Computer Science

Why Some Online Master’s in Comp Sci Programs Require No GRE to Apply

Why Some Online Master’s in Comp Sci Programs Require No GRE to Apply
There are many reasons someone might choose not to take the GRE, even if they want to go to grad school. Cost can be a factor in that decision. Taking the GRE costs more than $200, and test prep materials aren't cheap. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry July 30, 2020

Your GRE scores won't get you into a computer science master's program, but they might keep you out. If you don't have the numbers to get into a top MSCS program, these no-GRE programs will give you a chance.

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Half a million people take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) each year, hoping to land a spot in a top graduate school. It’s a marathon four-hour test of critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. Most technical master’s degree programs require applicants to submit scores.

There are some, however—including on-campus and online master’s in computer science programs—that don’t require applicants to include scores with their applications. Others have made the GRE optional.

Know right off the bat that the list of the best online master’s in computer science programs that don’t require GRE scores is relatively short. Opting not to take the GRE means you’ll have fewer degree programs to choose from, and none of them will be at the top computer science schools.

That said, you don’t need a master’s in computer science from a top school to become a senior software engineer, work in robotics, or become a data scientist. If you have reservations about taking the GRE, or your scores aren’t high enough to get into a high-profile online comp sci program like the one at Tufts University, you can still get this degree.

In this article about online master’s in computer science programs that require no GRE, we cover:

  • What is the GRE, and why do some students choose not to take it?
  • Why do so many computer science master’s programs ask applicants for GRE scores?
  • How do online programs that require GRE scores differ from those that don’t?
  • Where can I find the best online no-GRE required master’s in computer science programs?
  • What else do these programs have in common?
  • How can I get a GRE waiver if I want to enroll in a program that asks for scores?
  • Should I just bite the bullet and take (or retake) the GRE?

What is the GRE, and why do some students choose not to take it?

The GRE is a standardized test similar to the SAT or ACT, which most people take in high school before applying to undergraduate degree programs. It’s tougher than those exams, but not just because the problems are more difficult or because they’re designed for graduate-level applicants. The math problems on the GRE are, in fact, actually simpler than those on the SAT and ACT. What makes this exam more challenging is that problems require higher-level reasoning, employ trickier wording, and test higher-level vocabulary.

The test is divided into three sections: Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. There’s also a fourth un-scored (and sometimes unmarked) experimental section, which consists of either quantitative or verbal questions. Analytical Writing always comes first, and if a given test happens to have a research section, that will always appear at the end. The verbal and quant sections, of which there are two each, can appear in any order.

There are many reasons someone might choose not to take the GRE, even if they want to go to grad school. Cost can be a factor in that decision. Taking the GRE costs more than $200, and test prep materials aren’t cheap. Some people have objections to the test itself because studies have shown it isn’t really a useful indicator of future real-world performance in graduate school. Some people object to reported gender and racial bias in the exam’s structure and scoring.

And finally, some people are just not good at taking standardized tests. They’re the ones who agonize over it for weeks and then spend the morning of the exam suffering acute anxiety. No matter how much they prepare, there’s a good chance that their nerves will prevent a good score.

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Why do so many computer science master’s programs ask applicants for GRE scores?

That’s a good question. There is not a single blessed question on the GRE that has anything to do with computer science. Why should it present a barrier to your admission?

The stated purpose of the GRE is to measure students’ abilities to do graduate coursework independently. Even the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which created the test, acknowledges that it’s not perfect. “The limitations of graduate school admissions tests in the face of the complexity of the graduate education process have long been recognized,” the organization wrote in a report. Scores tend to correlate with socioeconomic status, race, and gender in a problematic way, underpredicting student achievement in minority and female students.

That said, the importance of GRE scores is determined by individual schools—or even specific departments, which often set their own admissions criteria. Online Master of Science in Computer Science, Master of Computer Science, or other related computer science degree programs focused on information systems, machine learning, data science, or artificial intelligence may use GRE scores as a first-round filter. No GRE? That’s an automatic rejection. Low quant scores? That’s an automatic rejection. Once an applicant has met a minimum threshold score—often 320—they’ll continue into the next review round. At this point, the rest of an applicant’s profile (and how much they know about subjects like software systems, computer architecture, and database management) is usually much more important than how they did on the GRE.

How do online programs that require GRE scores differ from those that don’t?

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that online MSCS programs with no GRE requirements aren’t as selective as those that do ask applicants for scores. In some cases, these programs are more selective and have more stringent requirements related to minimum undergraduate GPA, work experience, letters of recommendation, and other criteria. In general, however, online MSCS programs that don’t require applicants to submit GRE scores have prerequisite standards and admission requirements that are similar to those that require the GRE.

In short, the GRE is a first hurdle to clear. Once you clear it, it becomes relatively unimportant (exception: schools may use GRE scores as a tie-breaker to award that final seat in the class or that final scholarship).

Where can I find the best online no-GRE required master’s in computer science programs?

The list of highly regarded online master’s in computer science programs that don’t require applicants to submit GRE scores is fairly short, a compelling argument for taking the test. The best MSCS programs without GRE requirements can be found at:

Why so few? While there has been a trend in the sciences toward making GRE scores optional, that trend hasn’t extended to computer science. Only about eight percent of top-ranked research universities have dropped their GRE requirements. If you want to study computer science online, full-time or part-time, at a school like Johns Hopkins University or Stanford University you’ll almost certainly have to take the GRE and submit your test scores.

What else do these programs have in common?

Other than the fact that they’re all focused on computer science, are delivered online, and accept applications without GRE scores, not much. Some Master of Science in Computer Science programs require applicants to have years of professional experience in tech and advanced programming skills. Others are open to applicants coming from other disciplines. Some last just a year, and some last two years or even three. Some offer graduate students a chance to choose specializations like game development, Big Data, cloud computing, cybersecurity, or information security, while others don’t.

Some are more focused on software engineering, while others devote more core course hours to information technology management. The only way to know what core coursework and concentration coursework a given program requires you to complete is to read degree descriptions carefully. Don’t forget to dig into the experiential learning requirements of each program you consider. Most computer science graduate programs include an internship, thesis, capstone course, co-op project, or practicum component. Be sure that the online degree program you choose supports your career goals.

How can I get a GRE waiver if I want to enroll in a program that asks for scores?

At some colleges and universities, you can’t. Drexel University, which has one of the top online master’s in computer science programs, states point blank in its graduate admissions guidelines that GRE scores are required for all applicants to the school’s computer science master’s program, with no waiver option available.

There are schools, however, that do make GRE waivers available to eligible MSCS applicants. In this case, eligibility typically hinges on prior graduate work, notable professional experience, or meeting a high minimum GPA. Sometimes waivers are only granted to students who meet all three criteria. When applying for online computer science master’s programs, read the fine print carefully to be sure you meet the eligibility requirements. Be aware that merely meeting those requirements won’t guarantee you’ll receive a waiver.

Should I just bite the bullet and take (or retake) the GRE?

It’s always a good idea to keep your options open, and taking this test before applying to graduate programs is one way to do that. The GRE is the most commonly required admission test for graduate school admissions in the US. If you opt not to take it, you will be automatically shut out of certain online master’s in computer science programs.

That said, you really shouldn’t let the Graduate Record Examination become a source of stress. A lot of online comp sci master’s programs require applicants to submit GRE scores, but most of the time, your score will only be a filtering parameter. Colleges and universities use it as a rough gauge of whether applications are worth reading and whether applicants are serious about grad school. Admissions decisions are rarely if ever made based on GRE scores alone.

So, yes, you should bite the bullet and take the GRE. In the worst-case scenario, you bomb it. You can still apply to any of the above online master’s in computer science programs. In the best-case scenario, you get a respectable score, and you can apply to more or better programs. You don’t even have to ace it. As long as you meet a school’s minimum GRE score threshold, your application will be judged on the strength of your bachelor’s degree transcripts, your recommendation letters, your prior research and publication experience, your work experience, your understanding of computer systems, and your statement of purpose.

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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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