Associate Degree in Computer Science

Obtaining a computer science associate degree is a great way to begin your tech career. A 2-year associate’s degree from a community college or a university can help you build a strong foundation in technology skills without the risk or investment of a 4-year bachelor’s degree.

But is an associate’s degree in computer science worth it? The answer depends on what you’re looking for from your information technology education. Here, we’ll go over everything you need to know about technology associate degrees, including cost, job prospects, salaries, and degree programs near you.

An associate degree in computer science is a great introduction to the tech industry, and could open the door to a long and lucrative career. An AS program at a community college is the fastest and most economical way to earn college credentials for a tech position.

If you’re looking for a higher degree (such as a bachelor’s degree), an associate degree can help you get two years ahead and save on tuition. But with an associate’s degree alone, you already qualify for many computer science jobs.

Here on Computer Science Hero, you’ll find everything you need to know about an associate degree in computer science. We’ll also cover the top computer science jobs, salaries, and certifications to help you advance your career.

Here are the essential facts about computer science associate degrees, along with what you need to know before applying.

Associate degree programs run for two years at local community colleges.

A community college education costs less than $4,000 per year on average.

Associate degree holders can transfer to universities to earn a bachelor degree.

Most people with a high school diploma or GED are eligible to attend a community college.

Community colleges are regionally accredited for degree programs.

What is an Associate (AS) Degree in Computer Science?

An AS, or associate of science, in computer science is a 2-year education program available through community colleges.  An associate’s degree is a step below a bachelor’s degree on the higher education scale, and it opens the door to many job opportunities.

AS in Computer Science Benefits

An associate’s degree has several benefits, including better job prospects.  In fact, earning an associate’s degree is one of the best things high school graduates can do to gain career expertise.  In 2018, unemployment among associate’s degree holders was 37% lower than among those who only held a high school diploma.

An associate’s degree in computer science is an even better choice, as the tech industry offers some of the best job opportunities in the country.  Tech workers earn high wages and enjoy job security in some of the fastest growing career fields.

Computer Science Graduates

Computer science is a booming career path with rapid growth and high salaries. There are numerous career paths to choose from with a computer science degree, and each offers unique opportunities in the field.

  • Computer Science Salary: $86,370
  • Computer Science Job Growth: 16%

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top computer science careers are growing much faster than average. The BLS predicts the field will grow 16% over the next decade, far outpacing the occupational average of 5.2%.

  • Job Openings
  • Jobs Filled

Computer science associate’s degrees are a great first step to a technology career. Degree holders have an advantage in the economy, and outperform high school graduates in the workforce. These benefits tend to increase if students pursue higher education, such as a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.

As the number of computer science graduates increases, opportunities in the workforce are filled. However, as the chart above indicates, the number of jobs available far outnumbers the amount filled. Even with a stark increase in graduates over the last decade, there’s still and enormous (and exponentially increasing) demand for fresh talent in the field.

In short, computer science is a future-proof career field that’s worth considering. Computer science salaries are high, and opportunities are plentiful. An associate’s in computer science is an excellent way to test the waters and see if an IT career is right for you.

Computer science certifications are the next step in a successful tech career path. With the help of a computer science AS degree, you can prepare for and pass numerous certification exams and give your resume a spectacular boost. Plus, certifications aren’t just useful for finding a job; you can get certified after hiring and advance within the company. Certifications for computer science tasks can open the door to wide range of career possibilities, and expand your technical skills to a professional level. Here, we’ll go over six of the most valuable certification programs for networks, operating systems, cybersecurity, communication, and product support.

Cisco is a major supplier of communications equipment for businesses across the world, especially in the United States. If you live in a town with office buildings, chances are you’ll find Cisco equipment inside. To service its massive customer base, Cisco offers a certification program for individuals looking to install, maintain, and repair these systems. Cisco Certified Network Associates also provide customer support.

Network+ certification from CompTIA is an asset to any computer science degree holder. This globally-recognized certification is designed for people with network and internet communications training. The certification allows you to work with large-scale networks, and prove your qualifications to prospective employers.  The examination takes roughly 90 minutes to complete, and costs $319 total.

This certification should speak for itself. Apple offers a certification program for people looking to work with and troubleshoot its products. ACA certification also equips professionals with the skills they need to help businesses set up Apple-based infrastructure, and help employees train with and understand the product they’re using.

CompTIA offers A+ Technician certification programs for anyone looking to work in the tech industry. CompTIA’s A+ program is one of the most comprehensive certifications available, and covers everything from data management to cloud computing. The program is designed to cover all of the essentials of working in a modern IT environment, with an element of security mixed in as well. Companies like Intel and HP accept this certification.

Today, system security is more important than ever. Cybersecurity analyst positions also offer great salaries. CISSP certification is an excellent way to gain the qualifications necessary for one of these prestigious positions. CISSP is a global certification that leads the pack in the cybersecurity industry. If you want to become a cybersecurity professional, a CISSP certification is highly advisable.

Apple doesn’t corner the market on OS and brand certifications, as Microsoft also offers a similar program for professionals. This certification covers desktop and system infrastructure, cloud computing, messaging, communication, Microsoft data, and business intelligence among other things.

Computer Science Associate Degree Jobs

Computer science degrees open the door to many technology career paths. And though a computer science associate’s degree may not be enough for some careers, it’s a good start. But what jobs can you get with an associate degree in computer science? Some companies require a bachelor’s in computer science or additional computer programming skills, which you can acquire through a coding bootcamp or self-study. With or without additional higher education, here are some of the top associate’s degree in computer science jobs, along with estimates and job data from the BLS.

Web Developer

Web development is one of the most popular computer science career paths. These professionals use their design and computer coding skills to create websites and web applications. Types of web developers include front end (client-side), back end (server-side), and full stack developers.
  • Salary: $69,430
  • Job Growth: 13%
  • Total Employment: 160,500

Computer Support Specialist

Graduates with an AS in computer science can land an entry-level computer support specialist position. These professionals, also known as technical support specialists, use their computer systems expertise to help customers and businesses troubleshoot and solve problems.
  • Salary: $53,470
  • Job Growth: 10%
  • Total Employment: 863,100

Data Scientist

With some additional training (such as a bachelor’s degree), students who start with an associate’s in computer science can secure a data science position. Data scientists work with databases and data structures to help businesses manage and interpret large volumes of information. Data science is an increasingly important role in the IT field.
  • Salary: $118,370
  • Job Growth: 16%
  • Total Employment: 31,700

Software Engineer

Computer science students can also pursue software engineering careers. Software engineers apply engineering principles to computer programming to create software systems for a wide range of industries. Software engineers use object-oriented programming languages.
  • Salary: $105,590
  • Job Growth: 21%
  • Total Employment: 1,365,500

Systems Administration Specialist

Systems administration specialists manage complex computer and network systems for businesses. Many people secure an entry-level position in the field with an AS in computer science.  Overall, systems administration is one of the top entry-level associate’s degree computer science job opportunities.
  • Salary: $82,050
  • Job Growth: 5%
  • Total Employment: 383,900

Information Technology Professional

There are tens of thousands of general IT (information technology) jobs available in the U.S. Many computer science AS graduates qualify for entry-level IT positions at small and medium-sized businesses. IT positions vary widely, and new professionals work on everything from network security to server management.
  • Salary: $54,150
  • Job Growth: 10%
  • Total Employment: 613,780
TitleMedian SalaryEntry-Level SalaryMid-Career SalaryLate-Career Salary
Web Developer$68,500$44,000$69,000$111,000
Software Developer$76,500$58,000$77,000$107,000
Computer Support Specialist$48,600$33,000$50,000$70,000
Systems Administration Specialist$64,800$44,000$65,000$93,000
Data Scientist$113,300$83,000$113,000$154,000
Information Technology (IT)$84,800$44,000$85,000$125,000
Network Administrator$63,000$45,000$66,000$85,000
Help Desk Technician$41,800$30,000$45,000$58,000
Support Analyst$69,00$49,000$70,000$95,000
TitleMedian SalaryLate-Career Salary
Web Developer$68,500$111,000
Software Developer$76,500$107,000
Computer Support Specialist$48,600$70,000
Systems Administration Specialist$64,800$93,000
Data Scientist$113,300$154,000
Information Technology (IT)$84,800$125,000
Network Administrator$63,000$85,000
Help Desk Technician$41,800$58,000
Support Analyst$69,00$95,000

Community College Accreditation

Community college admissions staff aren’t nearly as picky as four-year universities. Community college, as an institution, is designed to serve virtually anyone who wants to attend. Nonetheless, these schools offer a high-quality education in computer science, and students from all backgrounds can earn a degree if they meet a few basic criteria. In some cases, you don’t have to prove any prior educational background to attend classes for certifications and general education. However, degree-seeking students are often required to meet a few prerequisites.

National Accreditation

Institutionally accredited programs are certified and valid within a specific community college or a network of related schools. Institutionally accredited courses include elective classes, certifications, and prerequisite courses (such as coding for computer science programs). This form of accreditation is not universally valid at unrelated schools or in the workforce.

Institutional Accreditation

Nationally accredited programs are designed for students seeking an education or certification in a specific field, such as theology or music. Agencies such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges certify schools that meet certain requirements. Nationally accredited schools (and programs) generally don’t transfer to regionally accredited universities.

Specialized Accreditation

Some community college programs have additional specialized accreditation. These include local and state programs for careers and professional training. Specialized and career-specific accreditation has little to do with earning an associate degree, but many people benefit from additional courses and certifications.

Regional Accreditation

Students seeking an associate degree in computer science should attend a regionally accredited school. Four-year universities also use this accreditation system, which makes transferring credits possible. Each region (Western States, Middle States, New England, Southern, among others) is governed by an accrediting organization.

Community college admissions staff aren’t nearly as picky as four-year universities. Community college, as an institution, is designed to serve virtually anyone who wants to attend. Nonetheless, these schools offer a high-quality education in computer science, and students from all backgrounds can earn a degree if they meet a few basic criteria. In some cases, you don’t have to prove any prior educational background to attend classes for certifications and general education. However, degree-seeking students are often required to meet a few prerequisites.

High School Diploma

Many community colleges require degree-seeking students to come equipped a high school diploma. This is especially true for students who wish to transfer to a four-year university to earn a bachelor’s degree. This requirement sometimes applies to non-degree-seeking students, but each school varies. Prospective students and adults without a high school diploma can earn a GED instead.

GED

A GED, or General Education Development, is a high school diploma equivalent that (by law) carries the same weight as a diploma in most situations. You can meet community college admissions standards by taking a test and earning a GED. In some cases, colleges allow students to complete their GED while attending class, and will issue an associate degree as long as the GED is complete by graduation.

Compared to the cost of other software and computer engineering programs, an associate’s degree in computer science can be quite affordable. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of an associate’s degree from a public 2-year institution was $10,091 in 2016.

Some sources report even lower degree costs. According to a 2019-2020 College Board report, the average annual cost of an associate’s degree is $3,730 at public 2-year institutions, or $7,460 total. Keep in mind, these numbers don’t include any scholarships or tuition discounts that many students qualify for. Tuition costs vary between localities, but community college is almost always less expensive than a four-year degree from a public or private institution.

Scholarships for Computer Science Associate Degrees

Scholarships are a great way to reduce tuition costs regardless of what program you attend.  There are plenty of scholarships available for computer science associate’s degree programs, and we think everybody should apply.

Associate in Computer Science Financial Aid

Financial aid for computer science associate’s degrees can help students manage costs and delay payment until after graduation.  Student loans and other financing programs are available through most schools and third-party lenders.

Student Loans and Financing Rates

Student loans are available for computer science associate programs across the country, with fixed APR starting at less than 5% in many cases.  However, individual interest rates vary based on a variety of factors, including credit history and cosigner credit history. Luckily, computer science associate’s degree students usually pay much less for tuition than 4-year college students.

According to NerdWallet, the most popular lenders for associate’s degree programs include Sallie Mae, SoFi, MPower, RISLA, Wells Fargo, LendKey, Navy Federal, PNC, and Earnest.  Government-subsidized and unsubsidized student loans are also available

Numerous community colleges offer in-person 2-year computer science degree programs. Community college programs are a great option for many students due to reasonable costs and convenient locations. Computer science AS degrees generally require around 60 semester credit hours split between general education and CS-related courses. A typical computer science associate’s degree curriculum includes math, science, and the humanities. Here are the classes you’ll probably need to take to earn an associate’s in computer science.

General Education and Humanities

Virtually all college degree programs include general education and humanities courses. These include English and history. Don’t discount the usefulness of the humanities because effective communication is essential for any computer science career. Schools must require students to complete a minimum of 12 semester credit hours of humanities to graduate.

Mathematics

Most computer science associate’s degree programs require college algebra and statistics, though some schools only require introductory math courses. Nonetheless, expect to work with numbers if you want to earn your degree. Specific math class requirements vary between schools.

Coding and Programming

Coding is a major part of many computer science jobs. As a result, most colleges require nine or more credit hours in programming courses, covering languages such as JavaScript, Python, and Java.

Networks

Network and communications courses are essential to any computer science curriculum. These courses cover the fundamentals of OSI models and communication protocols such as IPs and TCPs. Network and communication courses sometimes go by different names, but the core concepts remain the same.

Specialty Courses

Many computer science AS degree programs cover a specific field in the industry, such as web development programming or data analytics. These additional courses allow students to learn practical field-specific skills and graduate ready to put their education to good use.

Electives

Electives are an integral part of the community college experience. These courses give students a chance to explore their interests.  Popular elective classes include foreign languages, trades, and various programming courses.

Computer science programs share similarities at accredited community colleges. Among these are required courses, or prerequisites. These courses cover the core principles of computer science, best practices, and essential skills for the field. The vast majority of students in computer science programs will spend a significant amount of time mastering the topics presented in these classes.

Basic Computer Programming (Programming I)

Basic computer programming is often the first exposure students have to coding. This course generally covers low to medium-difficulty coding projects using Python and similar languages. Over time, students will learn best practices, syntax, and various common programming languages.

Advanced Programming (Programming II)

Students move on to advanced programming courses after learning the fundamentals. At many schools, students begin solving full-scale coding problems with complex languages during this course. Programming II generally takes place towards the end of a degree program.

Introduction to Databases (Databases I)

Databases are a big part of computer science, and schools generally cover the subject in great depth. Students begin with the basics, completing introductory assignments and learning the fundamentals of digital data and databases.

Computer Network Fundamentals (Networks I)

Computer networking is another important aspect of many computer science jobs. During an associate degree program, students dive into the basics of how computers and servers communicate using networks. This part of the course usually runs alongside another technical course, such as Programming I.

Introduction to Operating Systems (Operating Systems I)

Operating systems are the platforms that people utilize to interact with computers. For computer science students, an introductory course in operating systems is essential. Many I.T. jobs involve helping businesses adopt a new operating system, and students must be prepared to use and teach about them.

Advanced Databases (Databases II)

Advanced database courses are sometimes excluded from a computer science curriculum, though it’s common enough to mention here. This course is an elaborated version of Databases I, and often includes advanced topics and occasionally programming languages. Students who have the opportunity to attend this course should do so, especially if they intend to transfer.

Online Associate Degree in Computer Science

Online education programs are the most flexible way to earn an associate’s degree in computer science. Over the last decade, numerous community colleges rolled out online courses for students with busy schedules. It’s now possible to attain a 2-year computer science degree online.

 

Generally speaking, online computer science associate’s degree programs feature the same curriculum as in-person courses, leading to the same well-rounded technical education experience.

 

Online computer science degrees often follow predetermined schedules, and some courses feature live video classes with college instructors. However, some colleges offer flexible programs that students complete on their own time.

Flexible Degrees

A key benefit of online associate degrees is flexibility. Students can attend courses at home, while traveling, or in between shifts at work. Online degrees sometimes offer flexible scheduling as well, allowing students to choose when and where they learn.

Transfer Opportunities

Students who attend online courses and earn an associate degree can transfer to a four-year university. Many students choose the associate-to-bachelor route due to reduced costs. Community college students can also transfer to in-person programs with ease.

Cost Effective Education

Online associate degree programs are often less expensive than in-person programs. Also, part-time courses tend to cost less as well. Students can save money and invest it in a bachelor degree down the line, or into computer science certifications.

Multiple Programs

Attending online courses gives students the opportunity to use downtime to attend additional courses. Many online degree-seekers also enroll in coding bootcamp or professional certification courses while attending community college remotely.

High Quality Education

Online associate degree programs offer the same high-quality curriculum as in-person courses do. This ensures that all students get the same value out of education. Often, online classes contain identical course material, lessons, tests, and even textbooks.

Learn and Work

Many students have to pay their way through college. Today, online degree programs make it easier than ever. Students can attend part-time online courses and hold a full-time job if necessary without falling behind in class.

Computer Science Education Pathways

Computer science is a broad field with numerous education opportunities. Students come from all backgrounds, and through their education choices, end up with lucrative and exciting career options. The first education program available to students is the associate degree. High school graduates and GED holders can also attend a four-year university and earn a bachelor degree. If continued education is on the table, a master degree in computer science is an option. Completing a master degree takes an additional year or two. Here’s more information about each education option.

Associate Degree

An associate of science, or an AS in computer science is an economical way to earn a degree. These two-year programs take place at community colleges, where students enroll in a mix of general education courses (math and language), electives, and computer science-related courses.
  • Program Length: 2 Years
  • Average Cost: $1,830 / Semester

Bachelor Degree

Students with a high school diploma (or a GED) can attend a four-year university instead of (or in addition to) a community college to earn a bachelor degree in computer science. A bachelor degree is often the minimum requirement for many computer science jobs, so many students choose this path.
  • Program Length: 4 Years
  • Average Cost: $20,714 / Semester

Master Degree

A master degree is the next level above a bachelor degree, and comes with a wide variety of benefits. Holding a master degree in computer science is often a ticket to higher-paying job opportunities and advanced positions. The average master degree takes a year and a half or two years to complete.
  • Program Length: 1.5 – 2 Years
  • Average Cost: $40,000 Total

Coding Bootcamp

Coding bootcamps are a new alternative to college. These career-training programs do away with general education requirements and focus strictly on in-demand computer science skills. Bootcamps are a proven route into a tech career, but require intense study over a short period of time.
  • Program Length: 3 – 12 Months
  • Average Cost: $13,500 Total

Technology Degree Options

In addition to multiple degree levels, computer science students can choose from a wide range of specific education pathways. Computer science itself includes various forms of engineering, management, and programming; most of which have specialized degrees available. College offerings vary, but the most common alternatives to an AS in computer science include degrees in IT, programming, management, and data.

Computer Engineering Degree

Computer engineering is a hands-on career for anyone interested in building complex digital machines. These professionals use mathematics to design and build computers and electronic components. Computer engineering isn’t software engineering, but it shares some attributes with the field. A bachelor’s degree is also required for this field.

Data Administration Degree

Data administration is a popular and high-paying career path. These professionals analyze, manage, and monitor large databases and data sets. Many community colleges and universities offer dedicated data administration degrees or additional programs for computer science students.

Software Engineering Degree

Software engineers focus primarily on coding and building computer programs. Unlike general programmers, software engineers apply engineering principles to their work, thereby creating systems methodically and with precision. Software engineers generally have a bachelor degree in computer science, but many schools offer dedicated programs.

Information Technology Management Degree

Information technology managers, or I.T. managers, are in charge of maintaining and overseeing technological systems for businesses. They’re in charge of maintaining systems, managing networks, and troubleshooting when problems occur. IT managers have an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Computer Science Professional Organizations

Joining a computer science professional organization can help jump-start your career and keep you up-to-date with the latest industry trends. Membership sometimes comes with additional perks, such as access to a strong peer network, coaching, job opportunities, and employment workshops. Computer science degree students benefit from mentoring opportunities in professional organizations.

The Association for Women in Computing, founded in 1978, is a computer science professional organization catered directly to women in tech. This organization provides a strong network, education opportunities, and support for female computer science professionals though its system of nationwide chapters.

The Association for Information Science and Technology is a popular choice for computer science graduates.  This organization offers an enormous amount of resources to technology professionals, and covers everything from jobs to legal information.  Additionally, the Association for Information Science and Technology welcomes current computer science students.

The Computing Research Association is a top organization for computer science professionals seeking networking opportunities and more. Additionally, the CRA offers opportunities and resources for computer science students and researchers, thereby delivering an all-in-one destination for the field. The organization focuses on technology, leadership, and networking.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology, or ITE for short, is a multinational professional organization for engineers and technology professionals in over 150 countries.  With over 160,000 current members, the ITE is one of the most popular and diverse professional organizations for students with a computer science degree.

The IEEE Computer Society is a technology-focused organization for software engineers, web developers, and all kinds of computer science professionals.  The IEEE Computer Society hosts dozens of annual conferences on some of the coolest technology developments, including virtual reality, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and security.

The Association for Information Systems is a premier computer science professional organization with chapters located all around the world. This organization hosts conferences, offers career support, provides educational webinars, and gives computer science workers access to a vast global professional network.

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