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

Evan Thompson
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Updated June 25, 2024
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Discover the top online master's in computer science programs for non-CS majors. Explore admission requirements, coursework, and potential career opportunities.

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Computer science (CS) has a reputation for being difficult. Many surveys, blogs, and school newspapers have reported that CS as a college major has one of the highest drop-out rates.

Given this reputation, it’s hard to imagine you could get a master’s in computer science without a CS undergrad degree. But it’s possible. Many colleges and universities offer computer science master’s degree programs for non-CS majors if they meet certain requirements.

Explore this guide to learn more about these programs’ admission requirements, coursework, and potential rewards.

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Best Online Master’s in Computer Science 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

Case Western Reserve’s online master’s degree program 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.

Columbia University

Columbia’s online master’s in computer science requires students to complete all coursework within five years while maintaining a GPA of 2.7 or higher. 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.

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.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech’s online master’s of computer science runs asynchronously, providing students additional flexibility. Students must complete 30 credits, including 15-18 in a specialization area and 12-15 in electives. Specialization options include computer graphics, interactive intelligence, and computing systems.

Though the program prefers learners with computer science or computer science-adjacent backgrounds, like math or electrical engineering, the school evaluates applications from students with other degrees as well.

Johns Hopkins University

JHU offers an 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.

Stanford University

Stanford’s online master’s in computer program accepts part-time and full-time enrollees. Part-time students take 3-5 years to complete the degree, while full-time learners graduate in only 1-2 years.

The program requires foundational courses in algorithmic analysis, logic, probability, and computer systems for learners without a computer science background. Students also explore one of four breadth areas: applications, computer systems, computing and society, or mathematical and theoretical foundations.

Stevens Institute of Technology

Stevens’ online master’s degree in computer science takes two years to earn. Students take courses in areas 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.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

UIUC’s online master of computer science covers 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.

University of Pennsylvania

Penn’s master of computer and information technology program is open to applicants with no computer science background. 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.

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt’s online master’s in computer science is an interdisciplinary 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.

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

What Is an Online Master’s in Computer Science?

Many master’s in computer science programs enhance technical proficiency, develop critical thinking abilities, and encourage innovative research in the computer science domain.

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.

What Courses Are in a Master’s in Computer Science Program?

The curriculum for computer science master’s programs varies. 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 good background knowledge of 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.

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.

However, without a bachelor’s degree in the subject matter, you may need to complete prerequisite classes or demonstrate skills in computer science through work experience or programming experience.

Prospective graduate students may benefit from taking leveling courses in discrete mathematics, computer science, or electrical engineering, even if they aren’t required for admission. 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 degree programs must meet each school’s admissions requirements. Each school’s admission committee makes its own decisions based on various factors.

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

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    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.

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    Programming Experience

    Some programs may prefer applicants to have a foundational understanding of programming concepts, such as programming languages, variables, and source code.

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    Minimum GPA

    Most schools require applicants to meet a minimum total GPA or a minimum GPA in the last 60 credits of their undergraduate program.

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    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.

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    Other Application Materials

    Many schools require personal statements, letters of recommendation, and GRE or GMAT scores.

Concentrations in Master’s in Computer Science Programs

Computer science majors may pursue a general CS master’s degree or a specialized plan of study. Non-CS majors can follow the same path, gaining a better understanding of computer science theory, tools, and techniques.

However, because programs for non-CS majors welcome learners from other backgrounds, some 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 science intersect in this subfield, which can make it appealing 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.

How Much Does an Online Master’s in Computer Science Cost?

The average annual tuition for an online master’s degree program in computer science was $10,877 during the 2021-2021 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. However, costs may vary. 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, and insurance.

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

  • Scholarships
  • Fellowships
  • Grants
  • Employer Reimbursements
  • Loans

To learn more about financial aid, click on the links 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-holders can qualify for jobs like those listed below, with May 2023 median salary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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