Information technology majors are needed in almost every industry to run, troubleshoot, and maintain technology. For many people, an IT degree can translate into a stable career, respectable salary, and stimulating work.
But what is an IT degree exactly, and what does it take to be a successful IT major?
We’re here to answer these questions and more about getting an IT degree. By the end of this article, you’ll have a full understanding of what an IT degree entails and what to expect as an IT major at a four-year college or university. We’ll also cover the following about IT degrees:
- What Information Technology (IT) is as a career field
- What an IT degree is
- How to decide if an IT degree is right for you (with a five question quiz!)
- Overview of the top seven IT degrees in the U.S.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Information Technology (IT)?
Information Technology (IT) most often refers to the use of computers to manage data for businesses and organizations. As such, IT professionals work with computer software, hardware, electronics, internet, and e-commerce in a range of organizational contexts. In most cases, the main goal of an IT professional is to make data available, accessible, and understandable to non-IT employees.
IT degrees equip students with a comprehensive understanding of how technologies are used. When pursuing an IT major, students will study the creation, representation, organization, application, and analysis of information in digital form.
If that description sounds broad, it’s because IT is a pretty expansive field of study. IT degrees train students in the design and management of information systems, but because IT departments are needed throughout the business world, these degrees also teach students about how systems can be applied in a range of contexts. This means that IT degrees give students more than just technical skills; they’re also focused on real-world applications of IT skills and knowledge.
IT programs recognize that many graduates will go on to work in the business world, where they’ll be a part of an IT department that’s responsible for solving technology problems. IT departments serve as the hub for their organization’s tech questions and needs. As such, IT degrees also prepare students to share their understanding of technology to fellow professionals in useful ways.
When people first think of IT majors, the person who fixes your Wi-Fi typically comes to mind. But an IT degree prepares students for much more than that. Next, we’ll cover what to expect from an IT major at four year colleges and universities.
What Is an IT Degree?
Information Technology degrees are a broad program of study that encompass majors that train students in the study of information in data form. Sometimes also called Information Science or Information Systems, IT degrees at four-year colleges and universities focus on applying technology to solve business-related problems.
It takes four years to earn a bachelor of science in information technology degree (this is true for in-person programs and when you pursue an IT degree online). During those four years, IT students have the chance to take an array of courses, pursue minors or subfields, and even attain professional certifications that will help them on their path to a successful career in IT.
At many four year colleges, IT students have the option to pursue the degree as a bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree. A bachelor of arts in IT typically focuses on the connections between technology and social contexts and is usually housed in a university’s college of arts and sciences. A bachelor of science in IT will be more concerned with how information systems are engineered and is usually part of a university’s technology or engineering school.
Students often have the option to pursue more specific majors that represent subfields of IT at four year colleges. These majors are typically grouped under the IT degree program and may include a computer science, computer engineering, and an integrated information systems and technology degree. These subfields of IT are designated as different majors because they focus on different aspects of technology use and development.
Students may also be able to pursue a specialization as a component of their IT degree. Specializations are designed to help students tailor their degree to their interests and career goals. Common specializations offered as a component of an IT degree include network administration, software development, information security, and cloud computing. But lots of schools offer many more!
IT majors can take many different courses to fulfill their IT degree requirements. Core IT courses may include systems analysis and design, foundations of programming, networking standards and protocols, database management, and information security. From there, IT students typically take courses in their area of specialization. It’s also common for IT degree programs to offer real-world experience through internships with industry leaders and well-known organizations.
Quiz: Is an Information Technology Degree Right for You?
We’ve given you the run-down on what an IT degree is and what being an IT major looks like. But how do you know if an IT degree is right for you?
We’re here to help you answer this question with a five question quiz. Follow your first instinct and respond with yes or no to the following five questions. When you’re done with this quiz, you’ll have a better idea of whether you’re well suited for an IT degree.
Now, let’s get to the quiz:
2. Do you enjoy understanding, building, and finding the most efficient way for systems to run?
3. Are you comfortable with multitasking and hands-on work?
4. Do you like spending time learning about innovations in technology?
5. Are you interested in having many career path options after completing your bachelor’s degree?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of the questions above, there’s a strong chance that an IT degree will be a good fit for you! Asking yourself questions like the ones included in this quiz can help you determine whether your interests, skills, and goals make you well-suited for an IT degree.
Another way to help you decide whether an IT degree is right for you is by learning about some of the best IT programs offered in the U.S. We’ll give you the lowdown on some of the top IT programs at U.S. colleges and universities next.
Cornell has one of the best IT programs in the country and is a great choice for anyone who wants to major in IT!
The Top 7 Schools for Information Technology Degrees
If you’re interested in an IT degree, you may be wondering about the top IT degree programs at four year colleges and universities. We’ve put together a list of the top seven schools for IT degrees, complete with a description of what makes each school’s IT program a good fit for IT students.
Cornell University offers three IT degrees through the College of Information Science. Students have the option to pursue the following bachelor’s degrees in Information Science at Cornell:
- Bachelor of Arts degree in Information Science through the College of Arts & Sciences (BA-IS)
- Bachelor of Science degree in Information Science through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) (BS-IS)
- Bachelor of Science degree in Information Science, Systems, and Technology (ISST) through the College of Engineering (BS-ISST)
Each of Cornell’s IT degrees requires students to take many of the same technology-related courses in addition to courses specified by the student’s specific degree program. Cornell’s IT degrees differ in terms of how they focus on the uses and development of technology. For instance, students who pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Information Science may focus more on the connections between technology and the human experience. Students pursuing the B.S. in IT through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences or the College of Engineering will take courses that focus on the applications of technology in major industries.
Cornell’s multiple degree offerings in Information Science give students the opportunity to integrate studies in IT with other disciplines, including the humanities, agricultural sciences, and engineering. That means Cornell’s IT program is a good fit for students who want to focus their IT degree on a particular problem in the tech field or gain experience for a specific career.
NYU’s School of Professional Studies offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems Management. This degree program teaches students how to design, operate, and evaluate various competitive technology alternatives to meet an organization’s needs.
As such, this IT degree program is expressly focused on practical applications of IT knowledge and skills in a business setting. NYU’s IT degree is a good fit for students who want extensive training in how to use their IT education for workplace success.
NYU’s Information Systems Management degree also teaches the basic concepts of computer technology, but presents this information in terms of how it can be applied effectively in workplace settings. Students who want to learn about the uses of IT in the business world may find that NYU’s degree program is a good fit.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, New York, offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology and Web Science. Rensselaer’s IT degree engages students in considering issues related to security, trust, privacy, content value, and the development of the Web in the future.
A major draw of Rensselaer’s IT degree is that it’s interdisciplinary. Students are required to take 24 core credits to establish a basic foundation of information technology and web science knowledge, but are then allowed to take 44 credits in a concentration of their choosing. Students can choose from 20 different concentrations, including arts, engineering, law, management, communications, artificial intelligence, Web systems, and medicine. As an interdisciplinary degree, Rensselaer’s IT program enables students to tailor their study of information technology to application in a specific field of study that interests them.
In addition to being a good fit for students who are interested in interdisciplinary study of IT, Rensselaer’s IT degree is well-suited for students who want to focus on Web technologies. Rensselaer notes that the IT degree program is specifically designed to equip students with knowledge of the management concerns for the effective use of Web technology. Rensselaer views development of Web technologies as the issue of the future, so this program is geared toward training students for expertise in this area.
Carnegie Mellon is a great choice for students who want to concentrate on a specific subfield within information technology, like data science or media analytics.
Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, offers a bachelor’s degree in Information Systems (IS). The IS degree at Carnegie Mellon is designed to help students build a foundation in computing, communications, and software development.
To promote critical, “big picture” thinking, IS students are required to take core courses in the humanities and social sciences in addition to core information systems courses. Students must also declare a concentration that allows them to gain expertise in a supporting area of IS. Concentrations within the IS degree program consist of data science, digital media analytics, and information security and privacy.
Carnegie Mellon emphasizes that the IS degree is a good fit for students who are interested in integrating study of information technology, computer science, and business. Because the IS degree at Carnegie Mellon focuses on applying technology for positive economic and humanistic gains across society, this degree program is well-suited for students who have an interest in exploring these connections.
Lehigh University, located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, doesn’t offer an IT degree, but a major in Business Information Systems (BIS). Lehigh’s BIS degree is housed under the school’s Department of Decision and Technology Analytics (DATA). The BIS degree at Lehigh aims to help students develop a solid understanding of how to apply information systems to support various business processes.
This degree program heavily emphasizes application of technology and data analytics to improve business performance and effectively support strategic business plans. This means that Lehigh’s BIS degree is a good fit for students who want to use their IT degree in the business world. Lehigh notes that BIS majors could pursue careers as data analysts, systems analysts, and information systems consultants.
Brigham Young University, located in Provo, Utah, offers an Information Technology major within the College of Engineering. BYU’s IT major emphasizes experiential learning courses that focus on technical excellence, hands-on experience, and problem solving.
At BYU, IT majors are encouraged to select an emphasis area that tailors the student’s learning to acquiring job skills for a specific career. Emphasis areas offered through BYU’s IT major include user experience design (UXD), mobile and web development, system and network administration, and internet of things (IoT). As such, IT students at BYU have the chance to apply their developing knowledge of IT to emerging and high-need jobs within the broader field of IT.
BYU is an excellent fit for students who desire real-world, collaborative experience in applying IT skills and knowledge. BYU students are required to complete a two semester long capstone team project. The capstone project must meet the needs of a specified client, many of whom are real companies who elect to sponsor a capstone project. In the past, IT capstones at BYU have received media attention, won awards, and helped real organizations solve complex problems.
Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer and Information Technology. The IT degree at Purdue focuses on equipping students to apply technology to solve problems and improve business conditions and human relations.
Through Purdue’s IT degree, students get the chance to customize their degree by adding concentrations or cross-disciplinary minors based on the student’s interests. Potential degree customization options include IT combined with Business Management, Big Data, Cyber Security, Health Informatics, Innovation and Commercialization, International Studies, Modern Manufacturing, and Systems Analysis and Design.
To prepare students for careers in emerging fields, Purdue’s IT program also provides coursework in cyber forensics, biomedical informatics, high performance computing, information security, and wireless networking, among others. These innovative course offerings make Purdue IT degree a good fit for students who desire knowledge that’s on the cutting edge of the IT profession.
6 Career Options for IT Students
IT majors have many career options due to the high need for technology support and administration in most industries. We’ve compiled a list of six common careers for IT students to help you get a sense of what your options are.
Check out our description of six IT career options (including salary range!) below.
Option 1: Technical Support Specialist
Salary Range: $32,330–$88,470
A technical support specialist helps individual consumers and businesses resolve software, hardware, or other technical problems. Common issues that a technical support specialist will respond to include slow connections, poor hardware performance, and barriers to accessing data. It’s also typical for technical support specialists to work internally for a company.
Technical support specialists must have deep knowledge of how computer systems, electronic systems, and software applications work. Because their job largely involves helping others solve technical problems, technical support specialists also need excellent communication skills, including the ability to explain complex technology-related issues in simple terms. Technical support specialists working for companies may also be responsible for training employees in use of new or revamped equipment and software programs. In general, technical support specialists are responsible for ensuring that the company as a whole can use technology systems with ease.
Option 2: Business Systems Analyst
Salary Range: $55,180–$147,670
Sometimes also called computer systems analysts or systems architects, business systems analysts use business and information technology tools to provide information technology systems that help organizations operate more efficiently. In most cases, Business Systems Analysts specialize in the type of system their company uses. For instance, they might have expertise in engineering computer systems or financial computer systems.
Business systems analysts are a crucial liaison between a company’s IT department and business managers. They help their IT coworkers understand the needs of the company in terms of business operations and also help management understand how IT tools can be used to optimize business. That means business systems analysts must be skilled communicators. Excellence at project management, business process mapping, and systems analysis are also key traits for business systems analysts.
Option 3: Network Engineer
Salary Range: $52,370–$132,520
Network engineers organize, install, and maintain an organization’s computer systems. Network engineers are responsible for supporting a variety of networks, including Local Area Networks (LANs), Global Area Networks (GANs), intranets, extranets, and other data communications systems.
Network engineers (sometimes also called network administrators or network architects) are responsible for installing, upgrading, repairing, and optimizing network hardware, software, and network and computer system security. These IT specialists must have a good understanding of hardware and network infrastructure combined with excellent analytical and problem solving skills. Network engineers are often also responsible for managing other IT employees and communicating with other company employees to solve network, system, and security problems.
Software developers create the programs that help run everything from our phones to our banking systems. If you want to be a developer, focusing on learning programming languages is a must.
Option 4: Software Developer
Salary Range: $64,240–$164,590
Software developers are responsible for the development, design, and implementation of software products for ongoing business projects. These IT professionals work closely with development managers, business analysts, and external clients to ensure developed software meets the company’s business objectives.
In the day to day, software developers write and implement code, test software programs, and modify existing programs for optimal performance. Software developers typically work on a team with other developers to deliver projects for their company. These teams work closely, often consulting each other for solutions, feedback, and code review. Software developers should be proficient in relevant programming languages and capable of presenting projects to teams of fellow developers and business analysts.
Option 5: Database Administrator
Salary Range: $51,800–$148,060
Database administrators are responsible for working effectively with database management systems to store and organize data. Database administrators often work in industries that have large databases to ensure that data is available to users and secure from unauthorized sources.
Database administrators are often responsible for developing new databases, monitoring database performance, and planning security measures. As such, database administrators must have a full understanding of the types of data their organization needs to store and secure. They also need to understand the types of users who will access information through the organization’s databases to ensure that their needs are met. Database administrators must have excellent attention to detail and analytical skills.
Option 6: Information Security Architect
Salary Range: $57,810–$158,860
An information security architect is responsible for an organization’s security systems. These IT professionals must often build, test, and implement security systems that are tailored to an organization’s specific needs.
Information security architects are well-versed in current security standards, systems and authentication protocols, and implementation of the best security products. In the day to day, information security architects monitor network security, conduct system tests, and develop security enhancements and upgrades. They’re responsible for making sure that authorized users have access based on their specific needs and role. Information security architects are also the ones who develop disaster recovery procedures and respond to security incidents and breaches.
If you’re looking for more great IT schools, check out this expanded list of the best universities for IT degrees.
It’s never too early to start preparing for your career in IT. If you’re still in high school, consider competing in one of the major computer science competitions! Not only will you gain valuable knowledge, it will also look great on your college applications.
If you’re most interested in software engineering, don’t miss this article covering the six steps you’ll need to follow to launch your software engineering career.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.