Associate degrees in computer science: Everything you need to know

An associate degree in computer science prepares graduates for high-paying tech careers.

An associate degree in computer science trains students in computer programming, systems analysis, web development, and network administration. The affordable degree offers a high return on investment for professionals interested in computer science careers. Our guide walks through everything prospective computer science majors need to know before starting an associate degree.

What is an associate degree in computer science?

The computer science field studies computers, networks, and computing systems. An associate degree in computer science introduces learners to foundational concepts of computer science and programming languages. The degree prepares graduates for computer science careers or further education.

During a two-year computer science degree, majors study in-demand programming languages, web development skills, and computer systems analysis. The degree builds the core knowledge and skills required for entry-level tech careers.

Many colleges offer online computer science programs. The flexible format of online programs appeals to working professionals and busy students. Students with prior college experience can often apply transfer credits toward their associate degree. 

How long does this degree take to complete?

Most associate programs take two years for full-time students. Part-time students may take three years to earn the minimum of 60 credits required for an associate degree. 

Computer science majors choose between in-person and online computer science degrees. Both options require a similar number of credits and time commitment. Some colleges offer accelerated online formats for students seeking a degree in less time.

How much does this degree cost?

Earning an associate degree costs an average of $6,750 for in-state students at community colleges, according to 2019/2020 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. In addition to tuition and fees, students must budget for textbooks, technology costs, and living expenses. Some schools provide a computer for distance learners.

The low cost of the degree compared to the high earning potential in computer and technology occupations makes an associate in computer science a good investment.

Who is a good fit for a computer science associate degree program?

An associate degree appeals to students interested in computer science careers. As a two-year program, an associate degree introduces learners to core concepts in computer science in less time than a bachelor's degree.

The degree meets the requirements for several tech careers, including as a web developer or computer programmer. After completing an associate degree, graduates enter the workforce to gain professional experience or transfer into a bachelor's program to continue their education.

Should I pursue a computer science associate degree, bachelor's degree, certificate, or bootcamp?

Prospective students considering tech careers benefit from several options. They can earn an associate degree or bachelor's degree from an accredited college. They can also pursue a computer science certificate or enroll in a bootcamp. While each option helps students learn how to code, they require different investments of time and money.

An associate degree generally takes two years. In comparison, a bachelor's degree takes four years and a certificate generally takes 6-12 months. Bootcamps, the fastest option, often require under six months of study. Each of these options offers flexible enrollment. For example, learners can enroll in free online classes with certificates or choose online university bootcamps. Many degree-granting programs also offer online options. 

Before choosing between a degree, certificate, or bootcamp, prospective students should research the total cost and the career outcomes. Many employers still prefer to hire candidates with a degree.

Skills taught in a computer science associate degree

During an associate degree, computer science majors learn several programming languages, build data analysis skills, and learn how to program websites. The degree also prioritizes soft skills, also known as people skills. Majors strengthen their ability to work on teams and pay attention to key details. Employers look for job candidates with the following skills:

Hard skills

People skills

  • Programming language proficiency
  • Database administration
  • Computer systems analysis
  • Web development
  • Network administration
  • Teamwork and interpersonal skills
  • Creative approaches to problems
  • Persistence in solving challenges
  • Attention to detail
  • Time management

What is an associate degree in computer science like?

An associate degree in computer science builds foundational knowledge in systems management, database administration, and computer programming. Learners strengthen their problem-solving and analytical skills through hands-on projects. The degree also introduces computer science theory to prepare learners for further study in the field.

During an associate degree, majors take computer science courses that introduce core concepts in programming, computer systems, and networking. Many programs incorporate several programming languages and career-oriented courses like web development and computer systems analysis. The degree also includes coursework in algebra, statistics, and general education courses. These classes emphasize critical thinking and communication skills.

Computer science majors benefit from a detail-oriented approach and initiative. Online computer science programs also require strong motivation and time management skills.

Courses

  • Programming fundamentals
  • Computer systems and operating systems
  • Web programming
  • Introduction to software engineering
  • Database administration

What can you do with an associate degree in computer science?

A computer science associate degree prepares graduates for many computer science jobs. The degree meets the requirements for careers as a web developer, programmer, technician, or analyst.

  • Front-end web developer
  • Back-end web developer
  • Full-stack web developer
  • Computer programmer
  • Computer support specialist
  • Network technician
  • Web designer
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Programmer analyst
  • Software quality assurance analyst

In conclusion

An associate degree in computer science helps graduates launch their tech career or prepare for a bachelor's degree. Many community colleges offer affordable tuition rates for undergraduates, which makes a two-year computer science degree a wise investment. After earning their degree, graduates work in web development, programming, systems analysis, and other high-earning tech roles.

This article was reviewed by Monali Mirel Chuatico

Monali Mirel Chuatico, a woman with long dark hair, smiles in a headshot.

In 2019, Monali Mirel Chuatico graduated with her bachelor's in computer science, which gave her the foundation that she needed to excel in roles such as a data engineer, front-end developer, UX designer, and computer science instructor.

Monali is currently a data engineer at Mission Lane. As a data analytics captain at a nonprofit called COOP Careers, Monali helps new grads and young professionals overcome underemployment by teaching them data analytics tools and mentoring them on their professional development journey.

Monali is passionate about implementing creative solutions, building community, advocating for mental health, empowering women, and educating youth. Monali's goal is to gain more experience in her field, expand her skill set, and do meaningful work that will positively impact the world.

Monali Mirel Chuatico is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.