System administrators are IT professionals who oversee an organization’s servers and networks, ensuring that they’re running efficiently. Given that many companies rely on technology to operate their businesses, sysadmins (as they are often called) are vital to a company’s work.
While it’s possible to become certified in system administration, and a degree is not always required for entry-level roles, you may find that you qualify for more roles—and more advanced roles—with a degree. Earning a degree to work in system administration often means studying computer science or a related field rather than majoring in system administration, though some schools do offer a specific network systems administration major.
In this article, we’ll cover the types of degrees you can earn, what you’ll likely study, and what you can do with your degree.
Working in system administration often involves designing plans for a company’s IT operations, problem-solving when issues arise, installing and updating software, and other tasks pertaining to a company’s computer systems. As such, it requires an understanding of IT along with strong critical thinking skills.
There are three primary degree types you can earn if you want to work as a sysadmin: associate, bachelor’s, and master’s. Although programs differ by school, each degree is typically designed to help you gain a general understanding of computer science and the specific methodologies that inform working with, and managing, a company’s network. Let’s go over each one.
You can earn your associate degree online or in-person from an area community college. You may have the option to earn your Associate of Science (AS) degree, which tends to offer a more academic approach to a subject and can fold into a bachelor’s degree, or your Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree, which is often considered a terminal degree that provides more hands-on training.
Not every degree listed below is available at every school, so it’s important to understand what you want to study so that you can find the best program to help you achieve that education. It may mean enrolling in a broader computer science program or finding a specific network systems administration program.
Associate of Science in Information Technology
Associate of Science in Computer Science
Associate of Science in Information Systems
Associate of Science in Network Systems Administration
Associate of Applied Science in System Administration
An associate degree typically takes around two years to complete when you attend full-time. Depending on your school and program, you may be expected to complete a number of general education classes before beginning to work through your area of concentration.
Typical coursework may include:
Server operating systems
Principles of IT security
You have several options when it comes to earning your Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, either in-person or online, for a role as a system administrator. Some common majors that can help you gain important subject knowledge include:
Computer systems networking
Systems & network administration
Information networking and telecommunications
Not every school offers a bachelor’s degree in the majors listed above. If you’re interested in working as a system administrator, you may want to earn your Bachelor of Science in Systems and Network Administration specifically. But you may also find that a bachelor’s program with a broader computer science focus helps introduce you to system administration, while offering you a more comprehensive understanding of the field.
As you look at various bachelor’s programs, pay close attention to the major courses and electives available. If a school doesn’t offer a system administration major, do they offer classes in that subject? If you have questions about a program’s fit, reach out to an advisor to get more details, which will help you make an informed decision.
Learn more: What Should I Major In?
A bachelor’s degree in a computer-related subject takes around 120 credits to earn, which can amount to between four and five years when you attend full-time. You will likely work through two years’ worth of general education requirements before beginning your major.
Typical coursework may include:
Introduction to computer programming
Systems analysis and design
Software defined networking
In order to begin a master’s program, you must first have earned your bachelor’s degree. You can earn your Master of Science (MS) degree in the following areas:
Information technology management
Information systems management
Computer information systems
Not every school will offer a master’s program in the areas listed above. Again, take time to research which programs most interest you—and how the coursework you’ll fulfill will help you advance your knowledge of computer science, computer systems, and system administration.
A master’s degree in a computer-related subject takes around two years to complete when you’re able to attend full-time. You may be expected to complete a thesis or capstone project as part of your graduation requirements.
Typical coursework may include:
Enterprise risk management
Managing information systems
Information system analysis
Introduction to data science
Ethical issues in information technology
Advanced network security
Dynamic web services
Education is often a way to develop your knowledge, experience, and skills, and many employers still list it as a formal requirement. In that case, it can be helpful to have a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree to qualify for a wider array of sysadmin roles.
Without a degree, you can expect an employer to look for significant experience in computers because the work is highly technical. You also may spend longer in an entry-level role acquiring the knowledge and experience that a degree is often designed to confer. In that case, earning your degree may help you advance more quickly.
Learn more: What Can You Do with a Computer Science Degree?
If you’re interested in exploring options outside of a traditional academic degree, there are certain sysadmin certifications you can earn to help prepare you for an entry-level job. These include the Cisco Certified System Administrator, Red Hat System Administrator Certification, and the Google IT Support Professional Certification.
A system administrator in the United States earns a median annual salary of $84,810, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) . Some typical job titles for this line of work include:
Junior system administrator
IT system administrator
Content management system administrator
Senior system administrator
Check out the Google IT Support Professional Certificate on Coursera to see if it's a good fit—and get a seven-day free trial. If you enroll and complete the certificate program, you can earn an ACE Credit Recommendation of 12 college credits—the equivalent of four college courses at the associate or bachelor’s degree level.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “ Network and Computer Systems Administrators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm” Accessed April 6, 2022.
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.