Many modern professionals are seeing the impact of technology within their own fields of work, realizing the critical importance of mastering computer and information sciences to succeed. This guide is designed to chart a few different paths towards developing these all-important technical skills, including graduate degree programs within the state of Illinois.
Illinois is home to the nation’s fifth largest economic output, with the city of Chicago boasting the third highest GDP out of all US cities. Known as the Prairie State, Illinois has a number of booming business sectors including agriculture, advanced manufacturing, financial services, and logistics. Big business means advanced information technology (IT) systems, and a high demand for professionals who can manage this IT infrastructure.
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a total of 175,110 jobs in computer and mathematical occupations, with a very high average salary of $93,580. Unlocking one of these careers can happen in a few different ways. However, there is one commonality between them all: attaining and demonstrating the core technical capabilities required to integrate computational capabilities within your work. There are no shortcuts to these types of skills, but there are plenty of options for how to obtain them.
From graduate degrees and PhDs, to boot camps and certification, professionals can commit anywhere from three months to four years towards their technical education. As not everyone is starting in the same place, it’s important to map out each option in relation to your own personal career goals. This guide is designed to help you do just that. Let’s start with the most common path: graduate degrees.
Computer Science Master’s Programs in Illinois
Many professionals already have some form of undergraduate qualifications, though these usually aren’t specifically focused on computer science. That’s okay, as most programs are happy to accept students from other educational backgrounds. Programs typically require 30 to 60 credits, which equates to a year or two of commitment to graduate school coursework. Let’s take a look at some Illinois-based university options:
- Northwestern University: Northwestern University is ranked highly on the national level, with widely ranging research tracks within their graduate level computer science programs. Whether you have an interest in diving into the development of robotics, or exploring the latest in artificial intelligence, Northwestern is going to be a top choice for your graduate program. Expect to pay $19,155 per quarter, and you can complete that degree within three quarters total.
- University of Chicago:Another highly ranked option, the University of Chicago is home to a Master’s Program in Computer Science (MPCS). This is a generalized program with plenty of room to customize the curriculum. Tuition is a bit pricey, coming in at over $2,000 per credit hour.
- University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign: The University of Illinois has plenty of campuses scattered across the state, so much of this information will relate to your local university branch. The University of Illinois has highly mature programs in computer science, with a price of $805 per credit hour.
- Loyola University: Loyola is a great choice for students looking for a smaller, private university environment. With two graduate programs to choose from, one in computer science and the other in information technology, it’s useful to investigate each option carefully before committing. There’s a huge variety of concentrations within both tracks, making this a top option for nuanced fields of study. Tuition comes in at $1,080 per credit hour, which is fairly affordable for a Chicago-based private university.
Illinois is a central hub for higher education, so there are plenty of options to consider. The three best considerations are going to be price, location, and available coursework. Be sure to check out the computer science master’s degree guide for more info, and the computer science degree options guide for additional program background.
Working professionals tend to have limited time and resources available, making flexible programs highly prized at the graduate level. This has resulted in a transition towards remote learning via online graduate degree programs. For locals in Illinois, there are quite a few of these available to consider. Let’s take a look.
Online Computer Science Programs in Illinois
If a graduate degree sounds like the right approach, but the time commitment of an onsite program is a little too daunting, it’s a good idea to consider online options. The primary success factor is going to be your ability to self-motivate and commit to developing skills in your spare time. Let’s quickly outline a few options:
- DePaul University: DePaul University is going to be about as good as it gets when it comes to balancing remote learning with a huge variety of graduate degree programs in computer science and related fields. Tuition comes in at the low cost of $722 per credit hour, making it truly the best of both worlds when it comes to cost and convenience. Well worth a look if you’re interested in an online computer science graduate degree.
- University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign: This is another impressive menu for entirely online technical programs, including a graduate degree in computer science specifically. Tuition for online programs is $1,110 per credit hour, so there is a small premium for the convenience of online learning.
- Northwestern University: Northwestern has three options on the table pertaining to computer science: MS in information design and strategy, MS in data science, and an MS in information systems. Online tuition is a bit cheaper than onsite, with a course coming in at $3,803 (or $1,268 per credit hour). This might be the best way to attend Northwestern and get that graduate degree conveniently and affordably.
There are a few small notes to make for anyone about to commit to an online educational program. The first is that advantages such as networking and career services represent a significant value that online students shouldn’t forego. Leaning into the program, meeting new people, and working to get placed into a desirable internship requires more effort when taking an online course, but it’s worth that extra effort.
That being said, the second critical takeaway is that online students need to discipline themselves in fields like this. This is largely due to the tactile nature of the content, where capabilities are easily observable and testable. This means no shortcuts. Online students need to put in the time to master these technical skills in order to gain real value from these programs. That includes taking all of the right courses. Let’s take a look at what these course tend to look like.
Computer Science Courses in Illinois
While there is going to be a significant range in courses, there is also plenty of consistency within the field of computer science. Below we outline some coursework any prospective student should consider, particularly if they’re unsure of exactly what skill to specialize in:
|Theory of Computation||Starting at the start, computer science relies on an underlying theory that all students should have a basic mastery of.||Illinois Tech – CS 530||$4,938|
|Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning||As computer science evolves, artificial intelligence (incorporating machine learning and deep learning) is a significant opportunity in big data management.||Northwestern University – MSDS 458-DL||$3,803|
|Cloud Networking||Understanding how modern databases integrate with cloud-based infrastructure is a highly prized skill (think AWS).||University of Illinois – CS 498||$3,330|
|Natural Language Processing||Natural language processing relies on machine learning to assess the meaning of human interactions. Highly interesting material!||University of Chicago – CSMPCS 53113-1||$6,000|
|Advanced Bayesian Modeling||More advanced students on the data-side of computer science benefit from understanding how statistical frameworks can model data using computers.||University of Illinois – CS 598||$3,330|
Exploring these courses may get you thinking that what you really need is a shorter, more condensed focus on a particular topic within the broader field of computer science as opposed. If that’s the case, you happen to be in luck. The modern trend towards technical boot camps is a great way to get those technical skills faster and cheaper than a graduate degree.
Computer Science Bootcamps in Illinois
Computer science and, more broadly, the technological elements driving modern organizations is a rapidly evolving field of study. Hence the rise of short, intense programs which explore new and interesting topics in technology. These are usually called boot camps, and act as a great way to obtain certification in a specific skill. Illinois has plenty of bootcamp options available:
|Bootcamp Provider||Name of Program||Time||Cost|
|Northwestern University||Data Science and Visualization Bootcamp||24 weeks||$11,995|
|Chicago State University||Cybersecurity Bootcamp||6 months||$4,275|
|University of Illinois||Coding Bootcamp||12-26 weeks||$12,495|
|Northwestern University||Coding Bootcamp||12 or 24 weeks||$11,995|
|Chicago State University||AI/Machine Learning Bootcamp||6 months||$4,275|
These boot camps tend to revolve around coding, web development, cybersecurity, machine learning, and/or data analytics. If you know exactly what skills you need to develop, you can achieve that goal in a very short amount of time. Chicago State University in particular is quite affordable, and is the perfect fit for the self-motivated student on a budget.
Some students are looking to move in the opposite direction, of course, and invest even more heavily into these topics than a graduate student. These professionals typically pursue PhDs/doctorates in some topic within the broader umbrella of computer science. While the specifics tend the vary greatly, it’s worth a quick tour of Illinois-based PhD programs in this field.
Computer Science PhD Programs in Illinois
Opportunities for a PhD are closely linked to students finding a sponsor for their work, which is almost always a professor at a local university who is pursuing similar research interests as the prospective student. A graduate degree will be required, as well as an in-depth thesis demonstrating research capabilities and a strong grasp of the specific concentration that PhD student is pursuing. These programs often take up to four years to complete, so make sure it’s a topic you can spend four years studying!
There are plenty of PhD programs to choose from at the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, and Northwestern University. It’s worth reiterating that students interested in this path should first research each of the professors at these institutions, and identify which of them is pursuing a research interest that matches your own. These are prestigious and highly-sought after careers, so you’ll also want to invest heavily in developing skills that help you stand out from the competition.
For those of us who prefer the business and corporate world, there are a whole bunch of prospective job opportunities in Illinois to pursue after completing your education.
Five In-Demand Jobs in Illinois
Now to see how well all of those certifications and degrees will pay off! Luckily for computer scientists, the pay part of the equation is quite lucrative. There are also a large number of vacancies in technical fields, making for a pretty great landing after investing in a degree. Let’s outline a few top professions for graduate students with expertise in computer science:
- Database Analyst: This is the entry-level position for recent graduates with an understanding of how to build and maintain databases. With 1,500 jobs available in Illinois alone, and an average salary of $68k/year, this is a great starting point for a lucrative career.
- Software Developer: Next up is the development of software applications. Demand is very high in Illinois, with over 7,000 vacancies at the time of writing this guide. Salary is around $87/year.
- Database Engineer: With 1,200 jobs available in Illinois at the time of writing, and an average salary around $111k/year, this is a great illustration of where a database analyst might end up in a few years. Indeed, a graduate degree may be enough to get you to this level off the bat.
- Software Development Manager: For tech specialists who also hold an MBA or leadership experience, moving into a software development management role is incredibly lucrative. You can expect an average salary of $138k/year, with over 5,000 open positions in Illinois alone.
- Network Security Engineer: Now, a huge concern in tech is security. For experts who master network security infrastructure, both high demand (1,500 vacancies in Illinois alone) and a high average salary of $111k/year are easy expectations to hold.
Check out the complete tech career guide, which includes profiles of individual professions working in technology.
While not everyone with a graduate degree in computer science will start out at a six figure salary, some will and many will get there quite quickly. In the meantime, there are tons of technical job vacancies which almost always pay well above the US median salary. As far as educational investments go, this one is highly likely to pay itself off extremely quickly. The question is, do you have the ability to learn these skills? If the answer is yes, then what are you waiting for?