What is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Computer Systems Administrator?

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Do you have an analytical mind and enjoy solving problems? Are you quite proficient on the computer? If so, you may find a career as a computer systems administrator to be a perfect choice. This career  offers good career growth and excellent wages. It also has an unemployment rate that’s almost nonexistent. Computer systems administrators play an important role in the efficiency and success of a business. Why are they so important?

Computers and the internet are used in almost every business or industry. Computer systems administrators are the trained professionals who design, install, and maintain the company’s computer network system. When a problem arises in the system, it’s the computer systems administrator who troubleshoots and fixes it. In order to enter this career, you’ll need to have a college degree.

The biggest question is what kind of degree?

Undergraduate Degree

computer systems administrator

As an aspiring computer systems administrator, you’ll have a couple of different career paths. In some cases, you may be hired in this capacity with only an associate degree or postsecondary certificate. But you  need relevant work experience.

However, most employers prefer to hire someone with a bachelor’s degree in either computer science or information science, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A bachelor’s degree generally takes four years to complete. There are several reasons why a computer science degree is so valuable. Computer science is an ideal major for this career because it’s a very flexible degree. It covers many areas related to computer systems. Computer science is a huge part of any system administrator degree.

If you earn this degree, you may find that you’re qualified for other positions should you wish to change jobs. A bachelor’s degree in computer science is valuable because computer and information systems rank among the top 10 highest-paying undergraduate degrees. If you’re looking for a job that pays very well, computer science or information systems is the way to go.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in computer science you can customize your career to what interests you most. For instance, you may be qualified to work as a computer systems administrator. You may also be qualified for a career in multimedia animation or game design. Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science is even a great choice if you aren’t quite sure what area you want to specialize in.

The bureau also reports that those with a background in electrical engineering or computer engineering have an added benefit when pursuing a computer systems administrator degree or career. This is because computer systems administrators spend a lot of their time working on computers and computing/networking equipment. These careers are so closely related that the degrees can almost be interchangeable. In some businesses, the relevant work experience is just about as important as the system administrator degree or the major that’s chosen.

Master’s Degree

Although a bachelor’s degree is the norm for this career, some employers may want their computer systems administrators to have a master’s degree. This is especially the case if the candidate will be working in a leadership role. Earning a master’s degree adds two to three years to the required education beyond the bachelor’s degree.

Many colleges offer computer science programs through distance learning. The main advantage of earning the degree online is that you can study at your own pace and convenience. All you have to do is log in to the school’s site to get lessons and assignments. Online programs are offered through various learning platforms, such as Blackboard.

The online graduate computer science degree is also a great choice if you already have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. If you get hired with a bachelor’s, you can earn the master’s degree online while continuing to work and gain valuable work experience.

The master’s degree not only looks good on a resume, but it may also qualify you for a leadership position upon graduation. Two of the most important things an  employer looks for are education and relevant work experience. Earning a master’s degree online while working in a computer science field job gives you both.

Whether you pursue a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, you will generally be required to complete an internship or field experience. These may take place throughout the program but are most often completed during the last year. Internships require you to work in a setting where you can get hands-on training, completing the duties of a computer systems administrator in a supervised environment. Internships are a vital part of the degree program.

System Administrator Degree Courses

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Students pursuing a system administrator degree will complete a variety of computer- and network-related courses. One excellent feature of a computer science program is that many of them offer you several areas of specialization. The areas of specialization or concentration may vary depending on the college and the program. Some of the possibilities you may choose include:

• Artificial intelligence
• Game development
• Computer graphics
• Computer systems
• Networking
• Data science
• Machine learning
• User experience
• Physical computing
• Computer-human interface
• Information security
• Programming languages
• Software engineering
• Virtual reality
• Web and mobile development

The courses in a computer science or information science program will also vary according to the program and the area of specialization chosen. Here are some courses you may expect to take.

• Computer programming
• Java programming
• Networking
• Development
• Algorithms
• Systems design
• Cyber security
• Information security
• Information technology
• Computer application and theory
• Software development
• Ethics in computer science

Once you have  completed the system administrator degree program, you are qualified for a career in that field. However, your learning is not finished. Computer and network technology is a constantly growing and changing field. The computer systems administrator must keep up with and be knowledgeable of all the latest developments in the industry.

There are various ways that the computer systems administrator can accomplish this. In addition to completing courses throughout their careers, administrators can:

  • attend seminars
  • read computer technology journals and blogs
  • attend information technology conferences

They can also earn additional certifications as they become available.

Additional Skills Required

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A degree and certifications are necessary for aspiring computer systems administrators to obtain. However, in addition to the education and training, computer systems administrators need the following skills to be successful in their careers.

• Communication skills – Computer systems administrators spend a lot of time describing the computer system and any programs it may have, so they need good communication skills.

• Analytical skills – Computers are detailed and intricate instruments that can have a million little things wrong with them. The computer systems administrator must have the analytical skills to study, analyze, and fix the problem.

• Problem-solving skills – The administrator must possess good problem-solving skills to be able to fix the numerous problems that can arise in a computer and network system.

• Multi-tasking skills – The computer system administrator must be able to fix numerous programs and issues at one time.

Certifications

Most employers want, and may even require, their computer systems administrators to be certified. There are various reasons why the computer systems administrator might want to earn as many industry certifications as possible even if they’re not required. Certifications are a way to demonstrate your knowledge and commitment, not just to yourself but also to your employer.

Certifications also look very impressive on a resume. When applying for a job, the certifications can give you a very distinct advantage over the competition. Certifications may be offered from vendors and independent certifying agencies.

The most common certifications for computer system administrators are offered by Cisco and Microsoft. Below are some certifications that the computer systems administrator may earn.

• Google Cloud Certified Professional Architect
• Red Hat: RHCE and RHCSA
• Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
• Certified Information Systems Security
• AWS Certified Developer – Associate
• AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate
• AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional
• Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)
• Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
• Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
• ServiceNow Certified System Administrator
• ISACA Certified Information Security Manager
• Certified Information Systems Security Professional
• Linux Professional Institute: LPIC System Administrator
• VMware Certified Professional 6
• CompTIA Security+
• CompTIA Server+
• CompTIA Cloud+
• CompTIA Cloud Essentials
• Apple Certified Support Professional
• HDI Desktop Support Technician
• DDI Technical Support Professional
• ISACA Certified Information Systems Auditor
• Microsoft SQL Server Certifications
• Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
• SAP Certified Technology Associate
• CCIE Data Center
• Oracle Certified Professional

Choosing a Computer Systems Administrator College

Once you have decided to pursue this career, the next step is choosing a college. Many colleges offer computer science or information science programs. It’s important to choose a college and program that’s accredited. Decide what format will best work for you, your learning habits, and your lifestyle.

Some students do better in an online setting and choose an online program. Others feel they must be in an actual classroom to learn. If you’re steering towards an online school, you may have to find a company for your internship on your own. If you’re choosing an online program, it’s also important to make sure that you have adequate internet service. Online learning offers students a flexible way to earn a degree, but it also requires you to be self-motivated.

Once you know what type of degree you want to earn, look for a program that offers a computer science or information science curriculum that matches your career goals. For instance, a student who wishes to specialize in security will need to make sure the program has security, network security, or cyber security courses.

If you’re undecided but have narrowed your search down to a couple of colleges, you may want to do some research about the college on things like:

  • graduation rate
  • job placement rate
  • overall school ratings

These things can be found on the school’s website.

Career Opportunities

The career of a computer systems administrator is lucrative. it is also a very popular and highly sought-after career. With an unemployment rate of only three percent, it’s easy to see what great career opportunities are available to system administrator degree holders. U.S. News & World Report ranks computer systems administrators ninth among best technology jobs, 24th among best STEM jobs, and 86th among 100 best jobs.

The job growth potential for computer systems administrators is very good, according to the BLS. These professionals should see a five-percent job growth through 2030. Based on this growth, there should be about 18,800 new computer systems administrator jobs created by 2030.

The states with the highest number of computer systems administrators employed were Texas and California. Both of them had more than 31,000 employed as of a May 2020 BLS report.

Wage Potential

Computer system administrators have the potential to earn very good wages. According to a 2020 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these professionals earned an average annual wage of $84,810. Those at the lower end earned about $52,830.Those at the higher end earned $134,970. The average hourly wage was $40.77.

The highest earnings came to those working in the computer system design industry, followed by:

  • education
  • insurance
  • finance

Things that can improve an individual’s job opportunities and wage potential include:

  • degree earned
  • work experience
  • certifications obtained
  • employer
  • geographic location

Geographic location plays a very important role in determining wages. Below are the states where the highest average wages were earned, followed by the states with the lowest wages.

• Maryland – $113,840
• California – $104,060
• New Jersey – $103,030
• District of Columbia – $100,170
• Connecticut- $99,900

• South Dakota – $63,280
• Mississippi – $63,970
• Arkansas – $64,310
• Kentucky – $66,230
• Montana – $69,190

As is apparent from the wage list, there can be a substantial wage difference from one state to another.

There are many factors that make working as a computer systems administrator a great career choice. In addition to good job growth and good wages, this is a job that can be as rewarding as it is challenging. As long as we continue to use computers and the internet to run businesses, computer systems administrators will continue to be in high demand. A crucial step toward this career is earning a system administrator degree.

BDP Staff
January 2022

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This concludes our article on what degree is best for a computer system administrator.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief