Choosing an Online Associate in Computer Science Program
All students have unique needs and goals, which means they have different considerations for their college searches. When deciding which online computer science degree is the best fit, consider how the following factors might impact and shape your online learning experience.
What Is Computer Science?
Computer science is the systematic study of computing processes, which are a series of encoded actions used to achieve a desired result, like totaling a bank account balance, generating digital graphics, or running an application.
Students can learn many of the skills needed to succeed in computer science in a classroom. Individuals who naturally excel at problem-solving, organization, collaboration, and creativity often thrive in the field.
Professionals in the computer science field typically specialize in an area like artificial intelligence, software development, human-computer interface, networking, or information security. Programming language experts, for example, may use their knowledge to code mobile applications, video games, or webpages.
Although many professionals covet careers with top tech firms in Silicon Valley, computer science majors can find work across the nation in many different industries, as most companies rely on software infrastructure. Graduates can find work as full-stack developers, database administrators, information security analysts, and cloud computing engineers.
Computer Science vs. Computer Engineering
Computer science focuses on how data is processed, stored, and communicated between devices. Computer engineering has a broader focus, including the electrical components of computing systems and the design, function, and interaction of software and hardware.
College students pursuing degrees in computer science and computer engineering take many of the same courses, including computer architecture, data structures, programming, and networking. Each program also requires courses unique to the discipline, such as database systems for computer science students and product design for computer engineering students.
After graduation, students in both fields can begin careers with similar employers in similar locations with comparable salaries, but their specialized roles require different skills. For example, Apple hires both computer science and computer engineering professionals to design new iPhones. While computer scientists focus on operating systems, memory, and data encryption, computer engineers design the circuits, chips, and components that allow the devices to function.
What Is a Computer Science Associate Degree?
An associate in computer science provides students with the foundation needed for entry-level employment or to transfer to a four-year bachelor's program. Associate programs require a minimum of 60 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time students typically graduate in three years.
Colleges may be selective or use open enrollment policies. Open enrollment colleges accept any applicant who has completed a high school education, although placement testing may be required in English and math. Selective admission schools require additional criteria, such as a minimum GPA and ACT or SAT scores.
A computer science associate degree provides students with foundational skills in mathematics, programming, and database management. Students receive an introduction to terminology and topics that enable further study in areas like information security, network technology, and mobile applications.
What Will I Learn in an Online Associate in Computer Science Program?
At the undergraduate level, an online computer science degree consists of three major components: general education, major core courses, and electives. Students can expect to complete a minimum of 60 credits. Core courses like those listed below provide a solid foundation in computer science concepts and techniques.
- Programming Fundamentals: Often presented in 2-3 consecutive courses, studies in programming fundamentals introduce learners to the major concepts of structured programming and the techniques used to develop software applications. Topics include object interaction, algorithms, data structures, and the mechanics of running, testing, and debugging.
- Computer Organization: A course in computer organization examines the components, structure, and function of contemporary computer systems. Using assembly language to strengthen and reinforce course concepts, students learn about computer arithmetic, data types, memory hierarchy, performance metrics, and other fundamental topics. This course may include a lab component.
- Discrete Mathematics: Often required or recommended for computer science majors, a course in discrete mathematics provides a background in abstraction, notation, and critical thinking. Covered topics include sets, logic, the nature of proof, recurrence relations, and Boolean algebra.
Educational Paths for Online Computer Science Associate Programs
Associate degrees are an affordable way to complete the lower-level requirements needed for a bachelor's degree. After completing an associate, many graduates transfer to a four-year school to complete additional major core courses and electives. A computer science associate degree can qualify students for bachelor's programs in computer programming, health informatics, and digital marketing.
After earning an associate in computer science, many graduates transfer to a four-year computer programming degree. Programming majors study major programming languages like C++, Java, and Python, which they use to write code for software applications. Students also learn to test programs, troubleshoot errors, and debug systems.
Health informatics is an evolving field that combines elements of information technology, communications, and healthcare to improve patient care quality. A bachelor's program in health informatics provides training in the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of healthcare data and information. Transfer students with an associate in computer science enter healthcare informatics programs with a foundational knowledge of database systems, software development, and programming.
A digital marketing curriculum develops fundamental skills in market research, project management, communication, and e-marketing strategy. These skills, combined with a foundation in computer science, allow graduates to create digital marketing campaigns from the ground up.
Computer Science Jobs
Earning an online computer science associate degree can provide you with the foundation needed to pursue various careers, though many employers prefer bachelor's degrees.
Information security analysts plan and implement security measures to protect an organization's network and computer systems. These IT professionals monitor networks, investigate issues, evaluate and report damage caused by breaches, and discover solutions to mitigate system weaknesses.
Entry-level information security analysts typically hold a bachelor's degree in cybersecurity, computer science, information science, or a related field. Professional certification is voluntary but preferred by many employers. Relevant experience in information technology or network systems administration can be beneficial. Information security analysts must be detail-oriented, analytical problem-solvers who can anticipate risks and develop new protection methods.
Database administrators store and organize data like financial information and shipping records for businesses, employees, and customers. Using specialized software, database administrators ensure this data remains available to intended users and secure from unauthorized access. These professionals ensure error-free database operation, design and test modifications, and perform other maintenance duties as needed.
Most database administrators hold a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field and several years of work experience as database developers or data analysts. Software-specific certification may be required by some employers. Database administrators must possess excellent analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills.
Computer network architects design and build local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets, including both small connections and major infrastructures serving multiple customers. Responsibilities include creating plans and layouts, presenting plans to management, upgrading hardware, and researching new technologies.
Most computer network architects hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field like computer science or engineering, plus 5-10 years of relevant information technology experience. Employers may require certain product- or software-specific certifications. Network architects must have a strong understanding of an organization's business plan to design networks that reflect and achieve its overall goals.
Web developers design and create websites according to client needs. Web developers are responsible for all aspects of the site, including its visual appearance, speed and performance, traffic capacity, and functionality. To create websites, developers may write code using programming languages, create and test applications, and work with other professionals, such as graphic designers.
Web developers may specialize in front-end development, which focuses on how a site appears on screen, or back-end development, which focuses on how a site performs and behaves. While educational requirements vary, many web developers hold an associate degree in web design or a related field. This job requires creativity, customer service skills, and attention to detail.