Most associate’s degree programs in information technology (IT) and computer information systems (CIS) require 60 credits of college coursework. That’s the equivalent of two years of full-time study, although in the fastest online associate degree programs, you can often complete your degree in as little as 20 months. In contrast, bachelor’s degree programs, or four-year programs, usually require 120 credits. When students with an associate’s degree transfer to a bachelor’s degree program, they build upon the credits and the coursework they have already completed. It stands to reason, then, that an associate’s degree is the equivalent of the freshman and sophomore years of a four-year degree program. That’s generally true, with the curriculum of such a program encompassing a lot of general education courses and some fundamental studies in information technology and computer information systems.

General Education Coursework

As much as two-thirds of the coursework you complete for your associate’s degree in computer information systems or information technology may fit into the category of general education classes. Just about any undergraduate college program has adopted some form of a general education curriculum requirement, and for good reason. General education classes matter because they expand the scope of your college-level knowledge base beyond your own major program of study. Through the courses you take outside of information technology and computer information systems, you develop other skills – like skills in critical thinking, communication and understanding of the scientific method – and familiarity with different perspectives. Although technical aptitude may be key in fields like IT and CIS, it’s these skills that set you apart as a worker employers want to hire and promote.

You will likely start your studies with foundation courses in writing, such as English Composition I and II or Academic Writing I and II. Mathematics is another common general education subject of study. The basic mathematics courses that may satisfy common general education requirements may include College Mathematics, College Algebra or Finite Mathematics.  A laboratory science course in a discipline outside of computer science is often required. Your school may also require introductory courses in history, economics, political science, psychology, sociology, philosophy, art, literature and religion.

The general education courses you take as part of your associate’s degree will likely satisfy most of the gen ed requirements for your bachelor’s degree, too. However, some schools have specific experiences they want students in a four-year program to complete. As a result, you may need to complete a few general education courses for your bachelor’s degree beyond what you took for an associate’s degree.

Coursework in basic computer skills may also be part of the general education requirements a college imposes on its students. Acing this course shouldn’t be a problem for a budding IT professional.

Major Coursework in Computers and Technology

Will an Associate’s Degree in IT or CIS Be the Equivalent of 2 Years in Most 4 Year Programs

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Although your major coursework may not be the bulk of your associate’s degree studies, it is the core of your degree curriculum. The computer and information technology classes you take in pursuit of your associate’s degree are some of the same courses you would take for a four-year degree, especially during the first two years of a bachelor’s degree.

For example, at schools that offer both associate’s degrees and bachelor’s degrees in computer technology, there’s plenty of overlap in the curriculum. Students of associate’s degrees take classes in computer systems, network theory and design, systems analysis and design and programming in languages such as Java and C/C++. These classes are crucial to being qualified for entry-level IT opportunities, but the foundation they provide is also needed for further study in advanced topics in computer information systems.

The courses you won’t take for an associate’s degree but would for a bachelor’s degree are generally the higher-level courses in your major. Topics in Internet applications, information security, database concepts and programming, web design and information resources and advanced computer skills may all fall outside the scope of an associate’s degree curriculum. Courses like these are what prepare you for higher-level career roles such as IT project manager, network administrator and even Chief Information Officer (CIO). You may also use this education to launch a career in web development, computer programming and technical support.

Bachelor’s degree programs are more likely than associate’s degree programs in IT to include field experience gained through an internship. However, in some schools, an internship may be available on an optional basis to students pursuing an associate’s degree.

Additional Resources

What Degree Do I Need to Be an Information Technology Specialist?

What Kind of Computer Degree Is Most Helpful in Getting a Job in Cyber Security?  

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