Online Computer Science Degrees

Computer science is a broad discipline encompassing the development and evaluation of computing systems and software programs, as well as the algorithms used to construct these technologies. Professional computer scientists have a strong background in STEM subjects, and those who work as data analysts may also need a background in business-related fields like finance or economics.

Successful professionals in the field are detail-oriented multi-taskers who have excellent written and oral communication skills, and are prepared to work independently or in teams. They should be proficient in JavaScript and other programming language concepts, with knowledge of various operating systems.

Computing today has applications across virtually every industry, from business and education to engineering and architecture, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field will grow substantially in the next eight years.

Many students choose to earn their computer science degree online. This comprehensive guide shows prospective students popular career pathways when pursuing this degree, and helps them explore their online computer science degree options.

Meet our expert

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Chris Hood Computer Science

“The flexibility is one of the best features of going to school online. As a student and a teacher, I am able to log on when I’m available, do what I need to do, and log off to continue my day.”

Online Computer Science Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $13,264 16.3% 2 years $39,900 $59,000 10.3%
Bachelor's $18,071 11.04% 4 years $68,750 $112,000 4.5%
Master's $19,775 7.67% 1+ years $83,200 $123,200 3.35%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Entry-level web developers and systems specialists can often qualify for employment with an associate degree or a professional certificate. A bachelor’s degree will be required for database administrators, system analysts, and more advanced positions in the field. Some professionals, including computer and information research scientists, generally require applicants to hold an advanced degree. To meet the growing demand of virtual students, online computer science degree programs are currently offered at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels.

The education level of professional computer scientists directly corresponds with their expected annual earnings and unemployment rate. Before applying for jobs, students should research their target field and determine which degree best matches their career ambitions. In the course of their research, many students will find that earning a computer science degree online will help them cut costs associated with living and learning on-campus.

Choosing Your Computer Science Career

Average Computer Science Salaries

$50,380
$88,890
$63,490
$80,280
$97,990

Computer Support Specialist

Salary: $50,380
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
12% 766,900 Associates Various certifications available, not required

Computer support specialists offer IT assistance and services to other employees in a range of organizational settings. Potential employers include private companies, nonprofits, government agencies, healthcare facilities, and educational institutions. Some specialists are employed on in-house IT teams, while others provide support as part of a third-party operation. Entry-level support specialists may join the workforce with an associate degree, or even just by having significant computer experience.

Information Security Analyst

Salary: $88,890
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
18% 82,900 Bachelor's Various certifications available, not required

Information security analysts protect the computers and online networks of private companies, organizations, and government agencies. They primarily monitor information systems for suspicious activity and use different programs — such as firewalls and encryption software — to maintain security. Analysts may also develop information security plans and work with company leaders to increase system efficiency. Many candidates enter the job field with a bachelor’s degree in general computer science, although a growing number of today’s schools offer specialized computer science programs dedicated to information security.

Web Developer

Salary: $63,490
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
27% 148,500 Associates Various certifications available, not required

Web developers are the tech-savvy minds behind websites and online applications. They use coding to build and optimize the various technical and aesthetic properties of a site, such as search functions, online checkout tools, multimedia, and other features that drive online traffic. These professionals typically work on a team, and may specialize in a certain area of web development, including site layout or graphics integration. Unlike many other careers in computer science, most web developers can enter the workforce with an associate degree or an equivalent professional certificate. The BLS projects that this sector will grow 27% through 2024, making it one of the fastest growing fields in computer science.

Database Administrator

Salary: $80,280
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
11% 120,000 Bachelor's Various certifications available, not required

Companies, private organizations, and government agencies rely on database administrators (DBAs) to organize and monitor financial records, employee profiles, and other sensitive information. These professionals also work to improve security and efficiency through testing, regular evaluation, and routine modifications. Evolving technologies and an increased demand for secure electronic recordkeeping are expected to drive employment growth in this sector. The number of database administration positions are projected to rise by 11% over the next eight years. DBAs may be employed in-house at larger firms or organizations, but an increasing number of these professionals are finding work at third-party companies that specialize in database services.

Software Developer

Salary: $97,990
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
17% 1,114,000 Bachelor's Various certifications available, not required

Software developers are responsible for designing computing programs, apps, and support systems. They meet with clients to discuss technological needs, and then develop software that addresses these demands. Once complete, developer specs and instructions are used as a reference point during the programming/coding process. With more than 1.1 million working professionals, software development represents one of the largest fields in computer science. The BLS also projects approximately 190,000 new positions by 2024.

Online Computer Science Degree in Action

Chris Hood Computer Science

Chris Hood has been working in tech for over 20 years and has developed technology for several prominent brands, including Fox, Disney, Universal, Electronic Arts, Reebok, Monster, and many more.

Hood holds a bachelor’s degree, which he obtained online from the University of Phoenix, and an MBA earned through an online program at Indiana Wesleyan.

He currently teaches computer science courses online for Southern New Hampshire University and Colorado Tech University. In his free time he is a seasoned CTO and digital transformation consultant.

Why did you pursue your computer science degree online?

Online degrees are a great way to get an education while maintaining a professional (and personal) life. The flexibility is one of the best features of going to school online. As a student and a teacher, I am able to log on when I'm available, do what I need to do, and log off to continue my day. In school I was able to get most of my work done late at night or early in the morning, confirming the motto "you can go to school in your pajamas!"

What were the biggest advantages for you as you studied online?

An online degree in technology has additional advantages. By default, we work with computers. Depending on a student's area of focus, you'll be sitting in front of a computer for most of your professional career. Not only does going to school online increase some of those basic computer skills, it also helps you analyze software through the different tools you'll use during the degree program.

What were the challenges or obstacles you faced as an online student?

Personally, I never had any obstacles. My students, however, usually complain about a system not working, or not being able to log in correctly. Other students complain about the lack of interaction, or frustrations working with other students in team projects online, especially when trying to coordinate times to discuss assignments. For me these are ideal learning opportunities. The reality is, this is the life in computer science. Professionally we often are asked to troubleshoot connection issues, or system problems. We often are placed on geographically dispersed teams, where communication skills and schedules are challenging. If anything, the online environment prepares students for the real world scenarios today's tech teams face more than ever.

How did the online format help prepare you for your career?

Some students also believe that going to school on a campus supplies them with endless networking opportunities through face-to-face participation in campus groups. Online schools do the exact same thing. In fact, networking, building relationships, and lasting friendships are just as powerful when pursuing an online degree.

Online Computer Science Degrees

Most online computer science degree programs are exclusively taught on a web-based platform. This convenient format allows students to access course materials, submit assignments, and complete exams from home using their school’s educational software. Some computer science online degree pathways are “blended,” meaning they combine web-based coursework and on-campus lab components. Whether blended or entirely online, computer science degree online programs follow the same curriculum, taught by the same professors, as traditional classes.

Associate

Although an associate program is largely seen as an academic stepping stone toward a more advanced online computer science degree, graduates can enter the workforce and launch successful careers with a two-year credential. Computer support specialists, web developers, and computer programmers often qualify for professional roles with an associate degree or a professional certificate. A 2012-13 survey from the National Center for Education Statistics also found that 4% of two-year learners studied computer and information sciences and support services, making this the sixth most popular area of study for associate-level students during that academic year. The rising popularity of computer science online degree programs has contributed to this growing trend.

Sample Courses
Students learn about information technology systems and the algorithms that power them. Fundamental topics include Principles of Programming and Data Management, as well as Applied Mathematics, Introductory Coding, and Computing Ethics
Common Majors
Associate programs are usually broad in scope. Most students earn degrees in computer science, or general science with a computer science specialization. Specific areas of computer science are usually explored in online computer science bachelor degree and master's degree programs.
Potential Jobs
Computer Support Specialists, Web Developers, and Computer Programmers
Average Income
$50,380 for computer support specialists, $63,490 for web developers, and $77,550 for computer programmers
Employment Prospects
For 2014-2024, 12% increase for computer support specialists and 27% increase for web developers

Bachelor’s

Students who earn an online computer science bachelor degree can expect above-average salaries, high employment rates, and a variety of professional opportunities in different employment sectors. Most entry-level positions in the field require a bachelor's degree or an equivalent four-year program. Comprehensive bachelor's programs touch on elements of computing hardware, software, and network administration. Specialized pathways also include courses dedicated to the student's area of focus.

Sample Courses
Information Systems, Data Programming and Organization, Object-oriented Design, and The Social Impact of Computing Technology
Common Majors
Computer science is one of the top bachelor's degrees in terms of employment opportunities, salary expectations, and overall popularity. Computer scientists may pursue a degree in a specialized area of their field, such as management information systems (MIS) or software engineering.
Potential Jobs
Computer Systems Analysts, Database Administrators, Information Security Analysts, Network and Computer Systems Administrators, and Software Developers
Average Income
$82,710 for computer systems analysts, $80,280 for database administrators, $88,890 for information security analysts, $75,790 for network and computer systems administrators, and $97,990 for software developers
Employment Prospects
For 2014-2024, 21% increase for computer systems analysts, 11% increase for database administrators, 18% increase for information security analysts, 8% increase for network and computer systems administrators, and 17% for software developers

The Top 5 Online Bachelor's Degrees in Computer Science

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

University of Illinois at Springfield

Springfield
  • in-state tuition: $9,178
  • out-of-state tuition: $16,498
2

Regis University

Denver
  • annually: $32,424
3

Oregon State University

Corvallis
  • in-state tuition: $8,322
  • out-of-state tuition: $23,514
4

National University

La Jolla
  • annually: $12,096
5

Southern University and A&M College

Baton Rouge
  • in-state tuition: $6,630
  • out-of-state tuition: $8,274

See full rankings

Master’s

Students in a master's program study advanced computer science topics at a more granular level than undergraduates. They may focus their studies on machine learning, artificial intelligence, algorithmic structures, or other similarly nuanced subfields in the discipline.

Sample Courses
Master's computer science students build on the foundational knowledge and skills they have gained in online computer science bachelor degree programs. Courses cover advanced concepts related to algorithms, data organization, and information technology. Online master's programs often include a capstone or thesis project as well.
Potential Jobs
Computer and Information Systems Managers, Network Architects, and Computer Hardware Engineers
Average Income
$127,640 for computer and information systems managers, $98,430 for network architects, and $108,430 for computer hardware engineers
Employment Prospects
For 2014-2024, 15% increase for computer and information systems managers, 9% increase for network architects, and 3% for computer hardware engineers

The Top 5 Online Master's Degrees in Computer Science

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

Stanford University

Stanford
  • annually: $43,683
2

Columbia University in the City of New York

New York
  • annually: $49,138
3

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore
  • annually: $45,470
4

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta
  • in-state tuition: $10,650
  • out-of-state tuition: $29,954
5

Boston University

Boston
  • annually: $44,880

See full rankings

Doctorate

Prospective computer and information research scientists must complete a doctoral degree; terminal programs also prepare graduates for college-level teaching positions in the field. Although doctoral degrees are traditionally offered in residential programs, some schools offer computer science degree online programs for doctoral students.

Sample Courses
Doctoral programs in computer science are grounded in theory and academic research. Most culminate in a lengthy, research-based dissertation; students will be required to deliver a thesis proposal outlining the finer points of their dissertation.
Potential Jobs
In addition to computer and information research scientists, those who plan to teach computer science at the postsecondary level are generally required to earn a doctoral degree.
Average Income
$108,360 for computer and information research scientists and $70,790 for postsecondary teachers
Employment Prospects
For 2014-2024, 11% increase for computer and information research scientists and 13% for postsecondary teachers

Professional Requirements

Today’s computer science online degree programs offer a comprehensive curriculum designed to fully prepare students for the workforce. Although most computer science careers do not require professional certification, extra credentials help candidates compete in the workforce and improve their overall job security. The following section explores some of the most popular certification options for graduates from online computer science degree programs.

CRISC Certification

The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) currently offers a Certification in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) credential. Geared toward IT and business professionals, the CRISC tackles the fundamentals of risk management and compliance. Specific areas of discussion include current methods of identifying, assessing, mitigating, and reporting risk. ISACA members who register early will be assessed an exam fee of $450; non-members must pay $635. CRISC exams are offered in June and December. CRISC enrollees must have at least three years of experience working with IT risk and information systems management.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

Four hours

CISM Certification

Also available through ISACA, the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) program studies methods of designing, implementing, and monitoring digital security services for different clients. CISM enrollees learn different strategies and methods related to information security governance, compliance, development, and management. ISACA members who register early will be assessed an exam fee of $450; non-members must pay $635. CISM exams are offered in June, September, and December. Candidates for this certificate must have at least five years of experience working with IT security management.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

Four hours

MCSE Certification

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) credential educates IT professionals using a specialized curriculum. There are currently eight different MCSE programs available, including Server Infrastructure, Private Cloud, Enterprise Devices and Apps, Data Platform, Business Intelligence, Messaging, Communication, and SharePoint. Each program requires students to complete either four or five online exams related to the specialization. Students will be assessed a $150 fee for each exam. Comprehensive, optional online courses are available for each exam. Exam content and duration will vary; most exams contain 20-40 questions, and may require anywhere from 45 to 150 minutes to complete.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

Each optional exam training course requires a five-day commitment

Security+ Certification

The CompTia Security+ certification tests knowledge and skills most commonly used by information security professionals and network administrators. Key areas of focus include compliance, security threats, host security, identity management, and encryption. The test costs $311.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

90 minutes

Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Certification

The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert credential is geared toward professionals in different sectors of IT. The CCIE is currently offered in six niche fields: Routing and Switching, Collaboration, Data Center, Security, Service Provider, and Wireless. Additionally, the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) is available for computer engineers and developers. Test format and duration will vary by certification. Most include written and lab/practicum components. Each written exam requires two hours to complete, while the labs require up to eight hours per session.

Is it required?

No

How long will it take?

Varies