Computer science is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States; the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the project growth rate for the next decade is 12%. This rate is significantly faster than the national average and will equate to over half a million new jobs being created in that span of time. The absolute boom in this industry isn’t very surprising. Technology has grown more in the last ten years than it has since the invention of the printing press. Technology is becoming more and more present in our day-to-day lives, people are becoming more reliant on it, people are striving to innovate it, and it has become one of the most valuable tools across every major professional industry. Computer science plays a pivotal role in that.
Computer science is officially defined as the study of computers and computational systems. That is a very broad definition that can make the field seem a bit nebulous. In simpler terms, computer science is a field that deals with software and software systems. It encompasses multiple areas of study and there are hundreds of different specializations based on the area you focus your studies in, your goals, and the program you choose. Some of the principal areas of study that fall under the computer science umbrella are:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Computer Systems & Networks
- Database Systems
- Human-Computer Interaction
- Numerical Analysis
- Programming Languages
- Software Engineering
- Theory of Computing
- Vision & Graphics
With the field growing, different specialty areas and degree programs are being implemented year after year by colleges and universities that are just trying to keep up with the immense demand for computer science education. It was reported by USA Today that computer science majors increased as much as 95% from 2011 to 2015. Most people start their journey to a computer science career with a bachelor’s degree, which offers the highest starting salaries out of any other major. Master’s programs and even doctorate programs are offered as well, for those who want a more advanced career or plan to become a college professor.
Online Computer Science Degrees
The world’s first computer science degree program predated online education by almost 50 years, interestingly enough. The University of Cambridge began offering such a program in 1953. But now, there are hundreds of online computer science degree programs offered from small community colleges to large public universities and everything in between. Online computer science degrees are offered at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels in a broad range of different areas.
Earning such a technology-centric degree via the web seems a little bit like a no-brainer. Online degrees are typically more affordable. There are fewer fees and sometimes even special tuition rates for online students. They are also considerably more flexible, with most of them allowing students to complete their coursework on their own time as long as they’re meeting appropriate deadlines. With all the benefits to consider and the immense selection of programs, pinpointing which one is going to offer you exactly what you need can be a chore. To help you jumpstart the process, we have ranked the Top 15 Best Online Computer Science Degrees
We’ve created a ranking of the best online computer science degrees. For this specific ranking, we chose to exclusively feature bachelor’s degree programs. When we were curating schools for consideration, we had a few key things in mind.
- We made sure the school was based in the United States.
- We made sure the school was properly accredited.
- We made sure the school operated with a not-for-profit model.
Once the list of schools that offered at least one online bachelor’s degree in computer science and met the criteria above was created, we calculated which computer science degree programs were the best based on their affordability and the return on investment (ROI) that they offered.
Affordability is based on the average net cost of attendance; ROI was calculated using that cost information and the average salary of someone with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. ROI is represented by a percentage that was calculated with the following formula.
ROI = (Gain from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment
A standard ROI calculator was used to prevent any human error in calculation. The cost of Investment, for the sake of this formula, was equal to four times the average net cost of attendance; this is based on the fact that the average bachelor’s degree program is four years. Students may complete their in a shorter or longer span of time and may not pay the average net cost. These are meant to be guidelines for making a cost estimate only. The average salary for a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science is $83,000, according to Payscale. For the Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems, the average salary is $75,000 from the same source.
Finally, schools are presented based on the Annualized ROI. If two schools receive the same percentage as the final score, we put them in alphabetical order.
1Western Governors University
Western Governors University offers one of the most affordable online computer science degrees. This is a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science that can be taken entirely online. In fact, WGU is an exclusively online university. This degree program would have you taking a total of 34 courses in an asynchronous format. You will be required to take lower-division courses, typically referred to as general education courses if you have not already; however, transfer credits are accepted for students with prior college experience. Those will need to be completed before you move on to your Key Subject Areas.
Students in this online computer science degree program will cover a range of topics that will get them familiar with the fundamentals of computer science. Some examples include Web Development Foundations, Foundations of Scripting and Programming, Business of IT – Project Management, and more. Instead of earning your degree based on the credits you earn, you will need to demonstrate competency in each area in order to graduate. Because of this approach, though, WGU does allow students to demonstrate competency in non-traditional ways like CLEP testing or through a PLA Portfolio. As you earn this bachelor’s in computer science, you will also be meeting all of the requirements for the following four certifications: CIW Site Development Associate, CompTIAProject+, ITIL®1 Foundation Certification, and Oracle Database SQL.
2Eastern New Mexico University
Eastern New Mexico University is another school with an impressive ROI thanks to the low cost of its online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. Online classes at ENMU are completely asynchronous, which will allow you to sign on to the course management system any time of day and watch recorded lectures. You will be required to complete a minimum of 120 credit hours to complete this degree. All of the classes that you need can be taken entirely online through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
There are 33 hours worth of computer science major courses in the curriculum of this program. You will cover topics that will introduce you to computer science and prepare you to go on to the next degree program or off into the professional world, whichever path works for you. You will study data structures, computer programming, design and analysis of algorithms, operating systems, and more. Some required courses are outside of your major, and they include Logic Circuits, Report Writing, and Calculus I and II.
Lamar University has an online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. The university describes the curriculum of this program as broad-based, and it is broken down into categories. Those categories are computer science, mathematics, laboratory science, free electives, electrical engineering, and general education. Something that is nice about this program is that 48 credits out of the 120 you will need to graduate come from computer science courses. This is higher than average for bachelor’s degree programs.
Lamar University is extremely flexible, so it has options that can meet the needs of varying schedules. You can choose to study part-time or full-time, there are multiple start dates throughout the year, and you can even choose your session length. Classes are offered in accelerated eight-week sessions for students that want to study at a more aggressive pace, or in a traditional 15-week semester format. This online computer science degree is perfect for the working professional because of the flexibility it provides. Regardless of the session length that suits you, all of your classes are asynchronous.
4Northwestern State University of Louisiana
Northwestern State University of Louisiana is the first school featured in our ranking of the best online computer science degree programs that offers a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems as opposed to being a more straightforward computer science degree. As with a traditional bachelor’s degree, you will need to complete a minimum of 120 credits in order to complete this program. The curriculum is broken up into the University Core, Business Core, CIS Curriculum, and Additional Support Courses. Concentrations are offered in Application Development, Cybersecurity, Networking & Systems Management, and Web Development.
Online classes at this university are condensed down to just eight-weeks in length. This allows you to focus on one subject at a time and can even help you graduate faster. The majority of the classes you’ll take are asynchronous, but there may be some synchronous components. Regardless of the concentration you select, all students take a handful of required CIS courses, and those are Introduction to Computer Information Systems, Introduction to Software Development, Database Systems, Web Page Development, and Advanced Systems Development.
5University of Illinois at Springfield
The University of Illinois at Springfield is home to an online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree program that offers two start dates in the fall and spring semesters. There are 120 credits required for graduation, and there are currently two areas of emphasis that students can choose from. These are Software Engineering and Systems Security & Information Assurance. There is no general track offered, so you will have to choose one of those areas if you select this university. This is a degree completion program that does require you to have some college experience prior to enrollment.
Students must have at least two semesters of Java Programming Experience as well as meeting several math prerequisites. While pursuing this degree program, you will take courses like Computer Organization, Data Structures and Algorithms, Introduction to Operating Systems, and more. There will also be an entrance assessment, an exit assessment, and you will complete a Software Engineering Capstone. Something that sets this degree program apart is that 12 of the credits you need to graduate can come from electives that you choose. This is unique among bachelor’s programs, and it could help you to explore a particular area of computer science that appeals to you.
6Florida International University
Florida International University is the only university featured in our computer science degree ranking that features a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science. This degree is not going to contain as much math and science as a Bachelor of Science would. Instead, it is designed to be coupled with another discipline like marketing, business, or something else. If you want a career in computer science that is peripheral to another industry, this is a great option. Not only is it unique, but also the tuition is exceptionally competitive. Out of state online students can expect to pay less than $350 per credit.
This is a fully-online degree program that requires 120 credits to graduate. There are start dates in the fall, spring, and summer so you can start taking classes when you want to. There are 14 required courses that make up the core curriculum for the major and get you familiarized with computer science. You will also need to select three computer science electives to add depth to a certain skill set. Finally, you will take as many as nine interdisciplinary courses. They must be applicable to a minor or certificate program. The online classes at FIU are asynchronous with some live components.
7Fort Hays State University
Fort Hays State University has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science that can be taken as a standalone program or as a degree completion program based on your academic background. You will be required to earn 120 credits that are distributed across general education cognates, marketing cognates, and major courses. On top of the typical computer science foundation courses that cover programming, operating systems, and software engineering, you will be able to take more specialized courses. Back-End Web Development, Assembly Language, and Computer Graphics are all included in this computer science program.
Fort Hays State University offers a very broad and diverse curriculum that allows you to create a solid foundation in computer science. Transfer credits and credits earned from CLEP exams are accepted at FHSU on a case by case basis, so you may be able to accelerate your completion time if you’re eligible for either of those opportunities. Online students have the opportunity to earn a flexible degree at a pace that works for them at this university, and they can even receive traditional financial aid.
Bellevue University’s Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems is a little different; it consists of a total of 127 required credits for completion. Students have the option to take this degree program entirely online or in a blended format if they live near campus or are interested in commuting. Classes blend practical skills with foundational competencies and even approach some courses through a business lens to make this a very well-rounded program. Students have the opportunity to build on what the core requirements cover by adding an area of emphasis. Networking, Cybersecurity, Business Intelligence, and Applications Development are the current options for concentration areas.
Almost half of the credits that you will need to earn this bachelor’s in computer science are electives, which gives you the opportunity to individualize your degree to suit your goals. Online class sizes at Bellevue are kept small that you have more of a relationship with the faculty, who all bring real-world expertise to the table to provide you with a rigorous and career-relevant education. Online students will also have access to interactive resources like tutoring, writing assistance, and library services. All of the classes you need for this degree can be taken online and asynchronously.
Baker College has been featured among the best online computer science degree programs for the fully-online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. It is a 121-credit-hour program that you can take from the comfort of your own home while still getting an education that was designed by expert faculty in conjunction with industry-leading professionals. Concentrations are offered in Computer Programming, Database Technologies, and Mobile Applications Software Engineering. Online classes at Baker are not self-paced, but they are still asynchronous. This provides a nice blend of structure and convenience.
The majority of the classes you’ll take as part of this online degree in computer science are going to be the Major Courses. That is something that sets Baker apart among the other featured institutions; 76 credits worth of your degree program come straight from computer science core courses. Multiple programming languages, operating systems, and concepts are covered in the extensive list of mandatory classes. On top of that, you will take an additional 18 credits in the concentration that you choose. So, while you do still have to meet your general education requirements, you will have plenty of opportunities to explore courses that are in line with your future.
10Arizona State University
Arizona State University is well-known for offering a variety of extremely convenient online degree programs because classes at ASU are only seven and a half weeks long. We’ve featured the university for its online Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems. This is a 120-credit program that will have you take a total of 41 classes. There are multiple start dates throughout the year, and there are no required visits to campus when pursuing this computer science degree.
The curriculum features a blend of computer science, business, and engineering courses. You will still have to take your general education classes unless you enter the program as part of a degree completion pathway. Macroeconomics, accounting, small group communication, and business writing are some of the topics that you will cover outside of computer science. You will also learn about systems development, analytics, cyber risks, and more. This program seamlessly blends computer science and business to provide you with everything you need to start your career. This program culminates in a capstone course and features career preparation courses throughout.
11Austin Peay State University
Austin Peay State University offers an online Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems. There are multiple concentrations offered as part of the program as well. Currently, the ones that are offered entirely online are the Database Administration Concentration, Information Assurance and Security Concentration, Internet and Web Technology Concentration, and the Systems Development Concentration. You could also choose to further customize your program of study with a minor; Information Assurance and Security, Mobile Software Technology, and Web Technology are all entirely online.
The amount of options that students have when it comes to choosing a program is the main thing that sets this university apart among this ranking of the best online degrees in computer science. Austin Peay State University also has a very generous transfer policy; it is especially good about working with active-duty servicemembers and veterans to make sure that these students get credit for experience. Any proctored exams you may need can be taken somewhere local to you as long as you get it approved prior to the day of the exam. This is a 120-credit bachelor’s program. Full-time and part-time scheduling options are available, and this university even allows you to take classes all year long so that you can graduate sooner.
12Old Dominion University
Old Dominion University has a long-standing reputation when it comes to offering online degrees. The one that has been featured in this ranking is the Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. This is a full degree program that is appropriate for first-time students, but you can also apply if you’re seeking a bachelor’s degree completion program. ODU’s program requires 120 credits in total for completion, but you could transfer in as many as 90 of those credits. On top of that, tuition is very affordable. Students that do not live in the state of Virginia, where the university is located, will still only pay around $400 per credit. ODU’s online classes are a blend of synchronous and asynchronous components.
The curriculum for this bachelor’s in computer science includes a blend of major courses, math courses, general education, as well as a minor. Students are exposed to broad theoretical concepts in computer science, which is supplemented with strong practical elements. Professional Workforce Development courses, internships, and co-ops could all be something you may participate in while you’re learning. While there are a lot of prescribed courses, there are plenty of elective options for you to round out what you’re learning with topics that interest you.
13University of Florida
The University of Florida provides its online degrees through UF Online. One of those degrees is a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. One thing to note about this computer science degree is that it is not for first-time college students. In order to be eligible to enroll, you must have a minimum of 12 college credits; you may be able to transfer in 60 or more credits if you have more college experience. This degree program has a strong liberal arts general education requirement, and it pairs that with a foundational education in computer science. Students will need 120 credits to graduate.
The curriculum includes a significant list of required courses. The foundation coursework covers technical writing, physics, calculus, and statistics. The required core coursework consists of ten courses as well as a senior capstone. The core courses you could end up taking include Introduction to Computer Organization, Applications of Discrete Structures, Digital Logic and Computer Systems, and more. There are also required major electives. Students of this online bachelor’s in computer science will be responsible for completing an internship, as well as conducting Directed Independent Research related to their studies.
14University of Maryland Global Campus
The University of Maryland Global Campus is what used to be known as the University of Maryland University Campus or UMUC. We’ve featured this school for its online Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. This is a degree program that you can complete without ever having to attend a physical campus; however, there is a hybrid option for those of you who live near campus or would like to experience some traditional courses as well. The curriculum was designed to be very versatile, serving to prepare students to go on to pursue a master’s degree. Complex algorithms, graphics and visualization, programming languages, and software development are all included.
Like most online bachelor’s in computer science, this degree program requires you to have 120 credits in order to graduate. First-time students can enroll in this program. However, if you’ve already gotten some college education, UMGC could accept up to 90 transfer credits. In your classes, you will encounter a blend of hands-on projects like what you would face on the job and theoretical background information to help you deeply understanding computer science. Due to the project-based approach in some classes, this is a great bachelor’s degree in computer science to enter the workforce with as well.
Mercy College finishes off our ranking of the best online computer science degrees with its Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. This is a 120-credit program that can be earned online in its entirety. It is suitable for first-time college students, but Mercy also has a generous transfer policy. Students coming from a two-year institution can bring in as many as 75 credits; those coming from four-year institutions can bring as many as 90. This is a full-time program that doesn’t offer options for acceleration, so you can expect to graduate from this program in about four years if you enroll as a freshman.
Disregarding the general education requirements, there are two main components of the curriculum. There are foundation courses that introduce you to computing, discrete structures, and calculus, and there are the major courses. The required courses for the program explore software engineering, probability, operating systems, computer networks, and artificial intelligence, among other things. You will then have to select three electives that are synergistic with computer science studies. For those electives, there is a wide selection of classes, but there is also a work-study option and an independent study option. Mercy’s online classes are all asynchronous.
FAQ: Answering Your Questions About Online Computer Science Degrees
Is a Degree in Computer Science Worth It?
Computer science graduates have the highest starting salaries out of any other degree program in America, which means that a degree in computer science is going to have one of the strongest ROIs in higher education. It is also a growing field. As you read in the introduction, over half a million jobs in computer science are going to be opening up over the next decade, and that’s just what we know. Computer science is always growing and changing; five years from now, there could be an entirely new specialization in the field that we couldn’t even dream of today. With statistically higher salaries, even for inexperienced employees, if you want a college degree that is going to help you be more financially sound, then a computer science degree is worth it.
With the projected job growth and constant innovation in the industry of computer science, you won’t have to worry as much about job security. Depending on what you choose to focus on within the realm of computer science, your degree and expertise could be applicable across a range of other industries. These two factors speak volumes about job security, which is something else that makes a computer science degree worth it.
Another thing that is often overlooked when you’re considering all of these practical elements is that if computer science is something that you truly want to do, then it is worth earning your degree so you can work in a field that you enjoy, especially if the field you enjoy is as lucrative and stable as this one.
Are Computer Science Jobs in Demand?
Without a doubt! For several years now, the amount of computer science jobs that are available has far exceeded the number of people that have the qualifications to fill those jobs. Technology is in everything that we do, and computer scientists play a pivotal role in keeping the world running as well as continuing to innovate and grow the field. There are a lot of open jobs in computer science right now because there aren’t qualified applicants.
Part of this is because computer science has become more complicated in recent years. Students are shifting towards more specialized programs at the master’s level, replacing the bachelor’s degree in computer science. A bachelor’s in computer science is still great for a lot of entry-level jobs because it provides you with a broad base of knowledge that you can build on with the skills you need to succeed in your career. It’s not going away by any means. Instead, job seekers are going after the more technical, laser-focused programs instead of the broader ones.
Because of the shift in attitude, there are fewer people who are qualified to perform entry-level computer science jobs. On the other hand, the call for more specialized education is growing too. Businesses are making sure that they’re hiring the best candidates that have a thorough education and work experience in their area. There are a lot of trends shifting in the computer science world, and all of them, in one way or another, are contributing to the shortage of qualified workers. A recent projection stated that there could be as many as 1,000,000 more open computer science jobs than there are computer science graduates entering the workforce for the year 2020.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Degree in Computer Science?
The amount of time that it takes to get a degree is dependent on a lot of different factors. Depending on the degree level, there are different average amounts of time that a degree should take. Because this ranking focuses on Bachelor’s in Computer Science, that is what we’re going to structure this answer on.
The average time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree is four years; most colleges and universities give students as much as six years if they need to study on a part-time basis or if something happens that takes them away from their studies. So, the typical online bachelor’s degree in computer science can be expected to take about four years, perhaps longer if there is anything that makes it so you can’t pursue your education full-time.
Just as there are options for those who have to earn their computer science online degree at a slower pace, there are a lot of colleges and universities that offer the opportunity to study at a faster pace. Some online colleges will condense their classes down to half the length or less of a normal class; that way, students have the opportunity to complete more classes in a given term. Another way that accelerated degree programs work is that they allow you to attend school year-round with no break at some schools. There are also exams that you can take, or if a school you’re interested in would consider any prior learning you have for credit, earning credits in this non-traditional way can help speed things along as well. The average accelerated bachelor’s degree program is two years; so, you could get your computer science degree in half the time! Students that pursue a degree completion program could finish even faster.
So, to earn a degree in computer science online, or on campus, you’re looking at a timeframe between two and four years.
Is Computer Science All Coding?
Absolutely not! Coding is part of computer science, but there are a lot of other components of it as well; computer science is a very broad field. It covers everything that has to do with the study of computers and computational systems, as well as solving problems with computers. One reason that this is such a common misconception is that people don’t realize that coding, programming, and computer science are all related, but they are all very different things. From the outside looking in, it can all seem the same because computer science is a highly technical area of study yet also very broad.
Everything that has to do with computers, from hardware to theoretical concepts, algorithms to architecture, and more – this is what the field of computer science studies. Everything related to a computer. Software is part of that, as is creating software through programming, but you can see how that is just one small piece of computer science as a whole.
Programming is the creation of a software program in such a way that when it functions, it leads to a certain result.
Finally, coding can be best understood as translating. The developer has something that he wants the computer to do, so he codes it in the appropriate programming language to make the computer perform the desired function.