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What Does a Career in Computer Information Systems (CIS) Entail?

Computer Information Systems is a broad-based field that starts with a top-notch associate or bachelor's degree. Ideally, you will be able to complete a bachelor's degree with an area of specialization, such as an on-campus or online Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems degree, as a springboard to career success.

Professionals in computer information systems can get their careers underway when they choose a CIS program that best suits their long-term professional objectives. You can even find an online CIS degree, though the school should be fully accredited and offer the focus area that most intrigues them. Your career will usually entail duties related to your focus area, such as computer technology used in business processes or business operations and managing cyber risks.

Your career will also entail lots of fantastic projects that enable to you to create the best operating systems and information systems security for your employer with business database systems development, project management, and database administration. Alternately, you could pursue a more creative direction and work in web or game design, which might include software development. Your knowledge gained in a computer information systems program will help you amass the right tools for you job, while your coding, programming languages, data analytics, information security, and development courses will support your vision and provide you with critical thinking skills.


Components of A Successful Career In "Computer Information Systems"

A successful career in Computer Information Systems is comprised of several components. The first key is a college degree from an accredited institution. From there, you can add professional certificates, or graduate work.

When you embark on an undergraduate degree, do so in a program that will support your career goals. That is, CIS is not a monolithic subject. Rather, programs usually offer focus areas for you to choose from; these could be programming, forensics, security, or even game development. Your concentration could well determine your career path from graduation onward.

When you start your career, seek out professional associations to join. Your employer or your department might be a member of one, so see how that membership will benefit you. Frequently, association membership involves access to courses that keep you up-to-date on the latest hardware and software advances.

Associations and graduate programs also offer certificates, which look great on a resume. A certificate can indicate academic credits that you can apply to a full degree. Your professional and academic certificates, and any advanced degrees, will all support and enrich your career.

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How to Earn a Computer Information Systems (CIS) Degree Guide

Difference Between a Computer Science Degree & CIS Degree

A computer science degree differs from a CIS degree in that its focus is on researching computer applications, creating software, and even artificial intelligence. CIS, on the other hand, is more concerned with how to apply computer technology in a company or department so that the workers achieve maximum efficiency.

There is certainly overlap between the two degrees and their application. Some CIS graduates delve deeper into coding and software creation, and some CS graduates land jobs managing the Information Technology needs of their firm. Even if you land in a job that is not specific to your CIS degree, you will surely find applications for your knowledge. After all, every enterprise these days relies on computers to some degree.

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Typical Computer Information Systems Online Degree Requirements

To complete a Computer Information Systems degree, you will need to satisfy certain requirements. Many departments will ask you to complete some programming courses, such as object-oriented programming. Database design and management is likely to be required, as well as accounting courses. You'll also need to know about networking and certain back-end operating systems such as Unix or Linux. Depending on what online program you enter, your required course list could include some of the following:

  • Programming, I
  • Programming, II
  • Technical Writing
  • Intro to Cybersecurity
  • Intro to Computer Forensics
  • Database Management and SQL
  • User Experiences and Design
  • Web Design
  • Systems Analysis
  • Special Topics in Information Systems

Typical Computer Information Systems Certifications Needed/Available

Graduating with a degree in Computer Information Systems is quite an achievement. With that background, you can move forward and complete various certifications that will match the needs of employers. When you are certified in certain proprietary systems, doors will open the moment you send your resume. Some typical computer information system certifications include:

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate
  • CompTIA A+ Technician
  • Network+
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

Academic Standards for Computer Information Systems Professionals

As the Information Systems field tightens, it's important to maintain the highest standards for yourself. Your online program may even have a minimum GPA standard just to remain in the department. Regardless of these considerations, it's vital to study as hard as you can and attain the highest grades in all of your courses. Considering that you may want to return to school for a graduate degree, graduate schools all have minimum GPA standards for admission. Even if your program is very difficult, your GPA alone will determine what graduate program admits you as a student.

Exam/Experience Needed for Computer Information Systems Majors

Though there is no one specific test you need to pass in order to work as a professional in information systems, you will likely want to attain certifications in certain technologies. These certifications will help your resume stand out and the more diversity you have on your resume the better off you will be.

Experience is always beneficial, so try to gain some experience in the field as you work towards a degree. In fact, you might consider earning a CompTIA A+ Technician certificate. This is an entry level credential, but you can use it to freelance for local small businesses or individuals who have IT problems.

Online CIS Associate's Degree

A two-year degree in CIS can get your career started. If you intend on going straight to work for a few years, seek out an online program that best suits your local economy and the job market there. An online computer information systems associate degree might be too broad for many job openings, but in some markets being a generalist will help you fit into smaller businesses and learn as you go.

Online CIS Bachelor's Degree

With a four-year degree in CIS, you can begin the career of your dreams. When you land a job in your specialty area, you can focus your energies every day on applying your knowledge, while continuing to learn more about your ever-growing field. As you study for your degree, your course-load might include, but won't be limited to the following classes:

Online bachelor’s degree sample courses

  • Object-Oriented Programming
  • Web Design
  • Systems Design
  • Technical Writing
  • Cybersecurity
  • Computer Forensics
  • Information Analytics
  • Big Data
  • Visual Analytics
  • Interactive Media
  • 3D Design
  • Game Design

A few focus areas you might choose from while you work towards your undergraduate degree include:

  • Data Analysis
  • Database Design and Data Retrieval
  • Web Design
  • Software Design/Development
  • Informatics

Online CIS Master's Degree

Once you have your undergraduate degree, you should start to think about graduate school. There are master's programs in CIS and there are also MBA programs that offer a CIS concentration. Both have their advantages, as the MBA option will likely help you climb the corporate ladder into the C-suites. You can still become a manager and possibly a top officer in your firm with a CIS master's, but assess your goals before making a decision. Do you want to move in a business-oriented direction, or deeper into the technology?

The concentration areas available for an online master's program are much the same as those available for an undergraduate program. However, if you are in an MBA program you will graduate with a multidisciplinary foundation.


Degree Type Public (In-State) Private
Associate's Degree $5,000 $60,000
Bachelor's Degree $30,000 $300,000
Master's Degree $20,000 $150,000

Earning Potential for Computer Information Systems Degree Fields and Occupations

A successful career is contingent on many factors, but few matter more than your education. Your salary will improve greatly with each degree you earn. Your associate degree will land you an entry level position earning an average salary of $59,000.

That average jumps to $73,000 when you complete your four-year bachelor's degree in computer information systems. That's because your knowledge base is stronger, and you probably have some experience under your belt, whether through internships or simply through classroom projects.

When you graduate as a Master of Computer Information Systems, or complete an MBA/CIS program, your salary range becomes quite impressive indeed. Master's degree holders in CIS earn an average salary of $86,000/year. The high end is around $126,000 for an IT director and the lower end, $82,000, is for a software engineer.

Keep in mind that all of these salaries are for standard wages. Each position and company is liable to offer additional compensation in the form of benefits, including tuition reimbursement, if you are continuing your education, or generous healthcare packages. Many companies also add healthy bonuses to top-performing employees.

Computer Information Systems Fields of Study Median Salaries

Web Development creates or maintains websites for clients or employers. Web developers tend to focus on the back end of websites, creating the code that makes everything on the site work correctly. Other developers might work on design and user experience.

Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Level Median Annual Salary
$51,520 $64,400

Software Engineering creates software packages for corporations or consumers. This field will require deep knowledge of programming languages and even the hardware they're targeted towards.

Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Level Median Annual Salary
$79,960 $88,360

Information Technology this degree is much like a CIS degree in that it can be focused towards many different specialty areas. However, nearly every corporation will need IT workers to maintain and develop their information storage and retrieval systems (SQL Servers).

Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Level Median Annual Salary
$51,180 $71,002

Computer Forensics concerned with investigating crime? If your employer was hacked, you might be called to discover how the crime was committed, and perhaps the perpetrator. You'll then work with cybersecurity professionals to determine ways to avoid future security breaches. Computer forensics degree holders might also work in law enforcement to investigate cybercrimes.

Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Level Median Annual Salary
$58,930 $90,170

Cybersecurity works to ensure the security and safety of computer systems for individual clients or an employer.

Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Level Median Annual Salary
$55,000 $74,669

Computer Information Systems Salaries by Occupation

The job you land after graduation will depend on so many factors. You might have contacts in certain firms, or you might happen to find the right ad posting at just the right time. Nevertheless, you will need to have the correct degree for the position. For a CIS degree, there are many opportunities and trajectories for you to explore. CIS graduates find themselves in fields ranging from accounting to IT to supply chain management. Here is a brief list of jobs/careers that have become available to CIS graduates:

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Business Systems Analyst Analysts discern whether or not businesses are operating to their peak efficiency potential. They also take into consideration the growth goals of an organization to determine how to adapt individual departments, employees, and management approaches to best facilitate growth and future profits. To thrive, analysts need top-level coding skills, in addition to interpersonal communication abilities.

Software Developer Most software developers work to create the virtual tools and systems that make businesses thrive. Others might work to create consumer-oriented software that helps individuals with practical matters such as balancing a household budget but might also create fun games for recreation. Developers might work on writing code, designing user interfaces, or testing the product through the beta versions clear to the final version.

IT Consultant IT consultants work with businesses to determine the best technologies for their organization. They might include a more thorough business analysis in their consulting services so that they can determine the best solutions for the business in its present-day state. They then help their clients see how these solutions will adapt to future growth.

Data Analyst These workers take massive amounts of data and find trends and anomalies that can be exploited for business purposes. They might create methods for tracking investment opportunities in the stock market or elsewhere, or they might use their analytical skills to determine the best loan candidates for a bank. In fact, many data analysts work for Wall Street banks, hedge funds, and in private equity.

User Experience Analyst A UX analyst devises ways to determine how well software users interact with a new application. They look for ways to make the user experience more pleasant and easier. However, they also look for ways to make certain packages more difficult, which counter-intuitively makes for a more engaged user.

Computer Information Systems Occupations:

Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Level Median Annual Salary Late-Career Median Annual Salary
Business Systems Analyst $58,700 $76,700 $89,400
Software Developer $62,500 $82,400 $97,600
IT Consultant $62,200 $85,400 $111,900
Data Analyst $55,600 $68,700 $73,000
User Experience Designer $63,600 $86,200 $104,700

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a Computer Information Systems bachelor's degree online?

If you don't take any terms off and you are allowed to take an overload of courses, you might take as little as three years to complete a four-year degree in CIS. Most students take even longer than the traditional four years. In fact, when the government studied how long students were taking to complete a four-year degree, they set the bar at six years.

To ensure that your degree has the maximum integrity and that your knowledge base is as cohesive as possible, strive to complete your degree in the assumed four years. Make a plan for yourself and don't allow external concerns to interfere with your education. After all, once you have a degree in Computer Information Systems, you will be able to start an amazing life, founded on a brilliant career.

How much does an online Computer Information Systems bachelor’s degree cost?

A CIS degree can cost as little as $70,000 if you take your core liberal arts courses at a community college and then attend an in-state public college or university. If you attend a private institution, you can potentially pay as much as $300,000.

Consider that you will likely need to take certification courses after you graduate. The examinations for those aren't terribly expensive, typically costing somewhere around $200. However, you need to budget for study materials and any prep courses you find necessary.

Computer Information Systems Degree Coursework

Your CIS degree will include many fascinating courses that will challenge and enlighten you. If you are like many students, you will be so inspired that you strive to continue learning once you've graduated. In fact, if you're working in a field that is as rapidly changing as information systems, you will need to cultivate the habits of a lifelong learner.

In the meantime, you'll need to work through a series of courses that might include, but is not limited to:

  • SQL and Database Management
  • Java Programming
  • Advanced Networking
  • Game Design and Network Integration
  • User Experience and Systems Design
  • Information Analytics
  • Information Architecture
  • Computer Ethics
  • Visual Analytics

Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?

computer-information_considering If you have your mind set on a career in Computer Information Systems, you certainly want to ensure that your online school has an appropriate degree program. Even if you find schools that have CIS departments, dig deeper into your research to see if they offer the specific focus area you're interested in. Also, look for online programs that offer a wide range of options. Your undergraduate years are a good time to explore the field. You might enter as a freshman intent on studying database management but find that you loved your computer forensics course so much that you decide to focus on cybersecurity.

How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?

This is a tricky question because when this issue is studied, the government allows six years for students to complete a four-year program. This could be that, due to rising costs of living and education, students are taking lighter, part-time course-loads.

Nonetheless, it has been found that you are more likely to graduate within six years if you attend a highly competitive institution. Schools that admit 25% or fewer applicants show a higher rate of on-time graduations. Also, women tend to graduate at slightly higher levels than men. Open-admissions institutions graduate the lowest rates of students within the six-year window.

What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How is it regarded in the field?

computer-information_accreditation Your online CIS program might have any one of a number of accreditations. Online undergraduate programs frequently are regionally accredited, but some are more closely affiliated with a business program. Business-focused programs might have national accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Other online programs might be certified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, and some graduate programs may be approved by the American Library Association.

If your online program is accredited by one of those agencies mentioned above, your education will surely be recognized by hiring managers from coast to coast. Since each accrediting agency focuses on different aspects of education, you will find that your interests seem to be reflected in certain accreditations. Whatever accreditation your school claims, make sure you check out the accrediting agency with the US Department of Education to make sure they qualify for student loans and scholarships.

Software/Technology/Skills Needed

Regardless of their area of specialty, Computer Information Systems students and professionals all need to have keen analytical skills, fine attention to detail, and even advanced mathematical abilities. Since some forge careers that involve game or web development, it can be helpful to have artistic abilities, or at least keen design sensibilities.

CIS professionals also need to stay on top of current issues related to their field. Researching these issues is both a skill and a discipline that will pay dividends. If you're managing a technology department for a company, you need to know all about any new software packages and hardware upgrades that will help the firm survive and thrive. If your technological support is also able to increase efficiency or enables new innovation, the boon to your employer will endear you to them, and perhaps result in a healthy bonus.

Computer Information Systems Scholarships

  • Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program for Undergraduates to Study Abroad
    This scholarship fund is specifically aimed towards undergraduate students of limited means. The goal is to provide the often-elusive opportunity to study abroad. It aims to help students at all sorts of institutions, including community colleges, where study abroad programs are often aimed towards humanities students. This fund aims to help any student who otherwise might not have an opportunity to expand their educational experience through foreign study.

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  • Women In STEM Scholarship
    Amount: $3,000
    Deadline: April 15, 2021

    Undergraduate and graduate women in STEM fields are encouraged to apply for this $3,000 award that is sponsored by the BHW Group, a mobile/web app development company. The scholarship is available for women at all post-secondary educational levels and community college students are specifically encouraged to apply. Even high school seniors who are headed to college may apply.

  • PepsiCo Cesar Chavez Latino Scholarship Fund
    Latino students in California and Arizona are encouraged to apply for this $5,000 scholarship. The award is based on need, but also on academic excellence, leadership roles, and participation in volunteer service. Note that this scholarship is specifically for students studying STEM subjects, such as information technologies. This award will continue to find ten recipients per year until 2021.

  • Generation Google Scholarship
    Students from high school seniors through PhD candidates can apply to win this $10,000 scholarship. High School seniors who are aiming to begin college are required to attend Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute (CSSI.) Undergraduate and graduate students may choose to attend the Google Scholars' Retreat. The main requirement for application is that you study a technical field closely tied to computer technologies.

Professional Business Organizations

  • AITP
  • AWC
  • CPSR
  • BDPA

Association of Information Technology Professionals

Association of Information Technology Professionals

AITP is one of the preeminent professional organizations for IT pros. They will keep you up to speed on emerging technology, provide educational opportunities, and facilitate interpersonal networking throughout your field. With chapters from coast to coast, you're sure to find one near you. If not, the field is growing so fast that there's sure to be one close by soon. Members also receive discounts on certifications that will put your career on the next level.


Association for Women in Computing

Association for Women in Computing

Since Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace was the world's first computer programmer, it only makes sense that there be more resources for women in the profession. The AWC provides networking, leadership opportunities, education, and mentoring for its members. You can join a local chapter or be an independent member. Since you only need four others to form a chapter, you can soon form an outpost in your local area. In fact, the AWC is seeking to form more chapters on campuses to provide support and fellowship for young women in the technical fields.


Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Computing and social responsibility are two concepts that don't often occur in the same sentence. The CPSR is changing that one member at a time. There are CPSR chapters nationwide, and there are outposts in 26 countries and six continents.


Black Data Processing Associates

Black Data Processing Associates

BDPA is an IT association dedicated to helping black IT professionals achieve their optimal success. With job postings, networking opportunities, and entrepreneurial support, black IT professionals nationwide make BDPA membership a no-brainer. With over thirty chapters that span the United States, you're sure to find a chapter close to home.

Choosing an Accredited College

Now that you know so much about CIS, it's time to find a college with an accredited program. Unless the CIS department is within a business school, there is no specific national accreditation for CIS. Thus, making sure that your college is regionally accredited is of vital importance, because a non-accredited degree is unlikely to help you with your job search and if you desire higher education you may have to re-take many, if not all, of your courses.

Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid

There are essentially three general choices for incoming students these days: online, on-campus, and hybrid education. Each offers advantages and disadvantages.

Online education offers you the ability to remain working while you complete a degree. Given that you intend to make a career working with computers and data, the online environment seems particularly fitting. If you select an asynchronous program, you won't have to login to class at any specific times. You'll be able to download all of the course materials at your leisure. Even courses that have scheduled streaming lectures or webinars will usually let you login later to download the videos or transcripts.

One downside to online education is that the school might not be able to help you with finding an internship or a job. They might have contacts with larger corporations but if that company is not in your town, such job placement programs won't help very much. Be sure to ask your admissions counselor about this.

On-campus, traditional education is still a great option. Some claim that the one-on-one interactivity is what makes this environment superior. However, many classes are in large lecture halls where you won't ever have the opportunity to speak with a professor. Yet the chief advantage of on-campus learning is the interaction with your fellow students. The socializing and informal networking found on campus will pay off later in your professional life.

Hybrid programs have arisen to address the concerns many have with the impersonal aspects of online education. These programs require that you attend events or classes on campus or some other "real world" venue at set times during the semester. These gatherings give you the opportunity to meet your fellow students and instructors. When you return home, you'll be able to fit faces to names you find online.

Frequently Asked Questions

Will an online program teach me everything I need to know to work in this field?

Short answer: Yes. Long answer? These programs teach students to be ready to work at one of the many intersections of business and technology. You’ll be prepared to analyze business information systems and databases, data models, and more. And after doing so you’ll be able to identify new systems you should be using and integrate them into the business’ current systems setup. You should also be able to develop systems that support organizational goals. And, the best part is, you can do this through 100% online learning.

What concentration options will I have with a CIS degree?

There are a number of possible concentrations you could choose from if you earn a CIS degree. However, if you really want one specific concentration more than any other, than you might have to choose your school/program based on who offers the concentration you want.

Here are some concentration options.

  • Application Development
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Cyber Security
  • Networking and Systems Management
  • Web Development
  • And More

Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?

You study CIS primarily to get a job, so your college or university needs to have some sort of job placement assistance. When you research schools, make sure that you ask your admissions counselor about this. You'll also want to know if the department offers assistance with finding internships or other experiential learning opportunities.

Why You Need to Consider that Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary

When you seek employment, the status of your school will matter. Even some great schools aren't ranked very high, due to many factors, and this won't work to your advantage. Employers seek students from the schools that have the higher rankings, or which have more prestigious accreditation. If you are currently working, you might find that your employer only provides tuition reimbursement when you attend a highly ranked program. Try to keep your grades as high as possible and retake your standardized tests to ensure the highest possible score. School rank isn't necessarily everything, but it can make a difference.

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