As the role of technology in everyday life continues to grow and evolve, degrees in computer science remain popular among those who want to work in this fast-growing field. However, students considering this career path are likely wondering if earning an online computer science degree is worth it.
While there are numerous benefits to both computer science degrees and online education, various factors impact whether this degree is the right choice for an individual student. This article will explore the pros and cons of online computer science degrees, the career outlook and salary for computer science jobs, and alternative education paths to help students find the program that will benefit them most.
Pros of Earning an Online Computer Science Degree
Regardless of your studies, one of the most significant advantages of earning a degree online is the flexibility these programs offer. Many online computer science degree programs are delivered asynchronously, which means students can access their lessons and turn in assignments according to their own schedule, with no regular class meetings. Even synchronous programs, which have pre-scheduled virtual classes, are more flexible than traditional in-person programs, in which students must be in a specific location to attend class. Flexible scheduling is particularly valuable to students balancing schoolwork with other responsibilities like a job or caregiving.
Increase earning potential
Data consistently shows a higher level of education correlates to higher salaries and employment rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly earnings for individuals with a bachelor’s degree are $1,432, compared to $935 for those with some college but no degree and $853 for those with only a high school diploma. Computer science jobs, which require a bachelor’s degree, can be some of the most lucrative available. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for jobs in the computer and IT industry is $100,530.
Online learning also removes accessibility barriers to education. Students who don’t live near a college campus or find learning in a traditional classroom environment challenging can still earn their degrees without needing to be in person. Rather than be limited to the programs at schools in their vicinity, online learners have a wider variety of programs to choose from. This variety can be helpful to students who want to specialize in a particular area of computer science or work with a specific faculty member.
Cons of Earning an Online Computer Science Degree
Not suitable for all learning styles
When considering whether an online computer science degree is worth it, it’s important to note that online learning is not for everyone. Remote learning relies heavily on pre-recorded lectures, videos, reading and homework assignments, and exams. Students who benefit more from in-person interactions with faculty and classmates and hands-on experiences may find online programs more challenging. Earning a degree remotely also requires strong time management and organizational skills, self-motivation, and learning independently. Students must assess their academic needs and aptitudes before deciding if an online degree is worth it.
Limited networking opportunities
A critical factor in whether an online degree is worth it is the connections students make through classes, internships, jobs, extracurricular activities and clubs, pre-professional organizations, and other experiences. These connections play a significant role in future job opportunities, but online computer science degree programs, particularly asynchronous programs, often limit how much students can interact and network. When researching online computer science degrees, students should inquire about what networking opportunities are available to remote students.
Computer Science Salary & Career Outlook
From a return-on-investment perspective, earning an online computer science degree also has its benefits.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that overall employment in the computer and information technology sector will grow faster than average compared to all other occupations. Through 2032, there will be an average of 377,500 new job openings in computer and IT, according to the BLS.
These jobs also have a high earning potential. The median annual wage for computer and IT jobs is $100,530, although high-level positions, like computer and information research scientists, earn more than $136,000 annually.
Some top-paying computer science jobs require a master’s degree, but earning a bachelor’s in computer science from an accredited college is an essential first step toward an advanced degree.
Median annual salary: $102,240
Projected job growth: 10%
Computer systems analysts, or systems architects, work with company leadership to understand their IT needs and design or improve IT systems to meet them. They often focus on improving efficiency or functionality and work with systems within a particular industry, such as finance or healthcare.
Median annual salary: $124,200
Projected job growth: 25%
Software developers create computer applications and underlying systems for various functions and devices. They participate in the development process, from identifying needs and ideating solutions to software design and testing. Individuals who want to be software developers should have a strong background in coding and an aptitude for creativity, problem-solving, and communication.
Median annual salary: $112,000
Projected job growth: 32%
Information security analysts focus on cybersecurity, ensuring that an organization’s networks and hardware are protected from viruses, data breaches, and other threats. They work across various industries, including federal and state government, banking and finance, and retail. This position incorporates skills related to analysis, communication, and creative problem-solving.
How Do Employers View Online Computer Science Degrees?
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent switch to online learning accelerated employers’ acceptance of online degrees. Most employers generally consider degrees earned online through an accredited college to have the same value as those earned in person.
Accreditation for online colleges matters because offering sub-par education in a remote setting can be easy. Therefore, employers will often only consider job applicants with a degree from an accredited school. You can find out if the online university you’re considering is accredited by searching the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s database.
For a career in computer science that relies heavily on technical knowledge, earning a degree online may have advantages. As more jobs shift to remote work, employers want to see applicants who can work independently, troubleshoot technical issues, and utilize various video conferencing platforms. These are all skills an online degree can help you develop.
Alternative Computer Science Education Paths
When answering the question, ‘Is an online computer science degree worth it?’ it’s important to consider alternative education options that may also suit your needs.
Many colleges offer certificates in computer science at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Certificates are short, focused programs, typically 6-18 credits, focusing on a particular skill within a field like computer science. Some certificate programs cater to students with a computer science degree and want to learn new skills, while others are designed for individuals without a computer science background. Certificates may be a good option for individuals who want to try out computer science courses before committing to a full degree program.
For aspiring programmers and software developers, coding bootcamps offer another accelerated educational path. Bootcamps are rigorous, intensive training programs that cover basic to advanced programming skills and other IT areas over a few weeks to a few months. Unlike degree programs, most bootcamps are offered by private, for-profit companies, with no general education requirements or electives. The focus is solely on teaching programming languages and skills to help students prepare for professional roles as quickly as possible. While this option might be a good fit for students who prioritize getting into the workforce faster, they should note that their skillset may be less well-rounded than someone with a computer science degree.
Apprenticeships and on-the-job training
One of the notable aspects of the tech industry is that a college degree has never been a prerequisite to success. The field’s innovative spirit has led individuals to learn independently and from each other through experimentation, on-the-job training, and formal apprenticeships. A formal degree program may not be the best fit for all students, particularly those with a strong computer science background who learn best by doing and watching others.
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