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When you’re considering a career, or a career change, there are a few ways to look at it. What will make the most money fastest? What will give me the most flexible schedule and convenient workplace? What will be the most secure? Computer Science and Information Technology is one of the best all-around choices for answering all those questions.

You may not become a billionaire in computer science – there are only so many Steves Jobs and Bill Gates in the world – but, since it’s specialized knowledge and challenging skills, salaries tend to be solidly high. Workers in computer science and information technology can work in all kinds of locations, from laboratories to high-rise offices to their bedrooms, and the work itself can be very flexible. And as for security? Every business and industry – every – depends on computer technology today. An expert in computer science may not always have the job they want, but they’ll always have a job.

But Computer Science and Information Technology is more than knowing how the technology works; it’s the way computers and people come together. The job of computer programs, ultimately, is to figure out how to make computer technology work most effectively, whether that means speeding up processing or making interfaces more user-friendly. It’s a career that can be just about anything you want it to be, with a broad base of knowledge and experience and essentially no limits.

(check out: Is a STEM Degree a Good Investment?)

Degree Program Types

Computer Science and Information Technology offers something for everyone at every academic level.

A web developer with just an associate’s degree can expect to make an average of $62,000 annually according to current BLS statistics, while a computer network architect with a bachelor’s degree under her belt can expect about $91,000 annually

CIT programs are available at both the Associate and Bachelor level. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is projected that jobs in computer technology will grow at more than four times the rate of all industries through 2022.

(check out: What is the Benefit of Going to a Community College?)

AA/AS: Many people are completely content to complete an associate’s degree, since jobs are readily available even at this level, with salaries ranging from $35,000 as high as $80K. An associate’s degree from a community college, often augmented with a specialized certification or licensure, is all you need to open the door as a tech support specialist, web developer, or coder.

BA/BS: More specialized jobs with higher status and more responsibility, such as analysts, administrators, and designers, usually require a bachelor’s degree. At this point, employers make little distinction between BS degrees (which are geared toward engineers) and BA degrees (which are less strictly scientific), since the need for qualified workers is so great. The difference depends on whether you want to focus more on the hard science of computers and technology, or on the design and management side.

MS: Master’s degrees can be technical or managerial, depending on what direction students want to take in their careers, but they are usually necessary for the higher-ranked jobs, especially leadership positions such as project management. If a job title has Engineer in it, you’re probably going to need a master’s to get it.

PhD: As in most fields, a PhD in computer science is for those who want to teach at the college level, or who just love going to school so much they can’t stop. It’s not really a necessity for most corporate or industry jobs, and can even be a liability on the job market for everything but teaching.

Online vs. Residential Programs

Computer science is an interesting discipline in the sciences, considering that, though it is very hands-on, the hands-on aspect doesn’t necessarily require being in a laboratory or controlled environment like engineering, biology, or chemistry. Most aspects of computer science can be learned anywhere, which means that there’s nothing inherently better about a traditional residential program over an online program.

(check out: Are Online Degrees a Good Investment?)

However, there are some other possible perspectives. With most disciplines, it’s best to get an undergraduate degree on campus, since it allows more access to guidance and help from peers and faculty. A residential master’s program can also have the advantage of making connections that will help on the job market, such as internships and networking with the university’s corporate partners. Ultimately, though, with computer science the difference between a residential and online program really depends on how you learn best; if you need human support and guidance, go residential, but if you just want the skills and don’t need the people, online may be just as good.

Most Affordable Programs

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Best Value Online Rankings

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Cheapest Rankings

Top 10 Cheapest Online Universities 

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Top 10 Cheapest Information Technology Programs of 2015

Financing Education

One of the first questions that come to mind when you decide to get a college or graduate degree is “How am I going to pay for school?” The first step is the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA will let you know what kind of help you qualify for, and from whom.

(Check out: Common Errors When Filling Out FAFSA)

The first source most students look to when financing their education is student loans.  Federal Stafford loans offer loans that are low-interest, subsidized by the government, and administrated by the government or a sanctioned third party; federal Perkins loans are more uncommon, but they are capped at 5% and are managed through the college or university; private loans come through private banks and are somewhat precarious, being that they can have steep or variable interest rates and may be difficult to pay off.

Of course there are other sources of income, including private and public scholarships (which are usually merit- or need-based), federal grants (which do not have to be repaid like loans), and the Federal Work Study program, in which students work part-time jobs for their institution in return for tuition assistance. Working adults may be able to get financial help through their employer. This option is called a tuition reimbursement plan. Plans can vary  from company to company, but you may find many will pay part or all of an employee’s tuition for a higher credential (if it’s in the current general career path, of course).

(Check out: Top 50 College Scholarships for 2015-2016)

Career Paths

According to the BLS, the computer science and information technology field is booming. Whether you become a programmer, database administrator, analyst,  network architect, developer, or even a technician, you can pretty much expect a decent salary (over $50k annually). Those that choose to advance to management positions will find greater pay (average over $120k annually) with of course, more responsibility.