This guide is all about getting a computer science associate degree. It covers everything from the associate degree in computer science curriculum to the associate’s degree curriculum and potential career opportunities.
In May 2019, Salvatore Stolfo, a computer science professor at Columbia University, was quoted as saying in a US News and World Report article, “It’s a golden age right now for computer science, and we’re very fortunate in this field. For people who study computer science in their education, it’s a great, great time, and essentially the sky is the limit.”
When that article was published, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was predicting an employment growth rate of 13 percent for computer science positions through 2026. As of March 2021, the BLS reports that employment growth in the field of computer science is predicted to be 15 percent through 2029, a faster than average growth rate compared to all occupations.
Results from a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) published in February 2021 bears this out: 48.9 percent of employers surveyed stated that they planned to hire those who graduated with computer science degrees in 2021.
While many employers require a bachelor’s degree for jobs in the technological field, there are still many who accept a two-year degree. An associate degree is typically sufficient to obtain many entry-level jobs in computer science. Considering the diverse jobs that could be open to you as a graduate of an associate’s degree program in computer science, obtaining such a degree is absolutely a viable option for several reasons:
- Obtaining an associate degree requires investing less time than pursuing a four-year degree
- An associate’s degree will lead to the building of fundamental skills employers are looking for in entry-level candidates
- It will cost less money to complete an associate’s degree program as compared to other degree programs
- In many cases, you can earn credits toward a computer science bachelor’s degree should you choose to pursue a higher degree later
Computer Science Associate Degree
Two-year studies in computer science can result in an associate in/of science, associate in/of art, or Associate in/of applied science degree. These programs are found mainly in community and technical colleges, though some universities also offer two-year degree programs in computer science.
Courses you are likely to take in a two-year degree program in computer science include fundamental and introductory classes in programming, programming logic, computer networking, database design, software design, systems analysis, and operating systems.
You could also expect the curriculum of an associate’s degree program in computer science to be heavy in mathematics and science, with courses in discrete math, calculus, algebra, and physics. Studies typically provide the opportunity to work hands-on with specific programming and other applications, such as Java, Python, Linux, and MySQL, through individual and team projects.
In addition to hands-on learning opportunities through labs and in-class work, some programs offer internships, sometimes separate from the computer science curriculum or offered as an elective.
Internships are usually taken in year two of the program. It’s important to note that internships and field experiences are more common in four-year degree and graduate programs in computer science and related areas. Check with the specific program you are considering to ensure that an internship or field experience is included if you are interested in this aspect of an associate degree program in computer science.
Online Associate Degree in Computer Science
If you’re looking for flexibility in your studies, the good news is that online courses can be an option in many associate degree programs in computer science.
Some colleges offer two-year degree programs entirely online, while others have a hybrid format combining online and on-campus classes. In some instances, students might have free software to complete assignments or online studies.
Online studies provide a self-paced option not usually available to on-campus students. In some cases, it might take longer to complete the program, but this flexibility allows you to remain committed to other possible obligations, such as full-time employment.
Coursework for a fully online program is typically the same as in a hybrid or on-campus program. In online and on-campus formats, completing the associate’s degree in computer science could satisfy the first two years of study in a bachelor’s degree program. Thus, these transferrable credits could lead to you earning a four-year degree in just two more years of study while you begin your career at entry-level, having built the fundamental skills needed to begin working in the field.
A benefit of first obtaining an associate degree, either online or in-person, could be to land a job based on your academic background, then find out if your employer has a tuition reimbursement program. If so, you could use that program to help fund your pursuit of a four-year degree that might lead to advancement in your career.
Tuition for an Associate Degree in Computer Science
Most colleges and universities base their tuition rates on state residency; thus, in-state residents pay less per credit or course than out-of-state students. In the case of some community colleges, per-credit rates for in-district or in-county residents could be even less than that for students living in other areas of the state in which the school is located.
Tuition for an associate in computer science degree can range from about $100 per credit hour for in-state residents at community colleges to several hundred dollars per credit hour for out-of-state students at larger schools. Most two-year degree programs resulting in an associate’s degree comprise 60 credits.
Fees such as student activity fees, technology fees, lab fees, and other administrative fees also vary from one institution to another, impacting the per-credit cost of any program.
Financial aid in federal or private loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study programs are available at most colleges. Some schools might offer scholarships specifically designed for students enrolled in a computer science program, such as the National Science Foundation scholarships in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Many schools also accept installment payment plans.
The amount of any awards could be affected by status, so it’s important to check with your institution if being part-time, for instance, would impact the amount of financial aid you might receive.
Employment with an Associate Degree in Computer Science
Computer programmer. Computer systems analyst. Desktop publisher. Web developer. Computer support specialist. The broad studies presented in an associate’s degree program in the computer science curriculum leave graduates eligible for a wide range of entry-level career titles, such as these listed here.
Per the BLS, statistics regarding job growth potential for these job titles are as follows:
- Computer support specialist: 9 percent increase in employment 2020-2030
- Computer systems analyst: 7 percent increase in employment 2020-2030
- Web developer: 13 percent increase in employment 2020-2030
- Software developer: 22 percent increase in employment 2020-2030
- Computer programmer: 9 percent decline* in employment 2020-2030
*According to the BLS, the trend of hiring computer programmers in other countries to perform the work at lower salaries could continue, thus negatively affecting the projected growth for this profession. Also, the BLS states that employment potential for desktop publishers is expected to decrease 12% over the 2020-2030 decade as companies continue to trend toward publishing materials online, which results in graphic and web designers handling more desktop publishing tasks.
Starting or lower-end salaries for these job titles basically range between $32,000 to $51,000 per year, based on information obtained from PayScale.com:
- Computer support specialist: $32,000
- Desktop publisher: $36,000
- Web developer: $41,000
- Computer programmer: $42,000
- Computer systems analyst: $48,000
- Software developer: $51,000
Geography and type of industry are two factors that can impact salaries. As reported by PayScale.com, computer systems analysts realize higher salaries in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Baltimore while experiencing lower wages in New York, Columbus, Ohio, and Huntsville, Alabama.
On the other hand, computer programmers make nearly 29 percent more in New York than the national average; these professionals also earn higher wages in Boston and Seattle, with lower salaries paid for those employed in Houston and Denver. Seattle and Los Angeles are also lucrative areas for web developers, as is Washington, D.C., with Boston employers paying the highest wages for computer support specialists. San Diego pays among the lowest salaries to web developers.
Using broader geographical parameters, the BLS shows that those in computer science professions earn the highest salaries in California, Virginia, Washington, New York, and Oregon. Maryland and Texas replace New York and Oregon on this list when determining the highest employment levels for computer science professionals in the U.S.
Wages also vary between industries; the BLS reports that software publishers rank highest for salaries for computer science professionals. Engineering, computer systems design, federal government agencies, and schools, in addition to other industries such as telecommunications, communication equipment manufacturing, scientific research and development, and management and technical consulting, also pay among the highest annual salaries to those in a computer science profession.
Associate Degree in Computer Science FAQs
While in this article you will find extensive information regarding curriculum, career titles, salaries, and employment potential relating to an associate’s degree in computer science, you might have further questions not detailed above. In this section, you will find answers to some additional questions you might have regarding an associate’s degree in computer science.
Prerequisites for admission vary by the academic institution. Some programs, such as those at community colleges, are typically open enrollment. That generally means the only requirements are a high school diploma or the equivalent. GPA, scores on college entrance exams, and specific course prerequisites may apply to other programs. While not an admission requirement, it would be helpful to complete courses such as trigonometry, physics, algebra, statistics, and calculus.
Academic requirements to take certification exams in the field of computer science vary. In some cases, an associate’s degree would be adequate. Some certifications, such as the Cisco Certified Network Professional, do not have an academic requirement. In contrast, the Professional Software Engineering Master Certification from IEEE Computer Society requires that candidates have completed a minimum of four years of college study.
Yes, any associate’s degree program in computer science is designated as a STEM program.
- How did you first get into computer science (what kind of degree or work experience led you to the field)?
- Why get a computer science associate degree and why now?
- What’s the best way for students to prepare for a computer science associate degree program?
- Can students take electives, or customize their computer science experience?
- What types of jobs are graduates of your program finding? Is there a favorite employer or company where graduates like to go work? How many continue on for a more advanced CS degree?
- If you had to choose one or two books, articles, documentaries, podcasts, etc. to be included on a required reading list for computer science students, what would it be?