Associate Degree vs Bachelor’s in Computer Science: Which Education Degree Should You Get?

Whether a prospective student plans to pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree in computer science, they should know that either offers an excellent career path. Jobs for computer and information technology professionals are projected to grow by 11% between 2019-2029 and offered median salaries of $91,250 as of May 2020. 

That said, differences exist between the two degrees, and all learners should consider which one best serves their career goals. Those on the fence about which degree to pursue can find answers to their top questions and learn more about the specifics of each academic path on this guide. 

What Are Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees in Computer Science For?

Associate and bachelor’s degrees in computer science provide the qualifications employers look for when hiring professionals to handle their IT needs, including: 

  • Database management
  • Systems design
  • Website administration
  • Programming languages

Both academic programs provide skills and knowledge graduates are expected to possess when applying for IT and computer science positions. 

Students who enjoy problem-solving, working as part of a team, and constant innovation typically find these programs appealing.

Picking Between a Computer Science Associate and Bachelor’s Degree Program

Students who are on the fence about which degree meets their academic and professional goals should consider the similarities and differences between associate and bachelor’s degrees in computer science.

Computer Science Associate and Bachelor’s Degree Jobs, Salaries, and Career Outlook

As students review the prospective jobs highlighted in this section, they should consider which one(s) sound most interesting and base their degree decision on minimum education requirements. As demonstrated in the table, graduates of bachelor’s level programs tend to earn higher salaries and take on more responsibilities.

CareerSalaryProjected Job Growth (2019-2029)About the Position
Web Developers and Digital Designers$77,2008%Web designers and digital designers make some of the highest salaries in the industry for those with associate degrees. They spend their days developing and maintaining websites, either as an in-house employee or as a contractor. They learn what their clients expect of a website and work with others to deliver it.
Computer Programmers$89,190-9%These professionals typically possess a bachelor’s degree and earn well over the national average for all occupations. Common responsibilities include testing and implementing coding for applications and software, fixing bugs, making improvements, and developing new programs.
Software Developers$110,14022%After completing a bachelor’s degree, software developers work with supervisors and clients to create software that meets specific needs. Whether designing an internal communications platform or the next hot game, developers create specialized software that can perform specific tasks.
Computer Support Specialists$55,5108%Degree requirements range for this position depending on the employer but can include a postsecondary nondegree award up to a bachelor’s degree. Job tasks typically include serving as a client-facing professional to address computer and network issues in real-time. They may work in a call center or as part of a larger internal IT team.
Computer Systems Analysts$93,7307%These baccalaureate-educated professionals identify issues and shortcomings in existing computer systems and look for ways to improve both systems and procedures to produce better outcomes. They conduct work with managers to identify needs, implement beta versions, test for bugs, and install and configure approved additions.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What To Look For In Computer Science Degree Programs

Online vs. On-Campus Learning

Given the nature of computer science programs, it should come as no surprise that many schools now offer these degrees as fully online or hybrid options.

Busy students balancing personal and professional obligations alongside their education often find these options beneficial as they allow learners to meet degree requirements without commuting to campus. Many online programs also end up being less expensive when subtracting campus-based costs.

That said, degree seekers should consider the value added by studying in person before making their decision. Campus-based programs typically provide a more consistent, disciplined schedule and more opportunities for social activities.

Accreditation

Aside from picking a major, finding a properly accredited school and program is one of the most important steps a student takes during this process. Failing to find a properly accredited option can result in issues transferring credits and finding a job after graduation.

Accreditation comes in two forms: institutional and programmatic. When looking at colleges and universities, find one that holds regional accreditation, as this is seen as more desirable than national accreditation.

At the programmatic level, the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits computer science programs. CAC reviews potential programs to ensure they adequately prepare students for the industry and provide the support needed both while in school and beyond.

Applying To Computer Science Programs

Whether a learner decides to apply to an associate or bachelor’s program, they’ll need to familiarize themselves with the process. The admissions requirements for a bachelor’s degree tend to be somewhat more intensive than an associate degree, as demonstrated in the following section.

Admission Requirements For Associate Degree and Bachelor’s in Computer Science Programs

Admission requirements for associate and bachelor’s degrees in computer science vary based on both program level and individual school. That said, prospective learners can expect similarities. 

Associate Degree

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Transcripts from schools previously attended
  • Completed application

Bachelor’s Degree

  • Official transcripts
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • Completed application
  • Essays
  • Letters of Recommendation

Students should review the admissions requirements of each school to which they plan to submit applications, ensuring they don’t miss any key requirements in the process.

Associate vs Bachelor’s in Computer Science FAQs

Is a degree in computer science worth it?

With jobs for computer science professionals slated to continue growing over the coming decade, a computer science degree is absolutely worth the time and effort required to secure it.

What kind of jobs do you get with a computer science degree?

Many different challenging and important roles exist for computer science graduates. The jobs you can pursue will depend on the degree you hold, but common titles for graduates include web developer, network architect, software engineer, and data scientist.

Is a computer science degree hard?

Computer science degrees can feel challenging for students who do not enjoy learning about math, computer programming languages, and other common topics covered in these degrees. If you enjoy these topics, you may find it challenging but ultimately enjoy the process of learning.

Which degree is best in computer science?

The best computer science degree is the one that meets your academic, financial, and professional needs. Whether you want to dip your toe in the field with an associate degree or compete for higher-level positions with a bachelor’s degree, plenty of opportunities can be found.

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