in business, accounting, communications and technical writing, in addition to the core curriculum topics such as:
- Computer programming
- Network architecture
- Information systems management
- Computer graphics and multimedia
- Data security and computer forensics
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Careers in computer or information technology can span from sales and repair to computer support and network administration. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the mean annual wages of computer user support specialists as $55,050 as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). Mean annual wages of network and computer systems administrators were $87,070 in May 2018, although the BLS indicates that opportunities at that level often require a bachelor's degree.
Continuing Education and Certification
Professionals in computer and information technology may choose from number of specialty certifications ranging in brand-specific product knowledge and spanning a breadth of general skills and expertise. Most require completing a workshop or independent study and passing a certification exam.
In addition, some colleges offer post-baccalaureate certificates in computer or information technology. These are designed for those with a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field who wish to pursue education in computer technology without entering a degree program; professionals already working in the computer field who want to strengthen their skills also commonly enroll in these. Certificate programs often offer alternatives to traditional daytime classes to accommodate working professionals--such as online courses or evening and weekend classes.
Both associate's and bachelor's degrees in computer technology provide students hands-on experience with computer technologies, although bachelor's degrees are more suitable for students interested in management and business employment opportunities. Graduates can pursue a number of specialty certifications or enroll in certificate programs that are designed for working professionals who want to increase their skills.