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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: $17,831
Certification: Available, but not required
Avg Salary: $102,190
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Online degree programs in information technology are available at the undergraduate and graduate level in a wide variety of disciplines and specializations; each one will qualify students for a different level of work and pay. Careers in the IT industry appeal to people who have a knack for mechanics and applied science. Skilled IT graduates can find work in all kinds of environments, with large organizations and small firms, and in public and private realms. Many IT professionals may also work remotely and assist clients in locations far from where they are.

While attending an accredited degree program isn't mandatory, students will find that there are significant benefits of attending an information technology program with official accreditation. The main accrediting agency for IT-related degree programs in the United States is ABET, or the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Graduating from a school with ABET accreditation will guarantee that your credits will transfer and will be a distinction of quality education that employers should recognize. Read More

Comprehensive List of Colleges & Universities for an Online Information Technology Degree

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Other Degrees Related to Information Technology

Computer Networking

Computer networking is an expanding field that requires professionals who can interact with a wide variety of businesses and perform essential functions for communication and advertising in this digital era. Computer networking professionals are responsible for managing, installing, enabling, and repairing connections to the Internet and other networks. Because computers and other types of information systems technology have expanded to almost every industry, those employed in computer networking can work in a huge range of environments, performing extremely varied tasks. Because the list of demands and, therefore, range of jobs in this field is so widespread, students can enter the field and find some form of employment with any degree level attained, but the job title, amount of responsibility, and earnings will vary.

Database Administration

Earning a degree in database administration will prepare you to for a job in nearly every industry. If you enjoy handling large amounts of data, can think logically, and are able to pay close attention to detail, a career in database administration may be a good fit. Strong analytical and problem-solving skills are vital for this profession. You should also be able to work independently, but be equally capable of working effectively with a team.

Database administration is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States. Career opportunities abound in multiple fields, including business, finance, education, entertainment, and healthcare. Job titles for program graduates include catalog coordinator, database administrator, database analyst, data engineer, data entry specialist, inventory specialist, project manager, software implementation consultant, systems administrator, and web developer and administrator. Online database administration degrees are available at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels. Some schools also offer certificate programs.

Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information Systems (GIS), also known as geospatial information systems, enable individuals in a variety of geospatial-related fields to seize, examine, preserve, manage, and articulate data involving the Earth’s surface. Individuals survey all kinds of property, ranging from water-filled environments and various areas on land to airspace and mineral sites. Afterward, they may record their findings for the purpose of presenting legal documentation, preparing mapping routes, and providing expert testimonies during court trials. Most mapping specialists are referred to as geographic information specialists or analysts. Strong problem-solving skills and the ability to reason, think logically, and make decisions quickly are some important qualities for GIS professionals.

Information Systems

Online information systems degrees are designed to prepare graduates to oversee and coordinate computer and IT issues within an organization. These degrees cover the communication and leadership skills necessary for managing within a business, as well as the technical skills for assessing IT needs, designing systems, and implementing new technology. Prospective students can pursue online information systems degree programs at the certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate level. Most programs combine business skills with an understanding of technical specifications; some allow students to specialize in a particular information systems area, such as web development, information security, or digital forensics.

Network Security

An online degree in network security helps to prepare students for a vibrant career in information systems management. You need to have strong analytical and problem-solving skills for this profession. The ability to multitask and communicate effectively are also important. Job openings for network security specialists are found in virtually all businesses and industries. Graduates can take up various positions, playing a crucial role in managing security challenges, securing servers, developing secure networks, and finding solutions to security situations. Job titles for program graduates include network architect, network engineer, network security specialist, project manager, systems administrator, and technical manager. With an advanced degree, graduates may also venture into consultancy and training. Online network security degrees are available at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, and certificate levels.

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