Information technology (IT) is one of the fastest-growing job sectors in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment in all IT-related careers will increase by 13% between 2016 and 2026. At the same time, the median annual wage for the industry sits at $84,580, more than double the national average for all occupations.
These trends affirm the immediate benefits and attractive staying power of earning an online IT degree, both in terms of earning potential and continued career advancement. Pursuing an IT degree online allows prospective learners to enjoy these growing benefits at a convenient pace. Online options also offer greater flexibility and affordability than on-campus programs.
Overview of Online IT Degrees
Information technology programs study the technical application of computing systems to store, transmit, retrieve, and manipulate data, typically in corporate enterprise settings. Due to the rapid development and widespread adoption of new and emerging technologies in data communication, this field touches nearly every facet of contemporary business and commerce. Earning a computer information technology degree online constitutes the first major step toward entry into this expansive, remunerative field and provides an ideal course of study for analytical, detail-oriented learners with an interest in computer technology.
The core skills and technical knowledge learners gain with an online IT degree positions them to find successful, lucrative employment in a variety of IT-related job sectors. Some of these industries include web and software development, network systems administration, information security, computer engineering, and market research analysis.
The overall career outlook for learners holding an online information technology degree remains exceptionally positive. BLS data reveals exponential growth in IT and IT-related fields over the last 20 years and projects that the trend will continue over the next decade. IT jobs are positioned to grow at an impressive rate, outpacing nearly every similar job sector and the national economy as a whole.
The application process for the best online information technology degree programs remains simple and uncomplicated. Specific requirements vary by school, but learners must usually complete an online application, providing basic information pertaining to their educational and demographic background. Degree seekers must also submit an official copy of transcripts for any previous academic work. They can obtain these transcripts by contacting the registrar at their previous institutions. This request may involve a small fee. Learners interested in transferring credits from an outside college or university must complete necessary paperwork from the admissions department in addition to providing official transcripts.
Some schools may also require a personal statement and recommendation letters for online IT degree admissions. The personal statement should outline learners' professional aspirations as well as their reasons for pursuing a computer information technology degree online. Learners should ask former mentors, teachers, or supervisors who can speak to their aptitudes to write recommendation letters. The application may also involve a $60-$120 fee, which students can sometimes waive by contacting the admissions office.
What Will I Learn?
The typical course of study for an online information technology degree introduces learners to the field's basic principles. This material includes the discipline's history and origin, its evolution alongside emerging technologies and new communications problems, and its broad application in contemporary business contexts. In addition to this general background, learners explore specialization areas that align with their professional goals, such as cybersecurity, data analytics, and artificial intelligence.
Most online IT degrees require that learners complete 120-150 total credits. Students typically distribute these credits across four main categories, including general education requirements (40-50 credits), core courses (50-60 credits), major concentration or specialization (20-30 credits), and free electives (5-10 credits). While specific curriculum requirements vary by program, degree seekers can expect a catalog that contains courses similar to those listed below.
Foundations of Information Technology
This course introduces degree seekers to the various tools, applications, and online working environments characteristic of the field. Students explore information management, programming, web systems and technologies, and information security and assurance. Learners practice these tools and techniques in simulated environments that mirror actual working conditions.
Introduction to Application Development
In this course, learners explore the fundamentals of basic application and program development for a variety of platforms and digital environments. Degree seekers learn essential strategies and techniques and work through the entire development process from beginning to end, including initial planning, back-end coding, user interface design, implementation, and troubleshooting.
This course covers the main concepts and overall aim of technology infrastructure, including its history, evolution, and broad application in current IT contexts. Learners expand their knowledge of data transmission and computer networking by applying the essential principles of technology infrastructure to prominent case studies in the field.
This course introduces degree seekers to the main concepts and methods of project management, with special attention to its application in various IT environments. Learners acquire basic management skills and practice these skills by selecting, initiating, and planning a large-scale project. Students learn about project charters, project scope statements, scheduling and budgeting, and assessment reporting.
Introduction to Human-Computer Interaction
Learners in this course explore the theory, history, and standard operating procedures characteristic of human-computer interaction. This includes material related to effective interface design, evaluation methods, prototyping, and task analysis. Degree seekers observe and assess various interface platforms and use professional tools to improve them.
Information Technology Service Management
This course provides learners with an introductory survey of the primary methods of management involved in the industry, as well as its quality assurance aspects. Topics include mapping the relationships of involved parties; effectively using tools to improve the communication process; and interfacing between organizational staff, customers, and front-end users.
What Can I Do with an Online IT Degree?
Online information technology degree holders possess a highly versatile set of core skills and an attractive technical knowledge base that often correlate with higher earning power. Many potential employers view the abilities and competencies acquired during this course of study as valued assets for their organization. These circumstances can only increase as new technologies and IT-related issues continue to pervade contemporary life and corporate enterprise.
Earning an IT degree online provides learners with the technical knowledge and core skills necessary to thrive in technologically rich work environments. Individuals can apply these skills and competencies both within IT and a variety of related industries. Degree seekers can expect to gain the knowledge required to analyze complex computing and data communications problems.
Students practice the tools and techniques involved in computer-based design and development. Degree seekers deploy these methods as a means of offering high-level implementation recommendations meant to meet their employer's networking needs and enhance their database environments. By the end of the program, graduates can identify effective, innovate solutions that increase their organization's efficiency and productivity.
Students gain broad, highly transferable core skills during their course of study. An online IT degree allows learners to engage in critical thinking and complex problem solving. Students use logic and deductive reasoning to quickly assess an array of potential solutions to a given problem, and then implement the best solution. Degree seekers in this program also refine their written and oral communication skills by synthesizing complex information in an easy-to-understand manner. These skills prove indispensable in a variety of careers and professional contexts.
Potential Careers and Salaries
An online information technology degree prepares learners for entry into a broad swath of job sectors, including computer information research, systems support and analysis, network architecture, and technical support. Additionally, information technology directly affects nearly every facet of industry and commerce. Widespread use and adoption of new technologies leads many outside industries to draw upon the IT talent pool in meeting their specific needs. Consequently, students can use the broad set of skills and knowledge they acquire in a variety of fields.
In addition to skills such as coding and computer programming, knowledge of networking fundamentals and data security constitute the basic building blocks necessary to form a successful IT career. The careers listed below represent several of the major job sectors in which online IT degree holders can find gainful employment.
Computer and Information Systems Manager
Annual Median Salary: $139,220
These professionals coordinate, plan, and direct an organization's computer-related activities. They determine the organization's IT goals and implement those goals across a variety of channels and networking platforms.
Computer Support Specialist
Annual Median Salary: $52,810
Responsible for helping computer users and large-scale organizations, these individuals support computer networks, troubleshoot those networks, and offer direct technical assistance to users.
Annual Median Salary: $103,560
These individuals create and implement innovative applications and engaging programs for users. They analyze users' needs, assess a product's success or failure, and ensure that all consumer applications continue to run smoothly and effectively.
Computer Network Architect
Annual Median Salary: $104,650
These professionals design, build, and implement robust data communications channels. These include intranets, local area networks, and wide area networks. Computer network architects coordinate their work with other IT-related staff to prevent data communication obstruction.
Annual Median Salary: $81,100
These individuals manage the daily operations of an organization's entire computer and networking system. They work alongside network architects and other IT staff to troubleshoot and improve these systems while also determining the organization's overall computing needs.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Information Technology?
While an online IT degree prepares individuals for graduate study, many careers in the field do not require education beyond the undergraduate level. Degree seekers interested in programming and computer networking, database administration, information security, and software development can expect to successfully enter the workforce immediately following graduation.
Some mid-level positions may involve further training and education. Learners intent on obtaining more lucrative and specialized roles may benefit from exploring a graduate course of study that allows them to hone their expertise. Those who do not choose this path can still effectively advance in the field by pursuing additional certifications and professional development opportunities. The best online information technology degree programs prepare learners for gainful employment in the industry regardless of their plans for future graduate study.
Accreditation for Information Technology Bachelor's Programs
Accreditation remains an important factor to consider when weighing educational options in this field. Accreditation is an independent peer review process that ensures educational institutions and the degrees they grant meet acceptable standards of quality and proficiency. This process promotes general excellence in higher education and helps degree seekers make the best, most responsible decisions as they explore different programs.
The best online information technology degree programs possess proper accreditation conferred by a body recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This credential can exist as regional, national, or programmatic accreditation, or some combination of the three. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology serves as the programmatic accrediting body for online information technology degrees.
Some programs may not hold programmatic accreditation, in which case learners should look for schools with regional or national accreditation. Agencies such as the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, and the New England Commission of Higher Education grant regional accreditation, while entities such as the Distance Education Accreditation Commission and the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools bestow national accreditation.
IT Professional Organizations
Professional organizations and peer associations in the field offer learners and recent online IT degree graduates many opportunities for networking and professional development. These organizations provide indispensable career advancement resources, as well as the most current information on recent developments in the constantly evolving field. Many of the associations listed below also host regular events such as monthly meetings and annual conferences. They also publicize relevant job openings and facilitate peer networking and collaboration.
CompTIA Association of IT Professionals
First established in the 1950s, this organization rises as a leading association of technology professionals. AITP promotes its mission of advocating for the industry and increasing professional enrichment by sponsoring events and programs and offering special benefits such as training and certification to its members.
Association for Information Science and Technology
ASIS&T contributes to the field by bridging the gap between IT research and practical application. The organization advances this mission by generating cutting-edge publications, hosting industry-related events, and providing access to aggregated job boards and career services.
Society for Information Management
Founded in 1968, SIM promotes the free exchange of knowledge and ideas among IT professionals as a means of enriching global intellectual capital. The society achieves this vision through various peer networking outlets, online education tools, and other professional development opportunities.