Online Computer Science Degree Programs

Online computer science degrees give students and young professionals that chance to earn a top credential in a flexible higher educational environment. The following page can help students get started via (1) a quick search tool for online computer science programs from colleges and universities across the country, and (2) a guidebook outlining CS degree programs at all levels, including what they entail and who gravitates toward them. Find online programs, get the inside scoop on computer degrees, and more.

A Complete Guide to Online Computer Science Degrees

Computer science is as diverse as any field out there today. The choices for those interested in computer-centered professions continue to grow as rapidly as does the ever-changing and expanding digital world. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for computer occupations between 2012 and 2022 is excellent, with an expected 18% growth as compared with an expected 11% total growth for all occupations. Becoming a part of this in-demand field requires a strong commitment to completing a post-secondary degree program. The following is a detailed look at just what a solid education in computer science will entail, and how it all works online.

The Online Computer Science Degree Timeline

The education path for the computer science profession encompasses the entire spectrum of degree level options, from two-year associate degrees to multi-year doctoral degrees and even post-doctoral programs. Finding the right subject area and degree level very much depends on an individual’s specific professional goals and lifestyle expectations, not to mention the academic and financial resources available to that individual. What follows is a timeline of degree choices for computer science students, from the shortest to the longest in duration, along with a look at some of the most important decisions that will have to be made along the way.

Two-Year Degree Online (Associate)

Online associate degrees in computer science provide students with a relatively broad and generalized introduction to the field, covering subjects such as computer architecture and systems, data structures, database design and, most importantly, programming in a wide variety of computer languages. Additionally, as with most other associate degree programs, students will need to successfully complete a substantial general education requirement including classes geared to provide a strong foundation in communications, language, history, the humanities, and quantitative and scientific knowledge and skills.

A computer science associate degree serves two general functions. First, it prepares students for transfer to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Second, it prepares graduates for entry-level computer-related jobs. Computer science students may find it difficult to break into the employment market with an associate degree as more and more employers demand that their employees enter with at least a bachelor’s degree-level education. Those with an associate degree that do break in will likely have a better chance of landing a non-programming position such as computer technician, or systems, network or storage administrator.

Four-Year Degree Online (Bachelor’s)

As hinted above, a bachelor’s degree is the primary entry-level requirement for most computer science-related occupations. Fortunately, many traditional colleges and fully online schools offer online bachelor’s programs in computer science. Distance education bachelor’s degree programs usually require a four-year commitment, although some three-year accelerated programs exist, as well. Traditional and online bachelor’s degree programs in computer science offer quite similar programs of study with core coursework in a number of subjects including:

Computer architecture: Computer architecture courses provide a strong foundation in the organization and architecture of computer systems hardware, processor design, memory systems, hardware implementations and virtual memory, input/output control and devices and other architectural issues.

Data structures and algorithms: Typically teaches the fundamentals of algorithm design, programming strategies, data structures (arrays, lists, stacks, etc.), searching, queues, sorting, graphs and much more.

Operating systems: Bachelor’s level courses offer an introduction to operating systems with specific training in areas like virtual memory, system calls, threads, kernel and user mode, context switches, interrupts, interprocess communication, interface between software and hardware and many others.

Programming languages: Provides a solid introduction to the theory, design and implementation of programming languages. Topics include formal semantics of languages, high-order functions, laziness, continuations, functional, imperative and object-oriented paradigms and more.

Bachelor’s degree students in computer science should also expect to successfully complete courses in subjects such as chemistry, calculus, physics, logic and others.

Six Years (Master’s Degree)

Online master’s degree programs in computer science are a great way for working adults to advance their careers without having to return to school full-time. One big advantage to distance learning degree courses, in fact, is that schools design them with flexibility in mind. While it is common to invest two years (on top of a four-year bachelor’s degree) for completion of a computer science master’s degree, numerous programs are offered online by reputable colleges and universities in accelerated formats that allow completion in as little as one year, as well as extended formats that allow three years or more for completion.

Eight+ Years (Professional Degree)

Doctoral degree programs in computer science are not as numerous as master’s degree programs, particularly those offered online, mostly because earning a doctor’s degree is not necessary to ensure a successful career in the field. Computer science doctoral programs are designed primarily for those individuals who aspire to become a high-level researcher or to teach on the graduate level. Graduate computer science programs are highly specialized with concentrations in areas such as big data analytics, theory, biocomp and artificial intelligence, among others. Earning a doctorate in computer science normally requires a two- to four-year time commitment beyond that of a master’s degree.

How to Identify a Quality Online Computer Science Program

Distance learning in computer science is as prevalent as any field out there. With literally hundreds of different programs on all degree levels offered by dozens of schools, finding the right one to fit an individual’s unique needs can be a daunting task. No matter what the specific interests a student may have, there are a number of factors to be considered in all circumstances. Here are a few:

1. It has full accreditation

Accreditation is the method by which education institutions are vetted for the quality of their academics. There are two primary forms of accreditation that students need to be mindful of when vetting online computer science programs: regional and programmatic. Regional accreditation is administered by six U.S. Department of Education-recognized independent agencies. Programmatic accreditation is typically handled by private non-profit professional organizations. Several organizations accredit computer-related degree programs, chief among them the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Prospective computer science students are advised to be very careful when considering any distance learning degree program that is not fully accredited by both of the above-mentioned agencies.

2. It has great resources

Distance learning degree programs offer a tremendous opportunity to individuals for whom attending an on-site program is out of the question. That does not mean, however, that online students should be denied any of the support services commonly found on traditional college campuses. Outside-of-class services often make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful education experience, so their availability should be one of the many determining factors in choosing an online degree program. Resources to look for include career, personal and financial aid counseling, accessibility to library materials, ease of communication with instructors and staff, technical support, and an effective complaint resolution process

3. Graduates succeed

There a several methods employed to measure the quality of college degree programs, many of which center around graduate success rates. The question is: Just exactly how can the success of a graduate be measure in a way that has real meaning? Many schools and other organizations keep track of graduate success by calculating rates of job offers, employment in the field, average and median beginning salaries, employment retention and even student debt default. The ratio of lifetime income to total degree cost is also a popular measuring method. Prospective computer science students would be wise to seek out such data for the programs they are considering before signing up.

Professional Certification in Computer Science

The term “professional certification” refers to a designation earned by an individual, usually regarding his or her occupational field, indicating a particular expertise or qualification. These certifications are typically conferred by professional societies and organizations or private certifiers and vendors. Their purpose is to raise the standards of conduct and increase the public’s level of confidence in individuals practicing within a specific profession.

Certifications in the computer science field are plentiful due to the nature of the profession and the almost endless number of technologies that exist. There are three primary categories of certifications in the computer science and technology field:

Vender Specific

Vender specific certifications are meant to relate to the technologies, products and platforms created by specific developers and indicate that the holder possesses skills and knowledge unique to those items. Most major corporations involved in the development and manufacture of computer-related products sponsor their own in-house programs for awarding certifications. A few examples include:

  • Apple Inc.: Apple Certification Program
  • Cisco Systems: Cisco Careers Certifications
  • Hewlett-Packard: HP ExpertONE
  • Google: Google Apps Certification
  • Microsoft Corporation: Microsoft Certified Professional

Vender Neutral

Vender neutral certifications concern the knowledge and practices of a specific area of development like cyber-security or information technology, including:

  • Certified Migration Expert (CME) sponsored by MigrationX.
  • Linux Professional Institute’s Junior Level, Advanced Level and Senior Level certifications.
  • MEF Carrier Ethernet Certified Professional sponsored by Metro Ethernet Forum.
  • Certified Network Professional program sponsored by the Network Professional Association.

General Certification

Less popular than vendor specific and vender neutral certifications, general certifications are sponsored by a small number of professional organizations, chief among them the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

Interview with an Online CS Grad

Doing research and gathering as much information as possible is essential for finding a quality online degree program. Nothing beats personal experience, however. Students entering the distance education process for the first time will find it very helpful to speak with current students and recent graduates of online degree programs.

The following is a brief interview with Alex Bowers Schoen, a first-year student enrolled in the online M.S. in Computer Science online program at Georgia Tech.

The following is a brief interview with Alex Bowers Schoen, a first-year student enrolled in the online M.S. in Computer Science online program at Georgia Tech.

I grew up in Eastern Tennessee. I went to college at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terra Haute, Indiana and graduated from there in 2003 with a B.S. in Computer Science and Software Engineering. I then worked at several startups both in Terra Haute and Atlanta. I’m now working as a software engineer.

Why did you decide to go with an online master’s degree program?

It had to do a lot with working and my family. I was dating my current husband while he was working on his master’s and Ph.D. and seeing the amount of time and stress that traditional programs can put on a person and family, I wanted something that would fit a little better into my life. I didn’t want anybody to miss out on something because I was completing my degree.

When I saw the online Master’s of Computer Science program at Georgia Tech, I thought that would fit in really well. It’s designed for a person to take just one or two classes at a time, it’s online, it was a good quality school and it was also really exciting to participate in something that was new.

Did you consider any other online schools other than Georgia Tech?

I did not. I liked how close Georgia Tech was if I did switch to full-time.

What were your biggest concerns with taking on an entire degree program online?

What the classes themselves would be like and how projects would be facilitated. I was concerned that classes wouldn’t be designed for online would instead be in-person classes that they were forcing people to take online.

Can you give us an idea, in real-time terms, how you fit in your coursework?

If there’s a lecture or two to watch for the week, I usually try to watch that during my lunch hour at work or sometimes after work at home before bed. For assignments, it depends on the assignment. If it’s a group assignment, I like to at least touch base with my group members early in the week. I usually don’t have a lot of time to work on the assignment itself until the weekend.

How exactly do you speak with your group?

We meet all kinds of ways. Sometimes we will do Google Chat to quickly check in and see what’s going on. We use the Basecamp application to keep a running dialogue going. Sometimes we’ll use video conferencing for bigger meetings because it’s just easier to talk to people face-to-face. For full class discussions, we’re encouraged to use Piazza.

How about communicating with your instructor?

They like us to directly message them through Piazza. That way any of the instructors or PA’s can reply to us if we directly message them or we can post things to the whole class to share answers that others may be interested in.

What do you think have been the most beneficial qualities to online study?

That I can fit the lectures in with running around in my life, that I don’t have to adjust my whole life to the class. Plus I don’t have to drive to downtown Atlanta, which I try to avoid as much as possible. That and I can go to class in my pajamas.

What have been the most challenging aspects to online learning?

Not seeing other people too much. Not being able to informally chat about what’s going on in class. Sometimes it’s nice to know that there are real people taking the class, doing the same things and having the same challenges that you are.

Have you taken advantage of any of the out-of-class support services like counseling?

I’ve seen that they are available but I have not utilized them beyond getting my student ID and using student discounts.

On last question: If someone came to you who was considering an online degree program, what would be your advice to them?

Do it. I mean if it’s going to take three to six years and you don’t go for it, you’ll still be three to six years older. Might as well take a class at a time, see if you like it. Then maybe you’ll be three to six years older and you’ll have a degree.