Computer Science

Am I Too Old to Study Computer Science?

Am I Too Old to Study Computer Science?
You may not need to start your new career at the bottom rung of the ladder if you have a strong leadership background. Image from Pexels
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella April 12, 2022

The average career changer is 39 years old. That means many are considerably older. If you want to become a programmer, software developer, or software engineer, you’re never too old to earn a computer science degree.

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According to CNN, millennials—many of whom are now turning 40—have worked an average of four jobs before they turned 32. All of this job hopping suggests that, collectively, they’re not finding satisfaction in their careers. Indeed, a Gallup poll reveals that 60 percent of millennials are open to considering a new job should the opportunity arise (compared with 45 percent of non-millennials), and 55 percent of them are disengaged at work (a higher percentage than any other generation polled).

Better pay is one of the leading reasons people change jobs, particularly if they’re focused on building a retirement nest egg. And many of them are worried about their retirement—61 percent of the oldest millennials (33 to 40) think they’ll work part-time or get a second job during their golden years, according to CNBC.

Traditionally high-paying fields like computer science (CS) can offer career-switchers more pay and job security.

It sounds easy. Become a computer scientist, entertain six-figure job offers, and live comfortably doing something satisfying like software engineering for the rest of your life. But, there may be a few snags before you can earn a paycheck as a coder.

First off, learning computer science is difficult—college CS majors have notoriously high drop out rates. Additionally, the tech industry is quite competitive, especially for positions at hot startups or big-name tech companies like Microsoft.

Finally, ageism can be a real issue. Even though workplace discrimination based on age is illegal, Silicon Valley recruiters frequently discriminate against people 40 and older looking for jobs. In the tech field, workers over 35 are considered ‘old’ and believed not to be “up to date with the latest technology and its potential.”

These factors make embarking on a tech career seem daunting. But if you’re wondering am I too old to study computer science, the answer is still no. We’ll discuss why as we answer the questions:

  • How do you switch careers to computer science?
  • What is a computer science master’s degree?
  • What are the top schools that offer a computer science master’s degree?

Am I too old to study computer science?

No, you aren’t too old to study computer science. Every year there’s a story about a 90 year-old completing a college degree. In fact, according to Zippa, those making a big career change are, on average, 39. That’s the average; that means plenty of career changers are 40 and older.

Older people typically have more financial security and can afford to take a pay cut for an entry-level job, if necessary. That said, even entry-level computer science positions pay decently. Glassdoor lists the average pay for an entry-level programmer at $67,000 (and, for comparison, programmers’ average annual income is $89,190; software developers is $110,140); web developers earn ($77,200; and systems managers are paid $151,150).

Depending on your previous professional experience, you may not need to start your new career at the bottom rung of the ladder. Management experience translates between fields; that’s because every field values real-world problem-solving experience. With enough programming and computer science skills under your belt, you may be able to start in a computer science management position if you have a strong leadership background.

A Wharton blog post titled “7 Reasons Why It’s Never Too Late to Start a New Career” expounds the value of changing careers. The best reason? If you don’t like what you’re doing, there’s no reason to keep doing it. But be sure you want to study computer science and aren’t just chasing dollars.



University and Program Name Learn More

How do you switch careers to computer science?

You need to consider several factors when deciding whether it’s practical to switch careers. Do you have a relevant background or do you need to learn computer science from scratch? Transferring from a data analyst role to a better computer science job is significantly easier than starting at square one. Having a computer science subspecialty background can help you qualify for a CS master’s program to learn new skills.

Non-computer science professionals can make the jump, though. One commenter on a Reddit thread titled “Is 30 too old to change careers to Computer Science/Software Development?” wrote they returned to college and completed a computer science bachelor’s degree, landing a new job after graduating at 33.

While schools may accept credits from your initial (finished) degree, attending graduate school (even if you’re going part-time) and maintaining your current job can be difficult. However, online CS master’s degrees can make it easier for professionals to juggle work and school while they’re transitioning careers.

If you’re interested in a CS degree but don’t have a CS background, a University of Chicago blog post recommends to start learning computer programming on your own. Free tutorials are readily available on YouTube and on GitHub and Reddit forums that can help beginners start learning top programming languages like Python, Java, Javascript, CSS or C/C++. In addition, you could consider enrolling in a community college course or coding bootcamp to learn to write code.

What is a computer science master’s degree?

Earning a computer science master’s degree equips CS students with greater knowledge and understanding of computers so they can pursue successful careers as programmers.

How long does it take to earn a computer science master’s degree?

A CS master’s degree typically takes two years of full-time study, though some tracks can take less time. If you’re attending school part-time, as many career changers do, it will probably take you several years to complete your degree.

Admissions requirements/prerequisites

Each program has its own admissions requirements. Most computer science programs look for applicants with a relevant undergraduate degree in computer science, data analytics, computer engineering, or another STEM subject.

Still, many programs, like Southern Methodist University‘s, accept students who can prove they have an equivalent background; you just have more catching up to do. That frequently means completing bridge coursework. You also may have to pursue a specialized track for those with limited CS backgrounds. Stevens Institute of Technology, for example, offers a 36-credit master’s for students without a traditional computer science background.

As well, you’ll need to submit traditional application materials like a personal essay(s), standardized test scores (more schools are becoming test-optional), letters of recommendation, a resume, and transcripts showing a GPA of 3.0 or higher.


You’ll complete elective and core coursework for a graduate computer science degree. Core subjects typically include advanced algorithms, programming, and software development. Schools typically allow students more flexibility when choosing electives, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence. Remember, curricula differ between schools. One curriculum may include machine learning as an elective while another requires it as a core course.


Computer science specializations include artificial intelligence, data science and analytics, machine learning, and information security. If you’re pursuing a career change, you may have your hands full learning the necessary topics and not be able to specialize.

What are the top schools that offer a computer science master’s degree?

It can be difficult to be admitted to a grad program without a comp sci background. Qualifying for the very top programs may not be feasible if you don’t already have extensive experience. That’s OK. Career changers can still be admitted to great CS programs, provided they’re willing to work.

Well-regarded programs that consider applicants without traditional computer science backgrounds include:

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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