Master of Computer Science

Master of Science in Computer Science

Master of Computer Science in Context

If you’re looking for a profession that offers a high salary, the chance to work across all industries and employer types, excellent career progression, intellectual challenge, and fantastic growth prospects, then computer science could be ideal.

If you are numerate, analytical, well-versed in computing, and capable in the STEM subjects, an online Master of Science in Computer Science program can be an excellent route into a diverse professional career where demand for skilled workers currently exceeds supply.

Is the master’s in computer science degree right for me?

The online MS in Computer Science is ideal for working professionals or those who want to move into PhD programs in the future. It can springboard graduates into a range of rewarding computing roles across a range of industries and employer types.

It’s important to note that computer science master’s programs typically require a background in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and math. Additionally, prospective students should already be highly knowledgeable in the computer sciences field before undertaking this higher-level degree program.

Who gets an MS in Computer Science?

More than 80% of computer science degrees are completed by men. [14] But with demand for these skills exceeding supply, there is a drive to recruit more women to the field.

There are signs that things are changing. The NCES reports that, between 2001 and 2005, the number of computer science master’s degrees conferred grew by 11% for men, but dropped by nearly 20% for women. However, between 2005 and 2010, the growth in the number of men who earned the degree remained broadly consistent while there was significant growth in the number of women students — an increase of nearly 20%. [14]

What comes before and after the Master of Science in Computer Science?

Most master’s students will already have a bachelor’s in computer sciences or a closely related field, because substantial prior knowledge and experience of computer sciences is required for admission into most programs.

After earning the degree, some students will go on to work toward a PhD if they are keen to work in academic fields.

Why earn this degree?

In the next decade, job growth in IT occupations is expected to grow at a rate of 50,000 jobs each year as a conservative estimate. Code.org projected computing jobs would be added to the economy between 2011 and 2020 — with just 400,000 new suitably qualified computer science students available to fill them. [5]

Demand for the computer science field is not limited to the IT industry, either, as 66% of computer jobs are in non-tech industries like manufacturing, banking, or health care. [5] Demand is now ubiquitous, and technology is being used to transform traditional businesses across all sectors. Employers increasingly look for candidates with “double-deep” skill sets — that is, skill sets built around an employee’s primary duties along with knowledge of the relevant technology that can aid in those duties. [25]

To help students achieve such dual competencies, specialist master’s degrees may combine multiple skill sets together. Alternatively, students may elect to study computer sciences with a heavy specialization in a second field.

Current projections show graduation rates for computer sciences — from the bachelor’s through the PhD level — being insufficient to meet market demand. This means good graduates will likely have their pick of the jobs when it comes to securing the roles they want. [5]

How do I choose a computer sciences program?

Your criteria on how to choose an online master’s in computer science program will likely be defined by factors such as desired career path, willingness and ability to finance education, geography, and specialization. Some of the most important factors to consider as you weigh your choices are:

  • Curriculum, specializations, and other opportunities, especially you have a particular career trajectory in mind
  • Accreditation — an accredited school can help put you in far better stead for employment and onward study than an unaccredited program
  • Faculty
  • School or program reputation or rankings, especially for further study or graduate schemes
  • Program delivery method — online master’s degrees are popular for those who require a degree of flexibility
  • Program length and credit hours, which vary by institution
  • Program cost and associated fees
  • Success of previous students
  • Admission requirements
  • Mentoring opportunities — some institutions offer partnership or mentoring programs that match students with mentors working in industry, which can offer a valuable benefit when preparing for work

Is an online program the same as a campus-based program?

Each institution will have its own program formats and courses, but typically, programs are structured to deliver the same education in both their online and in-person formats.

Online programs may have certain logistical differences. For example, if you choose an online program, you may participate in asynchronous coursework rather than following a set class schedule. But in terms of the skills and knowledge conveyed, most online programs will closely follow their on-campus counterparts.

What is computer science?

Computer science deals with the methods and theory of information processing, specifically applied to digital computers, computer hardware and software design, and computer applications.

The master’s degree in computer science degree is intended to teach high-level, state-of-the-art computer skills that graduates can apply across a variety of industries and fields. It covers topics such as: [1]

  • Computer theory, problems, and solutions
  • Computer systems from a scientific perspective
  • End user interface design
  • Computational science principles
  • Computer development and programming
  • End user applications

The field is highly respected as a means of developing advanced critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. Computing skills are highly in demand from employers across all industries. [2]

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Careers and Advancement Overview

Your online  MS in Computer Science can provide you with the theory, critical thinking, applied skills, and creativity that you need to work across a range of roles and industries. Even traditional industries now need well-qualified experts in computing and technology, and demand for skilled IT workers exceeds supply.

Growth in IT jobs exceeds growth in jobs overall, with above-average (and faster-growing) wages. In fact, in the last 10 years, the number of IT occupations has increased by 36%, and there aren’t enough qualified professionals to meet demand.

The national STEM shortage means that there are more than half a million unfilled jobs in the U.S. that require technology skills. [5]

What career options can this degree bring?

Your Master of Science in Computer Science can prepare you to work in an array of potential industries and organizations. Positions for which this degree is a good draw include:

  • Network and computer systems administrator
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Computer programmer
  • Computer scientist
  • Control system computer scientist
  • Scientific programmer analyst
  • Software developer, engineer, or analyst

Salary gains

According to data compiled by PayScale.com, a graduate with an MS in Computer Science and between five and nine years of experience tend to earn nearly $100,000 per year on average, [28] compared to $80,000 for graduates with a bachelor’s degree. [29]

Broad employment opportunities

Master of Science in Computer Science programs are broadly focused, often consisting of coursework that explores theory, programming, development, and more. Its core concepts can help students flex their skills and adapt as new technologies evolve.

Research shows that computer skills and computing competencies are highly in demand among employers across all industries, not simply the tech industry. [5] About 81% of computer science majors find employment within their field. In fact, even during the 2007 recession, there were two IT jobs posted for every unemployed worker in the field. [5]

Personal satisfaction of gaining a master’s degree

Computer science has always been viewed as a high-paying field with attractive ROI in education and professional advancement opportunities. It’s a rapidly evolving industry with a vast range of roles. It is also a field that offers intellectual stimulation and application of diverse skills, from logic to creativity.

What is the current state of the computer science industry?

The field of computer science offers ample opportunity, with job demand exceeding the supply of graduates, even with the volume of Masters and PhD graduates rising steadily since 2007. [7] The field is expected to grow further, with the U.S. government investing in STEM educational programs at the K-12 level.

Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft, says that the relative lack of work-ready computer science experts is leading to an excess of unfilled jobs. This, combined with the industry’s explosive growth, will lead to many of the half-million jobs created over the next decade to go unfilled. [11]

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for computer and information research scientists is healthy, with the research and development produced by these roles turning into technology that leads industries. The BLS predicts that: [10]

  • Demand for improved technology will continue to grow, leading to new opportunities for computer scientists across all industries.
  • The growth of data collection will lead to a boom in data-mining services. Computer scientists will fill vital roles that these new business needs create.
  • Demand for roles in cybersecurity and software will continue to be particularly strong.

Careers and Salaries

Salaries in computer sciences fields are attractive, typically well above the national average, reflecting the skills and expertise required. According self-reported to data compiled by PayScale.com, median salaries for relevant jobs include: [28]

  • Computer and information research scientists: $110,620
  • Software engineer: $86,036
  • Senior software engineer: $105,954
  • Software developer: $75,000
  • Senior software architect: $130,000
  • Senior software engineer/developer/programmer: $106,920
  • Software development engineer: $116,790
  • Principal software engineer: $121,615

Where do computer science professionals work?

Computer science professionals can find employment in all industries and throughout private, public, and nonprofit organizations. Key employer industries include:

  • Aerospace and defense
  • Agriculture
  • Financial services
  • Healthcare
  • Information technology (IT) consulting
  • IT services
  • Software as a service (Saas) development
  • Software development
  • Software Services

Curriculum Overview

The analytical nature of the computer science field challenges students and enables them to approach problems in rigorous, fresh ways. Computer sciences can stimulate critical thinking and creativity alike. Even better, its core concepts are transferable, allowing students to apply their learning to a range of diverse problems across disciplines.

Master of Science in Computer Science curricula offer core courses that emphasize the most important skills for computer science professionals. Programs also typically offer a range of electives and specializations that can help you adapt your education to fit your goals.

Most computer science program courses are geared toward students who are already familiar with the field and are seeking career and salary advancement. However, there are a few designed for those with a newer interest in computer science, which provide more foundational elements.

The subject provides problem-solving and computer literacy skills that are hotly in demand by the workforce, allowing students to be competitive in the workplace across occupations that seek employees with multifaceted skill sets. [25]

A master’s degree in computer science can prepare you to help address this growing need. In order to achieve accreditation by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), MS in Computer Science programs must be designed to help students develop the following skills: [27]

  • Analysis and problem-solving with a focus on principles of computation and mathematics
  • The design, creation, and implementation of tested computer systems and programs
  • Teamwork
  • An understanding of the ethics, laws, and social issues relevant to the computer science field and its implementation across industries
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Critical analysis of the implications of computer science from the individual level to a global scale
  • Professional development
  • Promotion of the desire to engage in state-of-the-art techniques and skills, as well as the ability to adapt as the industry grows and changes

Core courses

Based on an analysis of several computer science programs, required core courses are likely to cover topics such as:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Computer systems
  • Data structures and algorithms
  • Databases
  • Design
  • Graphics/imaging
  • Logic
  • Machine learning
  • Mathematics
  • Networking
  • Operating systems
  • Programming
  • Robotics
  • Testing/evaluation

Specializations or concentrations

Master’s in computer science curricula typically include specializations or concentrations that can help you map to your own personal career goals. Common specializations include:

  • Artificial intelligence:

    AI is increasingly utilized across businesses in a wide range of industries, including the financial sector, health care, manufacturing, and more. AI also plays a role every time we search online, engage with our smartphones or check a social media feed. [6] An AI focus can help put you on the cutting edge in most tech-related fields.

  • Data analytics:

    Studying research statistical methods, data mining, natural language processing, machine learning, database systems, AI, visualization, computer vision, digital image processing, and biomedical image analysis.

  • Database management:

    Organizations across all industries have databases, and many have multiple complex databases that need to talk to each other and carry out complex functions. A concentration in database management can make you an integral part of an organization’s database strategy.

  • Programming:

    Coding is more important than ever in our increasingly tech-centric society. Your programming concentration may focus on one programming language in particular, or it might give you an overview of several key languages such as Java, C++, Python, and more.

  • Systems software:

    These are the operating systems and programs used to operate computer systems. Organizations across many fields have systems to develop, implement, managem and maintain — all requiring specialist expertise.

  • Theory:

    Theoretical computer science is by nature abstract and mathematical, but it’s driven by everyday and practical computation issues. This concentration can enable you to learn and understand the underlying nature of computation to generate and work with more efficient methodologies in their work. [7]

  • Internet computing:

    E-business is predicated on Internet computing, which is the architecture that runs every business facet from supplier management to distribution, and from purchasing through to customer service and aftersales. This concentration can put you in a position to help these systems thrive. [8]

  • Cybersecurity:

    This concentration focuses on helping you protect digital information from being hacked, stolen, or compromised. Cybersecurity is a growing business issue, with core topics including identity management, incident management, and risk management. [9]

Required and prerequisite courses

As a condition of admission, some programs may require you to have a background in STEM. In some cases, the program may allow you to complete additional coursework in order to fulfill this requirement.

As an alternative or an additional step, some colleges may require you to take a computer sciences-related placement exam in order to assess your skill level.

Will I need to do a thesis for my online Master of Science in Computer Science degree?

Programs tend to offer a thesis or non-thesis option. A program with a thesis gives the opportunity for you to do in-depth research into an area of interest or your planned career direction. Students with a good thesis, particularly one that can be applied to a business problem or which is carried out for a business, may well find that they have the competitive edge when it comes to seeking their first role after graduation.

Some institutions will offer a thesis option as an elective track. This will require fewer credit hours on courses, with one to two semesters typically spent preparing the thesis, which will then be examined and defended.

Will I be required to complete an internship?

You may be required to fulfill an internship requirement at some programs to help bring academic learning to life by incorporating a practical work environment. Other programs may not require an internship, while some may give you the option to choose.

An internship or field placement allows the student to engage in a structured period of work to embed theoretical learning and to develop on-the-job skills within a business context. Sometimes these placements are paid.

How can internships and field placements help with my career?

Your degree program can provide theoretical knowledge and skills, and an internship can help you to apply them in a business setting while developing softer skills such as communication, teamwork, and interpersonal skills. An internship also demonstrates your commitment to employers, shows that you are work-ready, and may help you to get your first job after graduation.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning

An important factor to consider when choosing an online master’s in computer science is whether the program is structured synchronously, meaning you will take courses and deliver assignments at a set time, or asynchronously, meaning you’ll be able to do coursework on your own schedule.

Asynchronous learning options tend to suit students who need flexibility — perhaps around work or a family. However, preferences are down to the individual; many students like to work in a group and enjoy the interactive, real-time nature of synchronous learning.

Do computer science programs require an on-campus residency?

Some institutions may offer an on-campus residency as part of an online or hybrid master’s degree. These give students the chance to meet with faculty and other students and engage in practical, group, or face-to-face synchronous learning opportunities such as orientations or lectures.

Culmination of program

Some online master’s in computer science programs have a thesis or capstone project as a mandatory element. This requirement will typically take one to two semesters. Both options offer a great means by which to delve deeper into your areas of interest and complete research or practice that can help distinguish you after graduation.

Electives and specializations

Some MS in Computer Science programs will offer the opportunity to specialize or take electives as part of the program. These allow students to direct their learning towards key areas of interest that are closely aligned to their planned career path. The default option without electives or specializations will cover core topics of Computer Science as defined by the institution.

Licensure and certification

The MS in Computer Science does not necessarily imply that students will obtain special licensure or certification in the way that some professional degrees do. However, depending on your future career path, the qualification may be used as a springboard into professions that will require relevant licenses to practice.

Featured Degrees
New Jersey Institute of Technology – Master of Science in Computer Science

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Program Length

Most Master of Science in Computer Science programs can be completed in two years of full-time study. However, time to completion can vary significantly depending on a number of factors. If you choose to study part-time, for example, your time to completion might be significantly longer.

In order to ensure that students’ skills are as current as possible at the time of graduation, many programs require students to finish all their coursework within a specified time frame. Generally, this time limit will be around five or six years, though the limit (and whether there is a limit) will vary from school to school.

Based on a survey of several online master’s in computer science programs, required credit hours will vary from about 27 to more than 50 depending on the institution. Most programs will require a number of credit hours in the 30s. These hours will comprise core courses, elective courses, and sometimes a number of external credits typically involving STEM subjects.

Admission Requirements Overview

While each program will set its admission requirements based on its own criteria, many requirements are universal across all programs. No matter where you apply, you can expect to provide items like transcripts from previous degrees or coursework; standardized test scores; a personal statement or essay; letters of recommendation; and an overview of relevant work experience.

Some MS in Computer Science programs may require you to show a level of proficiency in computer science, information technology, math, science, engineering, or another related field. This may be through a previously earned undergraduate degree or relevant work experience.

In certain cases, some of these requirements may be waived.

For more information about admissions, please visit our admission requirements page.

Alternative Degrees

The broad nature of computer science means that there are various alternatives to the Master’s of Science in Computer Science. Some of these are broadly similar in their focus to MS in Computer Science, and others take a key element of the degree and focus to the point of specialization. Options include:

  • Master of Science in Information Science/Studies

  • Master of Science in Management Information Systems

  • Master of Science in Information Technology

  • Master of Science in Computer Engineering

  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) with IT Management Concentration

  • Master of Science in Cyber Security Engineering

  • Master of Science in Data Informatics

  • Master of Science in Spatial Informatics

  • Master in Communication Informatics

  • Graduate Certificate in Big Data Fundamentals

Relevant Industry Associations and Organizations

There are a number of professional associations and other organizations that serve computer science professionals. These organizations can help members continue to develop their professional skills and network with others in the industry. Some prominent associations include:

  • American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
  • American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T)
  • Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Science
  • Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
  • Association for Women in Computing
  • Association of Information Technology Professionals
  • The Computing Research Association
  • Informatics Europe
  • The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society
  • Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS)
  • International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology
  • Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM)
  • USENIX: The Advanced Computing Systems Association

Accreditation Overview

Regional accreditation is the most prestigious type of accreditation that an online or traditional college or university can receive. It is granted only after careful consideration by private, not-for-profit organizations tasked with evaluating educational quality.

Regional accreditation is particularly important if you anticipate that you might want to transfer credits from one online degree program to another or use those credits to pursue another degree. Most regionally accredited schools will only accept credits from other regionally accredited institutions of higher learning.

You can learn more on this topic at our regional accreditation page.

Specialized accreditation

In addition to regional accreditation, many computer science programs (especially those housed in a school’s department of science or engineering) are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

While an online master’s in computer science doesn’t need ABET accreditation, the certification implies that a program has been vetted and can provide a certain level of quality in its educational offerings.

The history and evolution of computer science

The first academic-credit Master of Computer Science course was offered by Columbia in 1946, thanks to the institution’s relationship with IBM. This helped to spark the evolution of the academic field. [17]

The first department of computer sciences in the United States was established at Purdue University in October 1962. [15] The next was at Stanford, in 1965. Two years later, the BASIC computer language was created, along with the computer mouse. Unification for logic programming was invented in 1965 by John Allan Robinson, providing a base for today’s object-oriented programming. [16]

What about women in the field?

Recently, a number of big tech firms have been open about how few women work in technical roles and programming. To illustrate this trend, Google — near the top of the list in employing women — only boasts a female employment rate of about 30% as of January 2015. [26]

However, women helped pioneer computer engineering, as explained in a study of Lovelace and Babbage and the other early female leaders in the field, which appeared on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. [19] Somewhere along the line, there was a decline in women’s involvement in the field. Another documentary, “When Women Stopped Coding,” posits that the reduction of women in the industry was linked to the introduction of domestic personal computers, which were marketed toward a male demographic. [20]

Today, there are a number of initiatives designed to encourage diversity in the computer science field, and especially to increase the percentage of female computer science professionals. These include calls for mentorship programs, starting outreach campaigns, and promoting learning and working environments that are conducive and welcoming to women. [30]

Featured Degrees
New Jersey Institute of Technology – Master of Science in Computer Science

Be a Leader in Computer Science With a MS in CS. See Your Options Now.

There Are Always New CS Skills to Learn. Explore Your MS in CS Options

Tuition and Fees

There are a number of factors that can greatly affect how much your education will cost. These include whether you attend a public or private institution; whether you attend as an in-state or out-of-state student; and whether you qualify for financial aid like grants or scholarships.

For a more detailed breakdown of tuition, fees, and other financial issues, please visit our tuition and fees page.

References:

[1] https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/CIPDetail.aspx?y=55&cipid=88085

[2] http://www2.itif.org/2016-computer-science-education.pdf

[3] http://www.abet.org/accreditation/accreditation-criteria/criteria-for-accrediting-computing-programs-2016-2017/

[4] http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Science_(MS),_Computer_Science_(CS)/Salary#by_Years_Experience

[5] http://www2.itif.org/2016-computer-science-education.pdf

[6] http://www.datamation.com/data-center/artificial-intelligence-vs.-machine-learning-whats-the-difference.html

[7] https://www.journals.elsevier.com/theoretical-computer-science/

[8] https://www.supplychainmarket.com/doc/how-to-define-internet-computing-0001

[9] http://www.information-age.com/businesses-must-make-cyber-security-skills-priority-2017-123463849/

[10] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm

[11] https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/02/obamas-push-for-computer-science-education/459276/

[12] https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/computer-and-information-research-scientists.htm#tab-6

[13] https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-2/c2s3.htm

[14] https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_349.asp

[15] https://www.cs.purdue.edu/history/history.html

[16] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TN1Paec1S_EC&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=history+of+computer+science+microsoft&source=bl&ots=05jM7hbqdU&sig=_P8OrGv03EYrGXa60N_-_ZCDMBM&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22computer%20science%22&f=false p28

[17] http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/us/en/icons/compsci/

[18] http://www.livescience.com/20718-computer-history.html

[19] http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/10/06/345799830/the-forgotten-female-programmers-who-created-modern-tech

[20] http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-women-stopped-coding

[21] http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/education/data/cps/historical/fig10.jpg.

[23] https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public

[25] David Moschella, James Kirk – http://ybc.tv/video/double-deep-employees-of-the-future/

[26] http://fortune.com/2015/06/01/google-diversity-demographics/

[27] http://www.abet.org/accreditation/accreditation-criteria/criteria-for-accrediting-computing-programs-2016-2017/

[28] http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Computer_Science_(MCS)/Salary

[29] http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Bachelor_of_Science_(BS_%2F_BSc)%2C_Computer_Science_(CS)/Salary#by_Years_Experience

[30] http://www.computerscience.org/resources/women-in-computer-science/