Despite highly publicized layoffs in Silicon Valley in early 2023, computer science remains one of America's best educational bets for a stable, lucrative career. If you have a head for math and problem solving, this profession promises intellectual challenges and financial rewards.
The computer and IT job market should grow 15 percent in the next decade, much faster than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That growth will translate to nearly three quarters of a million new jobs. The reasons for this are clear. "Computing is making a tremendous impact on society and has become an indispensable – if not central – part of society," Ljubomir Perkovic, a professor in DePaul University's School of Computing, told Fortune magazine.
So, is a master's in computer science worth it? You can probably guess our answer from this intro, but read on all the same while we discuss:
Ready for a deep dive into the world of Python, threat management, and cognitive simulation? When you earn a master's degree in computer science, you're likely to study all of that and more. Common subjects include:
Let's zoom in to look on some sample courses. The MS in computer science program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland offers:
At Tulane University in New Orleans, courses include:
Most programs require a bachelor of science degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a similar discipline–or proven familiarity with programming languages, at least. Prerequisite undergrad courses may include:
"If you want to start from scratch, I recommend you take the time that is necessary to understand the foundations," says Cristian Rennella, CEO and cofounder of elMejorTrato. "Take your time, because being disciplined, methodical and patient become the most important skills in computer science."
The application process typically requires:
Most schools offer a two-year master's program in computer science; the process may take longer for part-time students. Some schools offer programs that can be completed in less than two years, such as Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. The average completion time at Tulane is 20 to 28 months for full-time students. The university recommends a pace of 28 to 36 months for part-time students.
Getting a master's in computer science takes a lot of time, effort and concentration. Newcomers may have to push past daunting challenges to make it across the finish line. Some drop out along the way. "Beginning students are often challenged with imposter syndrome," says Meg Barry of Northeastern University, head of Align, a program for people earning a master's in computer science without a technical background. "We work with them on maintaining their confidence because it might not be easy to develop these skills right off the bat."
Students may have to learn a new programming language from scratch. Programming and labs may add an additional 10 to 20 hours a week to classroom and study time. Colorado State University Global cites several challenges toward earning a master's degree. Computer science:
The good news: that need for creativity means companies often welcome problem solvers with diverse backgrounds. And the work usually gets easier and more intuitive once students have mastered a programming language, taken four or five classes, and completed some projects.
Costs vary by program and region, of course, and depend in part on whether you attend a public or private university. "Per-credit costs for an online computer science degree typically range from $500 to $2000," U.S. News and World Report said in 2021. "Students should expect to pay between $15,000 and $72,000 in total tuition."
Here are some sample tuition costs, which don't include other fees such as application, enrollment, and transcripts:
Few people pay full price up front for higher ed. You may be able to offset or delay some of the costs with financial aid, scholarships, grants, fellowships, employer contributions, loans, or benefits for past or present members of the military.
A master's in computer science can open countless doors from coast to coast. Jobs are plentiful around the country in a wide variety of industries, from healthcare to finance, entertainment to manufacturing. Potential positions include:
An MS in computer science will expand your knowledge and can help you advance your career, opening doors to management and leadership roles and increasing your earning potential. But earning the degree requires a significant investment of time and money.
People in the field offered mixed opinions about the value of a master's in computer science in a Reddit thread.
"Typically the additional income from a master's degree over a lifetime is worth the sticker price you pay for it," Rocket717 writes. "In computer science, this is a little muddy because a lot of jobs offer very competitive salaries to new grads right off the bat."
DonaldPShimoda recommends a master's in computer science only under certain circumstances (accelerated programs or ones paid for by an employer) and for certain people (foreigners hoping to break into the American tech sector, someone aspiring to earn a Ph.D.).
"I value education a lot, so naturally I went for an MS when I had the opportunity," he concluded. "That's not the right call for everyone, but it worked out for me!"
A professor of computer science at Columbia University in New York City offered a glowing report about the prospects in his field to U.S. News and World Report.
"It's a golden age right now for computer science, and we're very fortunate in this field," Salvatore Stolfo says. "For people who study computer science in their education, it's a great, great time, and essentially the sky is the limit."
Online degree programs often offer more flexibility. They may include accelerated options that allow students to earn a degree in less than two years. It may be easier to keep your current job while pursuing a master's in computer science online.
But online programs also have disadvantages, ZDNet reports: "Distance learners can be a disadvantage when it comes to personal attention and building relationships among peers and instructors. Resources may be limited for online learners, as well."
As for cost, online programs may offer some savings, but the difference between an online and in-person program is seldom dramatic.
"Online programs are rarely cheaper than those delivered on-campus – particularly at top-ranked institutions that create hands-on, high-engagement online courses based on or identical to those in the on-campus MSCS curriculum," according to Tufts. "Providing that level of quality course content online can cost more because online programs require large, capable support staff to ensure everything runs smoothly and that troubleshooting, when necessary, is quick and effective."
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