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.
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:
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. 
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:
Computer science professionals can find employment in all industries and throughout private, public, and nonprofit organizations. Key employer industries include:
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. 
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: 
The length of an online master’s degree program can depend on a number of variables, perhaps the most prominent of which is the pace at which you choose to study. You can finish a typical master’s degree program in about two to three years if you choose to study full-time, although some accelerated programs may be able to help you finish more quickly.
Online master’s degree programs tend to offer flexibility suitable for students who choose to study part-time. This option will likely extend your time to completion, but it can allow you to study while fulfilling your familial, social, and professional obligations.
You can find more information on this topic at our program length overview page.
How many credit hours are required?
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.
While each program will set its admissions 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 admissions requirements page.
The broad nature of computer science means that there are various alternatives to the Master 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:
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:
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.
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 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. 
The first department of computer sciences in the United States was established at Purdue University in October 1962.  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. 
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. 
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.  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. 
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. 
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.
Most computer science master’s programs require an undergraduate degree in computer science or its equivalent from an accredited college or university.
No matter what area you work in, you must be familiar with computing fundamentals to understand and use technology. A computer science degree develops communication, leadership, and management skills along with technical abilities.
The growth of technology-based jobs across industries has created a need for skilled workers. Many industries need computer science skills, and employers are seeking graduates in diverse areas including software systems design, internet computing, and networking.
Employment of computer and information research scientists is projected to grow 11% from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Computer scientists are likely to enjoy excellent job prospects, because many companies report difficulties finding these highly skilled workers. 
If you are pursuing a degree in computing, engineering, or applied science, you will need to familiarize yourself with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology and what it does. ABET is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that sets the global standard for post-secondary programs in computing, engineering, and applied science. These standards help to ensure that an education from an accredited school provides the knowledge students need to succeed in the workplace. 
Potentially, yes. ABET accreditation is the industry standard and offers your MSCS a level of credibility that non-accredited programs may not match.
ABET accreditation ensures that an accredited degree provides the skills and education necessary for employment in the industry. Accreditations are a strong indication of quality, and are also a requirement for students who plan to apply for federal financial aid. Accreditation ensures that your degree is recognized by employers, professional associations, and other accredited institutions of higher education.
Regionally accredited institutions are predominantly academically oriented, nonprofit schools. Regional accreditation is a hallmark of traditional not-for-profit education across the country. In most cases, regionally accredited programs will only accept transfer credits from another regionally accredited institution. Less common is national accreditation. National accreditation is handled by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which oversees accreditation commissions. It is only awarded to schools with specific vocations, in many cases for-profit universities. While all programs are eligible for national accreditation, regional accreditation is more respected.
While ABET accreditation is extremely important, regional accreditation is also worth your consideration. There are a number of regional accrediting organizations that oversee higher education institutions in their areas:
Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) 
New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE) 
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) 
Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) 
Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) 
Higher Learning Commission (HLC) 
If you graduate from an accredited program, your degree will remain accredited, because the curriculum at the time of your graduation was accredited.
SARA (State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement) applies only to distance education programs in the United States that cross state lines. This agreement is made between member states and establishes comparable postsecondary national standards for distance education courses. 
Not every state is a SARA member. Through SARA, member states only have to receive authorization in their home state. Without SARA, non-member states would have to receive authorization in their home state and the state of each of their online students. 
Every school has a department or team responsible for online education. This department will be able to answer questions regarding compliance for your home state. Additionally, you can locate the school through SARA (if it is a SARA institution) to confirm compliance. 
From a pure accreditation standpoint, there is only an “accredited” and “non-accredited” ranking; there is no grading scale. However, there are other factors that go into ranking a program, such as curriculum, faculty, cost, reputation, graduation rate, and job placement rate, among others.
Anyone who has earned a master’s in computer science knows that it requires a great deal of time and money. If you currently possess a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or a related degree, you might be wondering if the time and money you will spend getting a graduate degree is worth it. You have a degree that will help you get your foot in the door and the knowledge that will help you earn a good reputation, but advanced knowledge may be necessary to take your career to the next level. Find out how much you can expect to spend on your degree and then focus on how much you could potentially earn.
The computer science industry is projected to grow much faster than other industries over the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While some niches within the field are expected to grow more quickly than others, computer science is an excellent choice if you want a career with a solid future and high earnings. 
Most programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in computer science, information systems, information technology, computer engineering, or an undergraduate degree in mathematics, physics, or engineering plus a background in computer programming, data structures, databases, networking, or operating systems. Applicants should review the curriculum to see if they have a satisfactory background in programming and math. Some programs offer prerequisite courses designed for those without a previous background in CS.
Programs with concentrations require students to take certain classes. For example, students with a networking concentration will have more cloud computing and network management-based classes. While the core, foundational courses will remain the same, concentrations will tweak your curriculum to fit your focus.
Look for an MSCS online curriculum that suits your needs. Pick one that has a specialization that aligns with your career goals. Find a curriculum that also fits your schedule or helps you get closer to career advancement. There are many online MSCS programs, so identify the one that works for you.
Asynchronous coursework can be completed on your own time — a big plus for many online graduate students who may be working around a busy work schedule or home life. Synchronous coursework has to be completed within a set timeframe. This is typically done for group projects, seminars, presentations, and other learning initiatives that require multiple attendees.
The elements of asynchronous and synchronous learning in your online program depend on the professor and the course. Once you enroll, reach out to teachers for specifics, but remember that the curriculum may be divided into these two subsets.
Most employers are aware that online programs are now being offered at traditional, brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. Your degree won’t state that it was earned online, and a degree from an accredited program is indistinguishable from a degree earned on campus.
An internship can give you useful experience and possibly some connections in the industry.
General MSCS programs provide students a comprehensive learning experience. You would touch on all of the concentrations in smaller doses, rounding off your education. On the other hand, picking a concentration will help to give you an advantage in that specific career path, but you likely won’t have as much knowledge into other specific areas of computer science.
Database and data mining require database structure understanding, knowledge of programming, and usage of operating systems. Networking is focused on cloud computing, web development, and networking structures.
Time spent completing work for individual courses depends on the program and course. For one course you may need to put in up to 16 hours of work a week.
Most computer science master’s programs are composed of about 30-36 credits which can be completed in 18 months to 2 years.
Most programs require two courses a semester if you are receiving financial aid. You can take a minimum of one course per semester though. Financial aid would not be available for one course a semester.
There are many different careers in the computer science field. Below are some common roles and median salaries:
Computer programmer: $79,530 
Computer and information system manager: $131,600 
Software developer: $100,690 
Computer hardware engineer: $111,730 
Computer and information research scientist: $110,620 
Mathematician: $111,110 
With the amount of data being collected and stored today, data mining has taken on much greater significance for public and private organizations of all types. For example:
Law enforcement agencies can use data mining to look for crime patterns.
Retailers can predict buyer behavior and shopping trends, as well as analyze marketing results and customer loyalty patterns.
Financial firms can identify loan repayment patterns and any outlying activities that might point to fraud.
Medical researchers can uncover biological markers that lead to new discoveries in disease treatment.
Telecommunications providers can identify unusual calling patterns and potentially fraudulent activity.
Scientists can more quickly apply their hypotheses by accessing data collected during previous experiments.
No — attaining management/senior positions is not guaranteed through the completion of a master’s degree. These positions often require many years of experience and a significant level of career achievement. However, an advanced degree can help you develop the necessary knowledge and skills required for these positions and also prove your dedication to the field.
Tuition can vary significantly based on a number of factors. Among a sampling of accredited online master’s programs, the average cost of tuition was $44,317.
Generally there are supplementary costs apart from tuition. The tuition does not usually include the cost of books or additional fees. These additional costs will vary from program to program.
Yes, there are grant and scholarship opportunities for MSCS students. A number of programs and organizations may offer scholarships and other financial aid opportunities. The program in which you enroll may also have scholarships available.
Start with a cost-benefit analysis based on the price of the degree and the potential ROI. Weigh the full cost against the positive outcomes you expect as a graduate, which may include a boost in earning potential, upward mobility, or job satisfaction.
Whether you will need to complete the GRE prior to applying for a program will largely depend on what school you have chosen. There are many programs that do not require a GRE. Check the admissions requirements for your school before applying.
Joining an industry-specific organization can help set professional and educational standards and provide job and career services for members.
A few prominent organizations in the computer science field include:
ACM (Association for Computing Machinery): The “world’s largest educational and scientific computing society,” focused on advancing computing as a science and a profession. 
American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI): A “nonprofit scientific society devoted to advancing the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines.” 
Association for Women in Computing (AWC): “One of the first professional organizations for women in computing” focused on “promoting the advancement of women in the computing professions.” 
Computing Research Association (CRA): Its focus is “to enhance innovation by joining with industry, government, and academia to strengthen research and advanced education in computing.” 
IEEE Computer Society: The “world’s leading membership organization dedicated to computer science and technology.” 
IEEE (Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers): The “world’s largest professional association for the advancement of technology.” 
IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology): Seeks “to inspire, inform, and influence the global engineering community, supporting technology innovation to meet the needs of society.”