As information technology (IT) has undoubtedly become crucial to world culture and the global economy, the demand for qualified professionals to operate, manage, repair, and troubleshoot IT continues to grow exponentially. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, IT related occupations are projected to increase 12% between 2014 and 2024 due to a high volume of cloud computing, big data, and mobile computing needs within the technology sector.
U.S. News and World Report ranked computer systems analysts among the best jobs of 2017; this and other occupations including software developers and IT managers were also named among the best technology jobs. As market demand grows and careers in IT only gain momentum, employers are ready to pay top dollar for qualified IT and computer systems/network employees. According to Payscale.com, median salaries for employees in these fields range from just over $60,000 to more than $99,000 a year.
More and more students are choosing to pursue an IT degree online because of the greater flexibility and affordability that a distance education can provide. For anyone looking to earn an online information technology degree, we’ve put together a list of 2017’s best online colleges and universities offering an IT degree online. Our online information technology degree rankings are based on several factors, including school reputation (rankings, awards, recognition), student satisfaction (retention and graduation rates), peer and instructional quality (student-teacher ratios and acceptance rates), and affordability (cost and financial aid). Only fully accredited colleges and universities were considered.
Pursuing a Career in IT
Graduates who earned a computer information technology degree online may be qualified for a broad variety of technology jobs, working with complex computer systems in an expanding, multifaceted field. The BLS outlines numerous occupations available to IT-educated candidates—most requiring an undergraduate degree as the minimum requirement for entry-level employment. For example, career options for graduates of an online bachelor’s degree in information technology include computer and information systems managers, computer hardware engineers, and software developers; among the top three highest-earning positions in the field, respectively. Some computer support specialist and web developer jobs may only require an associate’s degree for initial employment, while graduate-level education and/or specialty training can set candidates apart with a competitive edge.
The following are among the most common occupations for IT degree graduates:
- Computer and information systems managers
Also called IT managers or IT project managers, these professionals are responsible for guiding and implementing all computer-related tech activities for a business or organization.
- Computer hardware engineers
These professionals are responsible for many of the advances in computer technology, as designers, developers, and testers of major computer systems and components.
- Computer network architects
Professional computer network architects are responsible for designing and building data communication networks, such as LANs, WANs, and intranets.
- Computer programmers
Programmers are experts at writing and testing code used to develop functional computer applications and software programs.
- Computer support specialists
Support specialists help individuals and organizations to troubleshoot and resolve issues with computer equipment and/or software.
- Computer systems analysts
These professionals help to develop efficient and effective information systems solutions by studying an organization’s current tech operations and improving upon them.
- Database administrators (DBAs)
Database administrators are experts in the organization and storage of data through specialized software that is both accessible to authorized users and protected from unauthorized access.
- Electrical engineers
These professionals design and develop electronic equipment, as designers, developers, testers and supervisors of the manufacturing process.
- Information security analysts
Information security analysts are responsible for developing and implementing security programs to protect sensitive information against cyberattacks within an organization or company, or for an individual.
- Software developers
These professionals are among the most creative positions in IT, designing and developing both the systems and networks that host software and applications, as well as the software and applications themselves.
- Web developers
Web developers are responsible for designing and building websites, often addressing both aesthetic and technical aspects of the site as well as creating the content that will be posted there.
Beyond a Degree in IT
For some students aspiring to a high-level career in IT, earning an advanced degree is a lucrative decision that can set them apart from other similarly qualified candidates. In a 2017 survey conducted by Computerworld, 43% of IT managers expected their staffs to expand this year and 66% of the same managers are seeking highly skilled specialists for open positions. Graduates of advanced IT degrees with specialized skills in a niche area such as user experience (UX), application design, or cloud computing may be eligible for top positions at well-known organizations, earning one of the highest salaries in the field. Additionally, earning IT certification as a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), CompTIA A+, or Network+ Technician—currently the most in-demand certifications among hundreds available in the field—may be especially attractive to some employers. Candidates with information security experience may also see an increase in demand in the coming years, now that ISPs can sell members’ browsing data to third parties.
What Makes a Good IT Program
With so many options available to students considering an online IT degree, it can be difficult to find the right program. What makes a good IT program stand out from the rest? We’ve listed some guidelines of what to look for below:
Once you’ve done your research to find a specialization that fits your skills and interests, make sure the school you are considering offers your concentration of choice or will allow you to customize your degree to create your own major through interdisciplinary coursework. With so many career options available in niche areas of IT, you’ll want to make sure your education matches the particular occupation you aspire to after graduation.
- Career skills
While education programs in this field are typically career-oriented by nature, a good IT program should always offer extensive training in the practical skills that will be required of you once you’re on the job. Many schools offer specialized training and/or certification in specific hardware, software or applications; better yet, some schools incorporate certain certification training into degree coursework and are authorized as an official provider of certification for select programs like the Microsoft IT Academy.
- Credit transfer options
By the time they apply for an online degree, some IT students may have completed previous credits through an associate degree, individual coursework or certificate program. For those with previous credits, selecting a program that clearly states its credit-transfer policy is key. Ask to speak with an admissions advisor or enrollment counselor to make sure you can apply maximum credit for previous skills toward a future online IT degree.
- Convenience and affordability
As with any online program, convenience and affordability are among the biggest attractions for career-minded students looking to enter the field of IT. Online programs allow aspiring IT professionals with full-time jobs and family obligations to work from home, at their convenience; Most online IT degrees also provide deep discounts for distance learners, allowing students to save on tuition costs and, in many cases, complete their degree sooner than an on-campus degree.
IT vs. Computer Science
Information technology and computer science programs are often similar in their content and approach, but not identical. Each type of program typically offers unique coursework aimed at providing students with the skills they will need to succeed in a particular sector of the field of technology. Generally, computer science professionals are, in fact, actual scientists, adept at using math and algorithms to understand why computers operate the way they do as well as being able to communicate with computers through reading and writing code and learning to “speak their language.”
By contrast, information technology professionals are more focused on using computerized technology, analyzing operating systems, software systems and computer networks to provide more functional solutions for businesses, organizations, and individuals. Due to the nature of the work, IT professionals typically have more direct interaction with clients and interdepartmental staff than their computer science counterparts.
*The schools listed above are sponsored. Sponsored school listings are distinct paid advertisements and are clearly marked with a “SPONSORED” or “FEATURED” tag to distinguish them from editorially ranked schools. Learn more about how rank schools or contact us with questions.
To determine the best online Information Technology (IT) programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school’s commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 9 best online Information Technology (IT) programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school’s ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category’s ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.