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Complete Guide to an Online Information Technology Degree

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Quick Facts
Accreditation: ABET
Available Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate, Certificate
Avg Tuition: $20,641
Certification: Microsoft and Cisco
Avg Salary: $87,520

Our list of online information technology (IT) degrees provides an overview of five different specializations within the field: database administration, network security, technical support, computer networking, and information assurance. Online IT degrees are available at the associate through doctoral levels.

Students pursuing IT degrees should be sure to verify that their programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET is the major accrediting body for IT programs in the United States. Thus, programs accredited by ABET meet rigorous national standards and provide high quality, relevant IT education. Program-specific accreditation exists for a variety of specialties within the IT field including the specializations on this page. Other popular IT programs include computer science, cyber security, network administration, and library science.

Looking for an Online Information Technology Degree? Search Over 22,000 Online Programs:
Looking for an Online Information Technology Degree? Search Over 22,000 Online Programs:

Information Technology

Specialists in computer networking may find work as computer network architects designing and building data communication networks of all sizes. They may also provide guidance and advice to users of these networks or day-to-day maintenance at organizations with networks already established. Online students aspiring to work as computer network specialists generally need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in computer networks or a related field. Coursework for online students will likely include the fundamentals of computer troubleshooting, networking and telecommunications management, open source operating systems, data networks and the internet, network administration and operations, interconnecting Cisco devices, installing and connecting Windows server, Linux system administration, and current trends and projects in computer networks and security. Additional professional certifications may also be necessary depending on the job and the network system used by the employer. Professional certifications with the highest job placement success are the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) or the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) for employers using the Cisco networks. Other popular certifications are the Juniper Enterprise Routing and Switching, Expert (JNCIE-ENT), CompTIA Network+, and the Wireshark Certified Network Analyst (WNCA). Job growth for computer networking is greater than average due to constantly increasing use of computer networks by all companies and organizations.

Information Technology

Database administrators (DBAs) apply specialized software to record, organize, and secure a company or organization's data, which might range from financial records to client information. They are responsible for ensuring that users are able to access and use data securely and as needed. In this technological age, businesses across all niches of the economy have data needs, and DBAs are in high demand. Online students looking to become DBAs should consider a bachelor's degree in a field related to information technology or computer science. Some entry-level positions will accept candidates with an online associate degree, and some students may opt to earn an associate degree first and then gain work experience prior to completing a full four-year bachelor's degree. Curriculum for database administration degree programs includes classes in data center architecture, advanced database management, database security, client server technologies and applications, data analytics, information technology management frameworks, data in the cloud, and cyber security. Database certifications are available for specific programming languages; those most commonly solicited by employers are certifications in Oracle 11g and 12c, NoSQL, and Microsoft's MCSE. 

Information Technology

Information assurance is about protecting a business or organization's digital and analog information by using the most advanced developments in software architecture, programming, human-computer interaction, and more. The field encompasses the specializations of network and cyber security. Information assurance specialists are in high demand, as every organization has critical information that it needs to store, transport, protect, or keep confidential, whether it be a business's customer data or a healthcare facility's patient records. Competitive job candidates generally have some related work experience as well as a bachelor's degree in a computer science or information technology related field. Specialized degrees and graduate programs in information assurance are also available. Any online degree in this field will teach students to assess the risks surrounding a body of information through courses such as information systems control and auditing, principles and methods in cryptographic security, web application security strategies, global information security laws and standards, laws and ethics in digital investigations, telecommunications and network infrastructure, and more. The most reputable information assurance degree programs are recognized as National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense (CAE IA/CD) by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Online students may wish to bolster their qualifications by obtaining certificates such as the CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, and CompTIA Project+. Learn more about CompTIA certificates here.

Information Technology

Network security professionals are in high demand as organizations seek to protect their networks from hackers and technological malfunction. Network security is generally maintained by a system administrator and involves the management of user IDs and passwords, firewalls, data encryption, and online backups. Cyber security is a sub-discipline of network security which focuses on protecting data and systems on networks connected to the internet. Network security specialists generally need a bachelor's degree in computer science or information technology in order to be competitive in the workforce. Curriculum might include courses in system assurance security, cyber defense and countermeasures, cryptology and data protection, cyber attacks and ethical hacking, computer forensics, python scripting, and operating systems and application security. Some certifications are also essential for gaining entry-level positions in this field, such as CompTIA Security+ and GIAC Security Essentials; more advanced credentials include the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM). Network security professionals can stay up-to-date with evolving technology and security concerns by completing continuing education courses, many of which are available online and cover topics as varied as Android or iPhone/iOS investigation forensics, SQL injection attacks and defense, hacking web apps, healthcare security tools, and more.

Information Technology

Technical support specialists provide guidance and advice to users of computer software and equipment. They may work with individuals, businesses, and IT workers both within and outside of their own organizations. Many support specialists are required to be available 24 hours a day and on the weekends, since computer support is now essential to the running of most organizations. Some technical support positions require a bachelor's degree, but many will accept associate and postsecondary degrees, and occasionally, a job candidate with a high school degree, training, certifications, and work experience will be hired. Moreover, employers will often require candidates for technical support positions to hold vendor-specific certifications in order to ensure that they are knowledgeable about the products they will be working with. As organizations upgrade their computer systems and hardware, computer support specialists are in high demand on the job market. Many support specialists go on to become network administrators or managers in the support department.

Available Online IT Degrees

Associate degrees in areas such as mobile device applications, software development, or database management provide students with an introduction to IT concepts. These degrees are often designed to prepare students for further study at the bachelor's or master's level. Bachelor's degrees in build upon introductory concepts and allow students to explore different electives to pinpoint the area of IT they would like to specialize in. After completing general education requirements, the course content will depend largely on the type of IT program you're attending.

Master's-level IT programs nearly always include a focus or specialization relevant to a certain career path and may also require students to conduct research. Examples of master's degrees in information technology include network administration, information security, modeling and simulation, or project management. Doctoral degrees in information technology disciplines are designed for professionals who wish to expand their skills into leadership or research areas; they often include advanced concepts in IT business management, consultation, or education.

Undergraduate and graduate IT certificates are available in a wide range of areas such as information science, web design, IT management, and software development. Certificates can help current professionals update their skills in order to advance in their career, or they can introduce less experienced students to new technical concepts and help prepare them for further education.

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Online Associate Degrees in Information Technology

Information technology professionals are concerned with applying, testing, maintaining, and distributing data for various companies in a wide range of industries. Many aspiring IT professionals take the first step to entering their dream jobs by pursuing associate degrees in the field. These programs typically take two years to complete and require individuals to fulfill up to 64 credit hours. High school graduates and GED certificate holders with strong math and science skills should apply.

Students can choose between two kinds of associate degree programs in information technology: Associate of Science (AS) and Associate of Applied Science (AAS). Those who choose to pursue the former usually plan to transfer to a bachelor's degree program whereas students of the latter often enter the workforce immediately after graduation, since they receive specialized knowledge and applications in their area of study. All associate degree programs provide basic theories in information technology. Students explore networking systems, database management, software and hardware applications, and other foundational programming concepts. Core classes include Internet concepts, webpage design, global issues, information security, and information systems and technologies.

Associate degree holders in information technology can enter the workforce as systems administrators, computer specialists, and systems analysts. Those who wish to continue their education will eventually be eligible for careers as supervisors and managers of IT departments for corporations. Professionals should stay up to date with trends and resources in their industry by becoming affiliated with leading companies, such as the World Information Technology and Services Alliance.

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Online Bachelor's Degrees in Information Technology

The bachelor’s degree in information technology trains students in a blend of computer science and practical technology management topics, which is useful for professional roles in IT. Students also gain critical thinking skills and cultural understanding, from the humanities and sciences requirements of the degree. These four-year programs require 40 to 50 courses. Applicants need a high school diploma or GED.

The major curriculum in the IT bachelor’s degree investigates a variety of topics related to business-level information systems. Core classes include information security, UNIX administration, telecommunications and networking, information systems architecture, and IT project management. Along with didactic courses, students are typically required to complete design and project-based labs. Along with the major core, many IT programs require that students specialize in a particular area within this wide field. Possible focuses include systems administration, information security, web development, and infrastructure management. Many programs also require the completion of a capstone course during the student’s senior year, in which students take on a large project within their IT interest area.

The information technology bachelor’s is a highly flexible program and can lead to a number of roles in private industry, non-profits, or the public sector, since nearly all organizations utilize IT. The bachelor’s degree is the entry-level requirement for computer programmer, database administrator, network administrator, web developer, and information security specialist positions. After gaining some professional experience, bachelor’s graduates may move into supervisory or advanced roles, such as IT project manager, systems analyst, or network architect.

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Online Master's Degrees in Information Technology

The IT master’s degree provides students with professionally focused skills in information technology that incorporate perspectives from business and management. These programs require 12 to 15 courses and take about two years to complete. Applicants need an accredited bachelor’s degree, as well as basic skills in programming and networking.

The online IT master’s program curriculum discusses the strategic use of information systems in the business world. Core technical classes look at telecommunications management, e-business technologies, database management, software engineering and computer programming. Management courses discuss project management and leading in a technology setting. Many information technology master’s programs require students to choose a particular module or specialization in an IT area. Possible focuses include software development, information security, health information technology, information systems management, and telecommunications systems. Along with the courses in the specialization area, many IT master’s programs require an on-site practicum or internship experience in an IT business setting.

The information technology master’s opens up a wide variety of leadership roles in information systems, including IT manager, project manager, information security specialist, systems analyst, network architect, and software developer. Other possible roles include network administrator, database administrator, and computer programmer. The career direction that graduates choose will likely depend on their degree specialization and previous professional experience; for example, it is useful for IT managers in a hospital to have previous experience in a healthcare setting.

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Online Doctorate Degrees in Information Technology

Online information technology degrees at the doctorate level allow students to develop and expand their knowledge in computer science and information systems. Much of the theoretical content of doctoral programs involves advanced studies of master’s-level core coursework. Programs place heavy emphasis on IT research and practice. Applicants should hold an accredited master’s degree in computer science, engineering, information systems, or a related field. Prerequisites may include computer architecture, data communications, database systems, networks, programming languages, and systems analysis and design. Doctorate programs require completion of 45 to 60 credits, which takes approximately three years.

Doctoral programs aim to develop IT practitioners with high levels of analytical, research, and technical expertise. The curriculum covers areas such as computer architecture, cyber security, cyberspace laws, data communications, data mining and warehousing, database management, human computer interaction, IT policy implementation, leadership and strategic planning, managerial information systems, operating systems, programming, project fundamentals, software design and development, systems analysis and design, systems development, technology systems in business, and web development. Research courses focus on research methodology, quantitative research, and business research. Students are required to complete an independent research project and write a dissertation, which they submit and defend in public.

Doctoral graduates may take up senior positions in the field of IT in areas such as administration, development, management, research, and teaching. Job titles for IT professionals include cyber security specialist, database administrator, IT consultant, network administrator, project manager, software engineer, systems developer, and Web applications developer.

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Online Certificate Programs in Information Technology

Information technology certificates may be pursued at the undergraduate and graduate level. Undergraduate certificates provide a foundation in computer systems, networks, and programming to students with a limited background in IT. Graduate certificates provide experienced professionals with advanced training in specific IT areas. Students complete 5 to 12 courses over the span of one to two years. Applicants need a high school diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree, depending on the level of the certificate.

The curriculum for the undergraduate certificate in information technology provides a broad-based introduction to the many areas of IT. A course in IT principles includes an overview of the components of the information system, such as the operating system, server, network, and Internet technology. Other common courses look at IT customer service, systems analysis, computer programming, and web design.

The graduate certificate in information technology often provides an overview of IT from a business perspective. For example, core classes might look at business communication networks, IT management, information systems design, and database design. Students learn how to harness IT to help a business achieve its larger goals.

Graduates of the undergraduate certificate may be prepared for entry-level computer support specialist, help desk, systems administrator, or network administrator positions, depending on their previous experience. Many employers prefer to hire IT specialists with a bachelor’s degree, but in some cases college coursework and professional experience can also be sufficient. Current professionals can use the graduate certificate to better apply IT in their workplace or to move into IT management or systems analysis positions. Other possible career areas include network engineering, software development, and information security.

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The Importance of Accreditation

The US Department of Education recognizes several independent agencies that accredit IT degree programs or institutions that offer IT programs. Before they can become accredited, schools and degree programs go through a rigorous evaluation process to prove to the accrediting agency that they meet established academic standards. Attending a school or program that has earned accreditation can help students feel confident that they are receiving a high-quality education that implements current research and is taught by competent instructors. It will also enable students to transfer credits to other accredited schools and apply for scholarships and financial aid, as these financial benefits are typically only awarded to students who are enrolled at an accredited school or program.

ABET, or the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, grants accreditation to information technology and information systems degree programs and is recognized by the US Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation. Colleges and universities can also be accredited, and IT programs that are offered at these institutions are also considered to be accredited. Current lists of accrediting agencies, schools, and programs can be found via ABET, USDE, or CHEA.

Types of Online IT Certification

Microsoft Certifications

A popular kind of certification for IT professionals is offered by Microsoft. To maximize their chances of earning this credential, students are encouraged to enroll in preparatory classes at various distance learning colleges and universities. Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certifications are available in the following information technology categories: server, desktop, applications, database, and developer. The stages of certification that are currently available for these IT categories are Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS), Technology Associate (MTA), Solutions Associate (MCSA), Solutions Expert (MCSE), and Solutions Developer (MCSD).

Cisco Certifications

Cisco also offers private online classes that enable students to become certified IT professionals. Topics that are discussed include routing, network security, switching, and wireless. Individuals may opt to become certified on five different levels: entry, associate, expert, professional, and architect. 

References

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