Computer science is a broad field that includes a range of studies, including artificial intelligence, graphics, hardware design, and software development. There have been computer scientists hard at work since at least the 1940s and WWII, when the first electronic computing devices were created. However, the notion of programming dates all the way back to Ada Lovelace, a woman who wrote the first program for a binary system. That was in the 1840s. Today you can continue her bold tradition by earning an associate degree in computer science.
A two-year degree in the field is a terrific way to launch your career. You could decide to focus on software, or you might decide that cyber security is more interesting. Others can take their two-year degrees and become technical writers who translate computer languages into English for the rest of us. No matter which direction you choose, you can forge a brilliant career with an associate degree in computer science.
Computer Science Degrees & Career Paths
- There are many positive aspects to earning an associate degree in computer science — They are often quite affordable, take only two years to complete, and allow you to get a jump start on your career. If you take your courses through a community college, you'll likely find that your per-credit costs are far below those of public universities.
- Once you graduate, usually in a mere two years — you can get straight to work in an IT department or for a start-up company. That will put you ahead of your friends who opted for a bachelor's degree. Furthermore, you can get started on professional certificates after earning your associate, which can often mean as much as a degree. Your employer might even help you pay for those certificates, too.
- Since you'll have a degree — you can always return to a university or four-year college to complete a bachelor's degree, should you desire. Your experience and certificates will help with your application and give you a head start on completing this higher level of education. Before you know it, you'll be in graduate school.
- An associate degree does have drawbacks — One of the main drawbacks is that employers often prefer a bachelor's degree for new hires. A two-year degree might also prevent you from earning a professional certificate, since a higher degree is required for many professional certificates.
- You might also find that your starting — pay is a bit lower than your colleagues who have four-year degrees. This is simply because they have more academic training. Your two-year degree may also prevent you from studying certain concentrations, such as cyber security, which are more easily available at larger four-year schools.
- Since bachelor's degrees are increasingly — seen as a minimum requirement for employment, an associate degree might not get you where you want to go. However, it is still possible to earn certain certificates and gain experience even with a two-year degree.
Certificate Vs. Associates
A certificate is another option that you might consider. They take less time to complete and provide your resume with entry-level credentials to help you land that first job. While some certificates do require that you have a degree, many community colleges offer one-year certificates in computer science or information technology and have very minimal requirements for entry into these programs. These are great options for those who are eager to get started on a career in technology, or those who already have a degree but want additional credentials to enhance their current position or to launch a new career.
Though a full associate degree is preferred, a certificate program will give you college credits. That means that you can build on those credits later if you wish to pursue higher academic credentials.
What Computer Science Associate Degrees are Available?
- Associate of Science (AS):
This is perhaps the most common associate degree. These degrees include coursework in common core courses such as humanities, mathematics, and natural sciences. Your computer science work for this degree will rely on scholarly research and sources, which a four-year institution is sure to appreciate. If you wish to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the future, this is probably your best choice.
- Associate in Applied Science (AAS):
Applied science degrees focus more on occupational concerns than academic research. This means that, when you graduate, your knowledge will be more immediately applicable to the workplace. However, if you're thinking of pursuing a bachelor's degree later, you might find that you need to take more courses, or re-take certain classes, prior to attaining a full admission to a four-year institution.
- Associate of Applied Business (AAB):
These degrees will provide you with the fundamental skills businesses are looking for. You'll learn about topics such as programming, networking, software development, and other technological areas. Some programs offer these degrees as a first-step toward other concentrations, such as cyber security.
While most community colleges have an open enrollment program, you will probably still need to have a high school diploma or GED to gain admittance. Since computer science is highly technical, you will probably also want to have a strong background in mathematics. If you know you want to study computer science while you are still in high school, you should try to enroll in as many computer-related courses as you can.
While you might not need a specific SAT or ACT score to gain entry into an associate degree program, it’s never a bad idea to take whichever exam is most prevalent in your area. This way you can use the scores to help bolster your admissions packet. You'll also be able to gain an idea of what four-year schools you might consider attending.
How long does it take to earn an Associate Degree in Computer Science?
Associate degrees are typically structured to be completed in two years, assuming students take a full load of classes. You should do whatever you can to finish in that time, since the sooner you graduate the faster you can apply your degree to a job. However, many students still need to work part- or full-time to support themselves or a family, so they may need to take a bit longer to complete their degrees.
If you need to take more time for your degree, try to land a job in an IT department or any high tech firm while you go to school. Even if you are working as a support staff administrator, you can let your employer know your plans. They may offer some help with tuition or help you ease into your new field.
Potential Careers in Computer Science with an Associate Degree
- Computer Programmer:
After you learn, and achieve proficiency in, a few programming languages, you can work as a programmer. There are a wide range of projects and companies who need these skills. To start, you might be assigned to troubleshooting code or writing smaller scripts or subroutines. Eventually, you'll be able to work on larger software development projects.
- Web Developer:
- Mobile Application Developer:
There's an app for everything, which is why there's a huge demand for mobile application developers. Look for work with a team that specializes in these types of programs so that you can build a specialty. You'll need to know how to develop for both Android and iOS, but later you might find yourself specializing and leading teams for one or the other platform.
- Network Administrator:
It seems like nearly every firm these days has a network, and they need someone to oversee network operations. Your computer science degree will pay off as it will give you the familiarity with database programs, server systems, and even cyber security that you need to land these positions. To ensure a long career, you should earn and keep network certificates current.
- Computer Security:
Cyber security is increasingly in the news, and businesses everywhere want to protect themselves from outside attacks. If this intrigues you, you should seek out a program that is considered a Center of Academic Excellence by the National Security Agency. You can also pursue different career paths such as penetration tester, forensics investigator, or cyber security consultant.
- Technical Writer:
This is a job that isn't always obvious to students. However, if you have a penchant for the written word and love technology, this is a great field to investigate. You will provide documentation for coders or instructions for end-users. The field is varied and will help you meld your learning from those humanities courses with what you know from your technology coursework.
Options to Advance
When you enter your field, you need to know that there's room to grow. After all, nobody wants to sit in an entry-level job forever. With a computer science degree, you'll have lots of opportunity to advance your career, raise your salary, and enjoy even greater professional fulfillment.
To ensure that you get ahead, you'll need to keep learning more and more. You can learn some things on your own, such as programming languages or even new technological tools. This added knowledge can be immediately applied in your job and will impress your boss when it comes time for yearly reviews. However, if you are seeking a new job, it will be to your advantage if you also achieve a certificate that demonstrates your new skillset to those you don’t work for. Constantly improving your resume is the best way to garner attention from those companies you are most interested in working for.
Eventually, you will probably want to return to school for a bachelor's degree. When you begin a four-year degree in computer science, you can focus on whatever specialty area you've developed on the job, whether that's software development, networking, or cyber security.
Colleges That Offer a Traditional A.S. Degree in Computer Science
Portland Community College
PCC offers a wide range of degrees to help Oregonians launch terrific careers. They also have multiple campuses in the greater Portland Metro area. Oregon is full of terrific community colleges and PCC is certainly one of those. PCC graduates frequently move on to study at local Portland State University, University of Oregon, or Oregon State, among other four-year institutions.
- Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance - 1-Year Certificate
- Computer Programming, Specific Applications - 1-Year Certificate, 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Network and System Administration/Administrator – Associate Degree
- Web Page, Digital/Multimedia and Information Resources Design - 1-Year Certificate, 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
Westchester Community College
WCC is conveniently located near New York City and can prepare you for a brilliant career in Manhattan, or wherever your heart desires. You can start your education from any point, whether you're a seasoned independent hacker or a newbie with a love for technology.
- Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services – 1-2 Year Degree & Associate Degree
- Computer and Information Sciences – Associate Degree
- Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Information Science/Studies – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- System, Networking, and LAN/WAN Management/Manager – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
Austin Community College
ACC is there to help you launch a brilliant career in computer science. Their program will prepare you to become a programmer, software developer, systems analyst, and administrator, among other skills. Once you graduate, you might consider finding a job in the local tech sector or pursuing a higher degree from local University of Texas at Austin.
- Computer and Information Sciences, General – Associate Degree & Undergraduate Certificate
- Computer Programming/Programmer – Associate Degree & Undergraduate Certificate
- Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications – Associate Degree & Undergraduate Certificate
City Colleges of Chicago
You can pursue your computer science aspirations through the City Colleges of Chicago. The Harry S Truman college on West Wilson Ave will get you started on the path to success. The system has an affiliation with many top employers and local four-year colleges so that you can smoothly transition to the next phase of your development.
- Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications - 1-Year Certificate, 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Information Science/Studies - 1-Year Certificate, 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Information Technology – Associate Degree
Queensborough Community College
Queensborough Community College's computer science program is teamed up with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. That means you can easily transfer your computer science and information security knowledge to a four-year degree through that esteemed CJ institution. However, you might prefer to apply your knowledge elsewhere, such as for a Wall Street firm that needs your computing prowess.
- Computer Science – Associate Degree
- Data Processing and Data Processing Technology/Technician – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
- Information Technology – 1-2 Year Certificate & Associate Degree
Colleges That Offer Online Associate Degrees in Computer Science
Kent State University
Kent State is a lauded institution that offers a computer technology degree in the form of an Associate of Applied Business. Since the program is 100% online, you can live and work wherever you like. You might even still be on active duty in the military and yet complete a degree to help you transition back to your civilian life.
- Computer Technology
- Office Technology
Purdue University Global
Purdue's online presence is one that covers a wide range of degree types and fields. For those interested in computer technology, you can major in information technology and then choose a concentration area within that department. If you decide to move on and get your bachelor's degree through Perdue Global, they offer an even wider range of degrees, including cyber security.
- Information Technology
- IT – Programming and Software Development
This accredited online university can help kickstart your degree in technology with an associate degree in computer science, cyber security, or one of many other degree options. Once you graduate, you'll be ready to administer networks, manage databases, and learn any programming language you need to get the job done.
- Computer Science
- Cyber Security
Penn State World Campus
Penn State's Information Sciences and Technology degree is perfect for professionals who find that they need to learn more about technology or people starting out to forge a new career. Since Penn State is a four-year institution, if you decide to pursue a baccalaureate degree, that option is also available.
- Information Sciences and Technology
- Business Administration
University of Phoenix
The University of Phoenix is one of the pioneers of online education. They have a long tenure of graduating top scholars in a range of fields. If you want to pursue technology, they offer associate degrees in cyber security and information technology. When you graduate with your two-year degree, you'll be set for the working world or even more studies for a bachelor's degree.
- Cyber Security
- Information Technology