A diverse, interdisciplinary field, computer science (CS) focuses on the theories, mathematics, and applications that underlie computing. CS programs cover automation, algorithm design, and computability. Students pursuing an online computer science degree also develop in-demand core skills in computer hardware, programming, and software engineering.
Some programs emphasize business acumen, while others prioritize technical skills. However, all good CS degrees move enrollees closer to lucrative, in-demand careers in rapidly growing fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer and information technology professionals earned a median annual salary of $88,240 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 11% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than average for other occupations.
The following page highlights the timelines, curricula, and financing options for top accelerated online computer science programs. Compressing course content into eight-week intensive terms, accelerated programs move at a demanding pace. However, many accelerated online programs accommodate working students by allowing them to take fewer courses while still finishing their degrees in a reasonable timeframe.
Accelerated Online Computer Science Degrees 2020
The following ranking highlights top computer science programs and summarizes key program details. Prospective students can quickly compare schools' concentration options, program requirements, and degree timelines to make educated decisions.
A private, nonprofit university located in Romeoville, Illinois, Lewis offers an accelerated BA in computer science program for students interested in programming, cybersecurity, big data, and networking. Lewis' values-centered curriculum and small student-to-teacher ratios support an intimate learning community.
The accelerated version of this fully online computer science program features interactive eight-week courses. The Lewis University Computer Science Cloud provides 24-hour access to virtual machines, enabling students to complete hands-on exercises during after-work hours.
Enrollees complete 128 credits, including 49 CS major-related credits split into 31 core credits, 12 elective credits, and six capstone credits. Core coursework covers programming, networking, operating systems, and legal and ethical issues in computing. Prior coding or programming experience may qualify for academic credit.
The capstone experience requires an advanced course in software engineering or enterprise networking, security, and automation. Capstone students also complete a project, internship, or research course.
Lewis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A public university located in Auburn, Alabama, Auburn offers an accelerated online bachelor of computer science degree emphasizing both computer science theory and hands-on skills. This interdisciplinary program covers information technology, database management, networking and network design, and web and mobile application development.
Learners complete the degree fully online. They must complete 20 major-related courses (60 credits) beyond associate degree requirements. Auburn's 18 core course offerings include algorithms, computer ethics, software construction, and mobile applications. Enrollees also choose two elective courses such as software engineering, formal languages, parallel systems, and system administration.
Up to 60 credits may transfer. Depending on their prior coursework, some enrollees graduate in just two years by taking two 7.5-week courses each term across five terms per year. Applicants need a 2.5 minimum GPA.
Auburn University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A private, nonprofit, Jesuit university located in Denver, Colorado, Regis offers an online BS in computer science accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission. This comprehensive, accelerated online computer science program emphasizes software development skills-building and accommodates working students by offering courses during evening hours. Offered six times each year, Regis' accelerated online courses last eight weeks.
Enrollees complete 46 general education credits, including discrete mathematics and natural science, and 26 foundational credits in algorithms, programming, applications, and mobile and enterprise computing. Degree-seekers also take eight credits of upper-division math and 24 credits of core courses, including artificial intelligence, computation theory, ethical leadership, and a senior capstone.
Learners complete 5-6 general elective credits and nine concentration credits in topics such as data science, computer systems security, and quantum computing. Regis' generous transfer policy accepts up to 66 transfer credits toward this 120-credit degree.
Regis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A private, nonprofit school in Olathe, Kansas, MNU offers a BS in computer information systems (CIS) featuring software engineering and cybersecurity concentrations. This program emphasizes software design and application of IT tools and principles to enhance business operations across various industries. Located near the Silicone Prairie and featuring alumni networks at major technology companies such as T-Mobile, Nokia, Garmin, and Cerner, MNU prepares graduates for local career opportunities.
To graduate with this 120-credit degree, CIS majors complete 60 general education credits and 60 major-related credits. CIS requirements include 33 core credits, 12 business and quantitative core credits, and 15 concentration credits.
Up to 90 total credits, including 60 credits from software development/CIS programs, may transfer toward MNU's CIS accelerated online computer science bachelor's degree. Enrollees can complete the core of this accelerated computer science program in less than two years. MNU offers tuition discounts for military and partner-company employees and families.
MidAmerica Nazarene University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Accelerated programs typically feature intensive courses that last 7-8 weeks and cover the same content as traditional, 15-week semester courses. By offering two terms per semester, usually including the summer, accelerated programs often run up to six short terms per year.
Online accelerated computer science programs typically cater to working students seeking continuing education in the evening. Students in part-time accelerated bachelor's programs often take 1-2 courses per term and take four years to complete their degree. However, part-time accelerated programs can save learners time and money by allowing them to keep their day jobs.
Some accelerated computer science programs allow enrollees to take a full course load. However, intensive courses require roughly twice the weekly time commitment of regular courses. Working students may struggle to manage a full load of accelerated courses. Prospective students should consider their schedules to ensure that intensive courses fit into their lives.
Learners enrolled in accelerated programs at schools with flat annual or semester tuition rates may save money by completing more courses per semester. Talking to alumni can provide insight into the accelerated program experience.
Career and Salary Outlook for Computer Science Graduates
Computer science graduates benefit from the ongoing technology boom. The BLS indicates that computer and information technology professionals earned a median annual salary of $88,240 in 2019 -- more than double the median for all occupations.
The BLS projects jobs for other professionals, such as software developers and information security analysts, to grow 22% and 31%, respectively, between 2019 and 2029. The industries employing the most software developers include computer systems design and related services, manufacturing, software publishing, and management. Most entry-level positions in computer hardware engineering, database administration, information security analysis, and software development require a CS-related bachelor's degree.
These website designers and creators usually specialize in front-end or back-end development. Common tasks include determining clients' preferences and needs, collaborating with other designers, creating applications and code, and monitoring site traffic. Entry-level web developer positions often require an associate degree.
Median Annual Salary: $73,760
Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029): 8%
These professionals compose code for running computer applications and software. Computer programmers also test, correct, and update codes and programs. These professionals may design programs and develop software themselves or work closely with software developers. Computer programmers usually need a related bachelor's degree and earn a median annual salary of $86,550, according to the BLS.
Median Annual Salary: $86,550
Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029): -9%
These professionals design, maintain, and upgrade computer systems, applications, and programs. Most developers specialize in either systems software development or applications development. They assess user needs, create diagrams, perform upgrades, and document developments. The BLS projects jobs for software developers to grow 22% between 2019 and 2029.
Median Annual Salary: $107,510
Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029): 22%
Tasked with directing IT goal assessment, planning, and implementation, these managers monitor network and information security (IS), consult with executives, and supervise CIS personnel. Daily activities also may include researching new technologies and communicating with vendors.
Median Annual Salary: $146,360
Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029): 10%
Accreditation for Computer Science Programs
Schools and programs often undergo a voluntary evaluation process used to verify the quality of their academic programs, faculty, and resources. Accreditation status can affect financial aid and credit transfer, so most schools seek accreditation from national or regional accrediting agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Good-quality accelerated online computer science programs typically only reside in regionally accredited institutions. These are colleges and universities that meet academic standards set by the designated CHEA-approved accreditor in the school's geographical region. These schools meet higher standards than nationally accredited schools and therefore only recognize credits and degrees from other regionally accredited schools.
Top computer science programs also usually feature programmatic accreditation from one of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology's member societies, such as CSAB, Inc. The Department of Education database of accredited schools and programs can help prospective students determine accreditation status.
Courses in Computer Science Programs
Online computer science programs usually entail 48-60 credits of major-related coursework, which enrollees earn through core courses, specialization courses or electives, and capstone projects or internships. Core coursework introduces students to the computer science discipline, builds technical skills, and examines digital technology ethics. Capstone projects or internships build skills in research, analysis, and application of technical knowledge to real-world settings. Students may graduate with a project portfolio to share with potential employers.
To fulfill electives or concentration requirements, students often take specialized courses clustered in a field such as data science, security, artificial intelligence, or software engineering. See below for descriptions of common computer science courses, but keep in mind that course offerings and concentration options vary by program.
Software EngineeringOften offered as part of a software engineering track or concentration, this advanced course starts with stakeholder-identification and requirement-elicitation tools including prototypes, interviews, specifications, and validation techniques. The curriculum also covers diverse model and requirement types befitting various representational purposes. Enrollees also learn about methods for storing non-functional requirements.
Introduction to Computer ScienceThis core course provides a useful overview of the discipline, featuring topics including computer architecture, data organization, networking, and information security. Enrollees also learn computational theory and foundational computing concepts such as abstractions, algorithms, programming, and computational problem-solving.
Data Structures and AlgorithmsFocused on data structures including graphs, stacks, and queues, this core computer science course teaches students related algorithm design, analysis, and recursion techniques. Enrollees also gain familiarity with animating software for data structures and algorithms. Algorithm design techniques covered may include dynamic programming, pattern matching, graph computations, and divide-and-conquer.
Machine Learning and Big DataCore coursework for students concentrating in data science, this course focuses on the organization and analysis of big data sets. Course content covers algorithms employed by industrial automation and biometrics applications. Learners explore key tools and topics such as histograms, classifier design and application, k-means clustering, and neural networks. This course typically requires learners to build their own programs using Python and pseudocode.
Digital Technology EthicsThis course discusses ethical dilemmas related to digital technology issues such as intellectual property, censorship, privacy, and autonomous machines. Other possible topics include computational genomics, computer forensics, and pervasive computing. Relevant for aspiring computer forensics and IT or IS managers, this course often appears in core curricula or in information security-related concentrations.
Computer science students seeking financial aid should begin by completing the FAFSA. The government uses this data to connect students with aid options including federal grants and scholarships, which students do not repay. Students may also explore federal loans and work-study options. Since the government offers aid on a first-come, first-serve basis, applicants should submit the FAFSA by January 1 or soon thereafter to improve their financial aid prospects.
Prospective students should consider loan options carefully. Subsidized loans do not require interest payments while students are in school. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest immediately.
Students in online programs can often save money by paying lower tuition rates, avoiding commuting or on-campus housing costs, and retaining their jobs while pursuing their degrees.
Scholarships for Computer Science Majors
Many college students qualify for scholarships from private funders, companies, or nonprofits. Eligible applicants usually demonstrate academic merit, financial need, and special group membership. See below for some scholarships that can support computer science degree-seekers.