The Best Online Master’s in Computer Science

by Thomas Broderick, TBS Staff Writers
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Aspiring managers and industry leaders can enroll in online master's in computer science programs. These programs typically require prerequisites in compilers, logic programming, and artificial intelligence. Applicants may also need fluency in a programming language.

Master's degree-seekers complete advanced coursework in a specialization such as biocomputation. Other options include computer and network security or real-world computing. Learners also take elective classes.

Graduates of online master's in computer science programs can become computer and information systems managers. Other careers include software development engineer and information security analyst. The following sections explore tuition costs and salary potential for graduates. This guide also highlights classes common in master's in computer science programs.

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Questions About Computer Science Degrees

Q. What jobs can I get with a computer science degree?

After earning a computer science degree online, graduates can work as software developers. They can also pursue roles as database administrators and computer systems analysts. Career advisors can help students select a professional path.

Q. What is the highest computer science degree?

People with a master's-level computer science degree can apply to doctoral programs. A doctorate qualifies graduates to teach at the collegiate level. Doctorate-holders can also lead companies and organizations.

Q. What is the difference between computer science and IT?

Computer scientists use mathematical and programming expertise to create new software. IT professionals use software to connect employees and protect data.

Why Get a Degree in Computer Science?

Professionals with an online master's in computer science can qualify for various lucrative careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer and information research scientists earn a median salary well above the median for all occupations. The BLS projects employment for these professionals to grow 22% from 2020-2030. This strong job market may help graduates explore more open positions and earn higher starting salaries.

Learners pursuing their computer science degree online often complete coursework asynchronously. Students in asynchronous classes watch recorded lectures and complete assignments at convenient times. This scheduling flexibility can help learners continue working while in school.

How Much Does a Computer Science Degree Cost?

Students in online master's in computer science programs may pay a per-credit or per-course tuition rate. According to the Education Data Initiative, a master's degree from a public school costs an average of $54,500. A master's degree from a private institution costs an average of $81,100. A master of science typically costs less than a master of arts. In-state public schools generally offer the most affordable master's in computer science programs.

Online master's in computer science students should also budget for fees and expenses. Classes may require specialized software suites. Most programs list expenses online. However, schools may change expenses and fees without warning.

Additional Online Student Fees

Online master's in computer science programs are often more affordable than on-campus programs. However, online learners may need to pay a technology fee or buy a new computer. Learners in hybrid programs should budget for transportation costs.

Degree-seekers and recent graduates may earn professional certifications to become more competitive for positions. Certifications demonstrate expertise to employers. Certification fees can cost hundreds of dollars. Career advisors can help learners research certifications that align with their career goals.

How Much Do Computer Science Majors Make?

According to the BLS, computer and information research scientists earn a median salary of $126,830 per year. Top-paying employers include software publishers and research organizations. Professionals in California, Virginia, and Washington earn the highest average salaries. However, these states feature higher-than-average costs of living.

Entry-level research scientists need a master's degree. Professionals can increase their salary potential by earning a Ph.D. or getting professional experience. People can also pursue certifications and professional development to improve their job prospects.

Courses in Computer Science

Learners in online master's in computer science programs take the same classes as on-campus learners. Students complete a core curriculum before choosing a specialization. Some programs offer thesis and non-thesis options. Thesis tracks appeal to degree-seekers who plan to apply to doctoral programs. Non-thesis tracks typically require a capstone project.

Many computer science degrees require the following classes. However, course availability varies by program and can impact graduates' career options. Students can contact their prospective school for program details.

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How to Become a Computer and Information Research Scientist

Most computer and information research scientist jobs require a master's degree. However, bachelor's degree-holders can qualify for some federal government positions. Employers value advanced analytical, communication, and interpersonal skills. These skills help workers solve problems and contribute to a team.

Computer and information research scientists may collaborate with other scientists and engineers. They also create new programming languages and perform experiments. In addition, they use experiments' results to write research papers and present findings at conferences. Some professionals specialize in programming or robotics.

The Best Online Master's in Computer Science

  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    As the largest department at MIT, the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) offers the following graduate degrees: master of science, master of engineering, electrical engineer (EE), engineer in computer science (ECS), doctor of philosophy, and doctor of science (SD). Students pursuing the master of engineering must hold an EECS undergraduate degree. Doctoral applicants must hold a master's degree.

    The MS comprises 66 units, culminating in a thesis. The EE and ECS degrees comprise 162 units and incorporate four core objectives: engineering ethos, leadership, versatility, and engagement. EE and ECS students must complete a thesis approved by a graduate counselor and EECS. Doctoral candidates must pass a general exam, present an oral defense of their thesis, and complete a minimum of four terms of full-time research in residence at MIT.

    EECS offers teaching and research assistantships, as well as the Draper Laboratory Fellowship and the Lincoln Laboratory Research Assistantship. Applicants to EECS graduate programs must submit transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of objectives.

  2. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Established in 1965, Stanford's Computer Science Department falls under the School of Engineering. The department offers a master's in computer science with nine specializations: artificial intelligence; biocomputation; computer and network security; human-computer interaction; information management and analytics; real-world computing; software theory; systems; and theoretical computer science.

    Students pursuing a master's in computer science must complete 45 units. First-year graduate students must either satisfy prerequisites or complete foundational coursework in topics including logic, probability and statistics, and computer systems. The program also includes a breadth requirement, spanning four critical areas of professional computer science skills, and a depth requirement in the student's specialization.

    Stanford also offers a Ph.D. through its Computer Science Department. Candidates can apply for the doctoral program once they meet the master's breadth and depth requirements. Many students apply for financial aid for the Ph.D. in computer science through an assistantship or fellowship, or by conducting research for an affiliate organization. Applicants must submit GRE scores, transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose.

  3. Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Founded as the Lawrence Scientific School in 1847, Harvard offers world-class programs through its renamed School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). The school offers 11 graduate degrees, including seven master's degrees and four doctoral degrees, as well as a variety of undergraduate degrees and a business analytics certificate program.

    All SEAS programs emphasize cross-departmental and interdisciplinary curricula. Students may pursue a dual bachelor's/master's degree in computer science or a master's in computational science and engineering or data science. Applicants must demonstrate advanced standing through AP placement testing to qualify for the BS/MS degree. Graduates of the dual program can earn both degrees in four years.

    SEAS also offers a Ph.D. in computer science. Doctoral candidates must complete 10 semester-long courses, including eight in interdisciplinary subjects, and maintain full-time academic residency for at least two years at Harvard. Additionally, Ph.D. candidates must serve as teaching fellows during at least one semester of their second year, pass qualifying and final oral exams, and complete a dissertation.

    Applicants must submit transcripts, a resume, three letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and a statement of purpose.

  4. University of California Berkeley
    Location

    Berkeley, CA

    Formed in 1973, Berkeley's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences offers undergraduate programs, master's degrees, and Ph.D.s in more than 20 subject areas. Applicants to Berkeley's master's and Ph.D. in computer science programs must have a bachelor's degree; hold a minimum 3.0 GPA; and submit three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and GRE scores.

    Students pursuing a master's in computer science can specialize in one of 10 areas, including artificial intelligence, scientific computing, and operating systems and networking. Berkeley supports interdisciplinary and concurrent programs of study, proposals for customized programs, and an exchange program with other schools in the UC system and Stanford.

    Berkeley offers many professional development resources for computer science graduate students, including workshops; career planning services; and writing, teaching, and mentorship opportunities. Financial aid options for graduate students include fellowships; loans; scholarships; and paid appointments as student-teachers, tutors, and teaching aides.

  5. Carnegie Mellon University
    Location

    Pittsburgh, PA

    The School of Computer Science at CMU encompasses seven departments: computational biology, computer science, computer-human interaction, software research, language technologies, machine learning, and robotics. In addition to offering a Ph.D. and master's in computer science on its main campus in Pittsburgh, CMU delivers similar programs through satellite campuses in Silicon Valley and Qatar.

    The university offers a fifth-year master's in computer science program for students with a bachelor's in computer science from CMU and a standard master's in computer science for students with a bachelor's degree in a related subject. CMU also offers a Ph.D. in computer science, with an optional specialty track in neural basis of cognition. Ph.D. candidates may choose interdisciplinary programs in pure and applied logic or algorithms, combinatorics, or optimization.

    U.S. News and World Report ranked CMU's computer science graduate programs as best in the nation in 2018. CMU also ranked first in artificial intelligence graduate programs and among the top four in programming languages, systems, and theory.

  6. Princeton University
    Location

    Princeton, NJ

    Backed by the university's esteemed Ivy League reputation, Princeton's Department of Computer Science encompasses more than 10 major research areas, including computational biology, computer architecture, and programming languages.

    The Department of Computer Science offers a master's in engineering and a full-time Ph.D. program. Princeton's computer science programs also include a bachelor's in computer science that incorporates master's-level courses that graduates can transfer to the master's program.

    The master's program does not require applicants to hold a degree in computer science, though most applicants possess a background in computer science, math, science, or engineering. Doctoral degree candidates with only a bachelor's degree may apply. Other application requirements include transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.

  7. Columbia University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Ranked highly among national programs, the computer science department under Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Science offers a variety of unique master's and doctoral degrees. Students may choose from 11 research/study areas, including computer engineering, networking, and software systems.

    The master of science in computer science comprises 30 points, and students can choose from a standard, specialized, or thesis track. Concentration options include foundations of computer science, computer security, and machine learning. Students without a computer science background may apply to the Align MS in computer science, which combines bridge and traditional computer science coursework. Additionally, Columbia offers a dual MS in journalism and computer science.

    Students can also pursue a Ph.D. in computer science at Columbia. Graduates with an MS in computer science from Columbia can seamlessly apply to the Ph.D., but master's degree holders from other disciplines and institutions may also apply. All Ph.D. applicants need prerequisites in core analysis of algorithms. Applicants to all graduate programs in the Department of Computer Science must submit GRE scores, transcripts, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation.

  8. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
    Location

    Ann Arbor, MI

    Founded in 1957, the University of Michigan's Computer, Science, and Engineering Division (CSE) enrolls nearly 3,000 students and features 16 pioneering female faculty members and professors. Students can choose from a master's or Ph.D. in CSE or a master's in data science.

    The master's in CSE comprises 30 credits and an optional thesis. The master's in data science comprises 25 credits and combines computer science, statistics, and domain coursework. Applicants to the master's programs may hold a bachelor's degree in any field. Applicants can apply to the doctoral program with either a bachelor's or master's degree, provided they satisfy prerequisite courses.

    U.S. News and World Report ranks CSE's graduate programs in computer science and computer engineering 11th and 7th in the nation, respectively. CSE offers financial aid to qualifying graduate students through fellowships, research and teaching assistantships, and institutional scholarships and external grants. The university also hosts more than 10 student-led clubs and organizations dedicated to computer science.

    Applicants must submit GRE scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts, a personal statement and statement of purpose, and a resume.

  9. Cornell University
    Location

    Ithaca, NY

    Founded in 1965, Cornell's Department of Computer Science was among the first of its kind in the United States. Cornell now houses its computer science, information science, and statistics and data science departments in the Computing and Information Science (CIS) division, serving more than 1,500 students. In addition to its Ithaca campus, the university hosts a Manhattan location for graduate students called Cornell Tech.

    CIS offers a master's and Ph.D. in computer science. Master's students must complete at least 34 course credits, including a thesis. The admissions committee prefers master's degree applicants with a bachelor's in computer science but does consider other majors. CIS requires master's students to serve as full-time teaching assistants during all four semesters of the degree.

    Among the nation's top-ranked doctoral programs in computer science, the Ph.D. program offers courses in Ithaca and New York City. Applicants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree in computer science or a related field. Along with academic transcripts, applicants must submit a statement of purpose and letters of recommendation. While not required, GRE scores are preferred.

  10. New York University
    Location

    New York, NY

    Housed in NYU's world-renowned Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the Computer Science Department boasts faculty with honors, including Turing Awards, Humboldt Prizes, and Guggenheim Fellowships. The department encompasses five academic centers and eight research areas, including scientific computing, machine learning, and algorithms and theory.

    NYU offers a master's in computer science and an accelerated BA-MS program. Students can also pursue master's degrees in information systems and computing, entrepreneurship, and innovation. The master's degree in computer science requires approximately 12 courses, culminating in a capstone requirement.

    Students pursuing the Ph.D. in computer science must satisfy breadth course requirements across three areas: systems, theory (including algorithms), and applications. Students must also serve as teaching assistants for at least one course by the end of their third year. Ph.D. candidates must write and defend a thesis to close the degree. While the computer science subject test is optional, applicants must submit GRE general test scores in addition to transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume.

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