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Online computer programming schools

Computer systems and software applications consist of complex interactions between the information in thousands upon thousands of lines of code, and every single line in every professionally produced piece of software was written into existence by a computer programmer. Jobs in high-tech fields are on the rise all over the country, and the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects that there will be more than 372,000 total computer programming positions on the job market by 2022.

If you're thinking of training to become a computer programmer, campus-based as well as online computer programming schools can give you the knowledge and skills you need to be a part of the tech workforce. Here's a quick table showing how many schools in various regions of the country offer traditional and online computer programming degrees:

Region No. of schools offering a computer programming degree No. of schools offering their computer programming degree online
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 115 20
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 29 6
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 88 13
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 81 22
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 148 37
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 157 42
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 64 11
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 30 6
Total (all 50 states) 712 157

Hybrid study plans in computer programming, which allow students to split time between brick-and-mortar and the virtual classroom sessions, can be a comfortable middle-ground between campus-based and online computer programming degrees.

Entry-level degree programs in computer programming

Different employers require different levels of education from their job candidates, but an entry-level degree may be sufficient for a considerable range of jobs. Here's a short list of some entry-level degrees at traditional and online computer programming schools, along with some detail about each:

  • Certificate programs - Some online computer programming schools offer an abbreviated course of study in a few core concepts and major coding languages that can be completed in just a few months. Programs like these can be most useful to students looking to add some computer programming knowledge to an existing professional skillset, or to prospective career changers who want to see what the field is like without committing to a full degree plan.
  • Associate degrees - Associate-level study plans in computer programming typically take 16 to 24 months to complete and offer in-depth study of concepts in the discipline, including systems architecture, microprocessor fundamentals, database management and popular programming languages. Degrees at this level may qualify you to work as an assistant or apprentice programmer while you finish your four-year degree.
  • Bachelor's degree - Employers of computer programmers tend to look for candidates with bachelor's degrees, which is the educational standard for professional computer programmers in most industries. Many traditional and online computer programming bachelor's degrees have a great deal in common with computer science degrees at the same level, although programming degrees tend to focus more on languages while computer science degrees lean more toward theory and conceptual understanding.

Online computer programming schools commonly feature at least one of these starter degrees and one or more options for advanced study. Earning an online computer programming degree is often more affordable than attending a traditional, campus-based program, thanks to decreased travel expenses and the generally lower cost of electronic books and materials.

Advanced degree programs in computer programming

If you complete your undergraduate work in computer programming and want to deepen your understanding and scope of practice in the field, advanced degrees can help you take your education to the next level. Here are a few options for academic degrees and professional certifications at campus-based and online computer programming schools:

  • Master's degree - Studying computer programming at the master's level can help you develop a sophisticated understanding of the languages and algorithms used in different programming paradigms. Most graduate programs in the discipline are offered as Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in computer science with a programming concentration, or software development degrees with additional coursework in advanced coding languages.
  • Doctoral degree - Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in computer programming are scarce, although a traditional or online computer programming degree is often acceptable for admission to graduate and post-graduate programs in computer science or information systems. Doctoral degrees typically focus on highly advanced concepts and research methods and culminate in the writing and proposal of a dissertation project.
  • Professional certifications - Continued education for computer programmers is more commonly taken in the form of professional certifications, which focus on specific job roles or application programming environments and typically take less time and money to earn than advanced academic degrees. Certifications such as the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD), Adobe Certified Expert (ACE), Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP), Google Certified Deployment Specialist (CDS) and various certifications offered in the C and C++ programming languages (CLA, CPA, CPP, etc.) are among the most valuable.

Most advanced degree coursework and training classes for professional certifications are available at online computer programming schools as well as on traditional campuses. This can be especially convenient in the case of certification training, which primarily benefits working professionals whose job responsibilities may take priority on their schedules.

Q&A with experts

We talked to some professionals in the industry about their perspective on traditional and online computer programming degrees. Here's what they had to say:

Paul J. TurnerPaul J. Turner, software industry consultant with Skyview Consulting

What are some differences between degrees in computer programming, software development and general computer science? How much do these differences matter to employers?

Most computer science degrees cover all three. General computer science covers theoretical aspects like formal theory and logic, whereas programming will cover concepts, and specific languages. Software development covers principals like Agile and Waterfall. While initially employers will value coding, later they value the theoretical and "tech cred" aspects.

Is a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer programming typically sufficient to get a job in the field?

Yes, typically more than sufficient. Though to be honest to stay in computer programming you need to be active in your own development post-graduating, as computer languages and technology change so rapidly. The key is to graduate with your BS and land a job where you will put your skills to work, and keep developing.

Zachary WeinerZachary Weiner, CTO and lead application engineer at Florida startup MBADojo

Why would you encourage someone to consider a career in computer programming or computer programming degree?

I would encourage somebody to consider it because it's a very exciting and engaging career. It's rewarding to be able to create something from nothing, as if you were a builder, and showcase things that you're proud of. It's fast-paced, and generally speaking you find other very passionate people surrounding you.

How does a software development degree differ from a degree in computer programming?

Software development is a highly specified degree where the idea is to focus on data structures and algorithms for optimization. This is not data science. It's the optimization of the calculations used to process data.

Robert PietaRobert Pieta, recent graduate and engineer at app startup Porter Key

What common misconceptions do people tend to hold about computer programming degrees?

One misconception is that computer programming and computer science are equivalent. In reality, computer programming and computer science are very different. Computer programming is the act of writing code; computer science is the study of computation and algorithms.

What would have been helpful to know when you were looking into computer programming schools?

The most important thing I should have done when looking into computer programming schools was look into the job fair schedule. Luckily, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had job fairs multiple times a semester focused on computer science. Top employers from around the US came on campus to speak about their company, products, and recruit students. On-campus career fairs are the easiest way to get noticed by an employer and network.

Types of computer programming careers

Graduates of campus-based and online computer programming schools can qualify for a number of different tech careers, depending on their academic minor, prior work experience and other factors. Here's a table of annual salary figures, job growth expectations and minimum educational requirements for a variety of jobs that may be available with a traditional or online computer programming degree:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2014)
Projected job growth
(2012-2022)
Total U.S. employment
(2012)
Entry-level education
Computer programmer $82,690 8 percent 343,700 Bachelor's degree
Web Developer $68,670 20 percent 141,400 Associate degree
Database Administrator $82,280 15 percent 118,700 Bachelor's degree
Network or Computer Systems Administrator $79,770 12 percent 366,400 Bachelor's degree
Software Developer, Applications $99,530 22 percent 613,000 Bachelor's degree
Software Developer, Systems Software $106,050 37 percent 405,000 Bachelor's degree
Computer or Information Systems Manager $136,280 15 percent 332,700 Bachelor's degree

For even more career options, students can combine their online computer programming degree with coursework in business administration concepts like management, accounting, marketing, finance and organizational theory.

Common misconceptions about computer programming degrees

Campus-based and online computer programming degrees are a fairly hot ticket in today's market, and such popularity can scarcely exist without generating a few mistaken notions. Make sure you're free of these bits of misinformation before you undertake your search for online computer programming schools:

Misconception: A computer programming degree is like a free ticket to employment after graduation.

  • Fact: Skilled programmers may be in demand, but there's no degree available from any school, in any subject, that translates to a guaranteed job. It is often the case, however, that focusing your time wisely during school and making use of campus career resources can increase your chances of landing the job you want once you finish your degree.

Misconception: Employers don't value online computer programming degrees.

  • Fact: Most employers only want to know that you have a degree, not whether or not your degree was earned in a traditional classroom. Although some high-prestige positions may quibble over the source of your education, you're generally considered qualified if you can demonstrate the knowledge and skills necessary to do the job.

Misconception: Any one computer programming degree is as good as another.

  • Fact: Employers may not worry all that much about the way you earned your degree, but there are some schools out there that don't have the accreditation credentials to support the education they provide. Academic and professional organizations may be suspicious of degrees or transfer credits earned at unaccredited schools, so be careful to ensure that your chosen school has earned accreditation before you officially enroll.

How can I enroll in an online computer programming degree program?

Enrollment procedures vary from institution to institution, but exploring the options available to you has a tendency to lead naturally to some next steps. Browse the school listings below and find a few programs that look promising, then reach out and find out if they can help you achieve the goals you have for your education. Chances are that there are at least a few accredited online computer programming schools that have what you're looking for.

Sources:
1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed October 28, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. School pages, accessed October 28, 2015: Online Computer Programming Languages Certificate, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/computer-programming-and-support/computer-programming-languages-certificate; University Undergraduate Certificate in Computer Programming, North Carolina State University, https://distance.ncsu.edu/programs/undergraduate-certificate-in-computer-programming; Computer Programming Associate Degree, Baker College, http://www.baker.edu/programs-degrees/computer-programming-associate/#course-information; AAS in Computer Programming, Brigham Young University Idaho, http://www.byui.edu/online/degrees-and-programs/computer-programming; Bachelor of Science in Information Technology, Software Application Programming, Colorado Technical University, http://www.coloradotech.edu/degrees/bachelors/it/software-application-programming?auto=true#parentHorizontalTab2; Computer Science Bachelor's Degree, University of Maryland University College, http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/computer-science-major.cfm; Master of Computer Programming, Atlantic International University, http://aiu.edu/master%20of%20computer%20programming.htm; Master of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, http://engineering.illinois.edu/online/masters-degrees/mcs.html
3. Best Computer Programming Certifications for 2016, Tom's IT Pro, Ed Tittel, September 1, 2015, accessed October 28, 2015, http://www.tomsitpro.com/articles/programming-certifications,2-274.html
4. Professional Certification Programs, Seminole State University, accessed Octiber 28, 2015, https://www.seminolestate.edu/computers/certifications/
5. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed October 28, 2015: Computer Programmers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-programmers.htm; Web Developers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm; Database Administrators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/database-administrators.htm; Network and Computer Systems Administrators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm; Software Developers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm; Computer and Information Systems Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/computer-and-information-systems-managers.htm
6. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed October 28, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm

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