The discipline of information technology can encompass everything from circuits and microprocessors to advanced cloud-based networks to the mathematical logic behind programming languages. Depending on the IT specialization students choose to study, courses might cover network protocols, hardware and software design, computer theory, advanced mathematics or information systems, just to name a few. There's a fascinating breadth of information available in IT, and learning about it can lead to almost as wide a breadth of different careers in the field.
Best Online Colleges for Information Technology in 2018-19
Plenty of schools offer online information technology degree programs, but that doesn't mean they are all the same. If you're looking for an online IT degree program, you are probably looking for the program that can be best for you. To help you find the school that can best suit your needs, we've analyzed data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to put together this ranking of the 10 best online colleges for information technology. Using our unique methodology, which weighs data points such as the percentage of degrees awarded in IT and the school's in-state tuition costs, we have striven to create a ranking suited to the online and nontraditional student. (For more details, see the bottom of this page.)
Kaplan University-Omaha Campus
University of South Florida-Main Campus
Ivy Tech Community College
Craven Community College
University of Toledo
College of Southern Maryland
George Mason University
Salem International University
Degree Overview: Information Technology
From analyzing and designing systems, to managing databases and creating network architecture, information technology programs help offer the foundation needed for the wide world of computer-focused careers. Since the field is so wide-ranging, it can be difficult to know what to expect from an IT degree program; to help dispel that mystery, this section will detail some of the courses common to online IT degree programs, as well as the important skills those courses may impart.
Online Information Technology Courses
Information technology students take a variety of coursework in both development and administration to help them become well-rounded professionals who can both create and manage. To provide a strong basis for an associate or bachelor's degree in this field, the most common course requirements include:
- Computer programming
- Database management
- Systems analysis and design
- Information security
- Networking standards and protocols
If you have a particular affinity for a particular aspect of information technology, you may want to consider looking into a concentration for your degree. Concentrations for an undergraduate program might be offered in areas of specialization such as:
- Network administration
- Web and applications development
- Information systems management
Master's programs in IT usually delve a bit deeper into the topics already explored in bachelor's degree, with advanced courses in analytics, cloud computing, operating systems, computer simulation and more. Advanced IT degree programs will also typically offer specializations, much like undergraduate programs. Examples of such specializations include:
- Database systems technology
- Homeland security management
- Software engineering
- Telecommunications management
As it is not uncommon for graduate students to be pursuing their master's degrees in order to further their careers, a master's IT student may want to consider taking some additional courses to supplement the career they would like to attain. For example, a student hoping to grow into a technology management and administrator role may be wise to look into courses on organizational theory, financial decision-making and managerial decision-making.
For those seeking to push their studies even further, doctorate programs in information technology are available. These intensive programs typically include a great deal of research, leadership simulation, mentoring, and advanced development of decision-making and strategy skills. However, earning such a degree could prove instrumental in helping a graduate to merit a high-level management or strategist position.
Career-Related Skills to Develop
With IT professionals being employed in virtually every industry, the skills learned in an online information technology degree program can afford graduates great flexibility in the job force. Perhaps the most obvious skill set that an information technology curriculum can provide to students is the actual technical knowledge of IT systems, from software to applications to languages to networks. As the primary components of careers in the IT industry, it's only to be expected that learning to use them is going to be a pronounced feature of an IT degree program.
Secondary to the technical chops, but just as important, is the ability to apply that knowledge using problem solving skills. Being a computer whiz is fantastic, but being able to step away from the screen to brainstorm an appropriate solution — perhaps with a healthy dose of critical thinking from your own head, perhaps by using verbal or written communication to collaborate with other team members — will make you a valuable asset to any organization.
Finally, it's necessary to practice keen attention to detail (just ask anyone tasked to read lines of code all day), as well as the ability to shift gears and multitask between projects.
Information Technology Career Outlook
Computers have infiltrated the majority of workplaces in the world, meaning that all those workplaces need IT experts to keep them updated and running. If you're looking for job security, you could do much worse than looking into the following careers.
Software engineers are an integral part of the software manufacturing process, as they work closely with developers, programmers and coders to bring a program idea to life. Their job duties include writing and debugging software applications; testing programs and making necessary modifications; and ensuring that the work is in compliance with product specifications.
Generally, those who want to get started in software engineer careers must earn a bachelor's degree in computer engineering or computer science, although some companies prefer to hire people with advanced degrees. In addition, some employers want workers who have also obtained experience in software programming and coding jobs.
Specific job duties for those in applications engineer careers include creating technical specifications and making modifications when needed; conducting systems testing; and finding bugs in a system and making recommendations on how to fix them. These professionals can work for organizations such as finance companies, banks or health care facilities. In some cases, applications engineers work as consultants.
Data is the most important commodity that organizations have, and those who pursue information security analyst careers act as gatekeepers for that vital asset by protecting computer systems and networks. Job duties include creating policies that address data breaches; monitoring networks for emergencies; installing protective software, such as firewalls and encryption programs; and addressing security violations within an organization.
Information security analysts should be detail oriented and have strong problem solving and analytical skills. They should also be proficient in programs such as Citrix, NoSQL, Veritas NetBackup and IBM WebSphere. These professionals are expected to keep up with trends in the information technology security field in order to keep their skills current.
Computer systems analysts help companies use technology more efficiently. They research currently existing and developing technologies, recommend which technologies their employers should invest in, and then install and maintain those technologies to improve their workplace. Usually, a computer systems analyst works with whatever software their employer needs to do their job, but some are more specialized in their field, such as systems designers, systems architects, software quality assurance analysts and programmer analysts.
Those who are interested in computer systems analyst careers should generally earn a bachelor's degree in a computer-related discipline, although some companies prefer to hire candidates who have completed a master's degree. In addition, these workers are expected to obtain some business education, seeing as they are involved in making organizational decisions.