It's been called the Information Age, the Microprocessor Age, the Network Age, the Internet Age and plenty of other things, but by any name it's hard to deny that computers have become essential parts of modern everyday life. Whether you want to be a part of the leading edge of the wave of technological breakthroughs or you want to be better positioned to manage existing systems, an online master's degree in computer science can give you the advanced training you need to succeed in the competitive world of tech.
Degrees at the master's level can allow you to focus your study on a professional or academic specialization while still developing a broad, cross-disciplinary understanding of the field. If you've ever wanted to speak fluent computer code, design and develop software, build communications networks, or help shape the future of robotics and artificial intelligence, graduate study in computer science can help you continue to expand your knowledge and sharpen your skills to become a strong contributor in today's high-tech workforce.
Read on to learn about the best schools for an online master's of science in computer science, get some tips about turning your degree into a career and find out the potential effects of a master's in computer science on your salary potential in the workforce.
Some online programs for a master's degree in computer science may require students to make a few campus visits per semester to complete lab work or other in-person experiences, but many programs are designed to be delivered completely in the virtual classroom.
The tech industry is highly competitive, and candidates with advanced education are often preferred over those with just a bachelor's degree. A history of successful work can be an important asset on the career market as well, and earning an online master's in computer science can provide you with challenging projects to add to your portfolio.
Accreditation makes it clear that a program's education and services meet or exceed an accepted national standard of quality. Individual computer science master's programs are accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) of the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Potential graduate students who are new to the tech disciplines tend to have a lot of questions about the field — Is computer science hard? What can you do with a computer science degree? What is computer science, exactly? — and we'll do our best to answer those questions in this article.
Here's one computer science definition that covers the concept fairly well: computer science is the study of computing and the theoretical foundations of information. It's a rigorous academic discipline, requiring attention to detail and deep knowledge of foundational concepts, but it's not out of reach for anyone who can study and do the work.
Some schools that offer an online master's degree in computer science require students to hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, such as engineering or information systems, to be eligible for admission. Some schools allow applicants with any undergraduate background, provided they demonstrate appropriate knowledge or complete a series of prerequisite courses that may include the following:
Most computer science master's programs lead to Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Engineering (M.E.) degrees, but other degree titles may also be used.
How long does an online master's in computer science program take?
The length of time you'll spend earning your degree will ultimately depend on the specific curriculum you study and the concentration you choose. Most programs require between 38 and 48 credit hours of study, which typically take anywhere from three to five years to complete.
Online students studying on a part-time basis tend to take fewer credit hours per term and usually spend longer in school than their full-time counterparts. Some computer science undergraduates may be able to weave the beginning of their master's into the end of their bachelor's program, shortening their total time to graduation.
What are the requirements to start an online master's degree in computer science?
Graduate admissions offices all set their own requirements for enrollment, but there are a few things that just about every school is likely to ask for:
Programs also typically require a GPA that's above a certain threshold, usually 3.0 or 2.5, and may list prerequisite courses that must be completed before an applicant can become fully enrolled.
Why earn a master's in computer science online?
Online instruction can take a lot of the legwork out of the process of earning your degree, allowing you to view course materials at any time of day, attend lectures remotely and submit assignments from your home computer. Some online computer science master's programs offer asynchronous delivery, which means you can watch lectures whenever you're free to do so and complete the assigned work on your own schedule.
Computer science is also one of the disciplines that loses little in translation to the virtual classroom environment. Most online lessons are essentially identical to the ones taught face-to-face on campus.
Choose a specialization
If there's a specific branch of computer science that you're hoping to study, declaring your specialization early can give you a strong start down the path to the career you want.
Take core courses and electives
Core courses focus on advanced computer science fundamentals and elements of your chosen specialty. Electives are self-selected courses outside of your stated degree plan that can help you get a well-rounded education.
Programs often include the requirement to compose a master's thesis before graduation, although non-thesis options that substitute a final project or portfolio review for deep research are common as well.
An online master's degree in computer science can usually be customized to allow graduate students to concentrate on the area of the discipline that they are most passionate about. Here are just a few computer science specializations that may be available, depending on your institution:
Some colleges and universities offer the option to earn your MS in computer science alongside another degree, and the MBA can be a popular choice for students planning on going into information technology management or another business-focused segment of the tech world. Business is inseparable from tech these days, and understanding both can be a big plus.
MBA programs are often available online, and they can take anywhere from one to three years to complete. If you're planning on earning a generalized computer science degree rather than choosing a specific technical concentration, an MBA might be just what you're looking for.
Opportunities for graduates with an online master's degree in computer science are on the rise in nearly every industry. Here are some details about some of the highest-paying careers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Information systems manager. Information systems managers work with commercial businesses, nonprofits and government agencies to coordinate and direct their IT policies and activities. They may oversee a single department under the IT umbrella, such as information security, user support or network administration, or they may be responsible for an organization's entire IT approach.
Software developer. Software developers design and produce computing systems, languages and software applications. Developers are typically split into two camps: those who work on games, business process tools and other software applications and those who build the foundational operating systems that computing devices need in order to function.
Computer network architect. Computer network architects plan and build the data networks that make device-to-device communication possible. Some network architects work within organizations, developing local area network (LAN) and intranet configurations, while others work for government agencies or telecommunications companies to create enormous networks on a regional, national or worldwide scale.
Information security analyst. With internet-connected devices in just about every home, not to mention billions of dollars in virtual payments changing hands in e-commerce, information security is one of the most important fields in tech. Specializing your degree in cybersecurity can help you land one of these vital positions.
Computer science researcher. Although some universities or private labs may prefer research candidates with a doctorate in computer science, a master's degree is always the first step toward a career in research and scholarship. These knowledge-focused professionals aim to address unsolved problems in computing and discover innovative ways to utilize existing solutions.
|State Name||Average Salary||Annual Job Openings||Projected Job Growth Potential|
|District of Columbia||$130,340||70||21.8%|
Tuition, fees, books and other essentials don't come cheap, but there are programs available to help lighten the load. Here's a list of financial aid options for students in computer science master's programs:
Applicant must be a Maryland resident and have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above to apply.
Applicant must be attending a UNISEX conference and currently performing research relating to the conference topic. Application with supporting statement is required.
Applicant must be a United States citizen enrolled in an accredited four-year institution in the United States who is active in a ROTC program and nominated by professors of military science, naval science, or aerospace studies. Applicant must be able to demonstrate academic excellence, good moral character, potential to serve as an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, and financial need.
Applicant must be a member of an American Indian tribe and must have successfully completed a high school summer transition program offered by CERT or a tribal internship program. Applicant must be a full-time undergraduate (12 hours/semester) or graduate (9 hours/semester) student enrolled at an accredited two or four year tribal, private, or public university or college.
Applicant must be actively pursuing an undergraduate degree, graduate degree, or credential/licensure for the purpose of teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, or math) subjects at a United States middle or secondary school. Applicant must be attending an accredited U.S. college or university. Graduate-level candidates must be currently enrolled in at least two semester equivalent classes; credential/licensure students must have completed a bachelor's degree in a STEM major.
PG&E believes in helping students interested in being a part of California?s clean energy future, giving them opportunities to learn and succeed in higher education. PG&E is awarding scholarships to help further STEM studies of students in California. Twenty scholarships of $10,000 each and 20 scholarships of $2,500 each are available to high school seniors, current college students, veterans and adults returning to school who are PG&E customers at the time of application and are pursuing a degree in one of the following STEM disciplines: Engineering (electrical, mechanical, industrial, environmental, power and/or energy), Computer Science/Information Systems, Cyber Security or Environmental Sciences. Applicants must plan to enroll in full-time undergraduate study for the entire 2020-2021 academic year and be pursuing their first undergraduate degree at an accredited 4-year school in California. Scholarships will be awarded based on academic achievement, demonstrated participation and leadership in school and community activities and financial need.
Applicant must be a U.S. citizen who is a full-time student with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Selection is based upon essay, letters of recommendation, resume, standardized test scores, and transcript.
Applicant must complete essay and interview if selected. Selection is based upon SAT Reasoning or ACT scores, GPA, and high school curriculum.
Applicant must be a full-time student in an undergraduate or graduate degree-granting program in a field directly related to the support of United States intelligence or homeland security enterprises, and/or foreign languages. Applicant must be currently enrolled at a two- or four-year accredited college or university in the United States.
Applicant must have a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA. Preference is given in the following order to applicants majoring in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, accounting, and computer science.
Applicants must be women currently enrolled in an accredited institution working towards a degree in computer science or related field. Students must join the Windows Insider Program and be able to attend two required conferences. Applicants must submit a video and a written statement pertaining to their vision for the future.
Applicant must be a woman with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicant must be in an ABET-accredited engineering program, engineering at SWE-approved institution, or computer science in a CSAB-accredited program or at an ABET-accredited or SWE-approved institution.
Applicants must be enrolled in a degree-granting program in business, computer science, engineering, mathematics or the natural sciences. Selection is based on the overall strength of the application.
Applicant must rank in the top 15% of class and demonstrate leadership skills.
Applicant must have a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA.
Applicant must be a Wyoming high school graduate, enrolled at a Wyoming university, community college, or approved trade school, planning to pursue a course of study leading to a career in the highway transportation industry.
Applicant must be a high school senior in a Unitil service territory in Maine, New Hampshire, or Massachusetts who plans to major in science, technology, engineering, or math. Selection based upon academic merit, financial need, other scholarships awarded, outside student activities and other relevant factors such as the number of hours worked outside of class during the school year.
Applicant must be a United States citizen enrolled at an accredited four-year institution who is enrolled in a degree-granting, graduate-level STEM major (science, technology, engineering, and math) program.
Applicants must be undergraduate freshmen, sophomores or juniors. They must be enrolled in an accredited degree program in computer science, chemical engineering, manufacturing engineering, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, mechanical engineering or industrial engineering. They must have a GPA of 3.5 or higher on a four-point scale. Selection is based on the overall strength of the application.
Applicant must be a current high school senior who is at least half Filipino and a resident of one of the following California counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Marin, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Orange, Sacramento, San Benito, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma, or Stanislaus. Applicant must be planning to attend a four-year college or university and major in engineering, mathematics, computer science, environmental science, or a physical science. Minimum 3.0 GPA and financial need are required.
The IEEE Computer Society offers this credential, which serves to demonstrate your expertise in design, construction, testing, quality management, engineering models and methods and other knowledge areas within software engineering.
Requirements: It's expected that applicants have at least four years each of college education and professional experience, but there are no formal requirements to enroll.
Exam Format: 160 questions with a 3-hour time limit.
How long does the certification last?: Three years.
Administrating the a massive local area network (LAN) at the headquarters of a multinational corporation can be a monumental task, but this manufacturer-offered credential helps assure employers that you're among the most qualified networking pros in your field.
Requirements: There aren't any official prerequisites for this exam, but applicants should have three to five years' experience in enterprise networking and a professional-level understanding of networking concepts.
Exam Format: A computerized test with a two hour time limit that mixes multiple-choice with fill-in-the-blank and short answer questions.
How long does the certification last?: Three years.
If you're looking to set yourself apart in the world of cybersecurity, this credential from the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) can show the world that you know how to design, install and maintain top-tier cybersecurity protocols.
Requirements: A total of five years of paid, full time work experience, covering two or more of the eight knowledge domains tested by the CISSP exam. A four-year college degree can substitute for one of those five years of experience.
Exam Format: Between 100 and 150 questions with a 3-hour time limit.
How long does the certification last?: Three years.
If you're just starting out in your IT career, the A+ credential offered by industry association CompTIA is one of the most widely recognized entry-level certifications on the market.
Requirements: No formal requirements, but about a year of laboratory or field experience is recommended.
Exam Format: Two exams with a maximum of 90 questions each, with a 90-minute time limit per exam.
How long does the certification last?: A+ certification does not expire.
When you join a professional association, you gain access to a network of like-minded individuals and a range of exclusive career resources. Here are a few associations that might fit with your professional goals:
Offering separate membership categories for students, early-career workers and established professionals, ASIS&T features an expansive digital library and an online career center.
Members of this global organization are assigned to specific committees and invited to work with other scientific and technical professionals to further that committee's goals.
Computing and mathematics are inextricably linked, and computer science professionals who make heavy use of advanced mathematics in their work can benefit from joining this society of mathematical thinkers.
Women are in the minority in the computing sciences, and AWC offers networking and career growth opportunities to women hoping to make a name for themselves in the competitive world of tech.