COMPUTER SCIENCE Degree Programs & Majors

Computer science is such a diverse field, it can be hard for students to pick a path. The following guide looks at computer science education and dissects degree programs and coursework at all academic levels. It then delves into CS on the cutting edge, with profiles of degree options that tap into new tools, ideas and specializations. Get the inside scoop from experts, and learn what it takes to both enter and thrive in one of today's hottest sectors.

2016’S BEST COLLEGES FOR ONLINECOMPUTER SCIENCE DEGREES

Computer science remains one of the fastest-growing fields in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts jobs openings for software developers and related CS careers to grow by more than 20 percent through 2022. What does this mean for future college students? More computer- and tech-related degree programs from top schools, especially online. The growing need for work/education balance has made online learning a priority, and institutions with strong computer science programs continue to add online and hybrid options to their course collections.

The following colleges and universities have stand-out online programs in computer science and related fields, including computer engineering, information technology, software development and more. They offer generous cost structures, have award-winning faculty and offer student support services that make a difference. See which schools earned a spot among our Best Colleges for Online CS Degrees.

OUR METHODOLOGY +
Rank University Name ScoreStudent/ teacher ratio Finacial AidCost
1 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus 99.7217:1 87%$$$$
2 University of Illinois at Springfield 98.5813:1 61%$$$$
3 Champlain College 97.7614:1 62%$$$$
4 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 97.7317:1 70%$$$$
5 Regis University 97.368:1 62%$$$$
6 Murray State University 96.9016:1 52%$$$$
7 The University of West Florida 96.8424:1 48%$$$$
8 Granite State College 96.8211:1 45%$$$$
9 Dickinson State University 96.6211:1 31%$$$$
10 Southwestern College 96.568:1 57%$$$$
11 East Carolina University 96.3417:1 59%$$$$
12 George Mason University 96.3216:1 64%$$$$
13 University of Massachusetts-Lowell 96.1018:1 50%$$$$
14 University of Nebraska at Omaha 95.9517:1 43%$$$$
15 Duquesne University 95.9314:1 73%$$$$
16 Milligan College 95.7511:1 65%$$$$
17 Elmhurst College 95.7213:1 70%$$$$
18 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus 95.7018:1 67%$$$$
19 Western Kentucky University 95.6617:1 50%$$$$
20 Fort Hays State University 95.6618:1 40%$$$$
21 University of North Carolina at Greensboro 95.6117:1 53%$$$$
22 Ohio University-Main Campus 95.5618:1 65%$$$$
23 Gardner-Webb University 95.3013:1 55%$$$$
24 DePaul University 95.2216:1 66%$$$$
25 LeTourneau University 95.2113:1 50%$$$$
26 Drexel University 95.0210:1 68%$$$$
27 Dakota State University 94.9918:1 34%$$$$
28 Loyola University Chicago 94.9614:1 70%$$$$
29 Pace University-New York 94.8416:1 53%$$$$
30 The College of Saint Rose 94.8113:1 63%$$$$
31 Nova Southeastern University 94.6817:1 43%$$$$
32 Southern University and A & M College 94.6515:1 31%$$$$
33 Southern New Hampshire University 94.5826:1 61%$$$$
34 Northwood University-Michigan 94.4811:1 53%$$$$
35 Hofstra University 94.3714:1 58%$$$$
36 Brigham Young University-Idaho 94.3624:1 52%$$$$
37 Azusa Pacific University 94.3514:1 63%$$$$
38 Philadelphia University 94.3413:1 58%$$$$
39 Lawrence Technological University 94.2711:1 44%$$$$
40 Limestone College 94.2519:1 39%$$$$
41 Tiffin University 94.2318:1 46%$$$$
42 Oregon State University 94.2223:1 61%$$$$
43 Southeastern Oklahoma State University 94.2017:1 29%$$$$
44 Georgia Southern University 94.1821:1 47%$$$$
45 Central Washington University 94.1219:1 56%$$$$
46 New Mexico State University-Main Campus 94.0517:1 46%$$$$
47 Mercy College 93.9818:1 31%$$$$
48 Wilmington University 93.9614:1 37%$$$$
49 Kennesaw State University 93.8721:1 41%$$$$
50 Saint Joseph’s College of Maine 93.7412:1 55%$$$$

About the Author

Michael Hoffman A graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara College of Law, Michael Hoffman nurtured his love for research and writing while a practicing attorney in Los Angeles. Now a freelance journalist, Michael researches and writes on a variety of college and career-related topics, including public health, law and computer science.

Expert Sources & Partners

Walker M. White, PhD. Director of the Game Design Initiative at Cornell

Department of Computer Science

Cornell University
Frank Pfenning, PhD. President’s Professor of Computer Science

Head, Department of Computer Science

Carnegie Mellon University
Wei Zhang, PhD. Associate Professor

Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering College of Engineering

Ohio State University
Sunil Probhaker, PhD. Professor and Department Head

Department of Computer Science

Purdue University
Ronald A. Metoyer, PhD. Associate Professor

School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

Oregon State University
Douglas Hart, PhD. Professor, Information Technology

Chair of the Information Technology Department Program Coordinator for the M.S. in Software Engineering School of Computer & Information Sciences

Regis University
Richard L. Blumenthal, PhD. Professor, Computer Science

Program Coordinator for B.S. in Computer Science College for Professional Studies

Regis University

Why Computer Science?

Computing forms the backbone of high tech and countless other industries, offering computer science students their choice of fast-growing fields to explore. Creative and analytical minds are needed to design and maintain websites, networks and systems ranging from customer portals to corporate intranets to back-end business operations.

Computer science graduates can join today’s thought leaders tackling challenges on the cutting edge of research and technology. Global innovations in commerce, education, entertainment and other domains have created diverse employment opportunities for computing specialists. The extent of academic programs and specializations could result in information overload, so this page takes a structured approach to related degrees and career paths.

Online CS Degrees by Subject

Computer science covers a wide range of sub-disciplines, each with numerous degree options and career paths available to respective students and graduates. Use the following menu to learn more about one or more of these fantastic CS fields on the rise.

Online CS Degrees by Level: Where to Start

Before diving into one of the numerous computer science programs, it’s wise to evaluate factors like available time and finances, certainty about future plans, and level of skills and technical experience. Students with questions about career goals, or with a basic knowledge of computing, could pursue an associate degree at a community college or other institution. Those with a clear plan for the future often opt for a four-year degree program. A bachelor’s degree could lead to a wide variety of technical roles, as shown below, or to further studies.

Graduate programs in computer science and related subjects groom students for highly technical fields that combine disciplines, as in health informatics. A growing trend toward professional specialization creates in-depth programs such as a master’s degree in statistical computing with an emphasis in data mining. Certain positions require doctorates, for example, teaching and research in four-year colleges and universities.

Computer science grads can consider in-demand occupations like the following. These top professions are listed with typical qualifications and degrees that employers prefer. Also shown are 2013 salaries, calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the job growth projected for 2012-2022. This list can serve as a launch pad for research into these careers.

Online Associate Degree (2+ Years)

Two-year degree programs in computer science attract students who are seeking a fast track into the workforce, planning to transfer to four-year colleges, or exploring different specializations in order to clarify their career goals. The curriculum often introduces workhorse programming languages like C, with options to study the development of mobile and web-based applications. Students also gain a technical foundation for a user support role. Online programs at the two-year level reside mostly at community colleges or for-profit online schools. Each prospective student should research options thoroughly to ensure the online degree meets his or her needs. For more information, visit our page on online associate degrees in computer science.

Online Bachelor’s Degree (4+ Years)

Four-year degree programs cover the application of mathematical and algorithmic theories and principles in the design of electronic systems, components and software programs. Students on the baccalaureate track often have a goal in mind, whether it’s a rewarding career or advanced studies at the graduate level. A bachelor’s degree represents the minimum qualification for several occupations related to computer science, but each field has its own requirements. For example, a graduate interested in geographic information systems might need a specialized certificate. For management and high-level roles, employers frequently look for work experience in addition to a degree. Read through the following page to learn more about online bachelor’s degrees in computer science.

Online Master’s Degree (6+ Years)

Master’s degree programs appeal to students aiming at professional goals as well as those preparing for doctoral programs. The curriculum at each school varies, but many online master’s programs include computer architecture, database management, parallel processing, information security and software design specifications. The added skills and knowledge gained through graduate studies can enable quicker entry into advanced technical positions or business analyst. However, with so much variation between programs, it’s important to research thoroughly to ensure all potential higher educational options meet a student’s college and career goals in full. For more data and information about CS at the graduate level, read through our page dedicated solely to online master’s degrees in computer science. The page also contains a ranking of colleges with stand-out online master’s in the major.

Online PHD Degree (8+ Years)

Online PhD programs in computer science lead to a terminal degree, the highest available degree in this discipline. Doctoral candidates gain in-depth research skills through writing and defending an original dissertation or completing a well-researched project in an area of their choice. The broad scope of PhD studies could include computational theory, distributed operating systems, cryptography, software engineering, compiler design and construction, interactive computer graphics, web search engines and more. Applicants for these intensive programs are driven by dreams of a college professorship or a position conducting advanced research. To see the full spectrum of advanced degrees in the field, as well as colleges that offer online learning options, read our new page focused exclusively on the online PhD in computer science.

Accreditation

Colleges voluntarily obtain accreditation to demonstrate that their academic offerings meet standard benchmarks for the quality of curriculum and instruction. Accrediting agencies operate independently of the government, so students should check that these bodies are approved by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Colleges may have institutional accreditation from regional or national associations as well as accreditation for a specific program, which typically comes from a specialized organization. For example, one PhD program in business administration with an emphasis in information systems holds accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Computer science programs generally seek accreditation from ABET, an organization recognized by CHEA. At colleges and universities around the world, ABET accredits applied science, computing, engineering and technology programs. Only programs at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree level can apply to ABET. CSAB, a participating member of ABET, plays a central role in the accreditation process for computer science, information systems, software engineering and information technology programs.

Students should examine the accreditation status of any computer science program, whether web-based or traditional. ABET uses the same criteria when evaluating on-campus, online and hybrid degree programs, and it has accredited a select number of fully online programs. Online colleges may also gain accreditation from agencies focused on distance learning, such as the Distance Education and Training Council, which is recognized by the DoE and CHEA.

Frequently Asked Questions:Online Computer Science Degrees

Are online computer science degree programs accepted by employers?

Absolutely. Online learning has come a long way and even major universities now offer online degree programs where students earn the exact same diploma as those learning on campus. Often employers can’t tell whether a degree was earned online or on campus. As long as the online degree program is accredited regionally, by DETC or ABET, employers will accept the degree.

How can I tell if an online computer science degree program is reputable?

Only consider schools and programs that are accredited. An accredited college has been assessed by an independent agency and found to meet basic quality standards. Look for regional accreditation, and/or accreditation by DETC or ABET. If a school lists other accreditations, make sure the accrediting agency is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Are online computer science degree programs accepted by employers?

Absolutely. Online learning has come a long way and even major universities now offer online degree programs where students earn the exact same diploma as those learning on campus. Often employers can’t tell whether a degree was earned online or on campus. As long as the online degree program is accredited regionally, by DETC or ABET, employers will accept the degree.

What types of computer science degrees are available online?

Online computer science degrees are available at every level – associate’s,bachelor’s,master’s and doctoral.

Is an online computer science degree easier to complete than a classroom-based program?

Accredited online computer science degrees are considered to be of the same quality as classroom-based degrees and are certainly not any easier to complete.In fact,online courses can sometimes be even more rigorous than their classroom-based counterparts. Its important to evaluate the type of student support an online computer science degree program offers.

How much time should I expect to spend earning an online computer science degree?

The length of time it takes to complete an online computer science degree varies greatly and depends on many factors, such as the type of degree, whether you pursue full- or part-time study, the number of credits required,and whether the program offers accelerated study options. Students should expect to devote several hours per week to each course they take. Again, the actual time spent will vary, but schools can help students estimate their time allotment needs.

Some computer science degrees, such as hardware engineering, require hands-on lab work. How do online programs handle these requirements?

Programs that require lab work are sometimes offered in a hybrid format, where students take most of their classes online, but go to campus for their lab-based science and design courses. Others offer their degrees fully online and use various technologies to simulate lab work. Which you choose will be a matter of preference and convenience.

How can I gain practical experience while I’m pursuing an online computer science degree?

All students pursuing a computer science degree, whether online or in the classroom, should consider completing an internship as a way to gain hands-on, real-world experience. While internships are generally not a graduation requirement for online programs, it’s worthwhile to research the options and pursue one as a way to get a leg up in the competitive job market.