Jobs all across the IT sector are on the rise. Jobs for network administrators are very difficult to outsource, so positions tend to be secure, and the average yearly salary for network administration positions was reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as more than 150 percent of the national occupational average.
If you're thinking about a earning a network administrator degree, it's important to know how it differs from other IT fields. For example, here are the differences between network and computer systems administrators:
On this page, we give you a primer on how to become a network administrator, including information on college-level training programs, lists of network administrator certifications and some data on the national job market.
Earning a degree from an accredited college or university is the most direct route to a career in the field. Degrees in a range of tech-focused subjects may qualify you for network administrator positions, particularly at the entry level.
Network administration is one of the many tech subjects that translates very well to a virtual classroom environment. Many institutions across the country offer network administrator degrees fully online, while others allow students to mix a few online classes into a traditional schedule.
If the online program at a given school has substantial enrollment, there's a good chance that it's helping students work effectively toward their goals. Virtual student services, such as online library resources, tutoring and academic or career counseling, are also a big plus.
Accreditation is also a vital part of a strong network administration program. Institutions earn regional accreditation for their programs in general, and individual network administration degrees can be accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
What is a network administrator? What does a network administrator do? Questions like these are typically answered early in a network administration degree program. The specific schedule of courses that you can take depends on the policies of your chosen college or university, but most take a scaling-up approach that lays down a solid foundation of basic concepts before diving into the more technical side of the discipline.
What you're able to learn during your program also depends on the length of the study plan. Read on for a detailed look at the two types of undergraduate network administrator degree.
How long does an associate network administration degree program online take?
Associate degree plans typically take four or five semesters of study to complete, but there are some exceptions. Part-time college schedules contain fewer credit hours per semester than their full-time counterparts, which can stretch the time to completion of an associate degree plan to three years or more.
What are the requirements to start an associate network administration degree program online?
The specific requirements for enrollment are set by each individual school, but there are a few common requirements that many institutions share:
Some institutions may also have a minimum high school GPA or other requirements. Check with an advisor for the terms that apply to you.
Why earn an associate network administration degree online?
If you're comfortable with a virtual learning environment, earning your network administrator degree online can have a lot of upside. You're often able to attend lectures and complete assignments on your own time, which tends to help with scheduling, and cost savings can come in the form of digital textbooks and reduced travel to campus.
Basic networking concepts, such as introductory computer programming and fundamental network hardware, are commonly covered in the first year of a network administrator associate degree program. Most programs include an orientation course in your first term, and general education courses in subjects like math, communications, English composition and more may be more common in your first program year.
The second year of a network administration program features instruction in important, career-relevant subjects like wireless networking, routing, cybersecurity, internet protocol configuration and creating virtualized environments. Students may also be able to take other computer science or IT electives to enhance their knowledge.
How long does a bachelor's network administration degree program online take?
Most bachelor's degree programs in network administration are completed in four years of full-time study. If you're a motivated learner, however, you may be able to shorten your time in school by taking your classes on an accelerated schedule. Accelerated programs can be hard work, so try to make sure that you're ready for the extra challenge if your school offers them.
What are the requirements to start a bachelor's network administration degree program online?
Bachelor's degree requirements are fairly standard for most public colleges and universities, although some institutions may have additional requirements specific to their students. Here's a list of the most common requirements for bachelor's degree enrollment:
Application essays may not be required, but many schools encourage students to submit them.
Why earn a bachelor's network administration degree online?
The bachelor's degree is commonly understood as the baseline educational requirement for most network administrator jobs, so continuing your education to this level makes sense for anyone planning to start their IT career off on the right foot. Online learning can be good for potential career changers, since the flexible schedule permits you to keep your current job while you go to school.
Lower division (years one and two)
During the first two years of your bachelor's program, you take introductory courses and satisfy most of your general education requirement. Lower division bachelor's courses tend to correspond fairly closely with those required for associate degrees, so you can typically skip past them if you've already earned an associate degree before enrolling.
Upper division (years three and four)
The junior and senior years of bachelor's programs feature detailed explorations of intermediate and advanced concepts in the field. If your program offers specialization tracks, the upper-division section is usually where you can begin focusing on your specialty. The second half of your program is also where you might find auxiliary courses, such as Web media and mobile technologies.
Most programs that lead to a network administrator degree provide comprehensive general networking education, but you may be able to add some additional courses in IT or other subjects to your schedule and fine-tune your skills to suit a set of specific career demands. Here's a list of fields of study that can add some relevant skills to your network administration education:
Network administrators at companies with smaller IT departments may find themselves tackling a few tech responsibilities beyond just networking, so having a well-rounded skillset can make you more versatile.
Once you graduate from your degree program, you can likely see a broad range of employment opportunities on the open market. Nearly all network administrator jobs require a bachelor's degree, and going through a dedicated network administration degree program can give you an advantage against other candidates for those positions.
What's more, if you're transitioning into network administration from another IT field, your previous work experience can make you more attractive to prospective employers. Below, we'll take a look at a few of the more common careers for network administration graduates and give you a brief rundown of each.
When a computer network is running well, you can thank a network administrator. They plan, install and maintain local area networks (LANs) within organizations and the wide area networks (WANs) that connect internet service providers to their clients.
Specific day-to-day duties of the profession tend to depend on their work environment, but here's a list of some general responsibilities of network administration:
A bachelor's degree in network administration, computer engineering or a related information science field is usually required for aspiring network administrators. Gaining some experience in computer support, network support or another entry-level IT field can also help you stand out when applying for your first job.
Along with meeting the education requirements, candidates for network administration positions can earn a range of professional certifications that serve as proof of their knowledge and skill in the field. Credentials like these are offered by networking solutions manufacturers and independent industry groups:
Many of these certifications can be earned before you have professional experience, so students and recent graduates may be eligible to sit for their exams to help boost their value on the job market.
Network operations analysts tend to focus their efforts on large network systems used in enterprise environments, analyzing automated reports of network health and working with high-level systems administrators to resolve any issues that emerge. Here's a list of duties that you might be asked to perform as a network operations analyst:
Candidates for these positions are usually expected to have a fair amount of experience monitoring and supporting network systems in a professional capacity, since they often work on high-availability networks that support a large amount of user activity. Working as a network tech in an enterprise environment can give you some of the experience you need to get started.
Virtualized networks may be a big part of a network operations analyst's job, as well, so training or becoming certified in different aspects of virtualization can be a big help. VMware is one of the largest providers of virtual network and computer solutions and offers three levels of certification regarding virtualized networks:
Candidates can pursue a range of subject specializations on these certification paths, including data center virtualization, network virtualization, cloud management and digital business transformation.
There are two main types of computer support specialist: those who provide network support and those who provide user support. User support specialists tend to address issues with individual computer workstations, while network support specialists focus on supporting the health of networks and communicating essential information to network users.
Here's a list of responsibilities that computer network support specialists might have during a given day on the job:
Educational requirements tend to be fairly flexible for computer support specialist positions, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). Nearly half of working computer support professionals in 2019 had a bachelor's degree, but around 22 percent held associate degrees and 14 percent had non-degree awards like college diplomas and certificates.
Some industry groups offer professional certifications that can help your computer support specialist resume stand out from the stack. The A+ certification from CompTIA may be the gold standard of such credentials, including high-level aspects of computer support like these:
If you know you want to go into network support, CompTIA's Network+ certification can also be a good choice. We go into more detail about the various credentials available in the next section.
As one of the most network-focused credentials available, CompTIA Network+ offers certification of a candidate's skills in networking concepts, infrastructure, operations, security and troubleshooting.
Requirements: Anyone familiar with the subject matter can take the CompTIA Network+ exam.
Exam Format: A maximum of 90 multiple-choice questions with a 90-minute time limit.
How long does the certification last?: CompTIA certifications last for three years after they're earned.
This certification tests you on your knowledge of network fundamentals, infrastructure services, IP connectivity, security fundamentals, network automation and other essential aspects of network administration.
Requirements: The CCNA exam comes with no formal prerequisites, but completing a Cisco-approved training course is recommended.
Exam Format: 60-70 questions, divided into six main knowledge areas, with a 120-minute time limit.
How long does the certification last?: CCNA certification stays current for three years after successful completion of the exam.
Virtual network structures and computing environments are on the rise, and this VMware certification can help you demonstrate to employers that you have the skills necessary to install, configure and administrate these next-level solutions.
Requirements: Exam candidates who don't already hold a related certification must complete at least one approved training course and pass a VMware foundation exam.
Exam Format: 75 questions with a 90-minute time limit.
How long does the certification last?: VMware certifications don't formally expire, but holders are encouraged to recertify every two years.
Whether you're looking for ways to advance your career or hoping to become a part of a community of like-minded professionals, there are numerous organizations available to help you out. Here's a rundown of a few such groups operating in the U.S. as of 2020: