What is a computer information systems degree?

Earn your computer information science degree to learn how to enhance organizations' database designs, applications programming, and systems analyses.
Written by Tanika Johnson, Contributor

Are you fascinated by the information and technology processes that increase workplace performance? Would you like to be the bridge between an organization's technical and management departments? Then, consider a career in computer information systems.

While enrolled in a CIS program, you will learn key topics such as e-commerce marketing strategies, database management systems, and managing cybersecurity risk.

CIS uses the application of technology to oversee the operational needs of organizations. Industry professionals develop knowledge of the organization's information technology systems and troubleshoot operational issues.

What skills do computer information systems programs teach students?

CIS doctoral programs provide theoretical knowledge of quantitative, qualitative, and design science research. 

CIS master's programs offer more in-depth theoretical knowledge of server-side web development, software quality, testing, and security management, and Agile software development. 

CIS certificate and degree candidates of all levels may acquire the following training and skill sets:

Technical skillsSoft skills
  • Networking and operating systems
  • Database systems and design
  • Computer security
  • Business analysis
  • System analysis
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • An eye for detail
  • Collaboration
Practical skillsTheoretical skills
  • Planning and organization
  • Negotiation and influencing
  • Management and leadership
  • Project management
  • Systems evaluation 
  • Structuration models (technological changes and organization design)
  • DeLone and McLean's model (system quality, information quality, use, user satisfaction, individual impact, and organizational impact)
  • Diffusion theory (innovation, communication between individuals, social systems, and duration of time)

What kinds of computer information systems degrees are there?

Prospective students may pursue CIS certificate programs and associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in the field. 

Each of the career pathways below provides invaluable information for corporate and private organizations, government entities, and academic and research job opportunities. 

Explore your options to qualify for both entry-level and advanced CIS leadership roles.

Certificate program in computer information systems

Prospective students may pursue CIS certificates and coursework in computers concepts and applications, system analysis and design, and programming language along with database management, software engineering, and management information systems. 

Additional certificates include, but are not limited to, CIS security professional and certification in risk and information systems control. Programs can take anywhere from six months to one year to complete. 

Certificate holders may seek careers as database administrators, computer programmers, and operations research analysts, among other CIS entry-level positions.

Associate degree in computer information systems

Prospective students generally enroll in information literacy, computer applications, and introduction to programming alongside network protocols and internetworking, programming in JAVA, and other upper-level CIS courses. 

Additional curriculum interests include information technology, inventory systems, networks, files and servers, and internet marketing and e-commerce. 

A CIS associate program may be completed in two years. Graduates may pursue careers as a network administrator, computer support specialist, systems analyst, computer network specialist, or information technology support specialist.

Bachelor's degree in computer information systems

Traditional CIS bachelor's programs can be completed in four years. Prospective students may explore information systems security degree options. Accelerated programs can be completed in less than three years. 

Core CIS technical courses include but are not limited to: introduction to technology and information systems, introduction to operating systems, and fundamentals of information security. 

Other courses include database systems and programming fundamentals, introduction to artificial intelligence and machine learning, and programming with objects. 

With a CIS bachelor's degree, industry professionals may apply for database administrator, cyber security specialist, and application programmer analyst roles.

What's the difference between a BA and a BS in computer information systems?

Students pursuing a CIS bachelors of arts degree are in a humanities track that includes more humanities and social science courses. The CIS bachelor of science degree includes more math and science classes. 

With a BS in CIS, students dive deep into the business applications of computers and complete coursework in computer science, math, accounting, economics, management, and organizational behavior. 

A BS computer information systems program prepares students for coursework in business analysis, operating systems, programming languages, computing, technical support, networking and data design, infrastructure, and website design. Students gain skill sets in both business and technology.

Master's degree in computer information systems

Traditional CIS master's coursework includes business database systems, business intelligence, and enterprise computing and systems integration. 

Prospective students may pursue cybersecurity, application development, information technology project management, business intelligence, and business information systems specializations. 

Students may pursue a CIS master's degree in 18 months. Graduates may pursue careers in systems administration, network administration, computer programming, and mobile computing applications.

A master's in computer information systems vs. a master's in management information systems vs. an MBA in computer information systems

With a CIS master's degree, prospective students focuses on budgeting, interpersonal skills strategic business alignment, and decision-making support. Prospective students develop their organizational management skills and steps for change management. 

With a management information systems degree, students integrate business management and information technology. Students pursue coursework in cybersecurity, mobile app development, and data analytics among other program related topics.

An information systems MBA program allows students to dive into vital business and management skills, business applications, and database management. Prospective students obtain more in-depth knowledge of information systems principles, analysis, and design while integrating project and change management and networking communications.

Doctoral degree in computer information systems

Traditional CIS doctoral programs can be completed in three to five years. Students may take courses in web systems development, information system principles, enterprise database management, data analytics, and quantitative methods in information systems research. 

CIS majors may specialize in healthcare, analytics, or security. Upon completing a CIS doctoral program, graduates may pursue careers as an academic researcher, corporate or government researcher, university professor, business information systems director, or finance information systems director. 

Students acquire multidisciplinary career pathways and apply their knowledge to both management systems and organizations.

Accreditation for computer information systems programs

Prospective students are encouraged to research their future college's and program's accreditation status. 

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is a nationally recognized accrediting body for college and university computing, engineering and technology, and applied science programs. An ABET accreditation demonstrates a high quality education and program preparation.

How hard is a computer information systems degree?

A CIS degree requires strong technical and interpersonal skills for developing, implementing, and testing complex systems. Students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in practical application. 

Following a rigorous curriculum, students must acquire satisfactory grades in math, information systems analysis and design, and development.

While the program is rather challenging, the organized and dedicated students will be successful in grasping CIS concepts and managing large data sets. Students exhibiting focus and drive can develop communication skills and connections between systems, data, and organizations' interactions with these processes. 

Prerequisite courses are available for prospective students with limited computer training and backgrounds. 

In conclusion

More than ever, organizations rely on CIS professionals to build capacity, increase efficiency, and promote products and services to their clients. CIS professionals are skilled in linking computer and management information systems and helping organizations thrive in a competitive market. 

If you desire to build a rewarding and lucrative career in computing programming, network protocols, cyber security or other cutting-edge niche areas, then enroll in a CIS certificate or degree program.

Editorial standards