Computer science is a discipline focused on both the theory of computing and the practical uses of computers. The broad field includes a number of specialty areas, including computer architecture, software engineering, and artificial intelligence. Computer science is a good fit for students who have a knack for mathematics, problem-solving, and working with technology, and who would like to acquire skills that are in demand in a wide range of industries, from business to healthcare to engineering. While many students pursue a degree in computer science at traditional colleges and universities, many opt to pursue a degree from accredited online colleges for computer science because of the convenience of learning from the comfort of their own home.
The best online colleges for computer science offer programs that are accredited by ABET, an organization that accredits programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. ABET’s Computing Accreditation Commission accredits programs in computer science, information systems, and information technology. Students looking for the top online colleges for computer science should also research programs’ faculty to see that instructors have terminal degrees as well as significant professional experience in the computing field.
Computer Science Course Work Basics
Top rated online colleges may offer the option of completing either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science track in computing. The B.A. track will emphasize the humanities, while the B.S. track will emphasize math and science, although both will include similar upper-level course work in computer science. Course work is comprised of general education requirements, electives, and the core areas of computing, including programming, software engineering, computer systems and networking, databases, usability, and mobile/web development. A few courses you may encounter at the undergraduate level include:
- Computer Organization: In this course, students learn how computers process programming languages by designing and building a computer and writing programs to run on it.
- Web Programming and Design: This course introduces students to the technologies behind the Internet, as well as principles of effective web design and development.
- Modern Software Engineering: In this course, students explore the software life cycle as well as project management and maintenance tasks in software engineering.
- Computer Systems Security: This course teaches students practical methods of keeping computer systems safe from security threats as well as steps to take if a system is compromised.
- Artificial Intelligence: In this course, students learn how intelligent systems can be designed to solve problems similar to the way a person would.
Top accredited online colleges may also offer graduate degrees in computer science. Graduate courses build upon a student’s advanced knowledge in areas such as software engineering and wireless/mobile systems while allowing students to specialize in areas such as data mining, data warehousing, and distributed database systems. Master’s programs tend to conclude with either a master’s thesis or an applied project. Applied projects allow students to demonstrate their advanced skills in computing by building their own complex computer programs, while master’s theses are large-scale, independent research projects in a relevant area of computing. Doctoral programs in computer science generally conclude with a dissertation.
Careers for the Computer Science Graduate
Computer science is a broad field, and a degree in this discipline has the potential to open up a wide variety of career options. Possible career titles include network administrator, software developer, information technology coordinator, applications developer, technical consultant, and development engineer, according to North Carolina State University’s computer science careers section. Other career titles that a computer science graduate may pursue include information security analyst, Web developer, and computer network architect. Most of these professionals have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in an area like computer science or programming, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Information security analysts, Web developers, and computer network architects reported a median yearly salary of $75,660 as of May 2010. However, a survey by Robert Half Technology revealed that data security analysts, systems and network security administrators, and network architects earned significantly more in 2012, the BLS explained. Salaries will vary based on your years of experience, your location, the size and type of your employer or client base, and other factors. Faster-than-average job growth is projected for information security analysts, Web developers, and computer network architects, with 22% job growth expected between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. Demand for information security analysts in particular is expected to be “very high.”