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IT specialist career: Get Bachelor's in Computer Science or Associate's in IT w/ Certs?

Hi, I am a freshman at a 4-year university. My original plan was to get a Bachelor's in Computer Science. My career goal is to become an IT professional; however, the university does not offer an IT degree program, which is why I picked computer science.

My local community college offers an associate's degree in computer information technology. I am trying to decide if I should continue with my 4-year plan and major in CS or transfer to the community college and get my associate's degree along with some certs. Would I learn more valuable skills that pertain to IT with an IT degree and certifications rather than a CS degree? Would it make a difference to employers who are hiring for IT positions? Would going to a 4-year university look better on a resume than a community college would?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for taking the time to read my question.

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Burak’s Answer

I would definitely recommend getting a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science to have a broader view on the IT sector, this is because being an IT professional as Jordan mentioned above is just one of the path options to choose from after graduating. Having the full-view via a 4-year university program may open up better options for you to choose from. You may want to move into another path like Software Development, Database Management or even Game Programming instead of being a System Engineer a.k.a. IT Professional. At the same time I would highly recommend making use of all your holidays even if not required officially to get internships at companies that work in your area of interest. This would help you to have a well-informed decision. And if you still want to be an IT professional you can still get certs from relevant sources, which would make you even a better candidate for employers. Hope this helps.
Thanks Burak for all of the advice. The internships during the holidays sounds like a great idea! Thanks for the tip Zachery W.
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Megan’s Answer

Hi Zach,
I would definitely go the BS route as well. The reason being that many companies are moving away from having an IT department. They are building core engineering teams who will absorb the traditional IT roles so you don't want to become redundant before you start. Note this is coming from someone who worked the majority of their career in IT. I also heavily agree with some of the advice above encouraging you to get more heavily into programming, regardless of the type. Having that skill makes you better at any job that you choose to do. In the course of my career I've had to program in various jobs even though I was a program manager. Not only did I like it but it makes me a better program manager because I can understand when to call BS on someone who is giving me a ridiculous ROM for a piece of work. It also helps me when designing/architecting different tools/systems. If I was starting over, I would probably go the route of core developer even if I did do other jobs.

The other reason I would suggest it is that there is a definite bias. I've had a successful career for 20 years getting into the top of the company without having a college degree or an associates degree. A couple of years ago I decided to change jobs and I had reached out to someone who had worked for me as a vendor for several years. This person came back to me and asked if I had a degree and I said no. Never heard a word from him again. While it is a total joke because I can run circles around this guy, showed me that this bias is alive and well and can impact me even with my proven track record.

Take the time now and get the degree as you can evolve at all times later.

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Megan, thank you for your comments! I didn't know that many companies are phasing out IT departments. Thanks for your perspective in this regard. Zachery W.
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Jordan’s Answer

If by IT specialist you mean desktop software and hardware support person then I would go for the community college route. A computer science program will get you a lot more exposure to the minute details of how to create software for computers. Basically the four year degree will set you up more on the programming end and if that's what you had in mind stay where you are.
Thank you for the advice, Jordan. I think I am going to stick with the CS major. The bachelor's degree would be an investment down the road for higher job positions once I get enough experience. Zachery W.
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Chad’s Answer

Zach,

I would highly recommend going the BS route. I have seen this scenario play out multiple times between myself and various colleagues I have worked with in the past. Experience and certifications in the IT industry are huge, but sometimes certain jobs are going to require a Bachelor's degree to meet the minimum qualifications. Long story short, earning a BS will open more doors for you and ultimately raise your salary potential. As someone who has interviewed candidates with and without degrees, having a BS (or MS) tells me that a potential hire is dedicated, knows how to manage their time and meet deadlines, and has a baseline knowledge that will help accomplish the mission at hand.
Thank you Chad! I appreciate your viewpoint from an employer's perspective. Zachery W.
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Arpan’s Answer

Hi Zachery,

You can still work in Information Technology domain even if you acquire degree in computer science. I recommend you should go for a degree as it will stand out on your resume. Degree in Computer Science will give you a lot more exposure towards IT underlying concepts.

Thanks, Arpan
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Adam’s Answer

Remember the big difference between: SKILLS & RESUME.

You do not get the skills you need for work in a school (except some soft skills of networking with people, working in teams, planning/managing small projects, mentoring, etc.). You will get those through WORK experience (get any part-time IT job you can right now, even Helpdesk/Tech Support). However, you will want a Bachelor's Degree from a University people have heard of to meet "minimum requirements" for most professional roles.

Also, remember that there are 5 things required to be excellent in any job (in order from "easiest to get" to "hardest to get"): Knowledge, Skills, Experience, Relationships, and Character. Use the college years to build all 5, and work part time to not graduate with $50k in debt.
Thank you Adam for your advice! The 5 things to be successful in any job will be really helpful to focus on as I continue on in my college years. Zachery W.
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Cemal’s Answer

Hey Zach!

I couldn't agree more with what Burak and Jordan's advice. It may seem bias but I feel that you'll have more career options if you stay in the computer science program at the 4-year university. One thing that Burak mentioned that you should surely do is get an internship at a company where you can get exposure in areas that interest you. This is the one way to weed out which careers you don't want to pursue.

Hope this helps!
Thanks Cemal! I appreciate the reinforcement of the 4-year decision Zachery W.
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Omar’s Answer

I was pretty much in the same position as you were, and went the community college route. Eventually I hit a plateau and wasn't able to advance in my career, so I ended up going back to college for my 4 year degree. Although I didn't major in Computer Science for my Bachelors, just having the 4 year degree opened a lot of doors for me.

My advice would be a hybrid of the two. To reduce the cost of your 4 year degree, go to the community college first for your associates, and you can grab some certs along the way, as well as some internships. Then transfer back to the 4 year college to get your bachelors in computer science. Everything is being automated this day, and being able to code is invaluable for the foreseeable future.
Yeah, I realized that same thing in regards to needing at least a bachelors for the "senior-level" positions for IT departments. Thanks for the advice! Zachery W.
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Dennis’s Answer

Given the choice between a BS degree or an Associates, I would definitely go for the BS. The type of degree counts much more than what the degree is in.
Thanks for the suggestion, Dennis! Zachery W.
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