A master’s degree in computer science is a great way to prepare for a rapidly-growing field with many potential opportunities. In addition to the core career paths around software development and programming, computer science has also become the foundation for other fields, such as big data or machine learning.
When pursuing a career in computer science, education level can make a significant difference in certain areas. Some fields are based on a fair amount of theory, and a master’s degree may be required to enter or advance in these areas.
Pursuing a master’s degree in computer science can be a significant investment in both time and money. However, the doors that such a degree opens means that it can quickly pay for itself.
What is a Master’s Degree in Computer Science?
Any master’s degree is a graduate degree that provides a more in-depth understanding of a particular field. In the case of computer science, a master’s degree typically gives more academic exposure to the theory behind computer science.
For example, students pursuing a computer science bachelor’s degree commonly study basic algorithms, data structures, etc. A master’s degree in computer science will explore more advanced concepts in these fields, providing expanded capabilities, better efficiency, etc.
Master’s degree candidates may also dive more into computer science’s “how things work.” For example, students may study language theory, how compilers work, etc. This understanding of computer science’s theoretical foundations can help make students more skilled developers.
Additionally, computer science master’s degree candidates can often pursue specializations. For example, a master’s degree program may focus on machine learning or augmented and virtual reality. These fields are based heavily on theory, and a master’s degree is a good way to gain the necessary background.
Why Pursue a Master’s Degree in Computer Science?
Earning a master’s degree in computer science means taking a couple of years out of the workforce or mixing work and schooling. So why pursue a master’s in computer science?
Earning an advanced degree in computer science can help in a few different ways, such as:
- Job requirements: Some jobs in the computer science field require a master’s degree, especially if these positions are in research and development (R&D) or exist in a highly theoretical field. Earning a master’s degree in computer science is essential to making it past the resume filter to the interview stage.
- Salary and promotions: When moving up through the ranks within a company, demonstrating continued education and development is essential. Additionally, some higher-level positions may require advanced degrees. In both cases, earning a master’s degree in computer science can be a step toward a promotion or a salary boost.
- Specializations: A master’s in computer science provides a better grounding in computer science theory and can include specializations in certain areas. This can be invaluable for gaining the background required to break into certain specialized fields, such as artificial intelligence or machine vision.
A master’s degree in Computer Science requires both time and money. However, in most cases, this investment is quickly paid off by the greater opportunities offered by the advanced degree.
Online Master’s in Computer Science Degree
Increasingly, obtaining an online computer science master’s degree is becoming a popular option for students. Online degree programs now have more options and opportunities for students and can generally be completed while maintaining a job or other life commitments.
An online master’s degree in computer science can be completed with the same level of time commitment (in terms of credit hours) as an on-campus degree. And given the nature of computer science, the digital format of online education works particularly well for computer science. Students can still complete theory and problem set exercises plus long-term projects online.
Completing an online degree program requires sound time management practices. Just because courses online do not mean they have any less academic rigor, so online students need to plan on spending the same amount of time on coursework as on-campus students.
Maybe the best benefit of online learning is being flexible in terms of what program to select. Getting a master’s in computer science degree online also means that students might save some tuition money compared to in-person programs, which can limit options in geography.
Master’s in Computer Science Coursework
The details of a master’s degree program can vary from one institution to another. However, most master’s degrees in computer science programs require students to earn 35 to 40 credits to graduate. This is equivalent to one to two years as a full-time student or three to four years as a part-timer.
In addition to coursework, master’s degree programs commonly want students to have hands-on experience in the field.
Many master’s degree programs require the completion of a thesis, and some will also include an internship or co-op with a company in the field.
Coursework in a master’s degree program can be broken up into “core” classes and specializations. Some of the core competencies that you should expect to see as part of a master’s degree program include:
- Algorithms and data structures
- Computer architecture
- Operating systems
Master’s degree programs can also offer a wide range of specializations. Some common specializations include:
- Data science
- Game development
- Machine learning
- Software engineering
Achieving a master’s degree with a particular specialization can open doors to new opportunities. Many of the available fields as specializations require some theoretical background, which a master’s degree in computer science can provide.
Master’s Degree in Computer Science Requirements
Earning a master’s degree in computer science requires admission into a degree-granting program. A student needs to meet the program requirements and pay their tuition to do so.
Admission requirements for computer science master’s degree programs can vary from one institution to another. Some of the common requirements of these programs include:
- Bachelor’s degree: A master’s degree is a graduate degree, which means that a student typically needs to hold a bachelor’s degree to apply. While it is helpful for this degree to be in a related field, it is not always required. Additionally, some institutions offer five-year programs that confer both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in the field.
- Recommendations: Many schools require recommendations for graduate degrees as part of the application process. These recommendations can be from professors (for recent graduates) or colleagues and others who can vouch for the student.
- Standardized testing: Some schools have standardized testing requirements, such as the GRE or GMAT. When evaluating schools, look for these requirements and ensure that you have taken the correct test and meet the requirements.
- Prerequisites: Graduate programs in computer science expect that students have certain background knowledge going in. Often, not taking these courses is not a deal-breaker as students may take catch-up courses or test out if they already have the necessary knowledge.
Paying for a Computer Science Master’s Degree
The cost of a master’s degree in computer science can vary greatly depending on the institution. Degree seekers can expect a price tag in the range of $15,000 to $72,000 with the price depending on many different factors, including:
- Prestige: As with any degree, more respected institutions are generally more difficult to get into and have higher price tags. However, these more respected degrees open more doors and create opportunities.
- In-state vs. out-of-state: Many schools have different tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students. Pursuing a master’s degree at an in-state school can significantly save costs.
- Location: Tuition is only part of the cost of a degree; moving, room, and board can also dramatically impact the price tag. Attending a local school or taking advantage of online degree programs can help to decrease the overall cost of a master’s degree in computer science.
When considering a master’s degree in computer science, it is also a good idea to look into potential funding sources. Master’s degree students have many potential opportunities to partially or fully offset the cost of their degree, including:
- Scholarships: Computer science is in high demand, and several organizations offer scholarships to help candidates pay for their schooling. Taking advantage of these opportunities can dramatically decrease the cost of a computer science degree.
- Corporate sponsorship: Some companies have programs in place to cover the cost of school for their employees, typically in exchange for a commitment to stay with the company for a certain number of years. If this is the case, it can completely pay the tuition for a master’s degree in computer science.
- Assistantships: Many master’s degree programs include assistantships, where students help professors with their research or help teach classes. These assistantships are another opportunity to decrease the cost of a graduate degree.
Career Outlook for a Master’s in Computer Science
A master’s degree in computer science opens many otherwise unavailable doors. This includes the potential for increased salaries and new opportunities.
While a master’s in computer science can be used in various positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks it as a computer and information research scientist. This particular role acknowledges that holders of advanced degrees in computer science are often in high-level research positions.
According to the BLS, the average salary for a master’s in computer science is $126,830 in 2020, with an hourly rate of $60.97 per hour. This is significantly higher than degrees that require only a bachelor’s in computer science, whose average salaries range from $89,190 (computer programmers) to $110,140 (software developers).
The cost of a master’s degree in computer science can vary greatly, ranging from $15,000 to $72,000 in total tuition.
However, the salary differentials between roles requiring bachelor’s vs. master’s degrees mean that a master’s degree can pay for itself within a couple of years on average, assuming that the student funds the entire degree out of pocket.
This also assumes that a master’s degree holder will pursue a “traditional” research role. Often, senior management positions require advanced degrees. If a master’s degree seeker is targeting one of those roles, the salary bump can be much higher, speeding up the payoff of the degree.
Computer science is a rapidly-growing field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings, including those requiring a master’s degree in computer science, will grow by 15 percent between 2019 and 2029. This is much faster than the average growth of other fields, meaning that those holding a master’s degree in computer science are likely to have a number of potential opportunities.
Additionally, this only counts the role of computer and information research scientists tracked by the BLS. Master’s degree holders can also pursue a number of different roles (data science, machine learning, etc.), which are growing rapidly and providing additional opportunities.
Master’s Degree in Computer Science FAQs
With a master’s degree in computer science comes the potential for advancement to higher-paying positions and the ability to move into different career fields. In general, higher salaries that come with these degrees enable them to pay for themselves within a couple of years.
Higher-level management or research positions often require a master’s degree. Additionally, master’s degrees in computer science provide the option to pursue specializations in fields like big data or machine learning. This opens up a wide range of potential career opportunities that may not otherwise be available.
A master’s degree program usually takes one to two years for a full-time student. Part-time students might take three or more years, depending on the number of classes taken each semester. This time may vary based on program requirements (such as internships or co-ops) and the student’s readiness for the program (especially if prerequisites are needed).
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- How did you first get into computer science (what kind of degree or work experience led you to the field?)
- Why get a master’s in computer science, and why now?
- What’s the best way to prepare for a computer science master’s program? What kinds of skills or experience should students have?
- What else will students learn, besides computer science?
- What types of jobs are computer science graduates finding? Is there a favorite company or organization amongst students?
- If you had to choose one or two books, articles, documentaries, podcasts, etc. to be included on a required reading list for computer science students, what would it be?