A part-time Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) degree program offers numerous benefits. True, it also poses some challenges: MSCS graduate programs are rigorous and demanding, with coursework and projects that can consume a considerable chunk of your time. Add a full-time job to the mix and you’ve got the formula for a jam-packed schedule.
Still, that doesn’t dissuade nearly 50,000 students from pursuing master’s degrees in the computer sciences each year. For a relatively modest outlay—an online degree from Tufts University, for example, costs less than $60,000—students can find themselves earning six-figure salaries after graduating: according to PayScale, the average base salary for MSCS holders is $106,000.
Many of those students attend part-time while continuing to work at full-time jobs. The rapid growth of online graduate study has made it easier than ever for professionals to add graduate study to their itineraries. How does one survive a part-time master’s in computer science while working full-time? This article covers that as well as discussing:
A master’s in computer science delivers foundational knowledge alongside state-of-the-technology research and theory in computer language theory, software development, advanced algorithms, computer engineering, information technology, and more.
Computer science programs offer numerous opportunities to concentrate on your area of interest through electives. Most programs offer only a limited number of specializations, so you’ll want to research prospective programs before applying to ensure they cover the areas that interest you most. Specializations include:
What you study in your MSCS program depends on your previous education and career focus. Some CS master’s programs waive basic courses for students who have completed similar coursework during their undergraduate studies. Additional courses depend on your concentration and post-graduate goals. Be prepared to complete a master’s thesis or a capstone project to complete your graduate degree. Degree requirements vary by program.
Many students who pursue a master’s in computer science have already spent several years in the workforce. These students often opt for a professional master’s degree program that is designed for students who are current professionals in the field.
Several strategies can help you manage the time and workload challenges completing of a part-time computer science master’s program while working full-time.
Effective time management is essential since you will balance full-time work with part-time courses. You have to plan the semester in a way to complete all assignments while also accommodating unexpected challenges at work.
Mark out all important dates on a calendar right at the beginning of the semester. This should include all exams, assignment deadlines, and other class requirements. You can then note any scheduling conflicts and resolve them in advance. Also, be sure to set reminders for approaching deadlines. Finally, prioritize your tasks at the beginning of every week, and keep updating your to-do lists in line with these priorities.
A unique benefit of completing your degree while working full-time is the opportunity to integrate your professional career with your academic life. You can apply theory from the classroom in your work or bring your experiences from work into class discussions. You can leverage your learning from work and personal experiences to steer your research. Or, you can develop work-related projects for academic assignments, saving you time.
Further, you can even apply your learning from the classroom at work. This will allow you to better understand theoretical concepts and improve the quality of your work. You will be a more accomplished student and a better professional. The fundamental principle is to breach the barrier between the professional and academic and make sure they overlap to the extent possible.
A great way to get accustomed to teamwork and collaborative projects during your master’s is to create study groups and delegate work. These skills will take you a long way in the industry, so why not get a leg up by sharpening them in an academic setting?
Build a rapport with your fellow students, form support groups, and help each other out where possible. Put together a study group (either virtually or in-person) where you can clear doubts and share tips. This will enhance your learning experience as you collaborate with people with varied interests.
Going back to school after a few years of being in the workforce can be tough, especially in a field like computer science. It will take you some time to settle into the flow of academic work. For this reason, budgeting additional time for school at the beginning of the semester could prove invaluable. This will allow you to get you into the rhythm of assignments, making you more efficient in the long run. Be ambitious about your goals, but accept that switching between work and school may mean that everything takes more time.
Your motivation will ebb and flow throughout the semester. There will be days that it feels like the work is never-ending and you aren’t going anywhere. In times like these, the best way to motivate yourself is to look forward to small wins and reward yourself for achieving them. Plan that weekend getaway you’ve been talking about or make a reservation at the fancy restaurant you’ve been eyeing.
Celebrating small wins will keep you constantly motivated. It helps avoid burnout or feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, planning downtime gives you something to look forward to at the end of a grueling day or week, providing the motivation you need to continue.
By now, you have probably realized that a part-time MSCS brings with it a fair few sacrifices. You may have less time to spend with friends and family and little free time during the day. You’ll also not be able to attend every event you hoped to.
The best advice in this scenario is to accept that you will miss out on some moments but remember that it will all be worth it in the long run. If you come to terms with this reality, you will have more time to focus on work and school.
Just because you have a busy schedule doesn’t mean you can’t take breaks. Research suggests that microbreaks help tired employees engage with their work better. These can be short breaks built into the day (going for a walk, taking a nap) or the week (taking a day/evening off). This will increase your productivity at work and performance in school.
Enrolling in an online degree is a great way to juggle work and education. Such programs also help save time, which is crucial when you have multiple things going on. Everyday activities like commuting to class add up and give you less time to complete the more important tasks such as studying and working. These programs are also beneficial as they offer course content asynchronously. This means that you can learn on your schedule, and it allows you the flexibility we discussed earlier. So if you are considering signing up, we recommend these online programs:
Given the demanding nature of a part-time MSCS, many students prefer to pursue the more convenient online option. This way, you can study at your university of choice without upending your life and relocating.
There are virtually no downsides to completing your degree online. Most companies don’t discriminate based on whether your degree was earned online or on-campus. That makes sense, since in most instances the course content, rigor, and quality are in most cases identical.
Some employers may even view it as an asset. Since the actual course is just as challenging, the ability to earn a degree while working full-time demonstrates skills and maturity that a traditional graduate may lack. An online degree requires superior time-management skills, additional dedication, and refined organizational skills. It is the perfect way to show employers that you are serious about advancing your career to the next level.
The bottom line is that it will be difficult, but it will be a challenge worth taking on. The potential pay bump that the degree earns you is an excellent return on investment, not to mention the invaluable networking opportunities in your field.
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