Although a dedicated job seeker may be able to find employment as an information technology specialist with an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree is a much better choice. Most IT technicians begin their career with a bachelor’s and online bachelor’s degrees are becoming more common every year. Those who aspire to the highest levels of the industry may even consider getting a master’s in information technology or Ph.D. in a related research area.
A degree isn’t just important because it helps the candidate to find a job. A degree is important because the job of an IT worker is complex. Learning the skills necessary to become an effective technician takes years of training and study.
Even before 2020, the dominant trend was toward digitization. Now with remote work that much more common, an even greater proportion of business is taking place online. That means the demand for IT professionals is only increasing. For those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, information technology can prove to be a very lucrative career with multiple employment opportunities both in the United States and abroad.
Steps in choosing the right online IT degree program
There are quite a few areas of specialization within the field of information technology. The first step in selecting the right degree program is choosing an area of specialization. Some examples include:
- Digital Forensics & Systems Security
- Data Analytics
- Document Management
- Mobile Applications
- Information Systems Management
- Network Management
Students typically choose an area that is of particular interest to them, or an area that’s expected to be high growth. For example, database administration and computer systems analysis are two of the fastest growing fields in information technology.
One of the most exciting sectors to get involved with is AI and machine learning. According to Indeed, the number of IT specialists working in this unique field has tripled since 2015. Continued job growth and high salaries make machine learning an especially appealing career opportunity.
Besides the courses being offered, the following are a few other factors to keep in mind when deciding which online university to attend.
- The credentials of the staff. Do they have firsthand experience in the industry?
- What is the cost of the program? Are there any financial aid programs available?
- What is the program’s reputation? Is it possible to find reviews left by students who’ve already received a degree?
- How competitive is the program?
- How many years does the program take to complete? In some cases online programs may take longer to complete than campus-based programs
What are the prerequisites for an online IT degree?
Since most students begin their information technology career with a bachelor’s degree, there are not necessarily that many prerequisites specific to IT. The challenge for a student is to get admitted to his or her preferred online university. Once a student has been admitted to a university they can typically choose to specialize in IT without having to meet any other requirements.
In terms of being admitted to a good university, most online colleges require a GPA of 2.5 or higher, although a GPA of 3.5 may increase a student’s chance of being accepted. High school classes in computer science and mathematics can also be helpful.
Online master’s in information technology programs are more selective. They often require the applicant to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher as well as an undergraduate degree in IT or computer science.
Finding online bachelor’s in information technology programs
Information technology is a popular degree and programs can be found in most states across America. Smaller online schools may only offer a single degree track, while larger schools may give students the chance to pick a unique area of specialization.
The selectivity of the program depends on the university. Some universities accept more than 50 percent of all applicants, while exclusive universities may only accept a very small percentage of all students who apply.
In general, getting accepted to an online university with an IT program is not that difficult. The simple fact is that there are not enough IT professionals in the world and there are a lot of incentives to bring as many new technicians into the field as possible!
Online degrees tend to be more flexible in their tuition fees, versus campus-based degrees. Although online degrees have an in-state and out-of-state pricing model, in some cases the in-state price may apply to neighboring states as well. For example, a Florida university may also offer in-state pricing to residents of Georgia and Alabama. Students should check with a university to find out more about the pricing model.
In terms of tuition, private schools are typically more expensive than state schools. Although some private schools have a better reputation than their public counterparts, due to a lack of qualified information technology experts students with almost any degree can expect to find a good job.
What are the online IT degree requirements?
Most online information technology degree programs require that the student maintains a consistent GPA of 2.5 or higher, although some programs may require a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
In addition to IT courses there may also be humanities courses that are required. For example, students may need to take courses in,
In terms of core classes, there is a heavy focus on computer science, networking and IT security. The courses will be different based on which area of specialization a student is interested in. Here are some examples of different professions within the information technology field.
- Computer Service Technician
- Data Analyst
- Database Administrator
- IT Manager
- Network Engineer
- Systems Administrator
- Systems Analyst
What are the admission requirements for online IT degree programs?
The admission requirements will vary from university to university. It should be noted that in the case of incoming freshmen, there typically isn’t a unique admission requirement to the IT program. Rather, students must meet the necessary qualifications in order to be admitted to the university. Once they are admitted, they may choose to join the IT program.
Almost all information technology undergraduate programs require that applicants have a high school education or GED. The minimum GPA requirement varies based on the program, and can be anywhere from 2.0 to 3.5. Some universities require applicants to have taken the SAT, while other universities do not have this as a requirement.
Some other admission requirements may include,
- A letter of recommendation
- A resume or CV
- A personal statement explaining why the student wants to study at that university
For example, these are the requirements for students who want to apply for the online IT program at George Mason university.
- Optional SAT or ACT score
- 2 letters of recommendation
- A personal statement of 250 words
- List of extracurricular activities
- A copy of a high school transcript including GPA
Listed below are the requirements for two different universities offering an online IT degree in the United States.
The acceptance rate for DePaul university is 67.5 percent. The average GPA of a student accepted to DePaul is 3.65.
On their website DePaul states that high school students applying to the program should have already complete:
- Four years of English
- Three years of mathematics
- Three years of science (two of which must be lab science)
- Two years of social science
- Two years of language study other than English
Submitting ACT or SAT test scores is optional. A copy of a high school transcript as well as a letter of recommendation is required.
More information about the admission process, including a link to apply online, is available on the DePaul university website.
The following requirements for the East Carolina University (ECU) program apply to students who already have an associate’s degree and want to apply directly to the online IT program (information technology coursework only, no humanities).
- Minimum GPA of 2.5
- A minimum of 24 transferable credit hours
- An associates degree in technical science
ECU may also accept students with a non-technical associate’s degree. Admission varies on a case by case basis.
How long does an IT degree online program application take? What is that process like?
Provided that a student already has all of the required documents, applying to a university is a relatively quick process. In some cases it may take several days, in other cases the entire application process might only take an afternoon.
In most cases the full application can be done online. For example, George Mason University has an online application for their undergraduate program.
Cost of an online IT degree
According to US News, the average cost of an online bachelor’s degree in the United States is anywhere from $38,496 to $60,593. That’s the total tuition cost, although there may be other fees as well.
For a more specific example, the Mason University online IT degree costs $558.50 per credit hour for Virginia residents, and $1,536 per credit hour for out-of-state residents. Assuming 120 credit hours of study to complete a degree, an in-state student will pay $67,020 while an out-of-state student will pay $184,320 for their degree.
This is a relatively expensive university, but costs can be deferred with financial aid programs. Tuition costs across the United States can vary based on many factors such as,
- Scholarships and financial aid
- Private vs. public university
- FASFA eligibility
Scholarship and financial aid availability
The best way to find out about financial aid opportunities is to check directly with a university. A university may offer general scholarships for their undergraduate students, as well as degree specific, IT scholarships.
There are also national information technology financial aid programs. These will be discussed in a later section.
Online IT degree curriculum
While online IT students can expect to take a selection of humanities courses, much of a student’s time will be taken up with courses related to information technology. Students will learn about computer science, networking, operating systems and the design of information systems. Courses in mathematics, programming and web design may also be taught.
For example, here is a list of the humanities and IT courses that a student might take at the University of Minnesota before they graduate.
- COMP 1011 – Composition I
- ECON 2101 – Microeconomics
- GBUS 1005 – Orientation to Online Learning
- MATH 1031 – College Algebra
- MATH 1150 – Introduction to Statistics
- BIOL 1009 – General Biology
- CA 1040 – Website Development
- COMP 1013 – Composition II
- PSY 1001 – General Psychology
- COMM 1101 – Public Speaking
- ACCT 2101 – Principles of Accounting I
- SE 2050 – Introduction to Programming I
- SE 2100 – Microcomputer Systems Architecture
- SE 3050 – Database Management Systems
- LE (Goal 7 – Human Diversity)
- ACCT 2102 – Principles of Accounting II
- ECON 2102 – Macroeconomics
- PHIL 1001 – Introduction to Philosophy
- GBUS 3107 – Legal Environment in Business
- ITM 3130 – Messaging Systems
- NT 3215 – Information Assurance and Systems Security
- PHYS 1012 – Introductory Physics
- ITM 3020 – Introduction to Management Information Systems
- ITM 3110 – Microcomputer Operating Systems
- FIN 3100 – Managerial Finance
- NT 3120 – Networking Standards and Protocols
- ITM 4020 – Analysis and Design of Information Systems
- MGMT 3200 – Principles of Management
- MKTG 3300 – Principles of Marketing
- HUM 3310 – Culture and Technology
- ITM 4900 – Senior Project in Information Technology Management
- MGMT 4200 – Project Management
Another example of a course load for an IT student can be found on the Western Governors University website.
The average cost for an online bachelor’s degree is $30,000. That’s the full cost for an entire four year degree, which is a great deal considering the average tuition cost for a campus-based degree. According to US News, the average annual cost of tuition for a campus-based university is,
- $35,087 per year for a private school
- $21,184 for an out-of-state public school
- $9,687 for an in-state public school
An online IT degree is typically a more affordable option, versus studying on campus. Costs can be further deferred by applying for scholarships. These are a few of the IT scholarships available to American students.
- AFCEA Cyber Security Scholarships – a $5,000 scholarship for students studying cybersecurity or information technology at a four year college in the United States
- O-I, Inc. Scholarship – An annual $3,000 merit-based scholarship for students studying information systems and engineering
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook for information technology workers is quite good. In fact the BLS has stated that,
“Employment in computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 11 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. These occupations are projected to add about 531,200 new jobs. Demand for these workers will stem from greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security.”
BLS data further indicates that the median annual wage for an IT specialist was $88,240 in 2019. Computer network architects are the highest earners in the IT field, with an annual salary of $112,690.