How Much Does a Master's in Computer Science Cost?
May 25, 2022
Getting a master's in computer science from a top school can cost over $100,000, but you don't need to pay that much. Learn how to reduce your degree's cost so you can launch an information technology career without accumulating a pile of debt.
Computer science degrees are among the most sought-after credentials in STEM, with computing comprising 67 percent of new job opportunities in the area. Even so, computer science bachelor's degrees made up only 11 percent of conferred STEM undergraduate degrees in 2018; only six percent of STEM master's degrees were in computer and information sciences. Meanwhile, upper-level positions in computer science go unfilled.
A master's in computer science can prepare you for many well-paying jobs in software development, computer architecture, and many other fields. However, top master's programs can cost over $100,000 to complete. Is a master's degree worth its cost? In an area where having a bachelor's degree may be all you need to earn a high salary, is spending that much money (and time) on graduate school worthwhile?
Only you can decide whether a master's in computer science fits your career goals. Know, however, that there are several ways to avoid paying six figures before you start earning one. Scholarship opportunities, work-study programs, and employer reimbursement are just a few ways to cut the cost of your master's degree without missing out on great learning opportunities.
So, how much does a master's in computer science cost? We'll answer that question and more:
- What is a master's in computer science? And how do programs differ?
- What do you learn in a master's in computer science program?
- Where can you complete a master's in computer science?
- How much does a master's in computer science cost?
- Are there ways to reduce the cost of a computer science master's?
- What should you be willing to pay for a master's in computer science?
What is a master's in computer science? And how do programs differ?
The Master of Science in Computer Science is a postgraduate degree designed to further graduates' careers in computer science research and management. Full-time students typically complete the degree in two years; a part-time master's in computer science may take up to five years. In terms of actual coursework, that translates to between 30 and 45 credit hours.
Many computer science degree programs are designed for students who have already accrued a few years of work experience—it's a requirement for some, in fact. These students generally use a master's program to specialize in an area such as artificial intelligence, software engineering, programming, or data science.
If you don't have a tech background and hope to transition careers, you also have options. Columbia University, for example, offers a bridge program consisting of introductory courses (over the summer) and foundation courses (two semesters). These courses teach what you would have learned as a computer science undergraduate; once you've completed them, you'll be prepared to enter the school's three-semester Master of Science in Computer Science program.
Finally, some schools cater to bachelor's degree students who are looking to knock out all their schooling in one go through a 4+1 program. Accepted undergrads can complete their bachelor's and a one-year master's degree program in five years. Carnegie Mellon University offers this option, which it limits to high-achieving undergraduates in the School of Computer Science.
What do you learn in a master's in computer science program?
This depends on the program you choose and your previous experience. For instance, Columbia's bridge program includes courses on computer programming languages, data structures, and computer systems fundamentals—subjects that programs designed for experienced professionals may avoid.
You can generally expect to see coursework in:
- Advanced algorithms
- Computer architecture
- Computer graphics
- Database organization
- Modeling and simulation
- Operating system principles
- Computer information systems
What you learn will also depend on your chosen focus—if you're not just attending a general computer science degree program. Potential specializations or concentrations include:
- Big data
- Computational perception and robotics
- Computer graphics
- Computer systems
- Cyber security
- Game development
- Human-centered computing
- Interactive intelligence
- Machine learning
- Mobile computing
- Social computing
- Visual analytics
Your chosen concentration can have a huge impact on the courses that you take. The Georgia Institute of Technology - Main Campus concentration in machine learning looks a lot different from its computational perception and robotics specialization. However, there is also some overlap. For instance, both include core courses on machine learning and algorithms and an elective called Machine Learning for Robotics.
From there, the two curricula diverge. The robotics track includes courses on artificial intelligence, while machine learning delves into behavioral imaging. Specialization courses take up 15 of the Georgia Tech program's required 30 credit hours.
Where can you complete a master's in computer science?
You'll have a few options to complete a graduate degree in computer science—including online programs. Online degree programs are similar in content to traditional programs; if a school offers both options, they will likely include the same (or very similar) coursework.
Earning a master's in computer science from a top school generally gives graduates a considerable leg up on their peers, as with pretty much any subject. US News & World Reports school rankings of top master's in computer science programs, which includes a mix of private and public universities, is a great way to start your search.
Schools with top master's in computer science programs include:
- California Institute of Technology
- Carnegie Mellon University
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Georgia Institute of Technology
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Princeton University
- Stanford University
- University of California - Berkeley
- University of California - Los Angeles
- University of California - San Diego
- University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign
- University of Maryland - College Park
- University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
- University of Pennsylvania
- The University of Texas at Austin
- University of Washington - Seattle Campus
- University of Wisconsin - Madison
How much does a master's in computer science cost?
The tuition rate for a master's in computer science varies depending on the program you attend. According to US News and World Report, the per-credit tuition for an online master's in computer science is anywhere from $500 to $2,000, which translates to a total tuition of between $15,000 and $72,000. The average cost of tuition for an in-person master's program is usually the same as its online counterpart—at the same institution.
Tuition is just one part of the total cost of a master's program. You'll also need to deal with fees—for online programs too. You may also be required to buy health insurance through the school.
Some degree programs, especially at renowned private institutions, can end up costing as much as a very, very nice car. Princeton students pay $56,470 in annual tuition, and $32,125 for 12 months of on-campus housing (or $26,771 for ten months of housing). For a two-year program, costs can rocket to well over $100,000 for a program—not including any financial aid or scholarships.
Public schools sometimes offer a discount to in-state students. The University of Wisconsin – Madison program charges residents a tuition of $12,200 per year, as opposed to $25,526 for out-of-state and international students. Factoring in expenses like meals, transportation, and housing, the total cost for the 2020-21 academic year comes to $40,856 for a resident.
There are also affordable online master's programs. For instance, the UT Austin program costs around $10,000 in total. This is not only appealing from a money saving standpoint, but the program also claims to be flexible enough to allow students to work while they're in school, so you'll likely be able to avoid taking out loans.
Are there ways to reduce the cost of a computer science master's?
Graduate students are not known for being the wealthiest bunch, but there are more ways to cut the cost of your higher education than eating only Cup O'Noodles every meal for two years.
Some graduate schools offer scholarship or grant opportunities to incoming students—just as they do for undergraduate degree programs. Others, like Carnegie Mellon, do not offer any kind of financial assistance.
Berkeley considers every student who applies for a merit-based scholarship that covers between 30 and 50 percent of the program's cost, leading to huge savings. Those with a financial need can also apply for a grant.
Many schools also honor outside scholarships. Most of these scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit. A few include:
There are also several scholarships and benefits available specifically to veterans looking to go back to school.
Finally, your current employer may offer to pay for part or all of a graduate degree. Usually, this comes with some stipulations—either paying back part of the degree or agreeing to stay with the company for a specified time. You can also take on a teaching or research position at your school—though these opportunities may be reserved for PhD students.
What should you be willing to pay for a master's in computer science?
This is a complicated question involving many factors. Much depends on what you expect to earn after graduation. This sounds like an impossible thing to know going into a program (and technically it is), but you can get an idea.
The average salary for someone with a Master of Science in Computer Science is right around $102,000, according to PayScale. Those who attend top programs might earn even more. The average starting salary for a graduate from the UC Berkeley College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 2018 was between $110,000 and $119,000—a number that typically increases with experience. 2017 bachelor's degree graduates from the school earned over $108,000—not too shabby, either.
The tech world is filled with many qualified self-taught or minimally educated professionals. One of the best uses for a graduate degree in a subject like computer science is to hone in on a niche or prepare yourself for an upper-level management position. Merely having a graduate degree—even from a top school—may not guarantee a higher salary. To advance your career, you will need work experience, which means excelling at your current role and having the right skills to level up.
Still, knowing that graduates from top programs enjoy higher salary and career potential, you might be willing to spring for a better, less-affordable master's program if it's from a world-renowned school.
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