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Computer networking degree guide: Everything you need to know

If your interests include computing, mathematics, and problem-solving, earning a computer networking degree may set you up for a lucrative and rewarding career.
Written by Maura Deering, Contributor
man holding a laptop showing a woman something

A computer networking degree prepares graduates for careers designing, building, and managing data communications networks between computers and devices. 

This guide outlines everything you need to know about computer networking degree programs. 

We start with an overview of the degree and potential post-graduation positions. Then, we'll guide you through assessing your strengths, interests, and career goals. Finally, we dive into the nuts and bolts of coursework, required skills, and tuition costs.  

What is a computer networking degree?

Colleges and universities offer computer networking degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctorate levels. 

Courses focus on topics like computer programming, cybersecurity, database management, network design, operating systems and scripting, and routing and switching. Coursework may be similar or nearly identical to a network administration degree.

Concentration areas may include: 

  • Applied math
  • Computer science
  • Cloud computing
  • Computational biology
  • Wireless networks

As as student, you'll build skills in information security and network configuration, flow optimization, management, and troubleshooting.

Potential computer networking careers include:

  • Computer and information systems managers
  • Computer network architects
  • Computer systems analysts
  • Network and computer systems administrators
  • Network engineers
  • Field service engineers

Is computer networking right for me?

To answer that question, you'll need to understand your strengths and interests, what these professionals do, and how to break into the field. 

Think about your strengths.

Successful computer networking professionals are skilled at:

  • Adapting to changing technology
  • Learning new processes
  • Analyzing problems and offering solutions
  • Communicating with clients, team members, and supervisors
  • Maintaining their focus and noticing details

Strengths in coding, mathematics, and statistics are key to job performance. If you're eyeing manager roles, you'll need leadership, collaboration, and business skills.

Consider your interests.

Computer networking tends to attract people interested in both the theory and hands-on sides of computer science and network engineering. They enjoy translating complex information for non-specialist audiences.

The job involves a lot of problem-solving. Computer network professionals often channel their inner detectives and employ creative thinking to resolve issues. They also are interested in collaborating with colleagues. 

Visualize the kind of career you want.

Computer networking happens in offices and server rooms with networking hardware, but organizations may also allow working from home. Companies typically require at least 40 hours of work per week. Depending on the role, you may need to travel to sites and clients.

The job comes with multiple and competing deadlines, which can be stressful and require abilities to prioritize and communicate under pressure to solve problems expeditiously. Companies will also expect you to learn new skills and may require continuing education.

Consider what it takes to break into a computer networking career.

Many positions require a bachelor's degree and some information technology experience. 

Taking advantage of hands-on tech internship opportunities at tech companies, government agencies, and healthcare organizations can help you build a resume and references. 

Another way to land a position is to develop in-demand industry skills. Earning Cisco, CompTIA, and other tech certifications can improve your chances of a job offer.

What to expect from computer networking courses

Computer networking degree curriculums include computer science courses, but there are differences between the two. This section discusses them, along with what to expect in your computer networking program. 

Courses are more narrowly focused compared to a computer science or information technology degree.

A computer science degree program focuses on theory and understanding what is possible in computing. Computer networking programs include computer science courses like data structures and algorithms, operating systems, programming language structure, and software development.

Computer science courses offer the foundation for the more narrow focus of computer networking study later in the degree.

Similarly, information technology degree programs include computer science courses because IT professionals use and maintain software developed by computer scientists.

Courses are a mix of theoretical and hands-on.

Computer networking degree programs emphasize both theory and hands-on skills. 

While computer networking involves computer system and device connectivity, network professionals also: 

  • Test and configure software
  • Troubleshoot system failures
  •  Secure data, software, and information

That's why computer networking degrees introduce computer and web application development theories.

In addition, computer networking professionals team up with other information technology specialists. Knowing the theories help cross-discipline teams communicate and collaborate.

There may be skills you will want to learn outside of your computer networking courses.

Taking extra classes in business, electrical engineering, and writing (think project proposals and design specs) gains you skills that can help you break into the computer networking field. 

If you're interested in working in a particular industry, such as healthcare, scientific research, or finance, take classes in those areas to round out your education.

Internships and certifications can help you stand out after graduation.

Computer networking degree programs may arrange internships for students to gain workplace skills, employment references, and valuable contacts. Or you may find your own opportunities. 

Try looking for internships on job search sites like Glassdoor or AngelList Talent.

Information technology certifications offer another way to stand out among job-seekers. Many schools prepare you to take and pass industry-standard certifications as you progress through the degree program.

How hard is a computer networking degree?

A computer networking degree program's rigor depends on several factors. Difficulty and level of support offered to students varies from college to college.

If you have little experience and comfort with computers, math, and abstract thinking, this will likely be a challenging degree for you.

Extra coursework or tutoring in math and computer science topics can help if you find yourself struggling with classes.

Choosing an online or on-campus program can make the experience more challenging if self-motivation isn't one of your strengths.

How much does a computer networking degree cost?

The cost of a computer networking degree varies, depending on the degree level and whether you study on-campus or online or attend a public or private school. 

For example, tuition for an online network administration associate degree can total $13,000-$18,000 per year. A bachelor's program costs $13,900-$33,550, though the cheapest online colleges can cost less. Online master's in security students pay $14,600-$33,560. 

Students should also factor in associated costs, such as textbooks and laptops. Some online schools provide a computer to each student. Certification courses add $39-$749 per credential. 

Completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships can help offset costs. Start your search for scholarships with these links:

In conclusion

A computer networking degree offers a wide range of opportunities, from earning an associate degree and exploring career options to specializing your studies in a master's program.

Tailor your path to your background, strengths and interests, and time and financial constraints.

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 Integrity Network.

Last reviewed May 3, 2022. 

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