What Are the Education Requirements for a Computer Programmer?

Computer programmers write the instructions that computers use to perform tasks. Whether you enjoy learning programming languages or just want to work closely with computers, programming might be the field for you. Learn more about the education and skills needed for this career. Schools offering Computer Programming degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of Education Requirements

Because computer programming is a highly skilled job that requires the knowledge of multiple programming languages, most employers consider job candidates with formal education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor's degree is often required for this position, although an associate degree or certificate may be sufficient (www.bls.gov).

Aspiring computer programmers can study programming at all education levels. You might choose to write computer programs for a specific field, like finance, business or accounting. Or, you might simply study computers and general programming topics. Either way, you will most likely need to pursue continuing education for as long as you work in the field, because advances in programming happen continually.

Important Facts About Computer Programmers

Key Skills Problem solving, critical analysis, attention to detail
Similar Occupations Information systems manager, computer hardware engineer, computer network architect
Median Salary (2018) $84,280 (for all computer programmers)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) -7% decline (for all computer programmers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Certificate programs are usually offered as continuing education or post-baccalaureate options. The first type of certificate is designed as an introduction to programming for students who may or may not have formal education. These programs often include introductions to various programming languages, such as C++ and Java, and can sometimes be taken entirely online.

The second type of certificate, which includes similar course topics, is designed for students who have earned a bachelor's degree in a field unrelated to computers. Students often use these programs to meet prerequisites for a computer-related master's degree program. Another option is using the certificate to land a programming job in a separate field, such as accounting or business.

Associate Degree

If you are looking to learn the skills necessary for an entry-level programming position, an associate degree program might be a good place to start. Associate programs in the subject are usually offered as Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science degrees. In addition to coursework, these programs can include a programming capstone project in which you apply your skills.

Some topics you might study in an associate program include:

  • Operating systems
  • Programming languages such as C++
  • Database concepts
  • Computer hardware
  • Networking
  • Accounting
  • Business principles
  • Computer hardware

Bachelor's Degree

As the BLS notes, computer science and related fields are the most common for aspiring programmers. Most of these are offered as a Bachelor of Science degree.

While coursework varies by major, these programs often include courses in the following topics:

  • Programming languages
  • Web application development
  • Database management
  • Systems analysis and design
  • Project management
  • Technology management
  • Software engineering
  • Operating systems
  • Statistics and probability
  • Computer architecture

You might also complete a capstone course in which you apply computer theory to a final project. While some programs already feature business courses, you might wish to take additional courses in business or systems software, since extra experience in these areas is often grounds for promotion into the role of lead programmer or manager.

Experience and Other Skills

A degree doesn't guarantee a job. Therefore, gaining experience through internships or receiving certifications will fortify your education and could make you stand out to employers. Programmers may also choose to take continuing education courses to stay informed on technology-related trends.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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