According to research done by the International Data Corporation (IDC), by 2020, the global information technology industry is expected to surpass $5 trillion in value. What's more, the U.S. itself is the largest IT market in the world, accounting for nearly a third of that global economic activity.

If you've been thinking about studying tech to help further your career, it's important to know the difference between two most common degree types. Here's a quick primer:

On this page, we'll address some general questions about information technology degrees and careers, give a general overview of IT college programs and provide a list of top institutions to help you find a good IT school online. We'll also give you a rundown of some positions in the field and a quick introduction to information technology certifications.

Frequently Asked Questions

The answer to this question depends on the distance education options at your chosen college, but fully and partially online information technology degree programs are available from a wide range of institutions. Check with an advisor at each school you're considering for more details.

Most employers of computer and IT professionals prefer candidates who have at least some formal training. A bachelor's degree is the most common educational requirement, but an associate degree, college diploma or skills certificate may qualify you for some entry-level positions.
The main difference is that online degree programs often allow you to learn the material and complete assignments largely on your own schedule. Students who attend IT school online typically engage with the same curriculum as those attending school on campus.
Relatively high enrollment is often one of the features of a strong online program at an IT college. The online availability of student services like an advising center, tutoring and career counseling can also demonstrate a school's commitment to its online students.
Accreditation, or the assurance that a program's instruction meets nationally accepted standards, is provided for IT programs through the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), with assistance from the Computing Sciences Accreditation Board (CSAB).


Information Technology Program Overview

Different information technology schools tend to vary somewhat in the specific curriculum they offer, but there are some core concepts that many IT programs have in common. Here's a short list of subjects that you can expect to study on your way to an information technology degree:

  • Hardware and software fundamentals. IT pros often need to construct or manage a computing ecosystem that includes a range of specific hardware and software solutions. A broad introduction to hardware and software can happen as early as your first semester.
  • Networking. Just about any organization, large or small, needs a well-maintained computer network to keep its daily operations running. Networking concepts are usually covered in the first year of an IT program and may cover wide area networks (WANs) as well as local-area networks (LANs).
  • Cybersecurity. Protecting your networks and other systems from cyberattacks and data theft is key, so most associate and bachelor's degree programs include at least one course that focuses on security. Some programs may offer a dedicated study track for information technology security specialists.

Continue reading for more about what you can learn in an online Information Technology program on the associate and bachelor's level.

Earning an Online Associate Degree in Information Technology

How Long Does an Online Associate Program in Information Technology Take?

Full-time students can typically finish their associate degree plan in four or five semesters.

What Are the Requirements to Start an Online Associate Program in IT?

Each online information technology college has specific requirements for admission, but generally you are expected to have a high school diploma or its equivalent and at least a 2.0 grade point average. Also, you may be required to earn a high score on the SAT or ACT.

Why Earn an Online Associate in Information Technology?

Earning an associate degree can be a way for to enter the IT field quickly or to prepare you for a higher-level degree program.

Associate Degree Timeline

Year One

Introductory Coursework:

The first year of an information technology degree program lays the framework for future courses. You take classes that familiarize you with IT fundamentals, scripting and pre-calculus.

General Education:

You can also expect to take general education classes to round out your criminal justice studies, such as coursework in English composition, mathematics, psychology and sociology.

Year Two

IT Electives:

As you learn more about IT, you can explore your specific interests by taking electives offered in your program. You can also learn about computer networks, computer systems security, and project management.

  • 1.Common Courses
    • Algorithms and data structures
    • Computer architecture
    • Computer systems
    • Network theory and design
    • Principles of accounting I
    • Programming in C/C++
  • 2. Common Careers:
    • Computer support specialist
    • Network systems administrator
    • Computer systems analyst
    • Computer network architect
    • Database administrator

Earning an Online Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology

How Long Does an Online Bachelor's in Information Technology Take?

These four-year university degrees provide the broadest and deepest IT education of the three types. At this level, information technology schools may allow students to specialize in a specific area within the discipline.

What Are the Requirements to Start a Bachelor's in Information Technology?

Applicants are generally expected to have a high school diploma or GED, a 2.0 grade point average and a certain score on the SAT or ACT. You may also be able to transfer credits into a four-year program if you've already earned an associate degree in information technology.

Why Earn an Online Bachelor's in Information Technology?

An online bachelor's in information technology can help you if you're new to the field and learning the fundamentals as well as the skills needed to land a job. A bachelor's program can also provide the opportunity to choose a specialization in order to study a specific subsection of the field. It offers more advanced information that can help current information technology professionals who are looking for career advancement.

Bachelor's Degree Timeline

Years One and Two

Introductory Information Technology Coursework:

When you begin this program, you can expect to learn the basics of information technology, including data analytics, cross-platform technology, computing as a service, IT operations, and scripting.

General education classes:

You can expect to take general education classes in areas such as mathematics, art, psychology, sociology and English.

Years Three and Four

Exploring a Specialization:

Once you have a basic understanding of information technology principles, you may select a specialization that can help you meet your education and career goals. Examples of these specializations are cybersecurity, digital systems technology and embedded systems, project management, software development, and IT management.


You can have the opportunity to apply what you've learned in the classroom to a real-world IT setting. Internship experience can to better prepare you for a career in IT and help you decide what specialization is right for you.

Capstone course or project:

Some schools can require a capstone course or project that allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the course material throughout the program. In other programs, you may be required to take a comprehensive examination covering the department's curriculum.

  • 1.Common Courses
    • General information technology
    • Data analytics
    • Data management
    • Information assurance and cybersecurity
    • Basic web design
  • 2. Common Careers:
    • Computer programmer
    • Database administrator
    • Mobile developer
    • Network administrator
    • Software developer
    • UX designer

Information Technology Financial Aid Information

Paying for college can be tough, but the right financial aid programs can help you keep your costs down. Take a look at the information below, and check out our guide to scholarships for more tips.

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Information Technology Career Outlook

Once you've finished your degree and you're ready to get hit the workforce, you'll find a diverse array of information technology careers on the job boards. The sheer size of the IT market in the U.S. suggests that the career outlook for well-trained candidates should be generally positive.

In this section, we'll take a close look at a few information technology careers to provide some perspective on the diversity of the IT job market and help students understand their options.

What does an IT consultant do?

Students in search of a quick route to the workforce may be wondering: "What can you do with an information technology diploma?" IT consultants work to help people and organizations design, develop and integrate computing systems that meet their needs and goals. Here's a list of common responsibilities in this career:

How to become an IT consultant

Entry-level jobs for IT consultants may be available to recent graduates without prior work experience, including those who have earned a certificate or diploma rather than a full-fledged degree. Further education is often required to move up the ladder in the field — many employers prefer candidates with at least a bachelor's degree when hiring for more advanced positions.

Earning certain information technology certifications to supplement your education can also give you a leg up in the hiring process. Here's a short list of some of the more helpful professional credentials on the market:

Active listening and good written communication are also important parts of an IT consultant's skill set. Adding some courses in business communications or technical writing to your degree plan can help you develop these "soft skills."

What does a cloud architect do?

More and more of our data is moving into cloud-based systems, and the use of virtual computing environments is on the rise in both organizational and private settings. Cloud architects focus their attention on managing cloud-based system architectures from end to end, including servers, storage, front-end platforms and local networks that interact with data from the cloud.

As a cloud architect, you'll often work closely with IT security personnel. Depending on the nature of an organization's business, you may need to be available at irregular hours to address emergent technical issues.

How to become a cloud architect

Cloud architect jobs tend to come with significant responsibility for an organization's computer and data systems, so employers tend to prefer candidates with substantial formal training and experience. A bachelor's degree in information technology is typically the minimum education required for these positions, as well as a few years of experience working with cloud-focused solutions in a professional IT setting.

In order to get the experience you need to qualify for a job as a cloud architect, focus your entry-level career search on organizations that make extensive use of the cloud and learn everything you can about working with it. A range of information technology certifications can also add value to an aspiring cloud architect's resume. Here are a few to consider:

What does a web developer do?

Web developers are the people responsible for creating and maintaining the technical elements of online sites. Web developers may also act as designers, constructing the user-facing graphical layout of a site as well as building the parts at work behind the scenes.

Here's a quick list of web developer duties:

How to become a web developer

Educational requirements for web developer careers tend to vary from one work setting to another. Developers for high-usage sites and applications may need a bachelor's degree or higher, for example, while freelance web developers can attempt to pitch their services to potential clients before they've taken any formal training in the field.

As with many information technology careers, the right professional certifications can go a long way toward landing you the job you want. These are a few helpful certifications for aspiring web developers:

A solid portfolio is also a big part of the job search for aspiring web developers. Earning your web development degree at the right IT school can help you build that portfolio and demonstrate your expertise to clients and employers.

Information Technology Certifications

CompTIA Network+

This certification focuses on key networking concepts like security, infrastructure and troubleshooting. It shows that you're capable of designing and implementing functional hardware networks and virtualized systems.

  • Requirements: CompTIA recommends that Network+ candidates first earn the foundational CompTIA A+ certification and gain 9-12 months of professional networking experience.
  • Exam Format: Multiple-choice; up to 90 questions with a 90-minute time limit
  • How long does the certification last? Three years after the date it's earned, in most cases.

VMware Certified Professional - Cloud Management and Automation (CMA)

VMware's CMA credential demonstrates to employers that you're capable of using VMware vRealize environments to automate, simplify and streamline data center activities.

  • Requirements: Gain experience with the current versions of vSphere and vRealize, attend at least one relevant training course and pass a foundational VMware exam before attempting the CMA test.
  • Exam Format: Multiple-choice; 70 questions with a 115-minute time limit
  • How long does the certification last? No recertification requirement exists, but VMware encourages you to re-test when new versions of the associated solutions are released.

CIW Web Development Professional

This credential assures that you know how to create robust web-based assets and help you work with the back end of the web in a range of employment settings.

  • Requirements: Take and pass three separate certification exams: CIW JavaScript Specialist, CIW Perl Specialist and CIW Database Design Specialist.
  • Exam Format: 50-55 questions per exam, with time limits of 75-90 minutes
  • How long does the certification last? CIW certifications do not expire, but holders are encouraged to re-test when tests are updated.

Professional Organizations

Joining a professional organization can bring several benefits to a young IT career, such as exclusive job boards and opportunities for mentorship. Check out this short list of organizations you might consider joining:

Students as well as professionals can become members of CompTIA, which offers discounts on products, workforce communities and scholarships for paying student members. A basic student membership is available at no charge.
Information technology pros who focus on network technology can reap benefits like career-building assistance, member-only software and ample peer-to-peer networking opportunities from their NPA membership.
ACM professional members get access to numerous online courses, training videos, e-books and other sources of continued learning. Professional PLUS and student memberships are available as well.
If you're hoping to put your IT skills to use as a self-employed technician, membership in the AIIP can give you access to tools and resources designed to help members succeed.

Related Rankings

If the information technology careers we've talked about don't sound right for you, check out our pages on some related career fields:

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