Individuals looking for a stable, well-paying job with plenty of room to grow often gravitate towards computer science occupations — and for good reason. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects roles in this field will expand by 11% between 2019-2029, leading to the creation of more than half a million new positions. With median annual salaries topping $91,250 in 2020, computer science jobs also provide ample pay.
Many high-level roles in the field require a master’s degree in computer science, but the good news is that students can find myriad degree programs both online and in-person. Read on to learn what it takes to earn an online Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science and where the degree can take graduates.
What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Computer Science?
Earning a master’s degree in computer science provides graduates with the credentials and training needed to compete for and secure high-level positions in many different industries. Whether working in network administration or information security, the spectrum of options is wide and varied.
Master of Computer Science Salaries and Career Outlook
Students who want to enter a well-paying field often find computer science a great fit since many roles offer six-figure salaries. Computer network architects, for instance, brought home annual median salaries of $116,780 in 2020, while software developers earned median pay of $110,140 during the same timeframe.
The following section looks at both salaries and projected job growth, but remember that projections do not guarantee an actual expansion of open positions.
Computer Science Master’s Degree Career Paths
|Career||Salary||Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)||About the Position|
|Computer and Information Systems Managers||$151,150||10%||These professionals manage other IT workers, plan activities, and oversee projects. They often consult with executives to identify needs before creating a plan for addressing them.|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||$126,830||15%||These individuals identify problems within IT departments and computing, then look to both new and existing technologies to help fix those problems. They may also conduct experiments and write papers about their findings.|
|Software Developers||$110,140||22%||Whether designing user-facing applications or managing the backends of computer programs, these professionals design, test, and maintain programs and apps that allow users to complete specific functions on computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices.|
|Computer Network Architects||$116,780||5%||CNAs design and create various types of computer networks that help connect companies and customers through various types of infrastructure. They also troubleshoot issues and make upgrades as needed, among other responsibilities.|
Earning an Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science
Online master’s degree programs in computer science can set graduates up for success in a variety of different roles and industries. Available both online and in-person at public and private universities alike, grad students can easily find an option that suits their needs.
We’ve examined a few components of the degree to help prospective learners know what to expect from a computer science graduate degree.
Pros and Cons of Online Graduate Programs in Computer Science
Undertaking a computer science master’s program online requires degree seekers to invest substantial amounts of time, money, and energy. Before doing so, consider both the pros and cons of this important decision.
|Earning a master’s degree in computer science can help you stand out from job competitors who possess only an undergraduate credential.||Trying to balance academic, professional, and personal obligations can put a strain on learners.|
|Individuals with master’s degrees typically earn more than those with bachelor’s degrees.||Unless students find enough scholarships, fellowships, or grants to cover the full cost of their education, an MS in Computer Science requires individuals to take on student loan debt.|
|You can complete an MS in Computer Science without ever visiting campus, making it a highly flexible option.||With so many schools now offering master’s in computer science online programs, learners may find they face more competition in upcoming years.|
|Jobs are projected to grow significantly in the coming decade, making computer science a stable field.|
|An MS in Computer Science prepares you for a PhD in Computer Science, the highest level of education attainable in the field.|
Courses in Computer Science Master’s Programs
Every online master of computer science program is different, and many courses vary by program. That being said, students can anticipate some overlap in coursework regardless of where they choose to study.
Some of the most common class options learners see in the curricula include:
- Computer Networks and Database Management
- Computer Systems
- Computer Language Theory
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
- Software Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Web Application Development
- Analysis of Algorithms
Many programs also require students to complete prerequisites in specific courses prior to acceptance or in their first term of studies. Schools also require students to complete several electives, great for specializing a degree.
Skills Learned in a Master of Computer Science Program
Given that computer science is an ever-evolving field, earning a master’s degree ensures graduates possess the latest knowledge and skills to help move their organizations forward.
The skills a learner gains vary based on their chosen program and specialization, but a few practical skills most graduates leave with include:
- Mathematics: All proficient computer science graduates develop a baseline knowledge in areas of calculus, linear algebra, statistics, and other branches of the discipline commonly used in the field.
- Data Analysis: Because data management, storage, visualization, and security play such an important role in the world of computer science, programs typically spend ample time ensuring students possess the skills needed to properly analyze and work with various types of data.
- Time Management: Computer science is a fast-moving field, and professionals work with quick turnarounds and tight schedules. Understanding how to manage time effectively can separate a good computer scientist and a great one.
- Problem-Solving: Much of computer science revolves around concepts like logic and math, requiring professionals in this arena to solve problems when things like networks, databases, and software malfunction. The best computer science graduates possess a good mix of both problem-solving skills and creativity.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Master’s Degree in Computer Science Online?
The majority of online computer science graduate programs require two years of full-time study, but several factors can affect this timeline. Students who previously completed graduate-level courses at another institution may be able to transfer existing credits, while those from an unrelated undergraduate program may need to undertake some prerequisites.
Part-time learners usually need three years to graduate, but some students opt for accelerated programs that they can complete in as few as 18 months.
Choosing the Best Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science
With so many online computer science programs now available, finding the best one for individual needs can feel overwhelming. The key to a less-stressful process is identifying components of a degree that align with specific goals and plans after graduation. These are some of the parts of a computer science program prospective students should consider.
Computer Science Degree Specializations
Computer science represents a vast and still growing discipline, so many master’s programs offer specializations to help degree seekers focus their studies. Options vary by school but commonly include:
- Game Design
- Information Security
- Data Science
- Software Engineering
- Systems Management
If a graduate wants to create apps and programs, they may prefer the software engineering specialization. Similarly, those with a passion for thwarting cyber attacks may be best served by an information security specialization.
Online vs. On Campus Degree Programs
Given the nature of computer science master’s degrees, it’s not uncommon to find fully online offerings. For many students, this format works well.
In addition to freeing up time traditionally spent commuting to and from campus, online programs also allow them to open their search to schools that may be too far away for in-person learning. Some state schools with online MS in Computer Science programs also allow online learners to pay in-state tuition, regardless of where they live, making it a cost-effective option.
That being said, many learners still choose to study on campus. In-person learning often allows for a more consistent schedule for those who need a routine, while also offering more opportunities for social interaction and relationship building.
Students on the fence about which path best serves their needs may decide to seek out a hybrid program. These allow learners to divide their time between online and on-campus studies, providing the best of both worlds.
How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?
Schools traditionally run on a semester-based schedule, with each semester (and course) lasting approximately 16 weeks. Some students take advantage of programs offering accelerated courses lasting between 5-8 weeks. These allow them to graduate more quickly without sacrificing quality.
Some institutions use a competency-based model that allows degree seekers to move at their own pace. Once they feel they understand the material thoroughly, they can request to take their exams and complete the course.
Students should also understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous online classes. Asynchronous courses revolve around pre-recorded lectures, allowing students to complete work at times that suit their schedules. Synchronous classes, conversely, require real-time attendance.
Computer Science Certification and Licensure
When reviewing potential jobs after graduation, students may notice that many require additional certification from employers. This is highly common within computer science, with many reputable organizations offering certificate pathways. Learners who aspire to work as information security analysts, for example, may be required to complete the Certified Information Systems Security Professional program offered by (ISC)².
When looking at certification requirements, students should always pay close attention to any state-specific mandates as well as educational institution expectations.
Attending a properly accredited school is one of the most important things a student can do to help ensure their success after graduating. Failing to do so can result in problems transferring credits, finding work, or qualifying for certification.
Accreditation divides into two categories: institutional and programmatic. At the institutional level, look for colleges that hold regional accreditation, as this signals they went through a rigorous vetting process to achieve that status.
At the programmatic level, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) provides the Computing Accreditation Commission for computer science programs. Attending one of these programs helps ensure learners receive a cutting-edge education.
Applying to Online Computer Science Programs
As with other components of online master’s in computer science programs, application requirements often vary by school but have common overlapping components. For instance, every student must possess a bachelor’s degree to receive consideration. We look at a few more requirements below.
Admission Requirements for Master of Computer Science Programs
- Prerequisite Courses: Learners who didn’t study computer science or a related topic during their undergraduate degree may need to complete these before enrolling.
- Minimum GPA: Admission departments want to see candidates who put in the work to achieve reasonable grades.
- Professional Experience: Some programs look for applicants who have worked in computer science or a related area for a set amount of time to build real-world skills they can apply to assignments.
- GRE/GMAT Scores: Some schools require scores from these standardized tests, and set minimum requirements. Students with lower scores may receive admittance if they possess a high GPA and/or work experience.
Paying for an Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science
With the cost of higher education rising each year, students are understandably looking for any method available to help lower their costs and reduce their student loan burden. In addition to tuition, learners should factor additional charges such as:
- Internet and computer costs
- Lab costs
- Potential tuition increases
One of the most popular ways of covering costs is scholarships since this form of funding doesn’t need to be repaid. Grants function in the same way, as do assistantships and fellowships. Students should look for these awards from government agencies, nonprofits, professional organizations, and prospective colleges.
Computer Science Master’s Degree Costs
Many factors can affect the final price tag of a degree. Learners looking to save money often decide to enroll in a public college in their state, as these typically offer lower tuition rates than private schools or public schools in other parts of the country. If studying online, students can avoid many campus-based fees such as parking, facilities, and meal pass costs.
Scholarships for Computer Science Students
- Generation Google Scholarship: This $10,000 award supports graduate computer science students from populations historically excluded from tech, including women and minority learners.
- Ralph W. Shrader Graduate Diversity Scholarship: Provided via AFCEA International, this award provides $3,000 to full-time graduate students who identify as women or BIPOC and are working towards a computer science degree.
- Richard E. Merwin Student Scholarship: Members of IEEE working towards a master’s in computer science can apply for this award with varying funding amounts twice annually by asking for a recommendation from their branch chapter advisor.
- UPE Scholarship: Upsilon Pi Epsilon, the international honor society for computing and information disciplines, offers up to $3,000 to eligible computer science master’s students.
Computer Science Career Resources
- Association for Women in Computing: Founded in 1978, this premier organization works to support women and their advancement in computer science fields. The group provides local chapters, networking, mentoring, and continuing education.
- Association for Computing Machinery: With the goal of advancing computing as both a science and a profession, ACM supports the industry by providing in-house publications, conferences, awards, and educational programming.
- Association for Information Science & Technology: ASIS&T looks to bring together the practical and academic sciences of computer science by providing information on careers, a new leaders program, publications, and both in-person and online events.
- Computer Science Teachers Association: CSTA supports K-12 computer science educators by providing curriculum standards, teaching resources, state chapters, fellowships, and mentorship opportunities.
- IIIE Computer Society: For nearly 80 years, IEEE has worked to support and advance computer science professionals by providing scholarships, chapters, industry news, and details on available jobs in the industry.
An online master’s in computer science provides an excellent path for students who are passionate about the discipline and want to further their careers. That said, applicants should weigh the pros and cons before committing.
Because MS in Computer Science programs revolve around technology and digital tools, many schools offer these programs completely online. For working students, this means less time driving to and from campus or needing to be somewhere at a specific time.
The best master’s degree in computer science is the one that meets the unique needs of the learner. Prospective degree seekers should compare and contrast their options to find one that offers the right specialization, financial aid, and career outcomes to meet their goals.
As more and more individuals and industries become reliant on computers to conduct their daily business, possessing an advanced degree in computer science can prove extremely valuable.
- BLS: Computer and Information Technology
- BLS: Computer and Information Systems Managers
- BLS: Computer and Information Research Scientists
- BLS: Software Developers
- BLS: Computer Network Architects
- Walden University
- Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)
- College Board