Computer Science

Which Computer Science Specialization Is Best?

Which Computer Science Specialization Is Best?
Most programs offer at least several specialization options; none offer all of the many subfields within computer science. That's why it's critical that you research your prospective programs to determine which one best fits your interests and career objectives. Image from Pexels
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Leo Maurer March 28, 2022

Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) students can choose from dozens of specializations—everything from information security to robotics. Which field is right for you?

Computer Science and Data Science Programs You Should Consider

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Computer science pervades nearly all human enterprises, from government and education to business, healthcare, and entertainment. Computer theorists, programmers, engineers, network architects, database experts, cryptographers, cybersecurity professionals, and AI specialists are all in demand, a trend that should continue into the foreseeable future.

In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects demand for computer scientists will grow at a 13 percent rate through 2030, with about 667,600 new jobs being created over that period. High demand should keep computer science salaries high; according to the BLS, average annual income for computer research scientists, network architects, and software developers already comfortably exceed $100,000.

In short, the future is bright for current and prospective computer scientists. But where to specialize? Comp sci is an unusually broad discipline offering numerous areas of expertise. How to pick the best computer science specialization for you? This article discusses that, also reviewing:

  • Master of Science in Computer Science core curriculum
  • 10 great computer science specializations
  • The best online MSCS programs

Master of Science in Computer Science core curriculum

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Master of Science in Computer Science is the entry-level degree for computer and information research scientists. Most other computer science fields are open to candidates with a bachelor’s degree, although your progress toward promotions and increased responsibility may ultimately be slowed or stymied by your lack of an advanced degree.

Zippia reports that approximately 20 percent of computer scientists hold a master’s degree; another 6 percent have a doctorate. Note that nearly one in four computer scientists is between 20 and 30 years old; some of those, at least, are in the process of earning advanced degrees. The takeaway: in the early stages of your career, not having a master’s may not matter so much, but as you advance, more and more of your competitors for top spots will hold advanced degrees and some certifications as well. Those without will be at a disadvantage.

And you should earn more with a master’s degree: reports an average base salary of $88,000 for computer scientists with a bachelor’s. In contrast, those with an MSCS earn $107,000 per year. With that pay differential, it doesn’t take long to recoup the cost of an MSCS program.

Your computer science education will consist of two categories of courses: a core curriculum, which all enrollees in your program take, and the electives that constitute your area of specialization. Most core curricula include courses in:

  • Algorithms
  • Data structures
  • Database management systems
  • Java programming
  • Operating systems
  • Mobile applications
  • Web programming

These courses are designed to introduce the key concepts required across specializations and equip you with a foundational skill set.


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10 great computer science specializations

A master’s in computer science (MSCS) is far more specialized than an undergraduate program. MSCS programs enable you to understand a specific subject area in-depth. Most programs offer at least several specialization options; none offer all of the many subfields within computer science. That’s why it’s critical that you research your prospective programs to determine which one best fits your interests and career objectives.

We’ve listed ten of the most popular computer science master’s-level specializations below.

Artificial intelligence

What was once exclusively the stuff of dreams and science fiction is now a reality. Artificial intelligence (AI) can complete tasks like data entry or responding to customer service inquiries. It can also manage administrative work, read medical scans, detect financial fraud, and identify operational inefficiencies. The real-world applications appear to be limitless.

A critical component in AI is a branch of machine learning known as deep learning. It allows computers to analyze complex data sources and then complete tasks like creating a cancer prediction program or speech recognition software. This improves accuracy and efficiency in many industries, such as healthcare and security. As a result, job prospects are bright for graduates specializing in AI. The online MSCS at SMU offers an AI specialization.

Business intelligence

Business intelligence (BI) involves extracting insights from unstructured data to inform business decisions. It includes collating and analyzing historical data, developing metrics to measure performance (past, present, and future), and direct planning.

This specialization equips you with data processing, analysis, and visualization skills. You take courses on technologies that make data easy to digest. While working with data, you also learn to incorporate machine learning to make data analysis more efficient and accurate.

All businesses benefit from streamlining processes; hiring someone with a background in BI is one way to do that. BI graduates can expect to work in all kinds of companies and industries, providing data-driven insights to inform decision making.

Cloud software development

Cloud-based systems enable users to store documents, manage big data, and host applications virtually, reducing costs and increasing flexibility. A cloud software development specialization teaches you to develop fully integrated cloud computing systems for companies from the ground up. It also enables you to manage and fine-tune these systems effectively.

The widespread need for cloud-based systems means graduates can expect to work in various industries and businesses as managers and software developers.

Data science

Data science is broadly applicable across industries and business functions: everything from analyzing historical market data to predict future outcomes of stock prices to fine tuning ecommerce recommendations algorithm.

A specialization in data science equips you with a skill set that applies to various careers, including data engineering, data analytics, and computer architecture. Expect to learn applied statistics, data mining, database management, data processing. You will also learn programming languages like Python, R, and SQL.

There are numerous master’s programs available in this field, including online programs at Stevens Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and University of Virginia.

Health informatics

This specialization occupies the intersection of medicine and engineering; it involves collecting, storing, and analyzing medical data. Health informatics develops systems and provides insights to improve the quality of healthcare. Specialists manage patients’ electronic records, analyze patient data, and identify diseases and treatment.

This specialization equips you with an understanding of the healthcare industry and necessary programming skills. Programs that offer health informatics teach courses on electronic health records, systems management, advanced health informatics, and data analysis.

Expect to find HI jobs within the healthcare industry in biomedical research, clinical care, nursing, pharmacies, or public health. The University of Pittsburgh offers an online MSHI program.

Human-computer interaction

Human-computer interaction (HCI) studies the mechanisms through which humans and computers interface. This design field incorporates psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, ergonomics, and computer science to configure computers to improve user experience (UX). Students in these programs can expect to learn data-collection, troubleshooting, visual design, and interacting with specific technologies.

HCI has essential applications in our daily lives. For instance, designing an interface for operating an ATM is based on HCI principles. Business applications include designing safety-critical systems for power plants or air traffic control towers. Job prospects include web design, UX designers, usability engineers, interface designers, and visual analysts.

Information security

Information security is growing in prominence due to the continual integration of new technologies and the emergence of cyber threats in the business technosphere. Programs that teach information technology security cover how systems work, how they are infected, and how to prevent infection. The purpose of the degree is to equip you to develop tools that prevent hackers from accessing computer systems.

Professionals with a background in IT security can expect to work as information security analysts, chief information security officers, software security engineers, and security architects.


Robotics combines computer science, engineering, and design to develop machines that do jobs humans would otherwise do. Its primary use is working in conditions unsuitable for or inhospitable to humans. Its applications include industry and medicine.

Courses in robotics teach you skills in designing technology, installing and repairing equipment, and programming. You will also learn about algorithms, robotic motion, mobile robot programming, and computer graphics. Moreover, this specialization involves elements of artistic vision and mathematical thinking.

Graduates in robotics may choose from various careers. Available jobs typically involve working as researchers, programmers, testing technicians, and automation engineers.

Programming languages

Virtually all facets of computer science require you to be well-versed in at least one programming language, whether it’s Python, R, SQL, Java, or C++. Many companies need you to use more than one, writing codes for different systems with different requirements.

Specialization in programming languages teaches you to write complex software code in the most popular languages. Experts in programming languages work for companies that need computer programmers or coding specialists. Job titles include software engineer, technician, or even an AI developer.

Software engineering

The demand for software engineers has grown as technology and software applications have become more commonplace. Engineers design, implement, and test new pieces of software in a variety of industries.

The key concepts you will learn in this specialization include algorithms, data structures, web development, software project management, and computer programming.

Software engineers work as web designers, software testers, game developers, database administrators, and app developers.

Online MSCS programs

Many top schools offer the MSCS online. Online degrees make it easier to juggle education with work and personal life. These programs provide the convenience of studying remotely and save time. They offer flexibility with asynchronous classes, enabling you to learn when and where you want. Excellent online programs include:

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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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