Computer Programmer College and University Program Overviews

Apr 25, 2020

Essential Information

Many colleges and universities offer programs at the associate, bachelor's and master's levels in computer programming or computer science. At the undergraduate level, students will learn programming basics, and courses in math and science are also likely to be taken. Master's level studies focus on advanced theories.

Entrance into a 2-year associate's degree program in computer programming requires a high school diploma or the equivalent. Students interested in this field should also possess patience, creativity and a willingness to test and retest code and programs for flaws. Four-year bachelor's degree programs also require a high school diploma or equivalent for enrollment.

To enroll in a master's program, a bachelor's degree is required, although most programs do not require a specific undergraduate degree. Students who do not have programming experience are encouraged to take courses in programming methodology, mathematics for computing and principles of computer systems.

Associate's Degree in Computer Programming

Students can earn Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree in computer programming. These programs focus on programming languages, Internet programming, web design and the development of mathematics skills. Associate's degree programs in computer programming typically require a minimum of 90 hours of coursework, with at least 60 credit hours devoted to major-related coursework. Classes include:

  • Computer information systems
  • C or C++ language
  • Java programming language
  • Trigonometry
  • Database development

Bachelor's Degrees for Computer Programmers

At the baccalaureate level, students interested in a career in computer programming will typically earn a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science or computer information systems. These programs emphasize not just the development of programming language skills, but database management, software architecture and even artificial intelligence. Students may also develop skills in related areas, such as graphic design and writing.

Bachelor's programs in computer science or computer information systems typically require a minimum of 124 hours of coursework, with at least 72 credit hours devoted to major coursework. Students interested in computer programming may begin to focus their elective coursework in areas of specialization, such as game programming, applications programming or systems programming. Courses include:

  • Programming basics
  • Data structures
  • Web authoring
  • Database management
  • Programming languages
  • Software architecture

Master's Degrees for Computer Programmers

At the master's degree level, students interested in computer programming will typically earn a Master of Science or Master of Computer Science in computer information systems or computer science. These programs develop practical skills in software engineering, database systems and computer graphics, as well as theoretical and practical skills in areas such as artificial intelligence and human-computer interactions. In addition, students may choose a specialization, such as biocomputation, theoretical computer science or software theory.

Most M.S. and M.C.S. programs in computer science or computer information systems require at least 36 hours of coursework. Many programs encourage students to take part in research opportunities in their areas of specialization. Courses include:

  • Hardware systems
  • Software systems
  • Numerical analysis
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Mathematical foundations of computing
  • Algorithms

Popular Career Options

Computer programmers write code, or sets of instructions, that computers follow. Programmers code video games, applications, websites and operating systems. Fluency in languages such as Java, Delphi and Lisp can lead to a career in computer programming. Graduates of M.S. and M.C.S. programs in computer science or computer information systems go on to work in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Job titles and duties tend to be similar across different industries:

  • Web programmer
  • Web developer
  • Database administrator
  • Information systems security expert
  • Software developer
  • Computer forensic expert

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (, some workers in the programming field possess associate's degrees. Advances in programming languages and tools, the ability of users to write their own programs, and global outsourcing will all contribute to an employment decline of computer programmers by 7% from 2018-2028. The median annual salary for computer programmers in May 2019 was $86,550, reported the BLS.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, most computer programmers possess a bachelor's degree, which makes the field extremely competitive. Thanks to advances in software platforms, programmers with experience in multiple computer languages, tools and database management methods will have the most marketability. Programmers work in a variety of settings, such as government agencies, educational institutions and financial institutions. Job specializations include game developer, applications programmer and system programmer, among others.

Continuing Education Information

There are many continuing education opportunities for computer programmers with associate's or bachelor's degrees. Due to rapid advancements in technology and coding platforms, programmers will likely be required to continually update their knowledge and skill sets by taking additional training courses, whether through an employer or at a college or university.

Students interested in continuing their academic education may pursue Ph.D. programs in computer science. It should be noted, however, that this level of education is primarily for those interested in research and theoretical study of computer systems. Continuing education opportunities abound for those actively employed as programmers, in the form of employee-sponsored training or through continuing education and certification opportunities at colleges and universities.

Students interested in computer programming can look into degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, and master's levels. These programs delve into topics such as data development, hardware systems, and data structures, giving students the tools needed for careers in various fields of computer programming.

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