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Best online computer science degree 2021: Top picks

Discover the best online computer science degrees and programs, as well as the advantages of pursuing computer science bootcamps, certificates, and certifications.

Computer science deals with computing processes and computational thinking and their impact on the world. While it can cover software and hardware integration, computer science primarily focuses on the problem-solving capabilities of information and software applications. The field also comprises many subdisciplines, such as programming, operating systems, and artificial intelligence.

Computer science has had an enormous impact on the development of computers, with industry icons like Larry Page and Brendan Eich graduating from the discipline. For future graduates, the career outlook appears very promising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of more than 530 000 new information technology jobs between 2019 and 2029.

Here, we examine the best online computer science degrees, along with some of the different educational pathways prospective students can take.

Become the tech pro you want to be

Explore certificates and bootcamps that will help develop your skills. Whether you are starting out or want to learn more, we’ll help you find a program right for you.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus

University Park, PA

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With more than 150 online programs, Pennsylvania State World Campus enrols roughly 20 000 students every year. 

Pennsylvania State World Campus offers one of the best online computer science degrees in the country. The ABET-accredited bachelor's degree in software engineering includes 126 credit hours of interdisciplinary coursework. 

Eighty-six credit hours of prescribed classes cover topics such as software design, discrete mathematics, and computer programming. Approved electives include applied machine learning and engineering security in software.

Applicants provide transcripts for consideration. Transfer students applying directly to the major must meet designated GPA requirements.

Pennsylvania State University-World Campus is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

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Davenport University

Grand Rapids, MI

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Established in 1866, DU serves about 6,500 students each year. DU offers more than 60 academic programs at 10 Michigan campuses and online.

DU's online computer science bachelor's degree integrates 120 credit hours of general education, core, and specialization coursework. Online learners choose from two speciality areas: artificial intelligence or computer theory and algorithms.

Qualified applicants to DU may receive full-tuition scholarships through cooperative programs with the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. Students can apply industry certificate credits to the degree or sit for industry certifications upon completing the required classes within the curriculum.

Davenport University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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Oregon State University

Corvallis, OR

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OSU provides over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs to students around the world. Online degrees at OSU include a bachelor of science in computer science.

Students complete the 180-credit-hour curriculum in four years or less. Required coursework in mathematics, computer science fundamentals, and engineering precede a three-part senior software engineering project. 

Learners can also pursue an applied computer science option to focus on security issues in the discipline.

Applicants provide transcripts for consideration. ACT and SAT scores are optional.

The Northwest Commission regionally accredits Oregon State University on Colleges and Universities.

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Regis University

Denver, CO

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Established in 1877, Regis offers 120 academic programs infused with Jesuit beliefs and values. Regis's 7,000 enrollees benefit from the school's 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Regis's online bachelor of science in computer science provides an accelerated option for learners. Students can transfer up to 66 credit hours into the 120-credit-hour program. 

Required coursework in software engineering and artificial intelligence accompany concentration electives. Elective areas include general computer science and computer information technology systems, information technology, and cybersecurity.

To apply, individuals submit transcripts, a resume, and an application essay.

Regis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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University of Illinois at Springfield

Springfield, IL

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UIS, founded in 1969, became part of the University of Illinois System in 1995. UIS enrols nearly 4500 students annually.

UIS's online bachelor's degree in computer science prepares students for careers across technology fields and for graduate study. Learners choose a 36-credit-hour concentration in software engineering or information systems security.

The software engineering emphasis includes coursework in programming languages and data structures, while the information systems security specialization focuses on information assurance and systems and networks security.

Applicants must provide a statement of purpose, transcripts, and have previous coursework in Java programming, calculus, statistics, and discrete or finite mathematics. 

The University of Illinois at Springfield is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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Saint Leo University

Saint Leo, FL

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With locations throughout the state, Saint Leo holds the distinction as the oldest Catholic university in Florida. Saint Leo offers more than 160 academic programs to roughly 2400 students each year.

Saint Leo's online computer science bachelor's degree features a curriculum based on recommendations from the Academy of Computer Machinery and IEEE. Major coursework includes computer systems, programming, and information security. 

Saint Leo provides learners access to state-of-the-art computer labs and prestigious internship opportunities. To apply, individuals submit transcripts, relevant professional training documentation, and applicable standardized exam scores.

Saint Leo University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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Lewis University

Romeoville, IL

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Lewis University is one of 60 Catholic universities sponsored by the De La Salle Christian Brothers, offering its 6400 enrollees a 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Lewis provides nearly 120 undergraduate and graduate programs.

Lewis's online bachelor of arts in computer science includes 128 credit hours. Core courses within the accelerated curriculum explore topics such as operating systems, legal and ethical issues in computing, and data structures. 

Designed for adult learners, Lewis's online computer science degree uses innovative Cloud-based technology to facilitate hands-on learning. Applicants may earn up to 30 credit hours from previous work and personal experience through a prior learning assessment. 

Lewis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

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Husson University

Bangor, ME

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Founded in 1898, Husson offers 110 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. Roughly 3000 learners benefit from an emphasis on real-world learning across academic disciplines.

Husson's online integrated technology bachelor's degree focuses on software development through 121-124 credit hours of coursework. Students complete required business and software classes alongside general education, advanced mathematics, and elective courses.

Applicants submit transcripts, one letter of recommendation, and a personal essay for consideration. Husson's transfer policy allows transfer students to earn an online degree in integrated technology in fewer than 24 months. 

Husson University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

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Charleston Southern University

Charleston, SC

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As the only Christian university in South Carolina's Lowcountry, CSU traces its origins to 1964. Affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention, CSU enrols nearly 3,500 students each year.

CSU's online bachelor of science in computer science emphasizes the fundamentals of computer science and mathematics. The ABET-accredited program integrates 125 credit hours of coursework in computer architecture, data structure analysis, and database management.

The online computer science degree culminates in a senior portfolio review and a project design, construction, and implementation requirement. 

To apply, individuals provide transcripts and optional SAT or ACT scores.

Charleston Southern University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

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Champlain College

Burlington, VT

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With additional campuses in Canada, Ireland, and online, Champlain sits on 27 acres overlooking its namesake, Lake Champlain. Champlain enrols over 2000 students in over 90 undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs.

Champlain's online bachelor of science in software development blends general education, professional, and technical coursework. As part of the 120-credit-hour curriculum, students can earn a specialized certificate in C++ programming.

Applicants submit a transcript, a resume and short answer essay questions for consideration. Students can transfer up to 90 credit hours of coursework into the program, including those earned through professional training and demonstrable prior knowledge.

Champlain College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE).

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How did we choose the best online computer science degrees?

Our ranking methodology weighs the following criteria: programmatic excellence, faculty excellence, reputation, and accreditation. 

Programmatic excellence includes the range and quality of courses offered, while faculty excellence involves both the student-faculty ratio and the quality and quantity of faculty scholarship. 

Reputation markers include awards and admission and graduation rates, and we weigh regional accreditation more heavily than national accreditation status. 

Why get an online computer science degree?

People pursue computer science degrees online for various reasons, but the field offers several benefits that most prospective students can connect. 

These next sections explore some of the discipline's most attractive features. 

It Prepares for a Variety of High-Paying Careers.

The best online computer science degrees equip graduates with the skills and qualifications to take on many high-paying computer science jobs, including entry-level positions as computer programmers, computer systems analysts, information security analysts, software developers, and database administrators. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for computer occupations in 2020 was $91 250.

The Tech Industry is Growing Fast.

The tech industry boasts a very strong outlook due to the increase in organizations relying on technology, data, and cybersecurity. The BLS projects 11% growth for computer occupations between 2019 and 2029. However, computer science professionals need to maintain their skills and credentials through continuing education, bootcamps, and industry certifications to keep up with the emerging tech.  

It Exposures Students to Different Computer Science Specializations.

In a diverse discipline like computer science, students can explore various subfields to find the areas that interest them most. The best online computer science degrees offer many electives and specializations to help students discover their strengths and identify the most suitable career pathways for them. 

What are the online computer science degree levels?

In addition to the various computer science courses and specializations, prospective computer science students have several degree levels to choose from. Each level can lead graduates down different career paths, with the more advanced degrees typically leading to positions with the largest salaries. 

Associate's Degree in Computer Science

Associate degrees in computer science usually run for two years and feature foundational training in several areas, including programming, networking, data structures, and security operations. The fundamentals picked up in these programs can lead to more advanced training in many computer-related fields. 

Along with preparing graduates for further studies at the bachelor's level and beyond, associate degrees can lead to many entry-level careers, including:

  • Computer Support Specialists.
  • Web Developer and Digital Designers.
  • Computer Programmers.

Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science

A bachelor's degree in computer science typically takes students four years to complete. In addition to the associate degree subject areas, the comprehensive programs may include training in data science, machine learning, and operating systems. 

Bachelor's degree graduates can pursue master's degrees in various computer-related fields or enter the workforce in one of the following qualified fields: 

  • Software Development.
  • Computer Systems Analysis.
  • Information Security Analysis.

Master's Degree in Computer Science

At the master's degree level, the training delves into advanced topics in data mining and analysis, algorithm and application design and development, and cyberattacks and security. The programs usually take students two years to complete and may offer specializations that include artificial intelligence, game design, computer-human interface, and software engineering and theory.

Master's degree graduates possess the research and academic preparation to pursue a doctorate in the field. 

They can also obtain some of the industry's most desirable positions, such as the following:

  • Computer and Information Research Scientist.
  • Computer and Information Systems Manager.
  • Software Developer.

Doctoral Degree in Computer Science

Doctoral degrees in computer science usually feature the greatest amount of flexibility for students, taking between 4-7 years to complete and allowing learners to pursue their research interests in many different fields. Some possible specializations include biocomputation, theoretical computer science, computer graphics, virtual reality, and interactive multimedia.

Professionally, doctoral graduates can pursue all careers that master's graduates can and some additional options. 

The possible career paths include: 

  • Postsecondary Teacher.
  • Computer and Information Research Scientist.
  • Computer and Information Systems Manager.

Computer Science Bootcamps, Certifications, and Certificates

Along with computer science degrees online, students looking for new tech careers and professionals looking to upgrade their skills and advance their careers can look to various other online programs. 

The table below provides details on computer science certificates, certifications, and bootcamps, including what they offer, why someone might pursue these avenues, and where they might lead. 

Education Type

Description

Certificate

Certificates offer computer science training in a condensed format. They typically provide college and university credit in a specialized field, often without any general education courses. Certificates can be completed during, after, or in lieu of a computer science degree. 

While certificates can lead to entry-level careers in the field, they often help professionals update or further develop their skill sets. Some schools offering online computer science certificates include Drexel University, Maryville University, and Kansas State University.

Certification

Computer science certifications usually come from industry organizations as a way for professionals to demonstrate their mastery of a specific discipline or technology. Both entry-level certifications and postgraduate certifications for professionals with a combination of education and experience are available.  

Certifications can help new professionals enter the field or experienced professionals advance, switch, or specialize in their careers. The credentials may require candidates to complete a training program and examination or just the examination. Some of the best include CompTIA certifications, Cisco certifications, and Microsoft certifications

Bootcamps

Bootcamps operate similar to certificates in that they offer condensed and accelerated programs for students looking to enter the field for the first time or professionals looking to build their skillset and advance their careers. They can be taken as an affordable alternative to a degree or in combination with a degree. 

Bootcamps are available online in many fields and specializations, though many focus on coding and programming skills. While accessible, the training can be intensive due to the program's accelerated nature. Some popular bootcamps cover software engineering and data science

How much does an online computer science degree cost?

According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the average per year tuition rate among public and private two- and four-year schools in 2019-2020 was $17 125. 

Students can fund their training with some of the many computer science scholarships available. 

Do you need to be good at math or computer science?

For students to be successful in a computer science degree, they need to complete several math classes, including various types of discrete mathematics, calculus, and algebra. 

As professionals, the amount of mathematics used depends on the career. 

What qualities do you need for computer science?

Computer science students and professionals come from many different backgrounds, but they typically possess analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills. 

They also tend to be detail-oriented and creative. 

Is computer science mostly coding?

No. While computer science students and professionals use code, they focus more on solving computer problems, whereas programmers handle most of the coding. 

In conclusion

One of the most exciting and fast-growing fields, computer science offers plenty of opportunities for new graduates and experienced professionals alike. With the proper training, aspiring computer science professionals can access all types of careers, including entry-level, mid-tier, and senior-level and management positions. 

In addition to the best online computer science degrees, students can develop and upgrade their skills and knowledge through bootcamps, certificates, and certifications.