A Guide to Information Technology Understanding Degree and Program Options

The information technology field is a fast-changing, exciting profession that demands a workforce armed with the technological know-how to work with computer systems, the critical thinking skills to solve technical problems, and the intellectual curiosity to stay abreast of industry trends. From associate to doctorate, IT degree programs prepare students for these rewarding positions. This guide gives students a roadmap of what IT degree programs entail, how to choose the right one, and touches on some of the available jobs for technology graduates.

Overview of IT Degrees

Associate

Information technology degree programs at the associate level help students enter the field by teaching them the basic foundational knowledge and skills needed to land an entry-level job. The following are some examples of the positions that graduates can pursue.

  • Computer support specialist

    These professionals assist employees and clients hardware or software problems. Some of the responsibilities of this job are troubleshooting computer systems, installing and maintaining computer hardware and software, and testing the effectiveness of network systems. These workers may also be responsible for training employees on how to use computer systems.

  • Computer programmer

    Computer programmers are responsible for writing code for software programs. Other duties include conducting tests on a program and fixing errors, and working with software developers to plan and create systems.

  • Web developer

    Web developers create websites, ensuring that they are both user friendly and attractive. They are responsible for confirming that a website can handle its traffic, fixing bugs on a site, and using programming languages such as XML or HTML to create code for a website.

Bachelor’s

Bachelor’s degrees give students a more in-depth understanding of information technology, while exposing them to general education subjects to provide a well-rounded education. Graduates can potentially enter the following jobs after completing this degree.

  • Technical writer

    These writers combine their technological knowledge with communication skills in order to create instruction manuals, product descriptions, and journal articles. Other duties include integrating photographs, diagrams and drawings into product instructions; revising product documentation as features change; and helping developers simplify products to make them easier to use.

  • Database administrator

    These professionals use computer programs to store and organize a company’s data. In order to do this, database administrators help identify the system needs of an organization; test, maintain and update database programs; and merge and backup data as required.

  • Network and computer systems administrator

    The day-to-day maintenance and operations of a company’s computer systems are the responsibility of these IT workers. Job duties for this position include analyzing the network and systems needs of an organization, installing and maintaining hardware and software, and keeping security permissions up to date.

Master’s

Students who have experience in the information technology field and a bachelor’s degree often enter a master’s level program in order to elevate their knowledge and skill set. A master’s degree can prepare students for the following jobs.

  • Project manager

    Information technology project managers oversee every element of an IT project, ensuring that all of the members of a team are doing their part of the plan in a timely manner. Job duties for these professionals include handling budgets and deadlines, as well as confirming that the goals of the project are met.

  • Chief information officer (CIO)

    Chief information officers are high-level executives who define and drive a company’s technological direction, so that computer systems meet the organization’s needs. These professionals also manage all of the IT workers within their organization.

  • Software engineer

    Software engineers use the computer knowledge they gained from their advanced education to create and maintain software programs. Some of the job duties for these professionals include testing software, analyzing the needs of people who will use a program and identifying and fixing bugs.

Doctorate

Students who earn these information technology degrees are looking to gain specialized skills and knowledge that will allow them to enter high-level jobs in the profession or to teach at the postsecondary level and conducted complex, academic research. The following are some examples of positions available to PhD graduates.

  • Computer systems analyst

    These IT workers are responsible for ensuring that an organization’s computer systems and procedures are as efficient as possible. Specific job duties include doing research to determine the best technology solutions for an organization, installing and configuring new computer hardware and software, and training employees on how to use the technology in their organization.

  • Computer and information research scientist

    Computer and information research scientists help to advance the knowledge of the information technology field by inventing new technologies, as well as creating new approaches that can be applied to existing technology. These professionals might also conduct research and publish their findings in industry journals.

  • College professor

    IT college professors educate the next generation of the field’s workforce. This job entails creating lesson plans for courses, assessing students’ progress through tests and homework assignments, and supervising graduate students who want to become postsecondary teachers.

Information Technology Degree Timeline

Information systems technology degree programs give students the building blocks for success in the field by providing them with theoretical coursework and practical experience. The following explains what students can expect from these degree programs on each level.

Associate Degrees in Information Technology

Students who want to gain basic knowledge of the information technology field in a relatively short period of time may consider entering an associate degree program. These degrees, which generally take about two years to finish, familiarize students with basic technological concepts that allow them to prepare for an entry-level position in the field. By taking coursework in topics such as programming languages, information systems, website development, and database administration, students get the foundation they need to successfully enter the workforce.

IT Associate Degree Q&A
Can an associate degree be used as a foundation for continuing my education?

Yes. Although specific schools have different program requirements, generally the credits earned while completing an associate’s degree can be transferred to another school and used toward a bachelor’s degree program, provided that the associate degree was earned at an accredited college. Some schools may require certain prerequisites, which students need to complete before being admitted into a bachelor’s degree program.

Can an IT associate degree lead to a professional certification?

Yes. If you enroll in a program that emphasizes this type of professional instruction, you may be able to use the coursework to prepare for different kinds of professional certifications, such as a Cisco Network Security or a Microsoft Systems Administrator credential.

Will I have the opportunity to choose a specialization in an associate degree program?

It depends on the school in which you enroll. Some schools require that students choose a degree concentration–in areas of the field such as management, networking or web development–while other schools are best for students who want to get a more general IT education.

Can students in associate degree programs take classes in subjects that are not technology related?

Yes. Schools that offer associate degrees in information technology give students a well-rounded experience, which includes general education courses where they can build their non-technological skills and knowledge, such as math, writing, and social sciences.

IT Associate Degree Skills and Knowledge

Students enrolled in this degree learn important, but basic skills such as how to troubleshoot software and hardware programs; identify the technology needs of an organization and choosing the best products to meet those needs; evaluate, design, and implement computer systems; create an information technology plan; and keep a computer network secure from threats.

These degree programs also allow students to take courses that will develop their basic business skills, so they are able to effectively communicate in the workplace.

Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology

At the bachelor’s degree level, IT students gain a more comprehensive understanding of computing concepts and their skills, starting with the basics in the first year of the program and continuing to more advanced coursework. Students in these programs may be able to specialize in a certain segment of the field–such as information security, software development, database management, and network administration–honing their skills and gaining more specialized expertise. In addition, bachelor’s degrees require that students take courses that are not technology related, including electives like psychology, history, and political science.

IT Bachelor’s Degree Q&A
Do I need previous technical experience to be accepted into an IT bachelor’s degree program?

No. However, depending on the school, you may need to complete some prerequisite courses in order to be admitted. Students who have earned an associate degree in information technology may be particularly attractive to an admissions department, though it’s not a requirement.

Will I get hands-on technical experience in a bachelor’s program?

While every school is different, many bachelor’s degree programs have courses with a lab component that allow students to learn the necessary technical skills in an interactive environment. Some schools may have internship opportunities, so that students may apply the skills they gain in the computer lab to real-world situations.

Will I work on projects that will help me find a job?

Yes. Many four-year programs give students the opportunity to work on projects to build a digital portfolio that demonstrates the skills they gained from their coursework. In some cases, students are required to create a digital portfolio, demonstrating their technical and writing skills, in order to graduate. Items in a portfolio can include video, audio, and image components.

Can I use this degree to work in a non-technology field?

Yes. Every field relies on information technology to some degree, so the technological skills you gain in a bachelor’s degree program can be used in fields outside of the computer industry. For example, many students use their degree to pursue jobs in the healthcare field, as many patient care providers need health informatics experts to manage their data.

IT Bachelor’s Degree Skills and Knowledge

Organizations need information technology professionals who have the knowledge and experience to solve their problems. In fact, their bottom line may depend on managing and securing company data. IT bachelor’s graduates enter the job market with valuable and relevant skills, such as the ability to make decisions about the best computer systems for an organization; creating budgets for a company’s IT needs; and designing and implementing custom computer solutions that meet a company’s specific goals.

Students should also learn critical thinking skills that will help them make the best decisions when working on computing solutions, as well as the legal and ethical considerations that IT professionals must apply to their daily work.

IT Master’s Degree

Master’s degrees in information technology are generally the best fit for students who want to get an in-depth education in a specific area of the field. Many graduate students have already begun their careers and have built a solid foundation of IT knowledge. Students who enroll in these programs may want to advance in their careers and need additional training in order to land higher-level positions in an organization. To help students achieve these goals, the curriculum of master’s degree programs often focuses on challenges that people in managerial positions face in the industry

While students gain an advanced knowledge of technology, they also get the leadership skills they need to successfully take a management role in an organization, or even become entrepreneurs in the field.

IT Master’s Degree Q&A
Can I work experience be used toward credits for a master’s degree?

Some master’s degree programs do allow students to earn academic credit for industry certifications or professional experience. The rules for prior learning credits differ from school to school, so be sure to discuss your experience before you enroll in a program.

What’s the difference between a Master of Science in Information Technology and an MBA in Information Technology?

An MBA in information technology focuses more on business management within the IT field. Students in these programs study technology topics, such as data communications and networking, but also receive comprehensive education in core business and management areas like economics, accounting, and leadership.

On the other hand, a Master of Science in Information Technology is primarily focused on the scientific principles of the field. Individuals who enroll in this program may have already expertise in business and want to learn more about technology to meet the demands of organizations that are becoming increasingly technology driven.

What are some examples of specializations I can focus on in a master’s degree program?

There are several options for specialization in information technology master’s degree programs. Some of these concentrations include project management, business intelligence, information assurance, cyber security, software engineering, health care informatics, and web design.

Will I have to complete a thesis in order to graduate?

It depends on the school you choose. Some programs require that students complete a thesis based on original research and existing academic literature, while other programs require a master’s project where students work on a comprehensive solution to an information technology problem. Some schools may also require that students pass a comprehensive examination that evaluates their proficiency in the program’s coursework.

IT Master’s Degree Skills and Knowledge

IT master’s degree graduates can expect to learn advanced skills such as project management, working with technology stakeholders in an organization, and assessing business goals in order to implement the most effective technology solutions. They will also learn about current trends in the field and how to effectively apply advanced contemporary theories to real world situations.

Doctorate Degree

Students who earn a PhD in information technology are looking for an advanced education that will prepare them to contribute to the field through teaching, entrepreneurship, or research. These students often have specific career goals and are looking for a specialized and advanced educational experience to help them achieve those objectives.

In order to help students work toward their career aspirations, doctoral programs allow students to choose an area of concentrated study, such as software engineering, information systems, management, digital forensics, or IT security. Through this intensive coursework, coupled with other required classes that may cover a wide range of IT topics, students gain the expertise they need to advance in their careers.

IT Doctoral Degree Q&A
Is there a teaching requirement in the information technology PhD program?

It depends on the school that you enroll in. Many students earn IT doctorates in order to go on to become college professors, so some programs do require that students teach at least one undergraduate course in order to graduate.

Do I need a master’s degree to be admitted into a doctoral program?

Some schools do require that students have a master’s degree in order to be admitted into an IT doctoral program. Other programs, however, will accept students who have earned a bachelor’s degree, provided they meet the school’s other admission requirements, which may include prerequisite coursework, a certain score on the GRE, a minimum undergraduate GPA, and relevant work experience.

How long does it take to complete an IT PhD program?

The length of programs varies from one school to the next, but generally, students are able to complete their doctoral degree within three to seven years.

What are the graduation requirements in a doctoral program?

Graduation requirements for a PhD in information technology may include–in addition to coursework–a dissertation, a comprehensive examination, or a research project.

IT Doctoral Degree Skills and Knowledge

When students complete a PhD in information technology, they leave with skills such as how to formulate and prove theories that answer questions relevant to the field, conduct IT research, critically evaluate information about the field, take the lead in the development and execution of an IT project from start to finish, and manage a team of IT professionals. Students also gain advanced written and verbal skills that will help them effectively communicate complicated IT information in any workplace setting.

Assessing IT Programs and Schools

There are many options for students who want to enroll in an information technology degree program, so students should make sure they do their homework before registering at a specific school. Different schools cater to different needs, so students have to determine what they want to get out of a degree as they look at schools. The following are some important questions that prospective students should consider.

Is the school accredited?

Schools that are accredited have higher standards than those that are not, giving students confidence that they will receive a quality education. Students should look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, an accrediting agency specific to the IT field that has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

What kind of professional and educational experience does the faculty have?

Students should pay close attention to the faculty members at the schools they are interested in. This is important because it will give them an idea of whether or not professors were educated at highly-esteemed schools themselves and if they have industry experience that bolsters their educational expertise. Students should also confirm the department has professors that teach courses in their areas of interest. For example, students who want to pursue a career in cyber security should look for professors who have extensive professional and academic experience in that area.

Will I earn a certification through my degree program?

Many professionals want to earn certifications to display their expertise to potential employers. Some information technology degree programs allow students to earn certificates, such as the Microsoft Technology Associate or the Cisco network security certifications, as they work towards their degrees.

Are there opportunities to gain hands-on experience?

Many programs have computer labs that allow students to work on the types of problems they will encounter when they start professional work. This enriches students’ education by giving them first-hand knowledge of how the theories they are studying in the classroom are applied in the real world of IT.

Q&A With a Graduate

Billy A. Patino, a graduate of Nova Southeastern University, discusses what it’s like to earn an information technology degree.

Interview with Billy A. Patino

What made you decide to earn an information systems technology degree?

Back in 1992, after leaving the Air Force in Ecuador, I started to explore what career I could pursue that would be challenging enough to get me interested and eventually bring me professional satisfaction. My uncle, who lived in New York at the time, couldn’t stop talking about this new and popular device that looked like a TV with a typewriter attached to it, but certainly resembled one of those machines from a science fiction show. It definitely woke up my curiosity on the topic and I saw the opportunity to be part of a new era. That summer I started my computer systems engineering degree in Ecuador. I still remember using 5 ¼ floppy disks and card readers and computers with 286/386 processors.

How did you decide on the school you chose?

Once I was in the United States and heavily involved in technology, part of my selection criteria to pursue my information technology graduate degree was to find a school that offered a well-defined and top-of-the-line curriculum that can be applicable to real-life situations, as well as offering a state-of-the-art infrastructure that will allow a great learning experience for students. Nova was indeed the one!

What did you enjoy most about the program?

I really liked the tools we had as students on the premises and online, in addition to an easy and simple communication channel with our professors and classmates at any moment.

What was the most challenging thing about the degree program?

Trying to keep up with the vast amount of information that we received every day and combine that with our daily routine.

How do you feel the degree program prepared you for your career?

It was a great career advantage to be able to effectively use the knowledge learned in class and from faculty members right away in real situations in the workplace. This allowed me to gain confidence in my performance and professional respect among my peers.

What work have you done since earning your degree?

In my role as a FISO (Facility Information Security Official), I am currently responsible to implement the Information Security and Privacy program in six hospitals, four surgery centers and four imaging centers in the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast areas for the Hospital Corporation of America East Florida Division.

Checklist for Success

Ben Crenshaw, an information technology graduate from Texas Christian University, gives advice on how students can succeed in an IT program.

Declare your major as soon as possible

Most bachelor’s degrees in information technology require the full four years to complete, so it helps to begin the introductory courses as a freshman. Even if you change your mind later, those introductory courses will be valuable if you ever want to learn a programming language later in life.

Develop relationships
with your classmates in your major

Prove yourself to be a friendly, reliable, and talented colleague. Do things like study together, and make sure to be a dependable member of any group projects. I say this not only because it’s a great way to enjoy your degree, but these classmates will go on to be your best network of friends and job contacts after graduation.

Find a new technology and create something outside of your normal classwork

Over the last few years, the explosion of new technologies combined with cloud-based hosting has made it easier and more affordable than ever for a student to build a portfolio of their own products. The perfect addition to a great information technology degree is to have something you coded that you can show off, whether it be a website, a software application, or a mobile app. This can be even more impressive than previous work or internship experience for graduating students, because it gives interviewers a concrete example that you have initiative to create your own work and that you are good at what you do.

Schools with Information Technology Programs

Search A School
State
City
DEGREES OFFERED
TUITION COST
STUDENT POPULATION
City
SCHOOL TYPE
PROGRAM TYPE
Total Results:
SCHOOL NAME CITY, STATE STUDENT POPULATION SCHOOL TYPE TUITION PROGRAM TYPE PROGRAMS
-- No Records Found --