The number of Americans who earn a master’s degree each year has more than tripled since the early 1970s, according to Statistica. Vox magazine notes that it’s just as common to complete a master’s degree program today as it was to complete a bachelor’s in the 1960s.
The Department of Education reports that US institutions confer more than 40,000 computer and information science master’s degrees every year, making it the fifth-most popular graduate discipline (after business, education, health, and engineering). Northeastern University adds that a computer science master’s is among the highest-paying advanced degrees.
Add it all up, and you’ll see that earning a master’s in computer science isn’t just for the geekiest geeks; it’s a popular degree that can lead to a high-paying job. Before you can earn one, however, you’ll need to be admitted to a program.
So, how do you get into a computer science master’s program? This article discusses that by addressing these questions:
Stanford University describes the Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science as a “terminal professional degree,” which essentially means that it’s the highest level of education you need to work in the field.
That doesn’t mean it’s the highest level of education available—that would be a PhD. PhD programs in computer science, however, are typically targeted to people who want to become researchers or professors. Some PhDs find work outside the hallowed halls of academia, but the jobs they take often require nothing more than a master’s.
Full-time computer science students typically complete an MSCS in about two years. Part-timers generally complete their education in anywhere from three to five years. The degree is available in a traditional on-campus format, online, or in a hybrid format that combines distance learning and online instruction. The MSCS from Tufts University, for example, can be completed full- or part-time, either online or in person.
Computer science graduate programs often include coursework in topics like:
“Typically the additional income from a master’s degree over a lifetime is worth the sticker price you pay for it.” (
A master’s in computer science can open countless doors from coast to coast. It will expand your knowledge and can help you advance your career, opening doors to management and leadership roles and increasing your earning potential. Jobs are plentiful around the country in a wide variety of industries, from healthcare to finance, entertainment to manufacturing.
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Top master’s in computer science programs include:
The application process differs among schools, but most MS in Computer Science programs are designed for current professionals. That means you’ll likely have an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related subject, such as mathematics.
Many schools put a high premium on work experience and technical background—they expect you to be familiar with programming languages, computer systems, and data structures. Carnegie Mellon’s MSCS program “cater[s] to students with basic analytic skills and a strong aptitude for mathematics, programming, and logical reasoning.” Translation: “You don’t need a bachelor’s degree in computer science specifically for the program, but a technical undergraduate background will set you up for success.”
Similarly, Washington University in St Louis‘s Professional Master’s Program (PMP) in computer science “is designed for fully-employed professionals who are interested in continuing on their career paths while acquiring critical skills to move them into positions and projects of greater responsibility and impact.” The program is part-time, with classes held in the evening for the convenience of working professionals.
Another top program, at Georgia Tech, seeks applicants with “a strong undergraduate background in computer science, including C programming.” Tech—and most other top programs—also insists on candidates with great letters of recommendation, personal essays, test scores (meaning the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for international students), and a high undergraduate GPA.
Most programs require students to submit a resume, a statement of purpose explaining their reason for pursuing a master’s at their institution, and letters of recommendation from employers and/or faculty members at previous institutions.
According to US News & World Report, earning a Master of Science in Computer Science online can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $72,000, which comes out to between $500 and $2,000 per credit for a 30- to 36-credit graduate degree.
Some employers will offer to help (or entirely) cover costs for a graduate-level degree. You will likely have to commit to remaining with that employer for a fixed amount of time after earning your degree in return for this support.
Tuitions are predictably higher at private institutions. The University of Chicago, for one, charges $6,154 per course. Public schools tend to be more affordable. The University of California – Los Angeles charges Californians $17,272 per year and nonresidents $32,374 for a computer science master’s. That comes out to just under $4,000 per course for California residents.
Remember, there are many reasons to complete a computer science degree. Most do it because they feel that it will somehow advance their career. The rest are probably independently wealthy and need a way to kill time.
Some of the top jobs for those with a master’s in computer science include:
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