What Is a Computer Information Systems Degree?

| Melissa Sartore

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A computer information systems degree blends computer science, information technology, and business coursework.

A computer information systems degree instructs students in how to apply technology to a business setting. Students in computer information systems programs gain the technical, communication, and organizational skills necessary to thrive as IT professionals.

Individuals interested in studying computer systems and information technology and then applying that skill in a business context will benefit from a degree in computer information systems. The ever-changing nature of technology and how it's integrated into society mean there are infinite ways to apply a degree in computer information systems to a career.

When considering whether to earn a degree in computer information systems vs. computer science, take into account the different outcomes from each program. Scroll down to find out more about what distinguishes computer information systems degrees from similar programs.

Computer Information Systems vs. Computer Science vs. Information Technology

Students interested in computers have numerous options when it comes to earning a degree, leading to careers in areas like software engineering and computer engineering. While degrees in computer information systems, computer science, information technology, and computer engineering may overlap, each offers coursework designed for specific professional roles.

The key to finding the right degree is knowing which one matches your professional goals.

Computer information systems technology is primarily focused on facilitating business operations. Computer information systems programs integrate computer science and information technology with administrative skills, training students to maintain databases and help companies meet their tech goals. Computer science focuses on developing computer programs, applications, and software. Computer science degrees emphasize programming, including things like cybersecurity, and these professionals typically work within larger programming teams. Information technology is about the use of technology in practical settings. Information technologists keep computers working and offer technical support in professional settings. They may work alone or within a larger technology department, and they often implement new technology for their employers.

What to Expect in a Computer Information Systems Degree Program

Computer information systems degrees include coursework in computer science, information technology, communications, and business. Students gain a foundational understanding of information systems, computer programming, and software applications while also studying business basics like marketing, finance, and economics.

Major coursework trains students to apply computer technologies to a business's functions and needs. Classes in marketing and business performance focus on using technology to conduct market research and analysis. Courses in global supply operations explore the use of computers in moving goods and services around the world.

Many computer information systems degrees include group projects and cooperative learning activities with an overall goal of training students to use their skills in a business environment. Practical exercises prepare learners to transition into professional roles.

Skills Taught in Computer Information Systems Degree Programs

Soft Skills

  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Critical-thinking abilities
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Teamwork
  • Organizational leadership

Hard Skills

  • Interpersonal communication skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Critical-thinking abilities
  • Time management
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Teamwork
  • Organizational leadership

What Kinds of Computer Information Systems Degrees Are There?

Computer information systems degrees vary in length, depth, and scope. Shorter programs, like a certificate or associate degree, introduce students to key concepts and principles, while a bachelor's degree includes more advanced coursework. Most computer information systems professionals only need an undergraduate degree.

However, attending a graduate program can add to existing knowledge, often by emphasizing one aspect of computer information systems. Learners who want to pursue managerial and administrative roles benefit from a master's degree, while a doctorate can lead to executive positions or a career in research.


Certificate Program in Computer Information Systems

A certificate program in computer information systems includes coursework in database administration, computer programming, and web development. Some certificates emphasize specific areas, like networks, databases, or programming, while others provide a more comprehensive curriculum.

Certificates cover basic knowledge of computer systems and information technology, which can lead to entry-level roles in business settings. Positions include database manager and server administrator.

A certificate in computer information systems typically takes fewer than 12 months. Certificates can lead to careers in computer information systems or function as a pathway to an associate degree in computer science, information technology, or computer information systems.


Associate Degree in Computer Information Systems

Associate degrees in computer information systems generally span two years. Students complete general education classes in English, mathematics, humanities, and science alongside courses in computer science and information technology. Additional business coursework helps learners apply computer-related concepts and practices to practical settings.

An associate degree in computer information systems leads to positions like computer support specialist, network system administrator, and computer programmer. An associate of science or arts often includes coursework that transfers directly into a bachelor's degree in computer information systems. Associate graduates can also pursue entry-level positions.


Bachelor's Degree in Computer Information Systems

During a bachelor's degree in computer information systems, students complete four years of general education, computer science, information technology, and business coursework. Bachelor's degrees in computer information systems prepare learners to work in e-commerce, as software systems developers, and as computer operations managers.

Common classes in a computer information systems bachelor's degree include technical communications, finite mathematics, information systems analysis, and information security fundamentals. Business coursework focuses on economics, supply chain management, accounting, and market analysis. Throughout the program, students learn to integrate technical and business content, which often leads to a cumulative project or internship.


Master's Degree in Computer Information Systems

Current computer information systems professionals can benefit from earning a graduate degree in the discipline, thereby advancing both their technical and leadership skills. A master's degree in computer systems information typically includes a thesis, portfolio, or project component. Some schools offer a joint bachelor's and master's degree in the discipline, allowing students to earn both degrees simultaneously.

Most master's degrees in computer information systems last two years, although learners be able to earn an accelerated degree online. Coursework in a computer information systems master's degree includes advanced software development, data management, and information technology administration. Learners typically focus on a niche, such as logistics technology, accounting software applications, or information technology security.

With a master's degree, individuals can advance to roles like information technology manager, information technology project manager, or chief technology officer.


Doctoral Degree in Computer Information Systems

A doctorate in computer information systems can lead to executive business roles or positions in education. With a Ph.D in computer information systems, students are equipped to lead organizations as chief information officers and chief technology officers. Individuals who want to teach or research computer information systems at colleges and universities also benefit from earning a doctorate in the field.

A doctoral degree in computer information systems can last five years or more, depending on the program and student. Doctoral students take core classes in principles, methods, and practices of computer information systems, followed by competency exams and a dissertation. A doctorate in computer information systems includes a research component, usually emphasizing quantitative and qualitative techniques.

Accreditation for Computer Information Systems Programs

Students should always check a school's accreditation status before enrolling. Regional accreditation indicates that a college or university meets academic standards for liberal arts programs, while national accreditation is reserved for vocational, career, and technical programs. For computer information systems, look for regionally accredited schools.

Programmatic accreditation applies to individual degrees and programs and comes from professional bodies that work in specific disciplines. For computer information systems degrees, programmatic accreditation comes from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

What Can You Do With a Degree in Computer Information Systems?

A degree in computer information systems opens career opportunities across industries. Students generally go into business and technology professions, working as computer systems managers, database administrators, and business data analysts.

With a degree in computer information systems, learners can also work within government agencies, with nonprofit organizations, in healthcare, or as teachers. Some common roles include information technology specialist, computer information technology professor, and healthcare information manager.

Once students earn a computer information systems degree, additional certifications can enhance their skills and qualifications. Certifications keep individuals abreast of changes and innovations in the industry. Common certifications for computer information systems students and professionals include Cisco certified network professional,AWS certified solutions architect, and certified information systems auditor.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Computer Information Systems Degree?

Salary rates for computer information systems professionals depend on level of education, industry, and career. Advanced degrees often lead to managerial positions, like computer information systems manager, which is among the top-earning positions for the field, according to the BLS.

Computer Information Systems Career Outlook
Career Median Annual Salary (2020) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)
Computer Information Systems Managers $151,150 10%
Computer and Information Research Scientists $126,830 15%
Computer Network Architects $116,780 5%
Database Administrators $98,860 10%
Computer Systems Analysts $93,730 7%
Network and Computer Systems Administrators $84,810 4%
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations

Members of ASIS&T include students, professionals, researchers, and practitioners, all united in bridging the gap between information science practice and research. Student members have access to the member directory and community site for ASIS&T; eligibility for the mentorship program; and discounts on publications, continuing education opportunities, and association meetings. AIS promotes education and scholarship, advancing knowledge and excellence in the practice and study of information systems. Members from more than 100 countries worldwide receive access to the AIS research library, career development resources, and special interest groups. Established in 1978, AWC promotes the advancement of women in computing professions. It provides networking opportunities, continuing education programs, and mentorships, working to foster communities of computer professionals around the world. Members can join as individuals or through one of AWC's chapters. CPSR has been educating policymakers and the public about issues related to the responsible use of technology since 1981. It has members in more than 25 counties worldwide. Members have access to discussion and work groups, newsletters and readings, and discounts on events

Melissa Sartore holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her BA and MA in history are from Western Illinois University. A medievalist by training, she has published on outlawry in medieval England with additional publications on outlaws in popular culture and across geographic and historical boundaries.

Frequently Asked Questions

true How Much Does a CIS Major Make?

Managerial roles in CIS earned median annual salaries over $151,000 in 2020, according to the BLS. However, salaries for computer information systems majors vary by industry and position.

true What Kind of Jobs Can I Get With a Computer Information Systems Degree?

Computer support specialist, computer programmer, data analyst, and computer information systems administrator are all common roles for CIS graduates. With a graduate degree, computer information science professionals can advance to executive or managerial positions.

true Is CIS Easier Than CS?

Neither is harder than the other; each appeals to different skills and interests. CIS best suits individuals who want to apply technology to business, while CS suits those who want to design and develop computer software and hardware.

true Does Computer Information Systems Require a Lot of Math?

Yes, the field requires some math, but not as much as computer science. Math coursework for computer information systems degrees typically includes finite mathematics.

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