do you need a degree to be a computer programmer

If you’re contemplating how to enter the field of computer programming, then you are likely already aware of the many benefits of pursuing a career in this lucrative industry. In particular, programming occupations usually offer a great deal of autonomy and are associated with handsome wages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer programmers made approximately $86,500 on average in 2019, and top earners made over $140,000 that same year.

Many programming hopefuls desire a quick answer to the question, “Do I need a computer/IT degree to work in programming?” If that describes you, then you’ll be happy to discover that the answer is “No.” Before you move along to the next item on your agenda, though, you’ll want to be sure that you’re asking the right question. There are a number of other questions you may need to consider as well, including:

  • Can I get a good job in programming without a degree?
  • What are the benefits of a computer and information technology degree?
  • Will I feel confident in my role as a programmer without a degree?
  • Do non-degree holding computer programmers have job advancement opportunities?

So, while a simple yes or no answer may feel satisfying at the moment, the issue is actually much more complex. In this article, we’ll attempt to address the entry requirements for a job in computer programming as thoroughly and accurately as possible while also fielding common questions and concerns from those contemplating a career in this popular IT sub-field.

The Bare Necessities for a Career in Computer Programming

The truth is that not all employers in the field of computer and IT are concerned about a candidate’s academic credentials or lack thereof. That means that it is possible to secure a gig in programming without a degree of any kind. Sometimes, skills alone are sufficient. Some programmers are self-taught, and others take non-credit courses or enroll in coding boot camps to sharpen their programming aptitude.

Skills Needed for Computer Programming Jobs

In some cases, an employer will consider a computer programming applicant’s experience and skills in the field in lieu of a degree in computer science or information technology. Some of the skills these employers will be looking for include the following:

  • Knowledge of specific programming languages like SQL, Java, and Python
  • Solid grasp of logic and mathematics
  • Detail-oriented
  • Ability to work in a team environment
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Capacity for critical thinking

Without a computer programming or similar degree proving that you’ve learned these concepts, you may be held to higher standards during the application and hiring process. A portfolio of successful work in the field or professional references may be helpful.

Advantages of a Degree in Computer Programming

If it’s possible to secure gainful employment as a computer programmer without a college degree, then why do so many programmers still devote their time and money towards a bachelor’s in computer science ? The truth is, there are still many advantages of earning university credentials, even if they’re not absolutely necessary for all jobs in programming.

Sometimes A Degree Is (In Fact) Required

A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related information technology field is still the standard academic preparation for a professional role as a computer programmer. As we’ve discussed, though, not all employers will require this credential. If you think you’ll be satisfied with just any job as a computer programmer, then it may not be worth your while to invest in a computer/IT degree program. On the other hand, if you want a high-paying programming job with security and benefits, then a bachelor’s degree may be a good investment in your future career. With this credential, you can have your pick of jobs; without one, you may find yourself taking a less-than-desirable position out of desperation.

You Might Be Better at Your Job With A Degree

People tend to enjoy doing the things they’re really good at. A computer science degree may give you the well-rounded education you need to feel confident at performing the various tasks of a computer programmer, which may increase not only your productivity but your overall job satisfaction as well. On the other hand, as a self-taught programmer, you may feel some significant growing pains once hired to fulfill the role of a professional. Spending your days making mistakes and scrambling to fix them might not bring you the joy you expected as a full-time computer programmer.

You May Be Considered for More Promotions

Though a bachelor’s degree may not be necessary to secure a job in the computer programming and IT field, it could affect whether or not you climb the career ladder or not. Computer programmers with a bachelor’s in computer science or a related field may be more likely to be considered for advancement opportunities than those without this credential. These formally educated programmers might be promoted to higher-paid positions like software developer or computer systems analyst. Alternatively, they could take on leadership roles in positions such as IT manager or software architect.

Types of Computer Programming Degrees

If you do decide that a degree in computer programming is the best option for you, then you’ll need to be aware of the different types of programs and credentials available.

Associate’s Degrees in Computer Programming

Associate’s degree programs in computer programming are typically two-year options available from community colleges and some universities. These offerings are ideal for students who want a computer/IT credential but aren’t prepared to make the sacrifice of time and money required for a four-year program. An Associate of Science (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in computer programming typically requires 60 credit hours of coursework and provides fundamental training in topics related to computer systems and computer programming languages. Graduates will be prepared for entry-level programming positions or for transfer to a four-year bachelor’s degree program.

Bachelor’s in Computer Programming Programs

A bachelor’s in computer programming offering requires twice the time investment as an associate’s degree program, and they cost more as well. On the upside, these programs provide a more comprehensive curriculum and can set you up for higher-paying positions upon graduation. In addition, these four-year degree plans will qualify applicants for master’s degree programs should they wish to continue their studies in computer programming or a related IT field.

Online Degree Programs for Computer Programming

If you’ve found yourself on the fence about whether or not to enroll in a computer programming degree program, you might want to consider what distance education has to offer in this field. Online computer programming degree options are becoming increasingly prevalent and are offered by some of the top colleges and universities in the country. These convenient academic programs allow students to earn their associate’s or even bachelor’s in computer programming entirely online. That means no commute to campus or hours spent sitting in a classroom. You’ll still have to study hard, of course, but you may find an online degree plan to be a better fit for your schedule or lifestyle.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Computer Programming Degrees

A degree of any kind represents a significant decision that could affect your life and career for the foreseeable future. A computer programming degree is no exception, so it’s normal to have numerous questions when considering this educational opportunity. Below, we’ll attempt to answer some of the most commonly-asked questions about computer programming degree programs. When considering the information provided, keep in mind that it is not meant to represent any specific academic offering or to replace advice from a college admissions counselor.

Q: Can I complete my computer programming degree online?

A: Yes. More and more colleges and universities nationwide are offering their computer programming degree programs online. Many of these offerings are considered fully online programs, meaning there are no required visits to campus.

Q: How long does it take to earn a degree in computer programming?

A: It depends on the type of program you pursue as well as the school you attend. Associate’s degree programs usually take two years to complete while bachelor’s degrees typically require four years of full-time study. Accelerated or part-time tracks may alter your projected completion time, however.

Q: How much does it cost to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer programming?

A:  As is the case with any other degree offering, the cost of a computer programming credential can vary widely. Tuition will vary from school to school and program to program. Plus, any financial aid you receive will reduce your overall costs. Still, you can expect to pay as little as $5,000 or as much as $30,000 on average.

Q: What is the best computer programming degree program?

A: There is no single best computer programming degree program. However, it is possible to select the right degree program for you by evaluating the available offerings and considering which factors are most important to you. Some of the aspects of the program you should consider include cost, curriculum, scheduling options, and accreditation.

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