Guide to Online Computer Programming Degrees

Jennifer King Logan

Written By: Jennifer King Logan

Published: 3/7/2022

Individuals who want to learn how to write code, develop applications, and test software may be interested in earning an online computer programming degree. These programs focus on developing hands-on skills in building and implementing software solutions. Although it is possible to earn a two-year associate degree in computer programming, many occupations in the computer technology field require four-year bachelor's degrees.

A four-year degree in computer programming is usually a Bachelor of Science degree. To graduate, students generally need to earn a total of 120 credit hours of major-related courses and electives. While many programming students complete all of the requirements to earn this degree in four years of full-time study, some students may need more time.

Students can earn computer programming degrees on campus or online, and the admissions requirements for either learning path are typically the same. Along with an application form and possibly a fee, colleges may ask applicants to provide transcripts, official scores on standardized tests, an essay, letters of recommendation, and a list of extracurricular activities and work experience. Many schools also look for candidates who have earned a minimum GPA of 2.5.

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What Is the Difference Between Computer Science and Computer Programming?

Computer science and computer programming are closely linked, so it's easy for the distinction between the two to become slightly blurred. There is a fair amount of overlap in the online courses required to earn a bachelor's degree in either subject. However, the focus of these two degree programs is different, and they're designed to prepare graduates for particular types of jobs in technology.

Computer science degree programs typically concentrate on the theory of computer processes and the practice of designing software systems. Math and logic play a prominent role in the computer science curriculum, although most programs include some practical skill-building courses in programming languages and coding. Entry-level positions for computer science graduates include systems analyst, data scientist, and network administrator. Some computer science students choose to specialize in a particular subject, such as artificial intelligence, data science, or machine learning.

Computer programming degree programs, by contrast, focus on the application of those theories. Students learn to use programming languages and tools to write instructions that enable computers to perform tasks. Graduates often become software developers, web developers, and computer programmers (see Careers below for more information). Computer programming students sometimes specialize in the development of particular products, such as websites or mobile applications, or in using a specific programming language.

Interested in learning about degrees similar to computer programming? Explore online bachelor's programs in software engineering, web development, computer engineering, or systems engineering.

Common Computer Programming Courses

The curriculum for an online computer programming degree provides students with opportunities to apply theoretical knowledge, and course projects enable students to develop collaborative work and project management abilities. An overarching objective in most programs is to develop a professional portfolio that graduates can use to demonstrate their skills when applying for jobs. Additionally, most programs culminate in a senior capstone project, which is another significant contribution to each student's portfolio of work. Students who've had relatively little professional programming experience may want to build up their resumes by selecting a program that requires an internship.



An overarching objective in most programs is to develop a professional portfolio that graduates can use to demonstrate their skills when applying for jobs.

The following core courses are often included in an online computer programming bachelor's program.

Data Structures and Algorithms

This course provides programming students with an essential understanding of how data structures and algorithms are used together to solve computational problems. Topics may cover array, string, and linked list data structures as well as algorithms for sorting, searching, and string processing. Courses generally feature hands-on projects, such as analyzing a social network or sequencing a genome.

Database Design and Use

Early projects in this course aim to teach students the fundamentals of database management, including how to configure tables and populate them with data. More advanced coursework introduces students to various programming languages that are used to interact with databases, and it's designed to teach them how to develop database-access web applications.

Operating Systems and Networking

In this course, students typically learn about the basic abstractions, mechanisms, and implementations of operating systems. They may also learn about computer hardware and architecture while exploring motherboard, processor, memory, and storage technologies. Real-world projects address additional topics, such as computer network topologies, interconnecting devices, and user account management.

Software Development Foundations

From inception to maintenance, this course generally introduces students to many of the development tools and methodologies used to create software. Students practice using programming languages, such as JavaScript, SQL, Python, and Scala. Additional topics may include user interfaces and software testing.

Standard Programming Languages

Most degree programs require online students to take two or three introductory courses in common programming languages — usually C++, Java, and Python. Some also offer advanced electives in these languages. Courses are designed to explain how these programs keep track of data, process information, and solve problems. As students practice building, compiling, and debugging code, they may also explore data types, variables, conditional statements, functions, and loops.

Web Development

Since many future computer programmers may be involved in website development and maintenance, a course on how websites are built and how the web functions may be a useful addition to a degree program in this field. Students gain a working knowledge of essential programming languages in web development, particularly HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Concentrations

Many schools offer areas of specialization or emphasis for students pursuing online computer programming degrees. Choosing a program with a concentration gives students a chance to study a subject that personally interests them. It could also allow them space to develop specialized problem-solving skills that may set them apart as well-qualified candidates for particular technology jobs. A concentration generally requires taking three or four related courses, which count toward fulfilling a major's core or elective requirements. The following are some common concentrations available for computer programmers.

Cybersecurity

One field that is experiencing a growing need for trained information technology professionals is cybersecurity. Graduates with expertise in this area know how to protect systems from hackers and security threats. Courses typically cover topics such as network security, risk assessment, cryptography, regulations, and ethical issues.

Data Mining

All types of organizations are increasingly reliant on data, so this is also a career path that's expected to grow substantially in the coming years. Data specialists understand how to create structures and write code that collects, organizes, and manipulates data. Enrollees with this concentration often study analytics, data visualization, and probability and statistics.

Game Development

With an emphasis on gaming, this specialization's curricula aims to teach students about the processes and technologies involved in game development. The courses focus primarily on the computer graphics and modeling skills needed to work in this field but may also include animation, character development, and creature design.

Mobile Application Development

Students who enjoy finding creative solutions to common problems may want to specialize in developing mobile apps for iOS and Android operating systems. For this concentration, students typically take dedicated courses on programming languages, such as Java and Python. Coursework may cover cloud computing, the Internet of Things, smart devices, and cross-platform operating systems.

Operating Systems

While most online computer programming degree programs include a course on operating systems, a concentration in this area features a number of dedicated courses on the C and C++ programming languages. Other advanced topics include concurrent execution, memory management, file systems, and data security.

Accreditation for Online Computer Programming Degrees

Accreditation is an important factor to consider when evaluating which schools to attend for an online bachelor's degree in computer programming. Enrollment in an accredited college or university is required to qualify for federal financial aid, and it may also be necessary to transfer credits to another school or enter a master's program. To obtain accreditation and meet rigorous standards of excellence, colleges and universities must undergo an extensive, multi-year analysis of their academic programs, faculty members, and other services.

In addition to earning recognition for the institution as a whole, schools can also seek accreditation for individual degree programs. The programmatic accrediting agency for all computer science and computer programming degree programs is the Computing Accreditation Commission, which is one of four commissions operated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation each offer a database of recognized schools and CAC-accredited programs.

Funding an Online Computer Programming Degree

Distance learners enrolled in accredited online programs in computer programming have the same access to financial aid as on-campus students. Enrollees may qualify for low-interest federal or private loans, but they should also apply for gift aid that doesn't require repayment, including government- and school-sponsored grants and scholarships. Depending on their prior experience, some students may also be eligible for military tuition discounts. Prospective students can apply for financial assistance by submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Some private organizations fund scholarships in order to support computer programming students. Applicants typically have to submit separate applications for these scholarships, which may include writing an essay or personal statement. The following list includes some examples of potential scholarships aimed at students in this field.

All students studying computer science or a closely related field are eligible for this $10,000 annual scholarship, especially those who identify with groups historically excluded from the technology industry (women, Black, Latinx, etc.).

This $10,000 award is available to female undergraduate and graduate students majoring in computer science and related subjects.

Up to 20 scholarships in amounts ranging from $1,000-$5,000 are awarded each year to high school seniors and undergraduate college students enrolled in cybersecurity, information assurance, or a similar program.

Potential Careers for a Computer Programming Graduate

While computer science degrees often lead to careers focused on design and initial development, computer programming degrees generally lead to jobs involving the hands-on work of creation and implementation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has identified a number of promising career paths for computer programming graduates in software engineering and coding, including the following options:

Computer Programmers
Median Annual Salary: $89,190
Job Outlook: -10%

Once a software developer or engineer has designed a new application or program, a computer programmer steps in to write and test the code that makes the application or program work. Although the BLS projects an overall decline in this occupation through the end of the decade, it also states that jobs related to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications are a potential growth area.

Database Administrators and Architects
Median Annual Salary: $98,860
Job Outlook: 8%

By providing all types of data from individual product preferences to customer financial records, database administrators and architects help organizational leaders make sound business decisions. Database architects design and build efficient databases that collect and store this data, while database administrators are responsible for maintaining them, often by writing additional code, installing upgrades, and debugging programs.

Information Security Analysts
Median Annual Salary: $103,590
Job Outlook: 33%

Information security analysts are responsible for identifying and implementing security measures to protect an organization's data, networks, and systems. If data breaches occur, they also investigate the extent of the damage and make recommendations for further preventive actions.

Software Developers
Median Annual Salary: $110,140
Job Outlook: 22%

In general, software developers create custom and commercial programs that meet the needs of a specific group of users. Some specializations within this occupation include software engineers, who assess the scope of work involved in developing a new software application or system, and applications software developers, who design the components of a project and create specifications for coders.

Web Developers
Median Annual Salary: $77,200
Job Outlook: 13%

Using programming languages, such as HTML and CSS, web developers work with clients to create and build websites. Some specialize in the front-end design that site users see, while others specialize in the back-end coding that makes a website function as intended.

Licensure and Certifications

No occupations in this field require state licensure to practice, but computer programmers may decide to pursue one of many optional certifications by taking an additional course and/or exam. Certification enhances professional credentials and may qualify individuals for advanced or specialized roles. A few of the numerous types of programming language certifications available — often sponsored by their developers and publishers — are listed below.

Becoming an Oracle-Certified Associate, Java SE 8 programmer requires two steps: taking the beginner and intermediate training courses and passing the comprehensive 1Z0-808 exam. Obtaining this certification may help prepare candidates for the higher-level Professional Java Programmer certification.

Candidates must pass a 40-question exam on Python 3 to earn Python Institute's PCAP certification. Questions revolve around object-oriented programming, general coding techniques, and Python.

Available through CancanIT, this certification exam documents a web developer's mastery of HTML5. The two-part exam consists of a 20-question test on theory and a practice task that requires candidates to demonstrate their skills.

Database administrators and analysts may be interested in earning Microsoft certification by taking the DP-900 exam. Questions may address cloud computing, relational and non-relational data, and transactional and analytical data workloads.


Some organizations prefer to hire information security analysts who have earned certifications related to this area of specialization. For example, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional credential, available through (ISC)², indicates that the individual is familiar with cybersecurity best practices.

Associations for Programming Professionals

In addition to formal certifications, online students can enhance their programming credentials by joining an industry association or organization. Not only does membership to a relevant organization show a person's commitment to professional growth, it also allows students and graduates to stay up to date on industry issues and connect with peers. The following are a few examples of associations focused on groups who handle various aspects of computer operations.

The ACM is the largest organization for all computing professionals and provides a wide range of publications, conferences, and other resources to keep members informed of industry trends.

Through publications, conferences, and educational activities, the IEEE promotes innovation and helps set industry standards.

The CompTIA organization, formerly known as AITP, is designed to help IT students advance in their careers through networking events, certifications, and more.

Is an Online Computer Programming Degree Worth It?

When deciding whether an online computer programming degree is the right educational path, prospective students should consider their personal circumstances, such as financial needs and other obligations. Individuals must determine for themselves whether the potential benefits of having a programming degree are worth the effort, time, and money they'll invest in earning one. Before choosing this particular online bachelor's degree, prospective students should carefully examine some of the possible advantages and disadvantages:

Potential Benefits

Computer programming degree holders are likely to face a bright job outlook. As cited by the BLS above, a bachelor's degree in computer programming prepares graduates for many occupations in high-growth fields, especially in software development. Many of these jobs feature healthy annual salaries around $100,000, and most do not require a master's degree or further education.

A computer programming career may offer a more independent lifestyle. Many programming professionals work from home with flexible schedules. Only in relatively few cases are these professionals required to be on call for emergencies.

Online education allows students to select the best programs for their needs. Prospective computer programming students can choose from a wider selection of program offerings with different concentrations related to their interests. Online learners can earn the degree that best fits their career goals and budget without having to move to a different location.

Potential Drawbacks

A computer programming degree may be somewhat limiting. Because this degree's curriculum is more focused on programming skills than that of a computer science degree, graduates may not have gained the theoretical knowledge required for some advanced occupations in the tech industry. Prospective students should determine their career goals before choosing one over the other.

Earning a four-year degree is a bigger investment than gaining skills through a bootcamp. Students who simply want to develop skills in a particular area, such as a programming language, may be better off attending a short-term bootcamp. According to Switchup, finishing a coding bootcamp may generate more competitive employment results than traditional degrees from top-tier universities at approximately 10% of the cost.

Online programs require students to create their own structure. Because of the flexibility of online programs, some students may find it difficult to manage their schedules effectively and allow enough time to complete their programming projects each week.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Degree Do I Need To Be a Computer Programmer?

You can choose one of several degree options to become a computer programmer. One clear choice is a skills-oriented computer programming degree, which is designed to teach you to use essential programming languages and other tools to write code for software, websites, and more. However, you could also select a computer science degree program, which explains the theory behind computer programming while also introducing some basic skills.

How Many Years Is a Computer Programming Degree?

An online bachelor's degree in computer programming is typically a four-year program for students attending full time. Part-time students may need an additional year or more, but those who've accumulated some credit hours before entering the program may be able to graduate in less time.

What Can I Do With a Computer Programming Degree?

The practical skills developed by earning a computer programming degree lend themselves to a wide range of careers. In addition to becoming general computer programmers and software developers, graduates can also specialize in areas as diverse as operating systems, data mining, game development, and cybersecurity.

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