Master's in Computer Science Prerequisites: Everything You Need to Know
November 12, 2021
While master's in computer science programs vary, most graduate schools look for a combination of education, experience, and acumen when reviewing applicants. As for admissions requirements, they also tend to be similar.
In 1943 Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, offered this forecast: "I think there's a world market for maybe five computers." Thankfully for IBM, Watson's prediction was slightly off. In 2019 alone, the company brought in $77.1 billion selling computer hardware and software and providing hosting and consulting services ranging from mainframe computers to nanotechnology.
Watson shouldn't feel too bad. Computing and computer science are fields in which it is almost impossible to predict what will happen next. Even so, it may be safe to assume that they aren't going away anytime soon. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 12 percent through to 2028, adding about 546,200 new jobs.
While a master's degree in computer science isn't a must-have for many entry-level jobs in the field, it's worth considering for prospective career-changers looking toward technology research and development careers. For those already working in the information technology sector, a master's in computer science may provide advancement to company leadership and management roles. These programs also allow students to build the research skills needed to qualify for PhD programs in the field.
As you search for a computer science master's program, you'll find traditional and online options, learning formats that suit both full-time and part-time students, thesis and non-thesis options, and programs for students with (and without) a relevant bachelor's degree. But no matter the structure, most colleges and universities look for a combination of education, experience, and acumen when reviewing applicants. As for admissions requirements, those also tend to be similar.
Our guide to master's in computer science prerequisites covers:
- Application fee
- Bachelor's degree
- Official transcripts
- Personal statement
- Letters of recommendation
- Additional criteria
Application fees for computer science master's programs tend to hover between $50 to $100. The fee covers the cost of reviewing students' applications and making admissions decisions—and for some schools, help ensure that only students who are serious about enrolling apply. Students pay these fees out-of-pocket in most cases. They are typically nonrefundable.
However, some graduate-level programs in the field may provide applications free of charge. Others offer application fee waivers to students who meet various criteria, including those who submit before a specified application deadline. The Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science at Tufts University, for instance, forgoes collecting fees from Tufts undergraduate and graduate students, AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and City Year volunteers and alumni, and those affiliated with organizations such as Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers (IRT) and the Leadership Alliances.
Admission requirements for computer science graduate programs almost always include a bachelor's degree, usually in computer science or a related field. In addition to specific degree types, some master's programs may also require applicants to have completed undergraduate degree coursework in areas like programming, linear algebra and other forms of discrete mathematics, and computer engineering.
Other master's programs will consider applicants without academic experience in computer science. These programs may offer bridge programs or require students to complete foundation-level courses. These courses typically involve study in math, programming languages, and computer systems. You may usually complete them at any reputable community or four-year college.
Like any graduate degree program, master's in computer science programs typically require students to submit transcripts for every higher education institution attended. Schools want not only to see your grades but also confirm that you have completed prerequisite courses. Some programs may also require the syllabi of those courses to validate that they fulfill requirements.
Transcripts represent an official account of your undergraduate grade point average (GPA), which admissions committees regard as an indicator of how successfully you'll perform in graduate studies. Most computer science master's programs require applicants to have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0; more selective programs may require higher. Some schools omit GPA requirements entirely.
Applicants with low GPAs may be required to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) to supplement their application and better demonstrate their capability as graduate students. This is just one option that the MS in Computer Science at the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee offers to those with a GPA that falls below the required minimum.
The program also allows applicants to offset a low GPA by completing six or more credit hours of approved graduate or undergraduate courses with a grade of B or higher or providing evidence of professional certification or licensure in a relevant area, among other alternatives.
A strong personal statement is an essential piece of a graduate school application. It's also an excellent way for applicants to tell their stories and demonstrate why they are a good match for a particular computer science department or MS program.
This document may address topics such as your career and research goals. It should also describe how your academic and/or professional background demonstrates your qualifications for the program, how the program will impact your future, and, if necessary, address any extenuating circumstances such as poor grades or test scores.
Letters of recommendation
Most master's in computer science programs require applicants to submit letters of recommendation. These letters typically come from employers, faculty members at your previous schools, or other individuals who have experience supervising and evaluating your academic or professional performance.
Like the personal statement, these letters help admissions committees further assess your skills, character traits, and aptitude for a program. They can also help you gain financial aid or employment as a teacher's assistant (TA) or research assistant at your intended school. Most programs require two to four letters per application. Most specify that these documents must be submitted directly from the people who wrote them.
Computer science master's degree programs may also require students to meet additional requirements as part of the admissions process. These may include:
Relevant work experience
Many computer science master's programs require students to have several years of professional experience in computer science or a related field, demonstrated in their résumé or curriculum vitae (CV). Some schools may allow students with work experience to forgo submitting application fees, skip some prerequisite courses, or bypass other admission requirements. Other schools do not set work experience requirements but may see it as an added qualification of similar weight to your GPA and personal statement.
Many programs require applicants to submit their scores from the GRE, which serves as a broad assessment of their critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills. The GRE helps admissions committees decide whether an applicant can succeed at the next educational level.
Some programs don't require the GRE. Others only require applicants to submit their scores if they are applying for funding or fellowships. Others suspend the GRE requirement under circumstances such as extensive relevant work experience or a high undergraduate GPA. This year, in particular, has seen many graduate schools waive their GRE requirement in response to restrictions caused by the spread of COVID-19.
Proof of English proficiency
As with most graduate programs, master's-level computer science programs often require non-native English-speaking or international applicants to demonstrate their English proficiency in the areas of reading, writing, and listening to gain admission. They usually do by submitting scores from standardized tests like the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic test, or the Pearson Test of English (PTE).
Schools may waive this requirement under a variety of circumstances. Do your transcripts indicate that you graduated from a regionally accredited college or university located in the US? Did you study at an international school whose primary language of instruction was English? Have you recently completed an English language learning course approved by the school to which you are applying? Schools frequently provide waivers under any of these circumstances.
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