Affordable Online Computer Science Degrees

Computing was once just a job description. Individual employees, usually supervised by a physicist or mathematician, manually performed the calculations necessary to operate businesses, conduct research, or manage governments. Today, nearly every aspect of daily life is automated in some form, and computer science is one of the most popular academic disciplines in the country.

While many experts believe that our understanding of computer science barely scratches the surface of the subject’s capabilities, students in the field still have plenty to learn and do.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job opportunities in the field to skyrocket in the coming years, specifically for software engineers, web developers, database administrators, and computer science researchers.

A computer science degree can help qualify you for a range of employment opportunities across every industry. Aspiring computer scientists can pursue formal training in school, in offerings ranging from an introductory associate degree to an elite doctorate program. If you are interested in pursuing a degree in computer science, read on to learn more about the field and about the professional opportunities available to graduates.

Did You Know?

Computer science leads to the highest-paying jobs in the country, yet the ratio of graduates to job openings in the field is still woefully low. “There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs, in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to healthcare, but only 50,000 computer science graduates a year,” reports the nonprofit Computer Science Education Coalition. Learn more about how a degree in computer science can help you enter one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries.

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What Can You Do With a Degree in Computer Science?

Software Developer

$98,260 Avg Annual Salary
Bachelor's Degree Required

Software developers use their refined skill set to craft innovative technology. Whether working in software applications or systems design, these professionals build programs that directly impact the user experience. Software developers collaborate with other computer scientists, vendors, and end users to create products ranging from games to productivity tools to complex database infrastructure. Because colleagues and end users are not always trained in technology, the job requires excellent communication skills. Not only must these professionals comprehend the gap between user problems and technical solutions, they must also help users deploy and maintain programs that bridge that gap. In addition to a working knowledge of sophisticated technology, successful software developers must be able to move fluidly between plain-English explanations and technical jargon.

  • Degree Required: BS in Computer Science, BS in Mathematics
  • Licensure Required: Vendor licensure is available from entities like Apple and the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). Licensure is not required, but it is viewed favorably by employers.
  • Time Commitment: 4 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $62,100
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $89,700
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $200,100

Web Developer

$64,970 Avg Annual Salary
Associate Degree Required

Web developers work on websites, whether on back-end architecture or front-end design and function. Working closely with website owners (who may or may not have technical training), graphic designers, content producers, and developers create the user experience with code. Back-end website developers design a site’s structure according to the site owner’s specifications, often while planning for the site’s eventual expansion. Back-end code can require you to build database access and administration, design multiple servers to manage a business, or enhance technical details like a site’s performance, speed, and capacity. On the front-end, a web developer is concerned with the user interface, graphics, and other visual elements that create look and functionality, like shopping carts or image display.

  • Degree: Associate of science (AS), associate of applied science (AAS), bachelor of science (BS)
  • Licensure Required: Vendor licensure is available from entities like Apple and the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE). Licensure is not required, but is viewed favorably by employers.
  • Time Commitment: 2-4 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $55,000
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $77,000
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $165,000

Database Administrator

$81,710 Avg Annual Salary
Associate Degree Required

Database administrators manage the enormous volume of data collected by businesses across all industries. Often, this data is sensitive, and includes medical information or transactional histories; administrators must ensure that the data is protected and secure. Databases that contain large data stores or feature multiple entry points are likely to become corrupt from user error. Database administrators ensure that the data is kept clean, functional, and that it returns accurate results to meet the company’s needs. Collaboration with IT staff and non-technical management is standard in this position, so these professionals need solid communication skills and IT knowledge to thrive.

  • Degree: AS, AAS, or BS
  • Licensure Required: Public schools in all 50 states require licensure and certification, while teachers at private schools typically do not.
  • Time Commitment: 2-4 years
  • Median Annual Salary (Entry-Level): $60,000
  • Median Annual Salary (Mid-Career): $75,000
  • Median Annual Salary (Late-Career): $88,000

Computer Science Careers by the Numbers

The BLS tracks employment data in computer science, projecting future job growth for the highest-earning positions and the highest-paying employers. While the top two highest-earning positions — computer and information research science and computer network architecture — are projected to experience respectable job growth, the demand for computer programmers is actually expected to decrease. The BLS attributes this decline to a tendency among companies to hire programmers in countries where wages are lower. However, the high cost of managing overseas projects sometimes offsets any savings, which has led many companies to continue employing programmers in the U.S.

Top Computer Science Careers by Income and Growth Rate
Career Salary Job Outlook
Computer and Information Research Scientists $110,620 + 11%
Computer Network Architects $100,240 + 9%
Computer Programmers $79,530 – 8%
BLS employment projections data, 2014-2024

Highest Paying Computer Science Careers by Sector

What Does it Take to Succeed in Computer Science?

There are certain traits that lend themselves well to succeeding in computer science. Attention to detail is necessary when working with finicky code, as is a data-driven mindset. Additionally, the following traits are also considered valuable by employers in the field.

  • Curiosity

    The most successful computer scientists are the ones willing to take apart a process, a page of code, or a piece of equipment in order to fully understand how it works. Besides contributing to a greater understanding of a product’s function, this natural inquisitiveness can unveil previously uncovered inefficiencies or lead to an innovative solution to a problem.

  • Lifelong Learner Mentality

    Some experts say that we’re only in the infancy of understanding software’s capabilities. New technologies, languages, and processes are developed every day, and a successful computer scientist is always abreast of new technology. Because employers don’t always fund formal training or certification processes, it’s up to the professional to stay on top of new developments.

  • Adaptability

    The Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said that the only thing that is constant is change. This applies to computer science. Because the natural consequence of product development is one of discovery and redirection, job requirements can change quickly. Being able to rapidly change directions as specifications evolve is essential to success.

  • Business Acumen

    For computer scientists in the industrial corporate sphere, it’s essential to understand how the business works. It’s impossible to effectively deploy a web page, software application, or database without a solid grasp of the company’s needs; planning for future technological development is particularly dependent on this skill.

  • Initiative

    The role of a computer scientist is to create tech solutions, but the process does not exist in a vacuum. Management, sales teams, end users, and content providers may all have a say in a product’s specifications. Because your colleagues are presumably less tech-savvy than you, you might need to interpret their needs and independently develop the right product. Confidence in your ability to use technology to solve their problems is essential.

Associate Degree in Computer Science: An Overview

Who should pursue an associate degree in computer science?

An associate degree is sufficient if you are seeking entry-level positions in database administration, network administration, or web development, or if you are preparing to transfer into a four-year bachelor’s degree program.

How long does it take to get a teaching degree at this level?

Two years.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

No formal thesis or capstone is required, but students should expect hands-on programming and coding projects.

What can you do with a teaching degree at this level?

Graduates from an associate degree program are prepared for positions as computer support specialists, IT specialists, programmers, web developers, technology coordinators, and information research scientists.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $43,200.

Core Concepts

Core classes in a two-year associate degree program in computer science cover the advanced mathematics that underpin programming and data structure. Additionally, a typical curriculum covers database administration and programming in applicable languages. Standard core concepts include:

  • Discrete Mathematics: Calculus, analytic geometry, and linear algebra
  • Programming in Assembly Language: C-based, Java, and advanced Java fundamentals
  • Data Structures: Recursive programming, storage allocation, stacks, queues, and linked lists
  • Technical Support Skills: Installations, repair, and troubleshooting

Course Highlights

Database Management Systems

Description Learn how database management systems work and how techniques are used to design and develop modern database management applications.
Job Skill
  • The ability to maintain a database at a high level of efficiency and without errors.
  • Generate new databases depending on user or business needs.
  • Protect and ensure the integrity of data.

Principles of Computer Science

Description Introduction to the fundamentals of all computing science. The class covers computing hardware and physical structure, theory of computation, basic programming, and common applications.
Job Skill
  • Troubleshoot hardware and facilitate repair.
  • Familiarity with typical usage modes.

Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming

Description Explores Java in detail, along with interactive graphics, intuitive user interface design, and data structures and algorithms. Students will become familiar with complex graphics programs including interactive sketching applications.
Job Skill Write programs in Java that are modular, reusable, and easily integrated with the web.

Affordable Schools With Online Associate Programs

Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science: An Overview

Who should pursue a bachelor's degree in computer science?

A bachelor’s degree in computer science introduces you to the fundamental theories and applied science of the field. If you aspire to become a software engineer, website developer, or want to work in database management and design, systems design, or tech management, you would be well suited for this program. The degree also prepares you for further postgraduate study in the discipline.

What can you do with a teaching degree at this level?

A bachelor’s degree is typically completed within four years of full-time study.

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Candidates for the BA or BS in computer science should expect to deliver a senior thesis and capstone project, respectively. Depending on individual programs, this requirement could consist of an internship or other practical experience, a written review of existing research, an original research project, or a lengthy programming project.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

A four-year bachelor’s program prepares graduates for employment across the field. Graduates often find jobs as software engineers, system managers, database administrators, network engineers, or principal researchers.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $81,300.

Core Concepts

The core curriculum in a typical bachelor’s program is focused on the foundational mathematical theory behind computer science, along with the practical applications in common programming environments. Beyond general coursework, you may also concentrate your degree in artificial intelligence, biocomputing, systems, graphics, information management, or other computing specialty area. Standard coursework includes the following components:

  • Principles of Systems: Systems from their basic hardware to their source code. Basic assembly languages, standard architecture, processes, networking, memory models, and compilation skills are emphasized.
  • Data Structures and Algorithms: Data structure and algorithms commonly in use, such as search algorithms, divide and conquer strategy, graph algorithms, greedy algorithms, heaps, hashing, and randomized algorithms.
  • Computing Foundations: Essential functions and concepts within the discipline, including logic and proofs, functions, sequences, graphs and trees, Boolean logic, pushdown automata, and computability.
  • Object-Oriented Programming: Algorithms and their implementation in computing languages. Topics of study include debugging, data collections, graphical user interfaces, searching versus sorting, conditionals, the iterative approach, and more.

Course Highlights

Introduction to Software Engineering

Description Classes cover each phase of the software engineering cycle. Special attention is given to requirements analysis, design modeling, project management, module-level design principles, and program validation and verification.
Job Skill Develop a product within accepted business processes.

Ethics in Computing

Description This class delivers a thorough exploration of the legal, social, and ethical issues inherent in computer science. Students become familiar with concepts such as privacy, freedom of speech, copyrights, patents, encryption, and software reliability and safety.
Job Skill Perform within the industry’s acceptable standards of moral and legal conduct.

Systems Programming

Description Students explore multi-layer software systems, including application interfaces, user interfaces, device drivers, common systems software, and interrupt-driven and event-driven software.
Job Skill Mastery of sophisticated programming skills

Organization and Assembly Languages

Description Beginning with micro and ending with mainframe computers, this class examines internal computing system architecture. Courses emphasize computing hardware and implementing complex languages.
Job Skill
  • High-level Programming
  • Computing architecture analysis

Affordable Schools With Online Bachelor’s Programs

Master’s Degree in Computer Science: An Overview

Who should pursue a Master's in computer science?

Candidates for the MS in computer science are looking to build on the foundation of knowledge they gained in their bachelor’s program. Students are charged with mastering the underlying theory of computing, and developing fluency in advanced methodology and programming techniques. You should pursue a master’s if you aspire to upper-level or management roles in computing, or if you plan to pursue academic research or a PhD in computer science.

How many years will it take to complete?

Standard programs can be completed in two years of full-time study, or three to five years of part-time work. Many accelerated programs are also available, which can be completed in one to three years.­

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Yes. Under academic supervision, master’s candidates prepare a thesis project by conducting original research in computer science. The thesis is to be prepared for academic publication, and then defended orally.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

Mid to high-level positions managing computer science employees within the industry. Potential positions include senior software engineer, systems integration engineer, principal animation engineer, researcher, director of network systems, and director of software engineering.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $103,000.

Core Concepts

By building on the foundation you learned in your bachelor’s program, standard master’s degree core requirements dive deeply into computing and mathematical theory. Once you have developed a comprehensive understanding of fundamental theory, you will explore sophisticated practical applications while learning advanced programming skills. The core curriculum of a typical master’s program contains the following key concepts:

  • Networks: Administration of advanced technique within systems operations, including security, wireless networking, systems analysis, modeling, and simulation.
  • Data Systems: Principles of data mining, covering database systems, advanced database systems, and text information systems.
  • AI and Applications: Cognitive science and machine learning. Includes robotics, computer vision, and NLP.
  • Software Engineering: Programming languages and formal processes in engineering.
  • Graphics and Gaming: The interaction between humans and computers, including interactive graphics, production graphics, CAI, and social visualization.
  • Scientific Computing: Sophisticated research technique, such as numerical analysis, iterative methodology, fluid dynamics, and combinatorics.

Course Highlights

Machine Learning

Description An exploration of core concepts in machine learning. Areas of emphasis include regression, logistic regression, classification, SVM, HMM, ensemble method, nearest-neighbor, clustering, cross-validation, and more.
Job Skill Apply principles of artificial intelligence to programming products.

Advanced Computer Security

Description Cryptography and risk analysis; detailed exploration of high-level policy models, design principles, assurance, and malicious logic.
Job Skill Design and maintain systems that are engineered for safety and security.

Software Development Processes

Description Rigorous study of best practices in software development. Students follow the development process from specifications through quality control and maintenance. Multiple business processes are demonstrated.
Job Skill Design software within discrete business environments.

Concept and Design in Database Systems

Description Real-world example of database application development methodology. Students will explore the database development process from beginning to end, with thorough illustration of available tools and techniques. Metadata management and archival are also included.
Job Skill Design, build, and maintain database systems from scratch.

Affordable Schools With Online Master’s Programs

PhD in Computer Science: An Overview

Who should pursue a PhD in computer science?

Computing science professionals interested in leadership roles in education and research.

How many years will it take to complete?

Four to six years

Is a thesis or capstone usually required?

Yes. A written dissertation detailing an original research project must be submitted and orally defended prior to graduation.

What type of jobs does this degree prepare you for?

Professor of computing sciences, principal researcher, director of research, vice president of research and development, or senior data scientist.

What's the average salary for someone who holds this degree?

The average salary is $128,325.

PhD in Computer Science Overview

Unlike other programs in this discipline, the PhD in computer science is entirely research-based, and is intended for those seeking careers in education and research. While some PhD programs consider the MS to be part of the PhD curriculum, the practical uses of the degrees are very different. If you are weighing the merits of the PhD versus the master’s, you should carefully consider your long-term goals. A master’s degree delivers an advanced technical education, and those who hold it generally aspire to upper-level management roles in industry. A PhD, on the other hand, prepares you for a life of teaching and research; this research is sometimes conducted within industry or government, but is most often performed in academia.

  • Courses

    Course requirements are somewhat limited in this program, as the focus is on the development and execution of an original research product. Depending on individual programs, as few as six to nine courses may be required. These courses are focused on research across the field’s body of knowledge: theory, intelligent systems, programming systems, computer systems, vision and graphics, and applications.

  • Research

    Generally, PhD programs expect candidates to have a research idea in mind well before the deadline to submit a proposal. A qualified proposal addresses a problem, raises a question, or otherwise aims to expand the field’s body of knowledge. The dissertation project first analyzes other work on the topic, evaluating any existing knowledge and scholarship.

  • Thesis

    As the main thrust of the program, thesis requirements are strict. Within a reasonable time after passing qualifying exams, candidates are expected to form a dissertation guidance committee. Each researcher must submit a thesis proposal to this committee, a written explanation of the proposed project, and its anticipated contribution to the discipline. Research may not begin until the proposal is approved. When research is concluded, the results must be prepared for academic presentation and orally defended before the committee.

Next Steps: Certification

Computer science is ever-changing. Success in this dynamic field requires constant education, and employers want to see that job candidates are up-to-date on the latest skills driving the industry. Outside of academia, there are a number of professional certifications that demonstrate competency in the field. These certifications are instantly recognizable, and allow employers to immediately gauge a job candidate’s potential value in the workplace.

Depending on your career trajectory, some certifications will be more appropriate than others. Cisco, a systems engineering firm well-known for its rigorous certification process, offers the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certificate for entry-level IT support professionals. Similarly, the CompTIA A+ certification is considered a solid ground-level credential for IT professionals.

As you move up the career ladder, other certifications can increase your career mobility. Mid-level engineers can benefit from the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) credential or the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential. At any level of your career and in most specialty areas — such as software applications development or security engineering — you can pursue a professional certification. Investing in professional credentialing is a wise choice; it increases your value at your current job and boosts your marketability if you decide to seek a new position.

Sites You May Also be Interested In

Computer Science Job Boards

  • American Academy for Advancement of Science (AAAS): Careers Maintained by the premier professional society for scientists of all stripes, the AAAS job board offers job postings and career advice for aspiring computer science researchers and educators.
  • American Medical Informatics Association: Career Center Jobs This site offers a wealth of resources for information management professionals. Members of this association enjoy access to job postings across a wealth of informatics specialties. Future initiatives include a mentorship program for AMIA members.
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Career & Jobs Center Membership in this professional association offers numerous networking and job-seeking opportunities for computing professionals. Hundreds of positions in academia and industry are posted, along with career tools, interviewing tips, career coaching, and helpful articles.
  • This site aggregates all engineering job postings listed on major sites like Monster, Careerbuilder, Hotjobs, and others. Categories of interest may include network engineering, software engineering, IT engineering, computing engineering, and more.
  • GitHub GitHub is a longstanding hotspot among computing professionals looking for networking opportunities. Developers can collaborate on open-source projects, find support for personal projects, or seek employment on a full-time or contract basis.

Computer Science Blogs

  • Lambda the Ultimate Maintained by a small group of administrators, this site hosts lively discussion on current papers, books, courses, and projects in programming. Participants from both applied and theoretical vantage points are welcomed.
  • Matt Might, Associate Professor of computing science topics and Presidential Research Scholar, blogs regularly on topics of interest to aspiring academicians and programming buffs. A sample of recent blog subjects includes programming in Racket, the birthday paradox, and how to achieve tenure.
  • Shtetl-Optimized Maintained by Scott Aaronson, noted quantum physicist and author of Quantum Computing Since Democritus, this blog offers an entertaining take on complex subjects. Peppered with funny stories from his personal life, readers can enjoy more than 10 years of his musings about the world of physics.
  • Coding Horror Jeff Atwood is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur known for founding, which has grown into the Stack Exchange. The Stack Exchange is a popular, heavily trafficked series of Q&A sites where enthusiasts trade information and ideas on all things programming. His personal blog is a collection of his thoughts on the business in general and software development in particular.
  • Joel on Software Joel Spolsky is a noted software developer, currently partnering with Jeff Atwood on Stack Exchange and owner of Fog Creek Software. His site is packed with information, including articles, code fragments, troubleshooting tips, and career advice.
  • Toptal Toptal is a service that links freelance developers with contracts and projects. Aside from its value for developers seeking work, the company’s blog is attention-worthy on its own. Divided into topics of design or engineering, this site offers coverage of product releases, platforms, software reviews, and tutorials.
  • Scott Hanselman When not working as a web developer at Microsoft or hosting one of three popular podcast channels, Scott Hanselman operates this personal blog where he comments on tech, tech media, the Silicon Valley community, coding, entrepreneurship, open source, and more.

Professional Organizations

  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) One of the first professional societies formed in support of artificial intelligence, this organization sponsors conferences, workshops, seminars, and symposia on an international level. Aside from these networking opportunities, members also receive AI Magazine, a quarterly publication.
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) IEEE is a well-known professional society devoted to advancing technology in the lives of humans. IEEE is a force in the industry, offering scholarly publications, conferences, workshops, leadership forums, a job board, and access to useful technical information.
  • Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics By definition, computing science is the application of mathematical principles. SIAM supports mathematical research and discovery in partnership with programming. Member benefits include scholarships and fellowships, a careers board, subscriptions to scholarly publications, conferences, and professional recognition of achievements.
  • Association for Women in Computing (AWC) As one of the first gender-specific professional societies in computing science, AWC seeks to provide professional support to women in an industry largely populated by men. Networking opportunities, technical programs, conferences, and career advice are among AWC’s many offerings.
  • Computing Research Association (CRA) CRA is a professional society with a broad scope, bringing together computing science professionals, researchers, and educators to promote technological advancement. Numerous opportunities for these professionals include talent development assistance, public policy advocacy, and leadership training. Members may access a job board, important data, scholarly publications, and best practices recommendations.