An online web development degree offers a host of benefits for aspiring web developers who want to build a strong educational foundation for a rewarding career. With the rapid proliferation of mobile devices, progressive web applications, and innovations in cloud computing, the demand for skilled web developers continues to expand. Many students opt to pursue their education in a convenient, flexible, and cost-effective manner by earning a web development degree online.
This guide outlines admission requirements, career paths, salary expectations, and other factors to consider as you explore your options for earning an online web development degree.
Overview of Web Development Degrees
Web development governs the building and maintenance of functional websites and web applications. Developers typically concentrate on one of two main areas: front-end development focused on user-facing aspects of websites and back-end development focused on server-side web communications. Online web developer degrees provide a combination of technical, communication, and creative skills to equip students for careers in a variety of industries.
This field changes rapidly, meaning today's new technology may quickly become obsolete. An online web development degree from a top school provides a solid grounding in important fundamentals, establishes a solid foundation for entry-level jobs, and provides skills to help students navigate the lifelong learning necessary to succeed in this popular field.
Web development lends itself well to online learning environments. Students can complete most web development programs entirely online, although some schools also offer hybrid options. The field attracts detail-oriented, self-motivated learners and offers ample room for career advancement.
Technological growth in the fields of robotics, mobile applications, online retailing, and cloud computing all contribute to a positive employment outlook in web development. Demand for skilled web developers continues to increase, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting 15% job growth between 2016 and 2026 -- a rate much faster than the national average for all occupations.
The standard application process for students interested in earning a web design and development degree online begins with completing an online application form and paying an application fee. Some schools defer payment of the application fee -- usually $35-$60 -- until later in the admission process, and some even offer application fee waivers to qualifying military service members and veterans, as well as their spouses. Programs also typically require a personal statement or essay and up to three letters of recommendation from instructors, supervisors, and/or other professionals.
Prospective transfer students must submit official transcripts from all institutions they have attended. Applicants can arrange to have transcripts sent electronically or by regular mail. Some schools charge a small fee for this service, and the submission process can take 3-5 weeks. Students applying to some schools may receive an admissions decision based on unofficial transcripts, with the understanding that they will submit official transcripts within 60 days.
Applicants generally need to provide proof of proficiency in English and hold a minimum 2.0 GPA, although some schools offer conditional admission to applicants with lower GPAs. Students who attended foreign institutions may also need to obtain an evaluation of their foreign credits/credentials.
What Will I Learn?
Students pursuing a web development online degree typically study concepts and principles of both client-side and server-side development. This includes coding, scripting, multimedia design, accessibility, and performance optimization. Most programs also emphasize cloud computing, project management skills, and online business strategies.
Students learn to analyze the needs of website owners and end users, translating these requirements into suitable dynamic website structures with appropriate functionality, graphics, and content. For most programs, distance learners pursuing online web development degrees complete 110-125 credits, comprised 30-40 foundational or general education courses, 50-60 major-related credits, and 25-40 elective credits.
Individual programs vary significantly in terms of available concentrations and specific course titles. However, the best programs offer a similar set of foundational courses to ensure students become well-versed in the fundamentals of web development. The list below features descriptions of six courses commonly found in online web development programs.
Introduction to Cloud Computing
This course surveys the architecture, security, and implementation of cloud computing. Topics include storage considerations, deployment methods, server virtualization, and implementation of security measures. Students learn to compare cloud service models, gaining a career-ready and up-to-date understanding of emerging technologies in computing.
This course studies the use and management of Linux operating systems. Students learn system commands, utilities, basic system and network administration, and customization. This class also covers open-source software while emphasizing system security. Since most servers run on Linux, web development careers require fluency with the command line interface.
This course explores technology in relation to the human experience through practice and principles of human-computer interaction (HCI). Topics covered include interactive software; social and cognitive theories of interaction; and a survey of applications, including social networking, mobile applications, and cloud computing. Web developers employ HCI skills when designing appropriate environments for users.
Front-End Web Development
This course examines the design and implementation of complex, dynamic websites and web applications using a front-end or user-facing framework. New developers learn to optimize the front-end application performance for scalability and speed. Students also gain skills related to user-centered design methodologies and development approaches.
Server-Side Web Architecture
This course introduces web development from the server side and emphasizes the use of libraries, languages, and frameworks. Students may acquire hands-on experience in multiple platforms and development environments, including PHP, Ruby, Java, and Python. Topics include principles of reliability, usability, and scalability. Students apply these skills to develop interactive application programming interfaces.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Web Development?
The sections below feature further information on the core skills students acquire as they pursue web developer degrees online. Graduates attain knowledge that applies to myriad industries. Read on for a general overview of several industries that employ graduates with an online web developer degree, as well as some of the most popular career paths for web developers. Each career listing also features information from PayScale regarding the accompanying annual mean salaries.
To keep pace with this dynamic field, web developers must attain fluency in the many technologies and popular web-authoring tools used by industry professionals. Successful developers employ a blend of technical, design, and professional communication skills.
Basic front-end skills and competencies acquired by all web developer online degree students include Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). HTML enables web browsers to read files and translate them into visible web pages, while CSS code provides structured formatting and appearance. This knowledge transfers to other career contexts that use images, audio, and video, such as graphic design and publishing.
The long list of skills employers expect of web developers also includes experience with cross-browser and cross-platform testing, performance and load testing, responsive design, web security, and browser developer tools. Web development students also learn to navigate the command line interface and understand the software development lifecycle, which provides a basic foundation for all careers in computer programming and software development.
Potential Careers & Salaries
With most projections indicating a growing demand for web developers across a range of industries, ambitious developers can expect favorable career mobility prospects and high salary potential. Web developers can find rewarding and lucrative work in a variety of industries, including systems design and mobile application development for technology businesses. However, the skills gained in web development programs also apply to other industries, such as education, scientific and technical consulting, web hosting services, data processing, finance, and government services.
At the entry level, web developers typically begin their careers working with production teams in organizational contexts. Earning potential increases for mid- and late-career senior developers with significant experience, and these workers can advance into entrepreneurial and management consulting positions. Other potential career paths for web developers include project management roles, software engineering, and web business analysis.
Annual Median Salary: $61,180
Computer programmers write, test, and debug source code using data structures, algorithms, and programming languages like C, C++, and Java. They analyze clients' needs, gather requirements, and implement computer programs and applications on multiple operating systems.
Annual Median Salary: $43,102
Graphic designers shape the look and feel of websites to improve the visual appeal of images and layouts. Their job duties include defining requirements and applying principles of good design. They create multimedia graphics, including illustrations, logos, photos, displays, and advertisements.
Annual Median Salary: $69,703
Software developers build, implement, and maintain systems and software that run on computers, mobile devices, and networks. Their job duties include gathering information from clients and systems analysts, defining requirements, and modifying existing code to adapt to new hardware.
Annual Median Salary: $58,507
Web developers handle client-side and/or server-side development of applications and websites, including design, coding, testing, and troubleshooting. Working with project teams to implement best practices, their job duties relate to usability, accessibility, performance optimization, and scripting.
Annual Median Salary: $69,223
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Web Development?
Many entry-level careers in web development only require a bachelor's degree. However, candidates interested in assuming mid- to high-level leadership positions; advancing into cutting-edge research specialties; specializing in mobile application development; and/or pursuing full-stack development may want to consider earning a graduate degree. A post-baccalaureate education can offer a structured path toward expertise in both server-side and client-side web languages.
However, many web developers advance in the field without earning an advanced degree. Since lifelong learning is important for web developers -- because the field changes so quickly -- many employers expect developers to keep pace by learning new technologies on the job rather than continuing their formal education. Developers who do not plan to pursue a formal graduate degree can proactively demonstrate initiative by picking up new skills and learning new tools by enrolling in training programs online. Self-driven study sufficiently prepares most students to understand emerging technologies and adopt new standards.
Accreditation for Web Development Bachelor’s Programs
Accreditation ensures that a school meets certain academic standards and is committed to continuous improvement. Prospective students should verify the regional or national accreditation status of any prospective universities. Accreditation promotes academic mobility for transfer students and upholds public confidence in the reliability and merit of academic programs. Additionally, students who do not attend accredited schools may not qualify for federal financial aid.
Regional and national accreditation serve as official seals of approval, confirming the merit of your degree to potential employers and other higher education institutions. Check for regional accreditation from one of the several regional accrediting bodies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
No field-specific agencies accredit web development programs. However, some schools offer these programs jointly within departments of information technology and business, which may obtain accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.
Web Development Professional Organizations
Professional organizations help design and development professionals keep their skills up to date. These organizations offer opportunities to network with other web professionals and access special job boards. Benefits available through professional organizations also include members-only discounts, specialized certification options, and opportunities for involvement in advocacy efforts. The following list describes three professional organizations you might want to consider to help you advance as a student, recent graduate, or working professional.
AIGA, the professional association for design
Established in 1914 and formerly known as the American Institute of Graphic Arts, AIGA advocates for the advancement of design practitioners. With 70 chapters nationwide, AIGA provides opportunities for professional development, promotes ethical practices, and advances global standards. Member benefits include discounts on events and products, health insurance assistance, and access to exclusive job opportunities.
International Web Association
Established in 1996, IWA is an internationally recognized and distinguished leader that sets standards for the ethical practice and education of web professionals. With over 100 chapters worldwide, IWA provides targeted resources for job-seekers in the field. Benefits include industry news updates, discounts on online educational resources, and professional leadership opportunities.
World Organization of Webmasters
As a nonprofit founded in 1996, WOW advocates for and supports individuals and organizations involved in the creation, maintenance, marketing, and management of websites. WOW fosters communication among web professionals at all levels. Member benefits include training resources, continuing education classes, certification opportunities, and discounts on hardware and software.