Online Information Technology Degree Overview
Information technology (IT) is a broad field that incorporates many different specialization areas. Online degree and certificate programs in the field are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and commonly allow students to concentrate their studies in specific subfields. These programs also typically include a lot of hands-on learning experiences through projects and assignments. Here we discuss some of the common features of online IT programs at various degree levels.
Online Associate Degrees in Information Technology
Typically offered as an Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS), online associate's degree programs in IT may require between 60 and 93 credits of coursework. These programs usually align the curriculum with the first 2 years of a bachelor's degree in the field, which makes it fairly easy to transfer credit and allow students to continue their studies. Some of these programs may offer additional areas of concentration and/or an optional internship opportunity for additional hands-on training. Despite being online, students in these programs still receive hands-on experience with the tools and technology used in the field.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Information Technology
Online bachelor's degree programs in IT are usually available as Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees. These programs may range between 120 and 180 credits and commonly offer additional concentration areas to help students prepare for a specific career in the field. Some programs may also incorporate professional certifications within the curriculum to allow students to earn certifications like CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, and more. The format of these programs varies by school, but some may be more self-paced and not have any required log-in times or deadlines. Depending on the school, students may also be able to get a head start on their master's degree in the field and finish their bachelor's and master's degrees in less time than taking the programs separately.
Online Master's Degrees in Information Technology
Online IT master's programs are commonly offered as Master of Science (MS) degrees. Most of these programs range between 30 and 36 credits, but some may require as many as 60 credits of coursework. Students may be able to choose a concentration to focus their studies and may be required to complete a final applied project. Some programs may have students develop a professional portfolio with projects and assignments completed throughout the program. Although it is not necessarily required, many students who enter these master's level programs already have some programming experience and/or skills in database tools.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Information Technology
Students can pursue an online Doctor of Information Technology (DIT) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Information Technology degree. A DIT degree is usually broader in nature, and a PhD program is more research-based. Students in these programs may be required to complete around 75 credits of coursework or more and may offer different specialization areas. Doctoral students usually work closely with a faculty member throughout their program on research and are typically required to complete a dissertation. Depending on the program, students may have additional requirements, such as comprehensive exams and/or in-person research seminars.
Online Certificates in Information Technology
Online certificates in IT are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Depending on the program, students may be required to complete between 12 and 18 credits of coursework. Usually, students take a handful of core courses or choose courses from a given list of options. Students can commonly complete these programs full-time in 8 to 12 months or about 18 months part-time. Depending on the school, students may be able to count credits from their graduate certificate program towards a master's degree in the field. Students in certificate programs may not be eligible for financial aid.
Information Technology Specializations/Concentrations
Concentrations are commonly available in online bachelor's degree programs in IT. These concentrations help students focus their studies on specific skill sets and knowledge in a particular subfield of IT. Students are typically required to take multiple courses within their chosen area of concentration. Often, this helps prepare students for specific certifications and/or specific jobs and positions within IT. Although this is not an exhaustive list, some available concentrations for online IT bachelor's programs include:
- Information security and assurance
- Software development
- Network administration
- Project management for IT
- Database administration
- Data analytics
- Web and mobile applications development
- Supply chain management and logistics
- Business management for IT
Curriculum/Coursework for an Information Technology Degree
Students interested in studying IT can benefit from free online IT courses, but those that choose to pursue an online bachelor's in the field will receive a well-rounded education. Students in bachelor's programs generally take general education courses in different core subject areas, in addition to core IT courses. IT courses typically provide students with a broad overview of multiple topics within the field and provide students with hands-on experience working with tools and technologies commonly used in IT. Students in these programs are also likely to take multiple courses in their chosen concentration area to further develop specific skills and knowledge in that given area. While course titles may vary, online bachelor's degree programs in IT commonly include coursework subjects in:
- Project management
- IT consulting
- Network and security
- Data management
- IT applications
- Fundamentals of IT
- Cross-platform technologies
- IT operations and systems planning
- Website development
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Information Technology?
Many online bachelor's degree programs in IT are designed to be completed in 4 years, like traditional bachelor's degree programs. However, there are several different ways to complete these online degrees faster. Some are offered in self-paced formats that may allow students to finish the program in as little as 30 months on average. Students who have college credit and/or an associate's degree in the field may be able to transfer in as many as 90 credits towards their bachelor's degree and finish their degree in as little as 2 years. Other institutions may offer additional credits for prior work experience and/or military experience to help working professionals and/or nontraditional students finish their degree faster. Finally, some programs may award credit to students who have already earned professional IT credentials and/or certifications from various organizations.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Information Technology Degrees
Regional accreditation from organizations, like the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) or the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), is fairly common for schools that offer online IT degrees. This accreditation ensures that the institution as a whole has met academic guidelines set for each degree level it offers for academic quality. In order to receive financial aid and be able to easily transfer credits, students also need to attend an accredited college or university.
Some online bachelor's programs in IT may have an additional level of accreditation and/or designations. This program-specific accreditation may be from groups like the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering & Technology) and is more subject-specific than regional accreditation. This accreditation means that the program has met specific standards set for the field to help students know they are being well prepared for a future career. Some programs may have additional designations, such as the National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education designation from the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This particular designation is usually for programs with cybersecurity and other related concentrations.
Information Technology Licensure & Certification
Certifications in the field of IT vary greatly by position. Many of these certifications are optional but may be preferred by employers. Often, certification is available with a specific product that an IT professional may commonly use. These certifications are typically provided by the vendor, such as Microsoft, and may require professionals to pass an exam. Students may even be able to earn some certifications during their undergraduate studies, depending on the school and the curriculum.
Other certifications may be available in specific areas of IT. For example, information security analysts may pursue any number of general information security certifications, including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). However, there are additional certifications in even more focused areas of information security available, such as systems auditing or penetration testing.
Information Technology Career Information
Graduates with a bachelor's in IT can pursue an array of careers in the field. IT careers' job descriptions and education requirements may vary by position. For instance, students wishing to become an IT specialist may need slightly different education requirements than students wishing to become an IT consultant. An IT specialist's job description will also typically vary from that of a web developer, for example. A few examples of potential careers for graduates with their bachelor's in IT may include:
- Information security analyst
- Web developer
- Network architect
- Database administrator
- Software developer
- Computer systems analyst
- Computer support specialist
- Computer and information systems manager
How to Become a Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts commonly hold a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field, but it may not be required. Some employers may prefer and/or advanced positions may require professionals to have a master's degree. Continuing education is common for these analysts in order to stay updated on the most current forms of technology and techniques used in the field. Advancement for computer systems analysts may come with experience and/or education.
Computer systems analysts use business and IT skills to create the computer systems and procedures for an organization. These workers may also be called systems architects and includes titles like programmer analysts and software quality assurance analysts. These professionals are responsible for determining what technology an organization needs, analyze the cost of projects, design and install new systems, and train users as needed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that as of 2019, computer systems analysts made a median salary of $90,920 and had a job outlook of 7% from 2019 to 2029.
How to Become a Computer and Information Systems Manager
Many computer and information systems managers need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree may be preferred or required for some organizations. Usually, this degree is in information science- or computer-related fields. Several years of work experience is also typically required for these managers. Advancement in the field usually comes with additional years of work experience and/or education.
Computer and information systems managers may include titles like IT directors, IT security managers, chief information officers, or chief technology officers. In general, these managers help run the computer-related operations of an organization. This requires them to research their organization's computer-related needs, find out what technology meets those needs, oversee the installation and maintenance of technology, and manage the work of other IT professionals. According to the BLS, computer and information systems managers made a median salary of $146,360, as of 2019, and had a job outlook of 10% from 2019 to 2029.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Information Technology Degrees
Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is typically the first step for finding ways to help pay for postsecondary education and may even be required for applying to some scholarships. The FAFSA will allow students to see if they meet the requirements for any type of federal loans and/or grants and then students can begin to search for additional scholarships or grants as needed. Scholarships are available at various levels, such as local or national, and are open to different types of students based on factors like demographics, merit, majors, and more.
Students studying IT may be able to find some major-specific scholarships from their institution. Some of these schools offer awards through local area businesses or partners who create the scholarship. Requirements for these scholarships vary, but may be available at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels. A few examples of IT scholarships include:
- Vanguard Women in Information Technology Scholarship Program- This scholarship is offered by the Vanguard organization to IT junior or senior females at Arizona State University. The amount varies, but is awarded to females students who demonstrate academic excellence.
- Larry Brumbaugh Scholarship- Named after a retired faculty member at Illinois State University, this award is for IT students at the school who are in good standing.
- Max C. Weiner Endowed Scholarship- This award is available to undergraduate business or IT students at Missouri S&T. Students are selected by the Business and Information Technology Student Affairs Committee.
How to Choose an Information Technology School and Program
While students likely need to take into consideration factors like tuition rates, scholarship availability, and program format when choosing an online IT program, there are several IT-related factors to also explore during the decision-making process. For example, based on a student's personal interests and career goals, some may need to find an online bachelor's program in IT that offers a specific concentration and allows students to focus their studies. Students may also want to look for an IT program that incorporates the opportunity to earn professional certifications in the field throughout the program to get a jump start on their career. Since some employers may prefer applicants with degrees from accredited schools and/or programs, learners may want to consider schools that have IT-specific accreditation and/or designations.
Professional Organizations in Information Technology
There is no shortage of professional organizations geared toward IT professionals. These organizations aim to further advance the field and/or the careers of professionals in the field through networking, education, and professional development opportunities. Professionals may join an organization in their particular area of expertise and/or those designed for a specific population. A few examples of professional IT organizations include:
- CompTIA- CompTIA, formally known as the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP), offers a couple of levels of student and professional membership. The organization offers a wide range of certifications in areas like infrastructure and security, as well as continuing education, events, and career resources.
- Information Systems Security Association International- The ISSA is focused for professionals in the subfield of security and offers membership at several different levels, including student and corporate membership. The group's website also offers access to journals, job postings, news, and web conferences.
- Association for Women in Computing- Aimed specifically at women in a wide range of computer-related positions, the AWC provides professional networking, mentoring, and continuing education opportunities to help women advance their careers in the field.