Your Guide to the Associate Degree in Computer Science

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Earning your associate degree in computer science can be a great way to transfer into a bachelor's program or enter the workforce after graduation and begin gaining experience.

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Earning your associate degree in computer science can be an excellent way to learn more about the subject while developing important skills for the workforce. It can also be a great way to earn credits toward a bachelor’s degree but without the pressure of committing to a four or five-year program from the outset.  

The demand for computer science professionals continues to be high, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and these roles typically command a higher-than-average salary, though a bachelor’s degree is often preferred [1]. Still, with an associate degree, you can break your education into more manageable goals or find entry-level roles to help you gain valuable experience.  

In this article, we’ll discuss what an associate degree program in computer science entails, including the coursework you can expect to take and what you can do after graduation.  

Associate degree in computer science

An associate degree in computer science typically takes two years to finish when you can attend full-time. Most associate degrees are available at online colleges or community colleges, which tend to offer affordable, flexible, and self-paced options, meaning you can learn in a way that best suits your needs.  

Studying computer science at the associate level often means earning an Associate of Science degree, which focuses on more technical and scientific subjects and can typically be transferred to a bachelor’s degree program.  

Learn more: 10 Surprising Benefits of Online Learning

Curriculum 

Associate degree programs typically require between 60 and 80 credits, most of which will go toward your general education requirements. Once you fulfill those, you can begin taking classes associated with your computer science concentration.

As an associate degree student, you will likely take more courses in mathematics and the natural sciences before completing several courses to introduce you to computer systems, such as computing fundamentals and programming. 

Typical coursework can include:

 

  • C++ programming

  • Java programming

  • Computer organization

  • Data structures

  • Calculus I

  • Statistics I 

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Skills

The skills you develop as part of your computer science associate degree program will depend on the courses you take and the work you complete. For example, if you enroll in a programming class that studies a specific language, like C++, you will gain that technical skill

In terms of workplace skills—sometimes called soft skills—computer science emphasizes critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and attention to detail, among other valuable skills employers seek from candidates. 

At the bachelor’s level, computer science is often considered a challenging major, in part because you’re required to learn a programming language. Beginning that work at the associate level can set you up for success if you eventually enroll in a bachelor’s degree program. 

Learn more: Is College Worth It?

What can you do with a computer science associate degree? 

You can do a lot with a computer science degree. Computer science spans multiple fields, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and video game design, and each of these areas boasts numerous roles.  

Below, we’ve compiled computer science positions that typically do not require a bachelor’s degree but may expect some experience and programming abilities.  

Job titleAverage annual US base salary*Percentage of employees with an associate degree (Zippia.com)
Help desk technician$44,10531.5%
Computer support specialist$57,910 (median salary)32.9%
Web content developer$61,60511%
Junior software developer$81,9936.7%

*Salary data from BLS and Glassdoor

It’s worth noting that even for entry-level computer science roles, many companies still expect a bachelor’s degree, and earning one can broaden the roles you qualify for. While a growing number of employers are dropping the degree as a requirement for junior roles, it can be useful as you move along in your career and seek out more senior positions. 

Learn more: Computer Science Salary: Your Guide

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Is a computer science associate degree right for you?

When you’re thinking about education, it can help to think about your goals and resources. For instance, if you’re working full-time and cannot reduce that workload to attend school, it may be a good idea to start with a flexible online associate degree program before deciding whether to continue with a bachelor’s degree. 

When you think about whether the degree is the best choice for you, it can help to consider the following parameters: 

  • Goals: Why do you want to learn about computer science in the first place? What do you hope to achieve through an associate degree program: New knowledge? Skills? 

  • Career prospects: What types of roles most interest you? Is there an area of computer science where you’d like to work? What does it require to get started?  

  • Resources: How much time and money do you have to apply to a program right now? Is an associate degree within your means or would an alternative, like the ones we’ve outlined below, be a better option?

Educational alternatives 

When you’re interested in studying computer science, a degree isn't your only option. The educational pathways below may provide a valuable alternative for your goals: 

Professional certificates: These typically take a fraction of the time that an associate degree does—usually around six months—and emphasize skills development, so you feel prepared to enter the workforce and pursue your goals. 

Bootcamps: Similar to certificates, these intensive courses cover a lot in a short amount of time. They typically focus on developing one specific technical skill, like programming, and can be a great way to do so quickly. 

Bachelor’s degree: When you’re interested in a career in computer science and want more options, a bachelor’s degree in the subject may be a viable alternative. Bachelor’s degrees usually take four to five years to complete but offer opportunities to learn more focused topics, such as data science and networking, and develop a wider array of skills.  

Enter the workforce: If you know how to program and have some technical acumen, you may be able to find a junior programming or coding role where you can gain valuable experience. Again, while a degree may become necessary at some point in your career, you can always delay going to school while you enter the workforce, gain experience, and save for your education.  

Explore further 

Enjoy much of the flexibility and self-paced nature of an associate degree program but with a full bachelor’s degree by earning your Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of London on Coursera. Specialize in machine learning, game design, user experience, and many other areas. Or, if you’d like to see if computer science is a good subject matter for you, browse new computer science courses and join Coursera for free to start learning today. 

Article sources

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Computer and Information Technology Occupations: Occupational Outlook Handbook,  https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/home.htm." Accessed November 9, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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