Computer Science

The 13 Best Master’s Degrees in Computer Science

The 13 Best Master’s Degrees in Computer Science
Looking for a computer science master's? You can choose from a surprising variety of degrees from an equally broad range of schools. Image from Unsplash
Ginny Bartolone profile
Ginny Bartolone April 29, 2021

Computer science encompasses a broad range of academic disciplines and careers, with an equal number of pathways leading to fulfilling comp sci careers. Which master's gets you where you want to go? Let us help you answer that question.

Computer Science Programs You Should Consider

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The field of computer science is just as vast and complex as the skills of the people who master it. Pursuing an advanced degree in one of the many computer science fields allows you to hone the power of algorithms and data, advance the development of artificial intelligence, or even protect national security.

While computer science degrees have gained momentum in the past two decades, the COVID-19 crisis proved the extent to which we depend on computer networks to function. The takeaway: computer science jobs are secure. Not only are the jobs not going anywhere, but they’re proving even more resilient than expected. In a recent study by Vox, top tech companies reported that they plan to let employees work from home after the pandemic is over. Computer scientists are writing their own tickets. Now is an excellent time to enter this field.

As for choosing the right career direction, however, it all comes back to which pathway captures your passions and career goals. We’ve outlined the best master’s degree programs in computer science so you can narrow down which appeals to your unique objectives. In this article, we’ll cover master’s degrees in:

  • Computer science
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Business analytics
  • Cloud computing
  • Computational biology
  • Computer engineering
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data analytics/data science
  • Information technology
  • Network engineering
  • Social technologies
  • Software engineering
  • Systems engineering
  • How to pick the master’s degree right for you

Computer science

A computer scientist oversees a wide breadth of critical areas in today’s world, taking on roles that require skills in:

  • Coding Languages: Skills in coding languages involve writing, testing, and maintaining code in various programming languages such as Python, Java, or C++. Each language has its syntax and use-cases, like web development, software engineering, or data analysis.
  • Machine Learning: Machine learning skills involve designing and implementing algorithms that enable computers to learn from and make decisions based on data. This includes understanding statistical models and neural networks.
  • Software Development: This encompasses the process of conceiving, specifying, designing, programming, documenting, testing, and bug fixing involved in creating applications, frameworks, or other software components.
  • Network Security: Network security skills are about protecting network infrastructure and the data it carries. This involves implementing protocols and practices to prevent and monitor unauthorized access, misuse, or modification.
  • Database Systems: Skills in database systems involve designing, implementing, and managing database architectures. This includes knowledge of database query languages like SQL, data modeling, and database design principles.
  • Artificial Intelligence: AI skills include the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that computer and information research scientists with master’s degrees earn an average of $136,620 a year, with 23 percent job growth between 2022 and 2032.

Admissions and requirements

An online MSCS degree typically requires between 30 and 33 credit hours over two-to-three years. Prospective students typically need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, letters of recommendation, and in some circumstances, GRE scores or relevant professional experience.

What to look for in a program

Keep an eye out for schools that highlight your transition to a professional setting. For example, the Tufts School of Engineering Master of Science in Computer Science has a history of sending graduates onto internships with Fortune 500 companies.

Schools with advanced coursework or electives within their computer science program allow for greater specialization. Stevens Institute of Technology‘s curriculum allows students to branch off into advanced programming, mobile systems, and human-computer interaction.

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Artificial Intelligence

Work on the cutting edge of today’s technological world with a degree in AI. Phones, speakers, and even vacuum cleaners benefit from AI computer systems, incorporating course topics such as:

  • Algorithm Engineering: Focuses on the design, analysis, and implementation of algorithms, emphasizing efficiency and scalability in solving complex computational problems.
  • Data Mining: Teaches techniques to discover patterns and knowledge from large datasets, using methods from statistics, machine learning, and database systems.
  • Language Processing: Covers computational techniques for processing and understanding human language, including natural language processing (NLP) for tasks like sentiment analysis and machine translation.
  • Logic Programming: Involves programming using logic-based languages, emphasizing declarative problem solving and automated reasoning.
  • Machine Learning: Provides a comprehensive understanding of algorithms that enable computers to learn from and make predictions on data, covering both theory and practical applications.

Glassdoor projects AI engineer salaries at $155,000 a year. AI engineers are sought at a wide breadth of companies, including consulting firms, leading retail brands, and even video game companies.

Admissions and requirements

Programs often require a bachelor’s in engineering, mathematics, or computer science for this field. In some cases, qualified applicants come from other disciplines and can take relative prerequisites to supplement their work. A standard online program requires 30 credit hours to graduate, either on a part-time or full-time schedule.

What to look for in a program

The Lyle School of Engineering is a great place to start when comparing online master’s programs that specialize in AI. The program allows students to build coursework based on their unique interests and career goals.

Similarly, the online Artificial Intelligence Graduate Certificate at Stanford University is ideal for working computer scientists looking to further specialize their skills.

Business analytics

Harnessing information science and big data are the keys to business growth. If you have a passion for business strategy, teamwork, analytics, and predictive data, a graduate program in business analytics could be your ticket to a fulfilling career.

After your online program, you could catch the eye of top companies for roles like:

  • Data Analyst: Focuses on analyzing data to extract insights, using statistical techniques and software tools. Skills include data visualization, statistical analysis, and reporting.
  • Data Engineer: Design and management of data infrastructure to support analytics. Skills include database management, data warehousing, and big data technologies.
  • DevOps Manager: Combines software development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) principles to improve collaboration and productivity. Skills include automation tools, continuous integration, and continuous delivery.
  • Market Research Analyst: Gather and interpret data about market conditions, consumer behaviors, and competitive analysis to inform business decisions. Skills include survey design, data collection methods, and market analysis techniques.
  • Predictive Analyst: Focuses on using statistical models and machine learning algorithms to make predictions based on data. Skills include predictive modeling, data mining, and algorithm development.

Business analytics managers can make an average of $138,416 a year according to Salary.com.

Admissions and requirements

In addition to an undergraduate degree, many graduate students in this field enter the program with several years of relevant work on their resumes. Between the extensive core courses and a capstone project, an online MSBA may require up to 36 credits.

What to look for in a program

Even more so than other programs, an online MSBA should fit into a busy career. Wake Forest University not only encourages this but molds its program around the student’s work setup. The final practicum project, for example, pushes students to develop a project that will directly assist their current company.

Cloud computing

By mastering cloud architecture, students learn to both protect and hone a company’s crucial data. With many companies and institutions transitioning legacy content to the cloud, this area offers plenty of opportunities.

Not only will a cloud computing master’s degree tap into your technical skills, but also your leadership, communication, and strategic strengths. Popular career paths (with salaries) include:

  • Cloud solutions architects ($127,000): Focus on designing, implementing, and managing an organization’s cloud computing architecture. They select cloud providers and technologies to craft scalable, secure cloud environments tailored to business needs.
  • Enterprise architects ($140,000): Develop a holistic view of an organization’s strategy, processes, information, and information technology assets. They ensure that the business and IT are in alignment, guiding the organization through technology changes.
  • Senior solutions architect ($142,000): Specialize in creating and integrating complex solutions across diverse environments. They lead architectural design efforts, ensuring solutions meet business requirements and integrate smoothly with existing systems and technologies.

Admissions and requirements

The University of Maryland – University College offers a well-regarded Cloud Computer Master Degree. Students complete 36 credits within five years. Quite commonly, students must also remain above a certain GPA to ensure they’re mastering the complex data.

What to look for in a program

The methodology of cloud computing changes quickly. The right programs allow students to:

  • Develop the skills to remain agile and up-to-date on this fast-changing field
  • Guide companies for today’s most significant challenges
  • Incorporate business acumen and strategy with their technical knowledge
  • Understand the most prevalent programming languages, operating systems, and cloud implementations

Computational biology

Where do medical professionals and programmers come together? Computational biology and bioinformatics leverage the power of data to save lives. Students use their computation skills to understand:

  • Evolutionary Relationships: Explores how different organisms are related and how they have evolved over time using genetic data, helping to understand the tree of life and evolutionary history.
  • Genetics: Focuses on the study of genes, genetic variation, and heredity in organisms, employing computational tools to analyze genetic sequences and understand genetic disorders and traits.
  • Molecular Biology: Deals with the molecular basis of biological activity, including the interactions between the various systems of a cell, and how these interactions are regulated.
  • Protein Structures and Functions: Investigates the 3D structure of proteins and how it relates to their function, using computational methods to predict protein structures and understand their role in diseases.

Computational biologists work with today’s top medical and research centers to understand the body and pave the way to new treatments. Salaries range from $76,000 to $127,000 as of early 2024.

Admissions and requirements

Students in this field traditionally come from a computer science background or at least have computing systems courses on their transcripts. This degree, typically requiring 30 academic credits, covers a selection of genetics, biology, and computational courses.

What to look for in a program

Computational biology is a highly specialized field, so it’s important to choose a program with specific coursework and career connections. Columbia University’s Computer Science Master’s Degree offers a focus in computational biology. Not only can you take advanced 6000-level courses, but you’re in the right place to connect with top New York hospitals.

Computer engineering

Computer science and electrical engineering come together in this popular field. This is an ideal career for students seeking a more hands-on application of their passion. Not to be confused with computer science, computer engineering offers a broad range of careers today, including pathways to jobs in:

  • Broadband Networking: Involves designing and managing high-speed communication networks that transmit large amounts of data, focusing on improving bandwidth, efficiency, and connectivity in various applications.
  • Circuitry: The creation and analysis of electronic circuits, including the design of integrated circuits (ICs) and printed circuit boards (PCBs) that form the backbone of all electronic devices.
  • Microelectronics: The study and development of small-scale electronic components and systems, such as semiconductors and microchips, which are essential for modern computing and communication devices.
  • Nanotechnology: The application of technology at the nanometer scale to develop new materials and devices with unique properties, enhancing the performance and capabilities of electronic systems.
  • Software: The design, development, and maintenance of software systems that operate and control hardware components, ensuring seamless integration and functionality within various applications.
  • Systems: The integration and management of hardware and software components to create cohesive and efficient computing systems, encompassing everything from embedded systems to large-scale computer networks.

While salaries range depending on location, a New York City position in computer engineering averages out at $105,000 according to Glassdoor.

Admissions and requirements

Computer engineering master’s programs typically require an undergraduate engineering degree with accreditation. Some top programs now offer this degree online.

What to look for in a program

The University of Southern California offers a robust online Master of Science in Computer Engineering program. The university splits coursework between three areas:

  • Computer architecture
  • Networks
  • VLSI/CAD

The USC program sits within the department of engineering, which has been around for over a century.

Cybersecurity

Whether you’re looking to work in the public or private sector, roles in cybersecurity are on the rise. These degree programs focus on securing networks and information systems against outside threats looking to steal and take advantage of private data. Many computer science courses offer specialization certificates in cybersecurity or cryptography training.

Salaries are high across the board, from software companies to special assignments in the US military. Even entry-level cybersecurity analysts make an average of $91,401.

Admissions and requirements

Many online degree programs for cybersecurity are designed to fit within a busy career or military deployment. The University of Tulsa, for example, allows its students to take up to four years—or as little as 20 months—to complete the credits.

What to look for in a program

You are more likely to find specific financial aid for veterans in this field. The University of Tulsa participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, offering full tuition coverage for their master’s programs.

Data analytics and data science

Hone the power of information and database science with an online master’s in data analytics or data science. This program focuses on areas like:

  • Applied Machine Learning: Utilizes algorithms to parse data, learn from it, and make informed decisions based on the analysis.
  • Coding Languages: Essential for data manipulation and analysis, including languages like Python, R, and SQL, tailored for statistical analysis and data visualization.
  • Data Visualization: The representation of data in a graphical format to communicate information clearly and efficiently through charts, graphs, and maps.
  • Predictive Modeling: Uses statistical techniques to predict future outcomes based on historical data, aiding in decision-making processes.
  • Statistical Methods: Fundamental to understanding data distributions, variability, and testing hypotheses, crucial for making data-driven decisions.

Everyone from social media companies to insurance providers requires data analysts to understand their business. Database administrators, according to the BLS, make a median of $112,120 a year.

Admissions and requirements

Data science programs typically require a related undergraduate degree with above a 3.0 GPA. Students must complete approximately 30 credit hours throughout one-and-a-half to two years.

What to look for in a program

Look for a data science program with specialization throughout its electives. The Steven’s Data Science program, for example, offers advanced courses in database management, deep learning, and statistical methods.

If you’re looking to take an analytics pathway, Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Analytics is worth considering.

Information technology

Information technology focuses on maintaining and supporting computer systems and networks, as opposed to looking for new ways to develop them. A master’s degree can help IT professionals unlock higher salaries in this field. Depending on where you work, information technology salaries tend to break into the six-figure ranges after getting an advanced degree.

Admissions and requirements

IT master’s programs traditionally range between 30 and 33 credit hours. Admissions officers will look for either relevant work experience or undergraduate coursework, but the former is more common.

What to look for in a program

If you’re considering pursuing this degree online, look for a program that offers both scheduling flexibility and optimum individual attention. The Master of Information Systems and Technology Online at the Claremont Graduate University stresses real-time problem-solving in small virtual seminars within a flexible academic calendar. Students explore databases, software development, networking, data analytics and visualization, design, and business strategy.

Network engineering

Telecommunication is at the heart of a network engineering career. Network engineers understand the hardware, systems, and electromagnetic waves that keep our world connected.

Network engineers make up to $102,000, depending on their level of education and location. High demand for these roles will likely continue as networking constantly changes and grows.

Admissions and requirements

Many network engineering graduate programs require a bachelor’s in one of the related sciences for consideration. Related studies like business also pair well with appropriate real-world experience.

What to look for in a program

Troubleshooting new networking systems makes up a large portion of this field. Lab opportunities to work with today’s top programs are critical. The Lyle School of Engineering at SMU allows faculty members to shape courses around the most relevant tech of the day.

Social technologies

Students passionate about the social sciences may be drawn to this unique graduate concentration. Graduate students dive into how computers and networks affect the social, ethical, and political landscape we know today. Top career paths include:

  • Communication Directors: Oversee communication strategies, manage public relations, and ensure consistent messaging across all media platforms to support an organization’s goals.
  • Data Journalists: Combine journalism with data analysis to uncover and tell stories hidden within data, often using visualizations to convey complex information.
  • Intelligence Analysts: Analyze data from various sources to identify trends, forecast developments, and provide actionable insights, often for security, defense, or policy-making purposes.
  • Marketing Professionals: Leverage social technologies to analyze market trends, engage with audiences, and develop digital campaigns that promote brands and drive sales.
  • Policy Analysts: Use data analysis to evaluate the effects of policies, propose recommendations, and inform stakeholders and policymakers about social issues.

Many students also go on to doctoral programs in this unique field, elevating them to roles like Chief Information Officers, who can make an average of $328,000 a year.

Admissions and requirements

In many cases, students from a wider variety of backgrounds are welcome to apply to social technology programs. Arizona State University’s program, for example, focuses more on the prospective student’s statement of purpose and reason for taking this path.

What to look for in a program

This unique course of study should perfectly balance the data and computer science-based curriculum with the social sciences. The school should also be able to provide the post-graduate career outcomes of its past classes. At ASU, 80 percent of its program’s graduates went on to new career opportunities.

Software engineering

One of the oldest fields on this list, students can now study software engineering from many directions—not only the technical aspects but the social and behavioral aspects as well. Earning an advanced degree puts software developers on track for managerial roles in both in the private and public sector, such as:

  • Applications Developer: Specializes in creating software applications for desktops, mobile devices, or specific operating systems, focusing on user interface and experience.
  • Computer Network Architect: Designs, builds, and maintains data communication networks, including local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and intranets.
  • Database Manager: Oversees the development, maintenance, and protection of databases to ensure data integrity, security, and availability for users and applications.
  • Game Developer: Focuses on creating video games, encompassing areas such as programming, graphics design, sound design, and game testing.
  • Software Engineering Manager: Leads and coordinates software development projects, managing teams of software engineers, and ensuring project goals are met within timelines and budgets.

A software engineering manager in 2024 makes an average of $184,315 a year.

Admissions and requirements

Students should enter a software engineering master’s program with at least four years of related study. Those lacking a mathematics background or relevant work in the field may need to take prerequisites before starting.

What to look for in a program

Software developers move quickly in their careers, so an efficient program is important to stay ahead. Drexel University’s online MS in Software Engineering allows students to break up the extension course load into shorter timeframes for faster graduation.

The program also offers a range of specialized electives—like security engineering and software economics—as well as both a thesis option or independent study.

Systems engineering

This complex field combines engineering and management. Systems engineers anticipate human technology needs by building products that simplify our world. They look at the big picture and lead companies to elegant solutions.

Professional work in a wide range of industries, including the medical, technical, and financial fields. According to a survey by Salary.com, systems engineers with advanced degrees earn between $150,417 and $158,760 a year, far higher than those without one.

Admissions and requirements

Most online programs require approximately 30 credit hours in a range of managerial, technical, and business topics. Applicants should have a background in software engineering, computer engineering, or relevant field experience.

What to look for in a program

Arizona State’s Master in Systems Engineering stands out for a few reasons. Based in its college of engineering, the program provides remote students access to highly respected and connected professors. The university hosts some of the top-rated engineering programs in the country.

Which computer science master’s is right for me?

Choice overload can be daunting, but here’s some good news about the number of computer science graduate degrees: each pathway is tailored to different types of learners and career experiences.

Career path

For example, you can start by thinking about what your day-to-day life might look like after graduation. Would you prefer to work with a team, strategizing how to use data structures and cloud computing? Or is solitary project-based work more for you, tackling the tech behind robotics and AI?

You may even be interested in taking your education further by obtaining a PhD in one of these areas. Take a look at the next ten years of your career and the expected path of graduates with similar degrees.

Learning style

An online degree program engages students with different teaching tactics. Consider whether you’re looking for more hands-on project options or lecture- and reading-based courses. Luckily, an MS degree in computer science is often more practical to complete at home than other topics.

Thesis track vs. non-thesis option

A graduate program is often broken into its coursework and final practicum project. Determine whether a final research item or presentation is necessary for your career goals. In some cases, hands-on project work in tandem with your current company, whenever it makes sense, is a stronger way to move forward than a traditional thesis.

No matter which path you choose, lucrative opportunities await. Computer science will only continue to expand in the next decade. Today’s master’s programs help you lead the way in a thrilling and ever-changing field.

(Updated on February 9, 2024)

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Computer Science Programs You Should Consider

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