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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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).


Master's in Computer Science Program Overview

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:

  • Introduction to programming
  • Operating system fundamentals
  • Computer system architecture
  • Algorithms and analysis
  • Calculus and discrete mathematics
  • Theory of computing
  • Data structures

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.

Earning an Online Master's Degree in Computer Science

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:

  • A sealed, official copy of your college transcript
  • Official documentation of your scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
  • A current resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
  • A statement of purpose or personal essay
  • Recommendation letters

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.

Degree Timeline

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.

Thesis/capstone project

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.


Master's in Computer Science Concentrations

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:

  • Artificial intelligence: Concentrate on creating robotics that have humanistic senses and abilities
  • Database systems: Study the design and creation of databases and other information computer science systems
  • Game development: Develop the skills to create games on several different platforms
  • Human-computer interaction: Learn to design effective user interfaces to improve the user experience
  • Information security: Focus on designing secure systems and keeping networks secure
  • Software engineering: Learn to develop and modify software applications
  • Software theory: Focus on programming languages and systems

MBA in Computer Science

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.

Career Outlook

What Can You Do with a Master's in Computer Science?

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.

Computer Science Salaries by State

State NameAverage SalaryAnnual Job OpeningsProjected Job Growth Potential
New York$137,8109020.3%
District of Columbia$130,3407021.8%
New Mexico$129,9508023.4%
New Hampshire$127,360107.6%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Financial Aid for a Master's in Computer Science

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:

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Master's in Computer Science Certifications

Professional Software Engineering Master Certification

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.

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Enterprise

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.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

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.

CompTIA A+

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.

Professional Associations for Master's in Computer Science

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.