Computer Science

How to Get Into a Computer Science Master’s Program

How to Get Into a Computer Science Master’s Program
Full-time computer science students typically complete an MSCS in about two years. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella June 17, 2020

Before you can leverage a master's in computer science into a six-figure career, you need to get admitted to a program. Here's how.

Computer Science Programs You Should Consider

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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:

  • What is a computer science master’s program?
  • What are the best computer science master’s programs?
  • How do you get into a computer science master’s program?
  • How much does a computer science master’s program cost?
  • What jobs can you get with a master’s in computer science?

What is a computer science master’s program?

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.

Completing a master’s in computer science can prepare you for a high-paying technical job such as computer network architect or software developer, or for a managerial position in tech.

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:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Cloud computing
  • Computer architecture
  • Computer language theory
  • Cyber security
  • Database organization
  • Data science
  • Machine learning
  • Modeling
  • Operating system principles
  • Software engineering

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What are the best computer science master’s programs?

Top master’s in computer science programs include:

How do you get into a computer science master’s program?

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.

How much does a computer science master’s program cost?

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.

What jobs can you get with a master’s in computer science?

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:

  • Software developer: The pay is great ($105,590 median income) and you will work to create usable software for all kinds of professionals. Some developers have only bachelor’s degrees, but a master’s might be required for career advancement in software development, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Computer and information systems manager: An advanced career for those who can oversee an organization’s computing department. The median pay, which is $146,360, is pretty sweet, too.
  • Computer and information research scientist: You’ll be in charge of creating and developing ways to use computer technology—new and old. The median pay is $122,840.
  • Solutions architect: These professionals design software—often for mass use. Their average annual salary is $124,099, according to PayScale.
  • Director of engineering: Be in charge of an entire staff to make sure things get done properly and on time. The average salary is $143,210.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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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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