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A master’s in computer science teaches students expert-level, in-demand computer and information technology concepts, along with how to use programming languages for operating systems, practical applications, data mining, and more. Students successfully completing a degree program in computer science will have a combination of education and experience, leading to many high-growth career opportunities. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information research scientists are projected to see a 16% job growth rate from 2018-2028. To secure this lucrative position, applicants must have at least a master’s degree in computer science.
This guide explores various master’s in computer science programs online, the courses students can expect to take while earning their master’s degree, and some of the career outcomes for graduates.
www.onlinemasterscolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.
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To find the best online master in computer science programs, it is important to consider factors such as cost, program length, class size, graduation rate, program outcomes, quality of teaching, and the reputation of the graduate school. OMC’s methodology considers all these factors and more. Based on this methodology, here is a list of the best online master’s programs in computer science:
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An online graduate degree is generally more expensive than a bachelor’s degree. For this reason, students tend to look for affordable institutions for their advanced education. Colleges and universities price their online master’s in computer science programs differently. Some schools focus on affordability while others charge a cost per university degree credit rate to benefit students with transferable credit. Here is a list of affordable master’s programs in computer science:
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Understanding a Computer Science Degree Program Online
Most universities these days offer both computer science degrees as both onground and online programs. In most cases, online programs are fortunately taught by the same faculty that teaches on-campus programs. These online versions of a master of computer science build off students’ existing computer science knowledge and introduce high-level topics to further one’s knowledge on the subject. Current computing professionals looking to advance their careers, benefit the most from these master’s degrees.
Specializations for a Computer Science Degree
Some schools offer concentrations or specializations for computer science master’s programs, such as artificial intelligence, data science, and web development. Choosing a concentration can also create more career opportunities after graduation. Here is a list of a few specializations in computer science, and the careers they lead to:
Artificial intelligence (AI) explores how computers learn, make decisions, reason with data, and communicate with humans. Combined with computer science, an AI concentration includes algorithmic design, complex coding, and natural language processing.
Software Engineers, Machine Learning Engineers, User Experience, Data Analytics, Natural Language Processing
Similar to computer forensics, cybersecurity deals with protecting digital information. Students learn to manage and mitigate digital risk, enable cloud security, and follow cyber policy and law.
Cybersecurity Analyst, Information Technology Auditor, Cybersecurity Consultant, Information Security Analyst, Security Architect
A specialization in database management teaches students to change, implement, and test databases. Students learn to manage database systems, restructure existing systems, and orchestrate database security measures.
Computer Systems Analyst, Computer Network Architect, Computer and Information Systems Manager, Software Developer, Business Intelligence Consultant
Information Technology is a subset of Information Systems but it is more popular than Information Systems. This field involves designing, maintaining, and supporting all infrastructure of technology products within organizations, along with maintaining data and storage systems.
IT Manager, IT Support Engineers, Chief Information Officers, IT Systems Engineers
Machine learning is a branch of computer science, and it is more popularly considered as a subset of artificial intelligence and data science. ML deals with using computational algorithms to identify and predict trends in a given dataset.
Machine Learning Engineers, Predictive Analysts, Data Scientists, Deep Learning Engineers
A systems engineering concentration builds off computer science sequential programming and introduces high-level and low-level programming, plus the skills necessary to use both styles of programming.
Systems Engineer, Software Developer, Application Software Developer, Hardware Engineer, Computer Systems Analyst
Web Application Development
While a computer science degree focuses on mathematics, a concentration in web development focuses on the application of computer science to build websites and applications.
Front or Back End Developer, Information Systems Manager, Full-Stack Developer, Software Developer, Computer Programmer
Curriculum in a Computer Science Degree Program Online
The scope of computer science goes well beyond mere software and hardware as a whole. In their studies, online students of a degree program in computer science will usually cover topics such as:
Computer Fundamental Understanding
Theoretical Computer Science
Engineering and Computer Science
Master’s in Computer Science Degree Admission Requirements
Before applying for a master’s in computer science degree online, individuals should note that colleges and universities set stringent admissions standards. Here are some common admission degree requirements:
Bachelor’s Degree: No matter where you apply, colleges and universities require that master’s program applicants hold a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. The computer science program prefers applicants with an educational background in computer science.
Official Transcripts: Incoming online students will be required to submit their official academic transcripts, in particular, those of their bachelor’s degree or a terminal professional degree if any.
Letters of Recommendation: Most master’s in computer science programs require applicants to submit several letters of recommendation from coworkers, bosses, or previous college professors.
GMAT/GRE Scores: For a master’s in computer science, applicants should take the GRE and submit test scores. Programs with an emphasis on business might also require GMAT scores. This requirement applies to international applicants as well. (Students can read the GRE Prep Guide to learn more about how to boost their GRE scores.)
Work Experience: Many online computer science programs only accept applicants with at least 2-3 years of professional experience. These programs also anticipate that students continue to work while studying.
TOEFL: All foreign-born, non-native English speakers and international applicants must take the TOEFL exam. To be safe, test takers should score 100 or higher on the internet-based TOEFL exam.
Master of Computer Science Program without a Computer Science Background
While a computer science program prefers candidates with an undergraduate degree or a background in computer science, those with an unrelated bachelor’s degree may still apply. These programs usually attract skilled workers looking to advance their careers. So, someone with a professional background in computer science or computer science certificate could gain admission into a master’s program. One should keep in mind that the best way to gain admission into an online computer science program is to have both an undergraduate degree and a professional background in computer science. However, dedicated applicants can gain admission without a computer science background.
Here are some universities that accept students that do not have a computer science background:
Many online graduate schools require students to take the Graduate Record Examinations, or GRE, before applying for admission and submit the test score along with transcripts of an undergraduate degree. However, some schools do not require applicants to submit GRE scores. These types of schools want students to focus on the curriculum of the programs rather than spend months trying to prepare for tests like the GRE or GMAT. They emphasize having an undergraduate degree with a decent Grade Point Average (GPA), along with some professional experience. Here are some schools that offer online masters in computer science with no GRE scores requirement:
Skills Gained in a Master’s in Computer Science Program
A master’s in computer science degree program teaches some skills that build off existing knowledge and introduces some entirely new skills necessary for advanced careers. Students learn or refine skills through coursework, internships, and, if required, projects as well.
Data Analysis: The master’s program takes data analysis to a new level, introducing topics like artificial intelligence, predictive analysis, and other advanced computer science analysis methods. These skills are critical for many computer science positions and computer programming.
Communication: A master’s in computer science leads to high-level roles that often see graduates managing teams. Students will learn to communicate with employees and other managers to implement larger strategies.
Ethics: Those with a master’s program take on more demanding professional roles, and this means assuming more responsibility for company-wide strategies. Graduates must understand the ethical ramifications of their decision-making.
Leadership: Online programs in computer science help current computer science professionals advance their careers. To be effective in their new roles, students learn leadership skills in these graduate programs.
Accreditation for Master’s in Computer Science Degrees
When reviewing an online master’s program in computer science, future students should only apply to accredited programs. An accredited school/program meets the standards set by an accrediting body, which are backed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Schools receive either regional or national accreditation, and regionally accredited schools are held to higher standards. While national accreditation is better than no accreditation, some employers and doctoral programs only recognize a regionally accredited university. Furthermore, financial aid is generally provided only to students who are applying to or are in accredited schools. CHEA recognizes six regionally accrediting bodies, and a school’s regional accreditation depends on its home state. As for programs in computer science, one should check for an ABET accreditation. ABET only accredits natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology programs. The best online computer science MS programs receive both regional and programmatic accreditation.
Scholarships for Master’s in Computer Science Students
Graduate students often use scholarships to help cover the costs of a master’s degree. There are plenty of scholarships available to graduate students, some of which are only available to those pursuing a master’s in computer science. However, most scholarships are based on academic merit and, sometimes, good GRE scores as well. Additionally, students of online learning must also fulfill all other degree requirements to be eligible for financial aid. Here are a few scholarships that provide financial aid for an online master in computer science:
Students pursuing a degree related to cybersecurity may have their entire tuition costs covered for up to three years. In return, graduates commit an equal number of years of service to the U.S. Government in a position related to cybersecurity or work with military personnel serving abroad.
Available to graduate students studying computer science, computer engineering, video game programming, or a similar field, this scholarship goes towards women who plan on finding a career in the gaming industry.
Free Online Master of Computer Science
Graduate students continue to seek out affordable options for college, but some computer science online learning programs are available for free. While there are no full online master’s programs in computer science for free that are accredited, a few of them allow students to watch lectures from past sessions and free courses from reputable institutions. Students will not get a master’s diploma in computer science from these courses, but they can learn on par with students at other online master’s institutions. All of this can be completed online and for free. Here are a few sites to explore:
MIT OpenCourseware: MIT offers many graduate-level computer science courses from past years. Topics range from systems software, software development, data analytics, and cloud computing, to data mining, network security, operating systems, and practical applications.
edX.org: edX.org provides a ton of computer science offerings for free that include many programming courses and front-end web development courses, along with the latest computer science specializations, such as cybersecurity, data science, and blockchain technologies.
Career and Salary Outlook for Online Master of Computer Science Graduates
As a broad field with many concentration options, an online master of computer science graduate can find various careers when compared to a bachelor’s degree holder. Most graduates have some previous professional experience, and the master’s degree allows them to secure a management-level or leadership role as well. Other graduates use the master’s degree to advance their current careers in areas such as artificial intelligence, software systems, data structures, computer networks, etc. Some even collaborate with professionals in electrical engineering and software engineering to create their own startups for novel products and services. The potential outcomes for a master’s in computer science are nearly endless. However, before enrolling in a master’s program, students should note that no amount of education guarantees a career or salary. Here are some careers, reported salary data, job growth projections, and how a master’s degree in computer science prepares students for these positions.
Also known as cybersecurity analysts, information security analysts plan and implement digital security measures to protect networks and systems. Duties include researching new IT security developments and implementing software.
A computer and information research scientist looks at issues surrounding computing and develops new theories to solve problems. Tasks include creating experiments, analyzing data, and publishing findings.
Also known as network engineers, computer network architects build communication networks for small businesses and large corporations. Duties include creating layouts for networks, upgrading infrastructure, and researching new technologies.
Top executives serve as leaders of a business. A computer science graduate could find a position as a Chief Technology Officer, overseeing the company’s entire digital department.
Certifications and Licensing for Computer Science Professionals
While some certifications provide graduates with a stronger resume, other certifications and licenses are required for certain specific positions. Students should remain up-to-date on all required certifications or licenses for computer science careers.
Why is it important to be a certified master of computer science professional?
Aside from boosting a resume, some employers may prefer to only hire certified computer science professionals. In some instances, a career may legally require the employee to hold a specific certification or license.
How can I stay up-to-date on my master of computer science certifications?
As businesses roll out new programs, new certifications follow. Large companies like Cisco and Microsoft regularly update or add certifications for specific programs.
How do I receive licensure and certification?
Most certifications require a combination of education and experience. After qualifying for a certification or license, applicants must then pass an exam. Some certifications and licenses require renewal, and that process might include earning continuing education credits.
What are some example certifications and licenses a master of computer science should consider?
A master of computer science graduate should earn certifications related to their field of expertise. Examples of certifications that graduates should earn include the following:
Certified Information Security Manager: Offered by the ISACA, this certification proves a professional’s expertise in information security and risk management. Anyone considering a career in information security or cybersecurity should consider this certification.
Cisco Certified Design Professional: The CCDP certification proves the expertise of seasoned computer science professionals. However, this well-respected certification requires applicants to hold several other Cisco certifications first.
Professional Software Engineering Master Certification: Offered by the IEEE Computer Society, this certification requires applicants to complete a degree in computer science and earn two years of industry experience. The certifications prove the software development skills of the professional.
Resources for Master’s in Computer Science Students
Designed for online master’s current students, recent graduates, and seasoned working professionals, a professional resource offers many benefits to its members, including networking opportunities with peers, international students, and programmers, industry discounts, online education, job board access, and exclusive publications. Here are a few such resources to get started:
Association for Computing Machinery: Created to inspire collaboration between its 100,000 members, ACM offers its members learning opportunities, career development, and professional networking. ACM also offers 37 special interest groups for niche computer science fields.
Association for Women in Computing: The AWC is among the first professional organizations created specifically for women in computing. Members gain access to mentoring, continuing education, and professional networking.
IEEE Computer Society: Founded in 1946, the IEEE Computer Society is now one of the largest organizations for computer science professionals. IEEE offers three membership levels for current students, recent graduates, and industry leaders.
Computer Science Teachers Association: As the main organization dedicated to supporting K-12 computer science teachers, CSTA works to provide teachers with useful professional resources. CSTA’s basic membership comes at no cost.
CompTIA: Aside from access to scholarship opportunities, professional networking, and career development, CompTIA offers its student members discounts on some of the top certifications in the industry.
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