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Online Web development degrees

It's accurate to say that Web developers make websites for a living, but that may not give the most complete picture of what they do. It's true that Web developers typically create the public-facing experience for users, but they're usually also responsible for scripting, application integration and other infrastructural elements of a site that most consumers never see.

Earning a Web development degree online or on campus can give you the sort of multifaceted perspective necessary to exercise your creativity both on the surface of the Web and behind the scenes. Programs that lead to these degrees aren't scarce, ether; the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) keeps track of how many institutions in each U.S. region offer campus-based and online Web development and design degrees:

Region No. of colleges that offer Web development degrees No. of schools that offer at least one Web development degree online
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 100 11
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 45 9
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 55 12
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 62 22
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 147 43
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 112 15
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 80 12
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 35 5
Total (all 50 states) 636 129

Entry-level Web development degrees

Even though different specific positions for Web developers have different education and experience requirements, undergraduate degrees in the field are typically sufficient for candidates seeking entry-level jobs. Here's an introduction to what you can expect to study in undergraduate programs at Web developer schools:

  • Associate degrees - The difference between Web development and Web design can be somewhat fuzzy at the associate level, and many programs that market themselves as offering campus-based or online Web design degrees can also prepare aspiring Web developers with a solid education in the fundamentals. Courses may include digital imaging, interface design, programming, scripting, network security, technical communication, database management, graphic design, HTML/CSS/PHP/JavaScript and more.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Full four-year degrees in Web development tend to cover many of the same concepts introduced during associate degree programs, albeit often in more depth and with greater regard for the origins and underlying theories of important developments in the field. Additional subjects studied at this level include application development, object-oriented design, IT project management, business systems analysis, user experience theory, digital marketing and strategies for client-side vs. server-side development.
  • Non-degree study - Undergraduate certificates in Web development are designed to impart a short list of valuable skills and give curious students an introduction to the rigors of the discipline as it's handled academically. Programs that lead to a certificate typically require students to complete anywhere from three to six courses, depending on the institution, and may consist of just about any combination of the fundamental subjects commonly studied during associate and bachelor's programs.

Enrolling in an online Web development degree program can be a great option if your situation would otherwise make it difficult to commit to a traditional education on a brick-and-mortar campus, particularly if you're already confident in your ability to navigate and participate in digital environments. Web design and development degrees earned online cover essentially the same material as those in the traditional classroom, and the attendance flexibility of distance education can allow you to choose daily and weekly schedules that work best for you.

Advanced-degree Web development programs

Competition for the top jobs in the industry can be fierce, and employers often look to their candidates' levels of education and experience to decide who stays and who goes over the course of the hiring process. Here are some of the things that students in advanced Web design and development degree programs are likely to see on the curriculum as they work toward graduation:

  • Master's degree programs - Web development at the graduate level is often taught as a concentration within computer science, communications, information technology or another more generally applicable discipline. Students dive deeply into the intricacies of server- and client-side development, extend their fluency with common and specialized programming and scripting languages and develop a more detailed understanding of IT architectures, systems analysis and digital information security.
  • Doctorate programs - Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs are typically for students who wish to contribute to a discipline as researchers or scholars, and such any doctoral program for Web developers is likely to necessitate a shift to a broader area of knowledge. Earning a doctorate in information systems or information technology may be the closest match to a Web development Ph.D. that's currently available, but other options may arise as the academic landscape evolves.
  • Graduate certificates - Non-degree Web developer school at the master's level are less common than those offered at the pre-graduate level, but certain schools do offer short, one- or two-semester cycles of Web development courses for graduate-level credit. Most currently available graduate certificates take 16-24 credit hours to complete and, depending on the institution, may choose to focus exclusively on advanced website design or application development.

Jobs that require a master's degree are typically in the second or third tier of an organization, and as such you're likely to want to remain fully employed as you pursue one. Online graduate degree plans are typically no less flexible than their undergraduate counterparts, and the ability to reach out to professors or classmates from the comfort of your desk can be a great asset.

Q&A with experts

Anthony Jullien, director of IT at Dupray, an international household retailer

Anthony Jullien, director of IT at Dupray, an international household retailerWhy would you encourage someone to consider a degree in Web development?

AJ: Web development is the best and easiest way to find a great job. It's an up-and-coming industry (if it hasn't arrived already!). Everybody needs a developer for their business.

What level of education is typically necessary to begin a Web development career?

AJ: The best paying and most traditional entry-level jobs are given priority to bachelor's degrees, primarily because of the increased emphasis on maths, technical knowledge and critical analysis. You spend more time actually working through a variety of real life challenges with a full four-year degree.

What's some advice you might have for a student who's just starting out on the path to becoming a Web developer?

AJ: The best advice I can give to my new colleagues would be to continuously evolve. Learn new languages and new techniques. Moreover, stay up to date with the constantly evolving languages. Understand the needs of your clients, and ALWAYS take the time to explain to them how it works!

David VanDusen, Web developer and instructor at Lighthouse Labs

David VanDusen, Web developer and instructor at Lighthouse LabsWhat are the most common educational paths for aspiring Web developers?

DV: It may seem like there are a variety of educational paths for aspiring Web developers, but the content of each -- whether it's an online course, community college program, or bootcamp -- are remarkably similar. A developer's education, in essence, is the practice of building software and solving problems and filling knowledge gaps as they come up.

What would have been helpful to know about the Web development career field when you were looking into your own education?

DV: It is important for newcomers to be aware of how social the Web development community is. Immersing oneself in the community and finding mentors is one of the most important steps to becoming a professional.

Types of Web development careers

Web developer schools can prepare you for a career as a Web developer, to be sure, but there are plenty of other jobs for which you may also qualify with a Web development degree. Here are a few of those potential careers, along with some employment and salary data furnished by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Web developer $70,660 27 percent 148,500 Associate degree
Graphic designer $51,640 1 percent 261,600 Bachelor's degree
Software developer, applications $102,160 19 percent 718,400 Bachelor's degree
Computer support specialist $51,820 12 percent 766,900 Bachelor's degree
Information security analyst $93,250 18 percent 82,900 Bachelor's degree
Multimedia artist $70,300 6 percent 64,400 Bachelor's degree

Common misconceptions about Web development degrees

Degrees in Web development are relatively new on the academic scene, and it's often the case that new programs are publicly misunderstood in certain ways before the facts about them come to light. Here are a few common misconceptions about campus-based and online web development degrees and the facts to set them straight:

Misconception: Tech job applicants all have graduate degrees so a bachelor's in Web development won't get any attention.

  • Fact: Candidates for the most competitive jobs in the tech field may often have advanced degrees in computer science, engineering degrees and the like, but the market for tech careers is much broader and more diverse than the media coverage of its hottest jobs and companies would have you believe. In fact, quite a significant percentage of companies hiring for positions in user experience design, Web application engineering and other fields that employ graduates of Web developer schools are smaller businesses that aren't necessarily looking for overqualified candidates.

Misconception: Employers won't hire candidates who earned their Web development degree online.

  • Fact: Years ago, there may have been some truth to this claim. Online degrees have only been a part of the equation since the turn of the millennium, give or take, and employers had their reservations about them at first. Now, though, with so many professionals earning online software engineering degrees and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees, it's becoming clear that education delivered in the virtual classroom can prepare students just as well as their brick-and-mortar campus counterparts for the challenges of the workforce.

Misconception: The only difference between Web development and Web design degrees is their title.

  • Fact: The exact composition of an online Web design or development degree plan is up to the discretion of the school that offers it, but there are a few generally recognized differences between design and development tasks on the Web. The easiest way to put it is that designers tend to lean slightly more toward the aesthetic side of Web products, taking additional courses in graphic design, markup languages and stylesheet management, while developers lean slightly more toward the technical side and take more courses in scripting, programming and database design.

How can I enroll in an online Web development degree program?

Individual Web developer schools set their own admissions policies and procedures, so the best thing to do if you're ready to make the move to enrollment is reach out to a registrar or admissions counselor at a college of your choice. Take a look through our listings below to get started, do some independent research if you can and get in touch to find out what you need to do to take that next step.

Sources:

  1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed April 12, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  2. School pages, accessed April 26, 2016: Associate of Science in Web Design and Development, International Academy of Design and Technology, http://www.iadt.edu/degree-programs/technology-and-business/web-design-and-development/associate-of-science-in-web-design-and-development; Web Development, East Coast Polytechnic Institute, http://www.ecpi.edu/programs/web-development-associate-degree; Web Development A.S. Degree, St. Petersburg College, http://www.spcollege.edu/Web_Development_AS_Degree/#tab=3; Web Development - Bachelor of Science Degree, http://www.franklin.edu/web-development-bachelors-degree-curriculum; Courses, Online Web Design Degree, Champlain College, http://www.champlain.edu/computer-sciences/online-web-design-development-degree; Web Development Degree Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/bs-in-information-technologies/web-design-and-development; Web Development Certificate, Fitchburg State University, http://catalog.fitchburgstate.edu/preview_program.php?catoid=22&poid=5303&returnto=1390/#curric; Web Development Certificate, Liberty University Online, http://www.liberty.edu/media/1270/CTWD-CRT-D.pdf; Website Development, Certificate, Webster University, http://www.webster.edu/catalog/current/undergraduate-catalog/certificates/website-development.html; Web Development Certificate, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, http://informationsystems.umbc.edu/home/undergraduate-programs/undergraduate-upper-division-certificates/web-development-certificate/; Master of Science in Information Systems - Web Development, http://www.aspen.edu/degrees/masters-degree/master-of-science-in-information-systems-web-development; Master of Science in Computer Information Systems, Concentration in Web Application Development, Boston University, http://www.bu.edu/online/programs/graduate-degree/computer-information-systems/web-application-development/; Web Design and Development Master's degree, University of Denver, http://universitycollege.du.edu/ict/degree/masters/web-design-and-development-online/degreeid/400#courses; Information Technology (IT) Doctoral Programs Online, Capella University, http://www.capella.edu/online-information-technology-degrees/doctoral-programs/; PhD in Information Technology, Rutgers University, http://www.business.rutgers.edu/phd/programs/it; Web Design and Development Graduate Certificate, University of Denver, http://universitycollege.du.edu/ict/degree/certificate/web-design-and-development-online/degreeid/401#courses; Web Application Development Graduate Certificate, Boston University, http://www.bu.edu/met/programs/graduate/web-application-development-certificate/;
  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed April 18, 2016: Web Developers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm; Graphic Designers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm; Software Developers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm; Computer Support Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-support-specialists.htm; Information Security Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/information-security-analysts.htm; Multimedia Artists and Animators, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm;
  4. May 2015 National Occupational and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 3, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
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