Top Online Master's in Computer Science for Non-CS Majors

You can earn a master's degree in computer science even if you don't hold a CS-related bachelor's degree. Explore our list of top schools!

Updated January 4, 2024

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A master's in computer science (CS) requires a commitment to excellence in research, technical expertise, and innovative problem-solving. This academic journey prepares you to shape the future of technology and qualify for careers in the dynamic digital landscape.

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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that in the 2019-20 school year, 51,521 people earned a master's degree in computer and information sciences. That number has risen 63.7% since 2014-15 — an indication of this field's rise in popularity.

Use this guide to explore online master's degrees in computer science for students with a non-CS background.

What Is an Online Master's in Computer Science?

Graduate computer science programs foster advanced technical expertise, cultivate critical thinking skills, and promote cutting-edge research in the field of computer science.

Most computer science master's degrees require 30-36 credits, including a mix of core subjects, electives, and research. Students typically take courses in computer science theory alongside classes about using technical tools to solve real-world problems. Some programs conclude with a capstone project or a thesis. Generally, full-time learners complete these degrees in 1-2 years, while part-time students often take 2-3 years.

Tuition depends on factors like students' state residency and whether a school is public or private. Scholarships, financial aid, and assistantships can help eligible students alleviate the financial burden of earning a degree.

Master's in Computer Science Courses for Non-CS Majors

Computer science master's programs are as varied as the schools offering them. Below, we highlight some common core classes and interdisciplinary courses you may encounter in a computer science master's program:

  • Analysis of Algorithms: Students use calculus to make detailed quantitative predictions of large combinatorial structures. Topics include trees, words, permutations, strings, and mappings.
  • Applied Cryptography: This course applies mathematical theory to solve practical problems. Topics may include blockcipher, symmetric encryption, hybrid encryption, and hash functions and their security.
  • Artificial Intelligence: This class lays the foundation for AI techniques. Enrollees should feel comfortable working with programming languages like Python and have a good background knowledge in calculus, analytic geography, and big O notation.
  • Discrete Mathematics: Students explore mathematical techniques to tackle real-world issues. Topics may include truth values, symbolic logic, logical equivalence, and Euler paths.
  • Quantum Computing: Quantum computing uses quantum mechanics to solve problems faster than classical computing can. Extending the concepts discussed in physics and linear algebra, this course explores logical qubits, quantum algorithms, and quantum hardware.
  • Digital Health Equity: This course begins by looking at the social determinants of health and health disparities before moving into how digital health systems can help solve those disparities. Students learn to use human-centered design concepts in their digital creations.
  • Computational Photography: Students explore the technical and computational aspects of making an image. This course covers how to use mathematical computations to map a 3D space onto a 2D plane.
  • Computational Genomics: Building on students' knowledge of molecular biology and computer science, this course covers bioinformatics algorithms, research, and software. Topics include analyzing genes and genomes, genome sequencing, and assessing gene and genome evolution.
  • Computational Neural Modeling: This course explores the brain and cognitive functioning using a quantitative approach. Students dive deep into quantitative tools for data analytics in neuroscience.

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Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Can You Get a Master's in Computer Science Without a Computer Science Bachelor's?

You can earn a master's in computer science even if you have a bachelor's degree in a non-computer science field. Some institutions even run entire programs specifically for students without a CS background.

Without a bachelor's degree in the subject matter, however, you may need to complete prerequisite classes or demonstrate skill in computer science through work experience or programming portfolios. Even if not required for admission, prospective graduate students may benefit from taking leveling courses in discrete mathematics, computer science, or electrical engineering. Earning an industry-recognized certification in cybersecurity, coding, or another CS-related field may also help your application stand out.

How Non-CS Majors Can Qualify for a Master's in CS Program

Applicants to computer science master's degrees need to meet each school's admissions requirements. Each school's admission committee makes its own decisions on a variety of factors.

Though specific criteria vary, the following components are common among master's programs:

  • Prior Education: Applicants should hold a bachelor's degree or higher. Schools may require prospective students to take prerequisite courses in engineering, mathematics, or computer science. Some institutions may even request a degree in a CS-adjacent field like math or engineering.
  • Minimum GPA: Most schools establish a minimum total GPA or a minimum GPA in the last 60 credits of your undergraduate program.
  • Work Experience: Universities often request your resume. If you have worked either in a technology-related job or in another professional role, your experience may boost your chances of acceptance.
  • Other Application Materials: Many schools require personal statements, letters of recommendation, and GRE or GMAT scores.

Paying for an Online Master's in Computer Science

The average annual tuition for master's degrees was $19,749 in the 2020-21 school year, according to NCES data. However, costs range from under $8,000 to over $42,000. Many factors affect the cost of a degree, including a school's prestige, its public or private status, and applicants' state residency.

In addition to tuition, you should budget for the cost of living while going to school, including expenses like groceries, housing, transportation, taxes, and insurance.

Financial aid can help defray the costs of pursuing a degree. Funding options include:

To learn more about financial aid, click on the links below.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Online Master's in Computer Science Programs for Non-CS Majors

Computer science majors may pursue a general CS master's degree or a specialized plan of study.

Sticking to a generalist approach can give non-CS majors a richer understanding of computer science theory, tools, and techniques. However, because programs for non-CS majors welcome learners from other backgrounds, specific concentrations may align better with students' previous knowledge. Fields like biology, English, psychology, and mechanical engineering can all form excellent foundations for CS specializations.

The list below includes several concentration options:

  • Computer Science: Enrollees can pursue a generalist computer science degree to learn more about how technology evolves. Ideal for learners with any background, this track may include courses in network security and advanced software engineering.
  • Computational Biology: Focused on applying computational techniques to biomedical research, computational biology enables new discoveries in biological and medical sciences. This track may be ideal for biology majors or applicants with a background in nursing or science education.
  • Computational Perception and Robotics: Psychology, neuroscience, and computer vision intersect in this subfield, which can make it appeal to mechanical engineers or robotics technicians. Learners pursuing this concentration may take courses like computational photography, randomized algorithms, and human-robot interaction.
  • Human-Computer Interaction: This multidisciplinary field explores how humans, machines, and artificial intelligence interact. It may align well with knowledge bases for psychology majors or students with a liberal arts background. Courses in this specialization can include video game design, cognitive modeling, and human-centered data analysis.
  • Natural Language Processing: A good fit for English or communications majors, natural language processing looks at automating the analysis of text and speech databases. Its goal is to enable computational speech and language models. Courses in this concentration may include advanced spoken language processing and artificial intelligence.

Schools With Master's in Computer Science Programs for Non-CS Majors

The following schools are arranged in alphabetical order. To qualify for inclusion on the list, the school must hold institutional accreditation and offer an online master's in computer science for non-CS majors.

Case Western Reserve University

This online master's degree combines synchronous class sessions with asynchronous coursework on topics such as artificial intelligence, algorithms and theory, and bioinformatics. The curriculum offers two tracks: pathways and advanced. Students without a computer science background can choose the pathways track, while learners with a previous computer science degree can pursue the advanced track. The program takes 5-6 semesters to complete.

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Columbia University

Columbia's 30-credit online master's degree requires students to complete all coursework within five years while maintaining a 2.7 GPA or better. The curriculum includes a mix of theoretical science, mathematics, and experimental technology courses. Columbia offers eight concentration tracks, including computational biology; machine learning; and vision, graphics, interaction, and robotics.

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Drexel University

Drexel's online master of computer science equips learners with theoretical knowledge in the discipline as well as the skill to use cutting-edge tools to solve real-world problems. Students must complete 45 credits to graduate. Core courses include theory of computation, computer graphics, and programming languages.

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Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech created this degree in collaboration with AT&T. Though the program prefers learners with computer science or computer science-adjacent backgrounds like math or electrical engineering, they evaluate applications from students with other degrees as well. The curriculum uses the massive open online course concept and features a total price tag of approximately $6,500. Enrollees must complete 30 credits, including 15-18 in a specialization area and 12-15 in electives. Specialization options include machine learning, interactive intelligence, computational perception and robotics, computing systems, and human-computer interaction.

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Johns Hopkins University

JHU provides a part-time online master's in computer science through its Whiting School of Engineering. The program requires eight foundational and prerequisite courses along with courses in one of 14 concentration areas. Students must complete the degree within five years. Applicants must have completed at least five prerequisite math and computer science courses.

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Stanford University

Stanford accepts part-time and full-time enrollees in this master's program. Part-time students take 3-5 years, while full-time learners graduate in only 1-2 years. For learners without a computer science background, the program requires foundational courses in algorithmic analysis, logic, probability, and computer systems. Students also explore one of four breadth areas -- applications, computer systems, computing and society, or mathematical and theoretical foundations.

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Stevens Institute of Technology

This 30-credit online master's degree requires two years or fewer to graduate. Students take courses about topics like human-computer interaction, mobile systems, and cloud computing. The coursework also equips learners with advanced skills in industry tools such as Java, C++, and machine learning. Both traditional and advanced tracks are available.

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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

UIUC partners with Coursera to offer this 32-credit graduate degree. Coursera provides the lecture portion while the university's faculty contribute exams, projects, and feedback. Courses cover topics such as artificial intelligence, scientific computing, databases, and human-computer interaction. Enrollees can complete the program in 1-5 years and may transfer in up to 12 credits.

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University of Pennsylvania

Applicants with no computer science background can apply for Penn's master of computer and information technology program. In addition to six core courses in subjects like software development, computer systems programming, and algorithms, learners complete four electives, which can include natural language processing, computer vision and computational photography, and big data analytics.

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Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt offers an interdisciplinary computer science program focused on the intersection of computer science with related subjects. Courses cover topics such as intelligent systems, mobile and cloud computing, and computer science theory. Students can complete Vanderbilt's 30-credit program in 12-20 months, taking 6-12 units each term.

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The following schools also offer master's in computer science degrees for non-CS majors:

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Careers for Online Master's in Computer Science Graduates

A master's in computer science can lead to careers in creating or managing powerful technology. People with a non-CS background can bring an array of complementary knowledge and skills to the industry. For example, chemists and biologists understand key concepts necessary for biocomputing, and humanities majors may thrive as human-computer interaction specialists.

When transitioning from a non-CS major or background into computer science, you may want to polish your resume by earning third-party certifications to demonstrate your mastery of technical skills. In addition, an internship or entry-level work experience in technology may help you stand out for graduate admission committees or employers.

Computer science master's degree graduates can qualify for jobs including those listed below. Each career's 2021 median salary data comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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