Associate in Computer Programming Degrees & Programs Guide

Associate Degree in Computer Programming Career Options & Salary

Computer programming is one of the most important functions that need to be fulfilled for a firm operating in the technology sector, meaning that there are plenty of different job opportunities out there for those interested in this subject. Simply put, a computer programmer uses their programming skills to command a computer or network to perform a set of actions using a set of instructions called code. Code can be written in a variety of different programming languages like Java, HTML, Python, C++, among others. Developers that have a strong grasp of multiple languages will often be valued by employers for their deep programming skills. A developer will, throughout their career, begin to specialize in certain topics, but some standard job areas include systems security developers, system analysis, database management, software developers, web developers, online computer programming, gaming developers, and employees who focus on analytics. The lowest level of official full certification after high school that a computer programmer can achieve is the associate degree.

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What is an Associate Degree?

An associate degree is a higher education certification that usually requires around 60 credit hours of study beyond the high school level. This typically translates to two years of full-time study, or longer if the degree is undertaken in a part-time program. These types of programs are most commonly offered by local community colleges and sometimes by a state university. According to thebestschools.org, a worker with an associate degree earned a median rate of $132 more each week than those with only a high school diploma in 2018, showing that undertaking an associate degree program is likely to bring in greater financial gains throughout one’s career. Associate programs can serve as terminal degrees, but many use them as a building block toward completing their four-year bachelor’s degree, saving money

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Where Do You Earn a Computer Programming Associate-level Degree?


There are many avenues to earn an associate-level degree, so it is important to consider the best-fit avenue for your education needs and specific career goals. The most common place to earn an associate degree is through a local community college, which will oftentimes offer an array of different programs spanning the arts and sciences. Another avenue for earning an associate degree is through online universities and some four-year colleges and universities that also offer associate programs. Typically, even if a student undertakes an associate program at a community college, most four-year colleges will accept credit towards a bachelor’s degree if the student applies to continue their education in a four-year degree program

Online Vs. Traditional Education in Computer Programming


It is possible to study computer programming in both traditional, in-person and online degree settings. In terms of the quality of the actual course content, there’s no major difference between studying in an on-campus program or a fully online degree other than the difference in teaching that would come from being affiliated with different schools. In essence, the actual academics of the program would be more influenced by the quality of the teachers than the actual format of the class. However, some students may find a difference in the quality of their schooling experience due to differing needs for balancing their time or connecting with their academic community.

Studying in-person at a community college or university affords the traditional educational experience, where students would study alongside peers and join a network of people that they know personally once they enter the workforce. Making connections and deep friendships may be easier in-person, where one might run into a friend and stop for a conversation in the hallways, compared to a fully online setting where one might need to plan each video session well in advance. On the contrary, undertaking a fully online degree provides the ability to study flexibly, without being limited by location. This may be a better option for students who have other obligations, including family or work limitations. Online programs may also be more inexpensive than on-campus ones, which may be yet another factor for consideration.

Compared to some degrees that cannot be fully completed online due to mandatory in-person elements, a computer programming degree can be completed fairly easily through a fully online format. Since students are mainly learning how to improve their programming skills, learning these topics from a professor who is a strong developer and being able to work on projects with classmates through video chat is enough for a student to master the skills necessary to find a good programming position after graduation.

What Are the Prerequisites or Admission Requirements for an Associate Degree?


For students to earn admission to an associate degree program, they would first need to attain a high school diploma or equivalent, like a GED. For a community college-based associate program, students may also need to submit a placement test like the ACT or SAT, fill out an application, submit proof of residency, and ensure that they have all of their finances in order so that they can pay for the program. For an associate program affiliated with a university, students may also face minimum GPA requirements before they can be accepted to the program. Compared to a bachelor’s degree, applying for an associate program is slightly easier, as students looking to enter a 4-year program may also need to submit letters of recommendation, other standardized test scores like SAT subject tests, and a list of extracurricular activities in addition to fulfilling the aforementioned requirements.

Why Earn a Computer Programming Associate Degree?


There are several important reasons why a student may wish to earn an associate degree in computer programming instead of completing a more intensive bachelor’s degree in the field. First, the cost of an associate degree is often much more manageable than a bachelor’s degree. This is particularly true if a student is looking to study at an out-of-state university or private school without a scholarship or financial aid options. Second, many universities will accept the work done in an associate program and allow it to count towards the completion of a bachelor’s degree should the student decide later on that they wish to continue their studies. Having completed many general credits will also shorten the overall time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree. This way, students can reduce the overall cost of their college degree by undertaking a more inexpensive associate degree in the first two years of their post-secondary studies. Students may also have more of an opportunity to work while they study for their bachelor’s degree in this scenario. Third, getting into an associate program can help many students enter the workforce and begin earning money faster, gaining experience in the computer programming industry.

Why a Degree in Computer Programming?


Given the important role that the internet and technology play in most people’s lives today, it’s clear that computer programming is a field that’s here to stay. Studying programming skills can allow someone to enter a field with stable growth and job prospects, as well as a large variety of potential job positions to fit diverse programming skill sets. Additionally, computer programming stands out as a career path because prospective students can enter the workforce with only an associate degree and work their way up in the workplace through promotions and good on-the-job performance. Furthermore, those with a strong foundation in computer programming can continue upgrading their skills through certifications, or slowly working their way toward a particular specialization in the field. They may choose to pursue further certification in Java programming, database management, systems analysis, or software development, depending on the needs of their particular company. As such, computer programming is a career that allows individuals to continuously improve their mastery and specialize in specific areas that interest them.

What’s Involved in This Degree?


The associate degree in computer programming will provide students with a solid foundation in the technical skills required to succeed as a professional in the computer science, information technology, and programming fields. Students who choose to undertake this degree will be able to combine quantitative reasoning, problem-solving, analysis, hands-on lab learning, and technical skills to unlock their potential. Typically, many companies in the technology field prefer to hire students with a bachelor’s degree in computer science or computer programming, so the associate degree is often used as a first step toward completing those goals. As such, the associate programs offered in this field tend to be more general, such as an Associate Degree in Computer Programming or Associate Degree in Computer Science. Some schools may offer specific tracks, like the AS in Computer Science with Cyber-Information Security Option at Ocean County College in New Jersey, but availability depends solely on the school. Students who are looking to undertake a more specialty focus in the field may look to study for different certificates or take more focused elective classes.

Common Courses

  • Pre-Calculus Math
  • Calculus I
  • Calculus II
  • Programming Fundamentals I
  • Computer Organization
  • Introduction to Logic
  • C Programming
  • Discrete Mathematics
  • Intro to Information Systems
  • Visual Basic Programming
  • Database Design & Application Development
  • Computer Science I

What to Consider When Choosing an Associate Program for Computer Programming


Accreditation


When deciding where to go to school for your associate program in computer programming, it’s essential to choose a school that is accredited, has a strong track record of student graduation, and has a high rate of student employment post-graduation. In particular, check if the school that you are considering is accredited by leading authorities like those regional accreditation agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors. In particular, the CHEA grants powers to organizations like the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the New England Commission of Higher Education, among others, which then, in turn, determine if an educational institution offers a rigorous enough program to warrant an associate degree designation. Overall, the U.S. Department of Education recognizes 6 distinct higher educational regions, each with its own accrediting body, with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology specifically overseeing all computing, engineering, applied science, and technology programs offered by universities and colleges. Another way to measure the merit of the program you are considering is if the school is endorsed by computer programming-specific associations, which can help show that an institution has met certain quality standards.

Further Computer Programming Education


Bachelor’s Degree


A bachelor’s degree in computer programming or computer science is a four-year degree obtained at an accredited college or university. It is often listed as the minimum requirement for many computer sciences and information technology-related job positions, which are usually quite lucrative. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in computer programming requires between 120-130 credit hours of study. Attaining a bachelor’s degree can be important in landing a position with an employer that focuses on the technology sector, as undertaking a four-year program will usually allow students to not only build a solid foundation in many skills like java programming, HTML, and C+ but also build more specialist capabilities through elective courses.

Master’s Degree


Given the popularity of the computer science field, many students may wish to undertake a master’s degree in computer programming to stand out from their competitors in the job market. The master’s degree will provide existing computer engineers and software developers a platform for going deeper into the field and building upon the suite of programming skills that they attained through their bachelor’s degree, which is a prerequisite. While some would argue that computer programmers do the most learning on-the-job, where they will have the space to apply the topics they have learned in school to real-life scenarios, there can be a good reason to study for a master’s degree in computer programming or computer science. This degree typically allows the computer scientist to build deep knowledge in a specialized field like machine learning, where electives at the undergraduate level will typically be more of survey courses than deeper topical ones.

MBA


Students who are interested in combining their computer programming background with a management-related career path can consider undertaking an MBA in Information Technology. In particular, this type of program trains students to be ready to take on management positions in information technology-related companies, which is seeing a rapid boom in growth. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, even information security analyst positions are slated to grow by 28% through 2026, which underscores the need for managers and leaders who can effectively engage teams in the field to carry out complex projects. Given the nature of the work that most computer- and IT-related firms do, managers need to have a solid grasp of computer programming and systems analysis basics to pursue this career path. Studying an MBA program with a focus on computer programming can help someone experience the best of both worlds and earn a six-figure salary - a win-win.

Doctorate or PhD


The PhD in computer programming is a highly technical course of study that typically requires at least 4-5 years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree, if not longer. To be accepted into a doctorate program in the field, one must have a very solid foundation in different programming languages and analysis. Typically, graduates from PhD programs will pursue careers in academia, for which a doctorate is usually a prerequisite. This means that most of their work is design and research-based, which tends to provide them with more flexibility over the topics that they choose to focus their work on.

Computer Programming Certifications


Given the fast growth in the technology field, most computer programmers will find it imperative to upgrade their skills throughout their career even if they choose not to go back to school for another official degree. In this case, undertaking a certification will allow the developer to build pointed competencies and master specific skills that will help them throughout their career, at a low time commitment and financial cost. According to Edusum, there may be more than 6,000 distinct computer programming languages in use throughout the world, so it is incredibly important to focus on completing certifications that are widely appreciated by employers worldwide and can be applied to a majority of different technology projects. Below is an overview of some of the most popular computer programming certifications.

  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Developers:
    This certification is Microsoft’s certificate for programmers and utility builders, covering useful topics like Visible Studio variations, HTML5, JavaScript, Azure, and SharePoint. This allows candidates to gain the tools to target specific roles and to ensure that they can write those competencies on their resume, as well as build skills necessary for operating in the Microsoft suite of software, which are used by the majority of businesses worldwide.
  • Adobe Certified Expert for Developers:
    This certification is Adobe’s complementary credential program that operates alongside the company’s wide array of software merchandise, with widely-known offerings like Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Paint. This certification specifically targets Adobe’s improvement platforms and allows a skilled developer to master the techniques necessary to operate in Adobe’s platforms and software programming interfaces.
  • Google Apps for Business Certified Deployment Specialist:
    Google is a leader in the software and internet space, so, unsurprisingly, they offer their own certificate for developers. Currently, this Google certification program covers many of the technical knowledge, API fundamentals, cell deployment and entry, and troubleshooting necessary for working with Google Apps.
  • C and C++ Certifications:
    Programming languages C and C++ are two staples in the computer science field. While most students will learn some form of these languages while studying at school, undertaking additional certifications like the C Programming Language Certified Associate, C++ Certified Professional Programmer, or the C++ Certified Associate Programmer will allow a developer to further hone their skills and stand out to employers.

Available Careers with an Associate Computer Programming Degree


  • Web Developer:
    A web developer is someone who focuses on helping individuals and organizations create and update their websites. By helping clients design easy interfaces for their websites, they can help drive traffic to an organization’s products.

  • Desktop Publisher:
    A desktop publisher is someone who helps design the layout for products with highly visual components like marketing materials, newspapers, and books. They will receive instructions from clients like writers and designers and will be in charge of making those ideas a reality through techniques in graphic design.

  • Computer Programmer:
    Computer programmers will spend their time writing code for computer programs and applications. Typically, they will receive instructions from a team of engineers and designers, and they are in charge of making that vision a reality through their coding. They will also spend a good portion of their workday testing for bugs and fixing issues found in thousands of lines of code.

  • Computer Support Specialist:
    This position focuses on helping provide advice and troubleshoot issues that computer users experience. Computer support specialists will help identify existing problems in systems by running tests and help improve the overall effectiveness of a computer network.

  • Computer Systems Administrator:
    Employees who work as computer systems administrators will spend their time looking for inefficiencies in existing organizational computer networks and are responsible for helping to update those systems.

  • Programmer:
    This will typically be a project-based position where the employee is expected to collaborate with a team to design and build new software for an organization or firm.

Salary Expectations


Attaining an associate degree in computer programming can lead to extremely lucrative careers without workers taking on any additional higher education degrees. Even if the starting salary for holders of associate degrees in computer programming is lower than it is for those who start with a bachelor’s degree, it’s possible to attain salary boosts through on-the-job promotions. Over time, as job titles change to reflect experience, holders of associate degrees in computer programming can gain mid- to late-career salaries that are also quite desirable.

There are several different types of associate degrees in computer programming, with each yielding slightly different average salaries, though the difference is not very pronounced. According to PayScale, those who undertake an Associate of Science in Computer Programming can expect an average salary of around $61,300. Those with an Associate of Arts in Computer Programming can expect an average salary of $62,400. Workers with an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming can expect an average salary of $60,900. Students graduating with an Associate of Arts and Sciences in Computer Programming can lead to an average salary of $68,300. People with an Associate of Applied Technology in Computer Science can expect to earn $60,600.

Outlook


For those interested in studying computer programming, the IT field has many career options available. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer programmers on average earned $86,550 per year in 2019, though this particular job title is slated to decline at a rate of 9% between 2019-2029. However, this is no reason to worry, as there are plenty of other tech-related jobs that are available for those with only an associate degree in computer programming and programming knowledge is by no means becoming less necessary in the industry. For instance, web developers and digital designers, who earned an average of $73,760 per year, also only require an associate degree for entry-level positions. At the same time, the BLS has stated that the field of web developers is projected to grow at a rate of 8% between 2019-2029, which is much faster than the average job growth of most sectors. Based on these numbers, students graduating with an associate degree in computer programming have plenty of job prospects.