Arguably, there have been two major technological inventions that transformed America in the 20th century: automobiles and computers.
From Henry Ford’s Model T automobile and the creation of the assembly line in 1908 to the development of the first personal computer in 1971 by John Blankenbaker (Kenbak Corporation), each invention has been improved on and revised to what is commonplace today, with improvements made every day. Names such as Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Jobs advanced personal computing to an unimaginable degree.
The importance of this field can be understood by the commitment and development of computer science studies at colleges and universities ranging from the bachelor, master’s, and doctoral levels.
By 2025, more than 169.86 million US households will have a computer (Statista, 2022) and behind those computers and their functions are computer science professionals who, using theory, are responsible for designing software and software systems.
Today, computer scientists study computer networks and systems, software engineering, develop program languages, develop database systems, bioinformatics, human-computer interaction, and more. Computer science also involves understanding computer theory and the development of algorithms.
Why Get Your Degree Online?
This may be redundant when speaking of computer science; after all, Computer Science is what makes online education possible. The advancement of computer programming and networking during the global Covid-19 pandemic allowed many businesses, companies, and schools to continue operations by allowing employees and students to continue their studies and work.
Unless you are a favorite cousin of Steve Wozniak, you probably need to work to fulfill personal and family obligations. Perhaps you need to be able to set your own schedule. Or, maybe, you’re trying to find and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Over the years, there’s been misinformation and questions about online degree programs; at one time, those concerns were warranted. Today, online degrees provide the same curriculum offered to on-campus students and are designed and taught by the same faculty.
Online programs are typically accelerated and offered in shorter terms (8-10 weeks) that let you move through the curriculum faster. The benefits of these accelerated programs are the less time you spend in school, the quicker you earn your degree, and the more you save on educational expenses such as tuition, transportation costs, food meal plans (even commuters are required to join meal plans at many schools) and housing.
Earning your degree on your own timeframe means less disruption of your work. This has become such a popular method of earning a college degree that more and more employers support employees’ advanced education and provide educational assistance as a part of an employee’s benefits package.
Employers are especially agreeable if your degree program will benefit your work. Governments, companies, and organizations offer educational assistance through tuition payments or reimbursement, grants, fellowships, or scholarships. You should talk with Human Resources, your manager or director, to determine what might be available.
What Will You Study?
An MS degree in Computer Science is heavily concentrated on math and science with a healthy dose of analytical skills thrown in. A graduate curriculum in computer science typically requires 30-36 credit hours and usually be completed in 24 months or more of full-time study. Some programs require Capstone Projects and/or final oral exams. You’ll see programs that offer thesis or non-thesis options.
You’ll find programs specializing in software engineering, robotic systems, bioinformatics, data mining, image processing, graphics, etc. Some online programs will provide opportunities for you to work alongside faculty conducting research studies.
The core curriculum will vary according to the program and school, but generally, most graduate foundational courses will cover advanced studies in:
|Advanced Computer Graphics||Applied Computer Science Theory|
What Can You Do With a Master’s in Computer Science?
While you can find a good job in computer science with a bachelor’s degree, if you want to advance to a leadership or management role, a master’s degree is key. If you want to work as an information research scientist, you’ll typically need a master’s.
Job opportunities for master’s graduates in this field are robust and are considered some of the best technology jobs around (U.S. News and World Report rated programmers #11 in its Best Technology Jobs ranking.) But there are more than just programming careers out there.
A master’s degree in computer science can help you earn a position as a teacher of undergraduate courses in postsecondary and colleges. It’s also a necessary stepping stone for a doctoral degree.
In 2022, Glassdoor (an employer review company) published the 50 Best Jobs in America. The list was created looking at three factors: overall job satisfaction, number of jobs available, and median salary. Some of the best jobs included:
|#15 Information security engineer||#12 Cloud engineer|
|#11 Back-end engineer||#9 Java developer|
|#8 Software engineer||#7 Data engineer|
|#6 Machine learning engineer||#4 DevOps engineer|
|#38 Front-end engineer||#37 Quality assurance engineer|
|#30 Systems engineer||#29 Site reliability engineer|
Is Earning a Degree in Computer Science Worth It?
U.S. News and World Report estimates the general cost for an online Master’s of Computer Science to be between $15,000-$72,000 in tuition with additional, nominal technology fees. Keep in mind your state of residency may impact your tuition costs, but many colleges and universities charge a flat tuition fee, regardless of whether you’re classified as an in-state or out-of-state student.
There’s good news on the Computer Science front. The Bureau of Labor Statistics segments Computer Science careers into several categories, and each has its own plus or minuses. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published projected computer science job growth (2021-2031):
|Computer and Research Scientists||21% (much faster than average)|
|Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers||25% (much faster than average)|
|Computer Programmers||-10% (decline)|
|Computer Systems Analysts||9% (faster than average)|
|Web Developers and Digital Designers||23% (much faster than average)|
Salaries and compensation in this field are impressive. Still, you should also factor in employee benefits such as retirement plans, health insurance, paid time off, bonuses or stock options, educational benefits, and other “perks” of your job.
College Consensus looked at online employment and wage services for salary information based on employee and Human Resources surveys, location, and compensation listed with job openings across the country.
A Sampling of MS Computer Science Careers and Salaries
|Senior Software Engineer||$96k-$169k|
|Software Engineering Manager||$118k-$200k|
|Postsecondary Computer Science Teacher||$52k-$77k|
An MS in Computer Science can qualify you to teach in a public school system or serve as a faculty member at a two-year college. Salaries will be contingent on where you live, but teachers in a secondary school setting earn $52k-78k and full-time community college faculty can earn $55k-$82k.
Online graduate admission has similar requirements as on-campus admission.
Along with an online application (and application fee), you’ll be asked for academic transcripts and have a certain UG GPA (usually 2.5-3.0 minimum). Other documents you may need could be a resume or CV, 2-4 letters of recommendation, a personal letter of purpose, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®).
Your undergraduate degree must be from an accredited program, but you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s in computer science. If you have undergraduate courses in algorithms, programming, computer networking, etc., or other prerequisites you may still be admitted. Employment experience in computer science may also be considered by the admissions committee if your bachelor’s degree isn’t in computer science.
At one time, you needed GRE/GMAT test scores as part of your graduate admission package. Frequently, however, colleges and universities no longer require test scores, and there is a trend to move away from these tests. Schools that do request test scores may waive that requirement if you have professional experience in the industry.
It may seem obvious, but pay close attention to university graduate admission deadlines. The Graduate School deadlines may not be the same (and, frequently, aren’t) as the program deadlines. You should talk with the program director about the graduate program you’re interested in to be sure it’s a good fit and establish a relationship with the department.
Nothing can complicate and scuttle your admission like missing a deadline.
You’ll want to check the accreditation status of the online college or university and the program. Seeking accreditation by a school or degree program is voluntary and is your assurance the online graduate program meets certain educational quality standards and student services.
There are three types of accreditation:
Reputable colleges and universities are regionally or nationally accredited by a Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) approved agency. Examples of regional accreditation are from agencies like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), or The Higher Learning Commission (HLC). There are others, and your school will publish its accreditation status. This guarantees the school meets specific quality standards and awards online degrees.
Programmatic accreditation is a bonus for career professionals and guarantees completion of the program components can lead to any required certification and licensure.
Professional organizations recognized by the industry approve program accreditation. Program accreditation aims to acknowledge that the online (or on-campus) degree sufficiently prepares students for their chosen field.
The prominent professional program accreditation for Computer Science is granted by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which verifies degrees in:
- Computer Science
- Software Engineering
- Computer Engineering
- Information Technology
- Information Systems
This accreditation applies primarily to technical and vocational schools and programs. Examples of this accreditation are the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), and others.
You may not think you should file for financial aid, but you should. In fact, many schools require it as part of your admission application.
Don’t Think You’ll Qualify?
Consider this, colleges and departments often have funds available for graduate students. Those funds may be in the form of fellowships, scholarships, or grants, and those funds may depend on financial need. That’s where the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) comes in.
The department’s committee that awards funds will use the FAFSA® calculations of your financial need to determine your qualification. Completing the financial aid application may be time-consuming, but the possible reward will be worth it. You’ll want to discuss funding with the admissions counselor, program director, or financial aid officer to determine available funds.
If you need to apply for federal student loans, your school the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) is necessary to determine if you meet the requirements.
More and more businesses are learning that supporting employee education is a major consideration for satisfaction and retention. You should talk with your Human Resources representative to determine if your employer offers tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement as part of your employee benefits package and what you need to do to use it.
But don’t limit your education benefits to just tuition; explore if you’ll qualify for help with books, fees, or other charges.
It’s worth a discussion.
Professional Organizations, Certifications and Licensure
There are a number of professional organizations in this field, depending on your expertise or interests. If you work in web development, computer science, and healthcare, data mining, machine learning, or another specialization, you’ll find a professional organization that can offer membership support. Here are some of the organizations:
Association for Women in Computing – the first organization for women in the computer technology field with worldwide and individual chapters. Offers mentoring, continuing education, and networking opportunities
Association for Computing Machinery – offers conferences, publications, promotion of ethical computing practices
Association of Information Technology Professionals – offers CompTIA IT certifications and resources in networking and cybersecurity
Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) – offers the Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) certification, career fairs, continuing education, career assistance, and resources for educators, government officials, and others. There are also scholarships and fellowships, a speakers program, etc.
Computing Research Association – information and support for students and professional researchers. Sponsors workshops, career services, and advocacy
Certifications (partial list)
Boosting your skill sets is never a bad idea.
Technology and computer operations continue to emerge, and earning certification is the best way to keep current. Depending on where you work, your employer may require you to earn certification for a particular product. Health systems are a good example. As healthcare advances, so does the technology to support it. Having a vendor-specific certification may be required to support the clinical staff, physicians, and patients.
- CISCO Certifications
- Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect
- Certified Ethical Hacking Course
- Microsoft SQL Server Certifications
- CompTIA A+ Certification
- Apple Certified Support Professional
It’s unusual, but not out of the question, for licensure to be required for this field. If you become a public school or two-year college teacher, you may need to be licensed in the field to teach.
10 Best Online Masters in Computer Science
It’s hard to put a value on a master’s degree from this nationally recognized Alabama university and its science programs. The Master of Science in Computer Science and Software Engineering of the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering has a non-thesis option or thesis (with departmental approval). Specializations in this 33-credit hour degree include cybersecurity, data science and databases, computer networks, artificial intelligence, and more. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree, and the GRE requirement is waived for online students. If your undergraduate degree isn’t in technology, science, mathematics, or engineering, you can still apply and be evaluated for admission.
Dakota State University
Dakota State University opened in 1881 in the Dakota Territory. A small school, DSU is ambitious and among its graduate programs is its online Masters of Science in Computer Science (MSCS). The online graduate Computer Technology Programs rank #36 by U.S. News and World Report’s Best Online Programs for 2022-23. Described as a pragmatic program, this degree has a market-based computer science focus in areas such as cyber security or artificial intelligence. If your bachelor’s degree is in a non-computer science field, you’ll need to submit GRE/GMAT scores for admission consideration.
Suppose you’re currently an IT professional looking to advance your degree. In that case, you should explore the M.S. Computer and Information Science, which has two specializations if you want: Information Assurance and Cyber Defense or Computing Career Change Opportunity (COSMIC). You can choose between 36-42 semester hours using synchronous online courses, the coursework option, which blends seminars, classes, independent study, and an optional integrated practicum. GRE scores are required only if you’re applying for financial aid. In 2022, this online program ranked in the top 15 of U.S. News and World Report for graduate computer science programs.
New Jersey Institute of Technology
NJIT is the public polytechnic university of New Jersey and has a 130-year tradition of training students to be industry leaders. The online MS in Computer Science is a 30-credit-hour program that addresses design techniques, the development of computer systems as well as software. You have five specialization options: Bioinformatics, Database & Data Mining, Computer Networking & Security, Software Engineering, and Image Processing & Pattern Recognition. The school publishes an average starting salary for a master’s prepared NJIT student in Computer Science is $82,232.
Old Dominion University
This program ranked in the top 100 of U.S. News and World Report’s “2022 Best Online Master’s in Computer Information Technology” and is taught by expert faculty with diverse research interests. You’ll have the opportunity to work with the faculty on research in areas such as cloud computing, mobile computing, computational biology, and more. The curriculum requires 31-34 credit hours, and you can choose from three options: coursework, thesis, or project. This is a very flexible program with only exams and course assignments requiring a timeline. Tuition cost per credit is at a reasonable $571-$595 per hour.
Texas Tech University
Provided by the eLearning & Academic Partnerships of Texas Tech, you can earn an online Master of Science In Computer Science (M.S.C.S.) in 31-37 for a thesis or non-thesis option, respectively. You’re required to name a degree plan (which can be modified later, if needed) during your first semester. A final, comprehensive exam is necessary to complete the degree. Subjects covered in this curriculum include artificial intelligence, computer networks, data science, and more. If your undergraduate degree isn’t in computer science, you may need to take leveling courses in mathematics studies in calculus, algorithm analysis, and statistics, among others. Newsweek named the eLearning program #1 in its 2022 Best Online Learning School rankings.
University of Louisville
Since 1924, UL has been training technical professionals and has a 21st-century online Master’s in Computer Science. You don’t need a GRE/GMAT for admission, and you may be able to transfer six graduate hours to apply toward this 30-hour Masters. This program offers options: thesis or non-thesis, 100% online or blended with on-campus attendance, and certificates in cybersecurity or data science at no additional cost. You’ll learn, or improve, your skills in big data, data mining, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and computer security. You can graduate in as few as two years with this degree.
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
The online Master of Computer Science from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities is a coursework-only degree and requires 31 credit hours for completion. You’ll be taught by faculty with industry experience, and courses are offered through the College of Science and Engineering. No GRE scores are required for admission consideration. This MS is designed with the working professional in mind and includes studies in artificial intelligence, robotic systems, database systems, interactive web design, and more. The program has a hard March 1 deadline for fall admission.
University of North Dakota
Fully online, you can earn this M.S. in Computer Science from UND in 30-credit hours with either a thesis or non-thesis option in approximately two years. This program takes a holistic approach with studies in artificial intelligence, advanced computer graphics, database systems, software engineering and design, and much more. UND has been nationally recognized as a top value and top college by Niche and Forbes as well as The Princeton Review. There are two application deadlines, August 1 and December 1 for the Fall and Spring semesters, respectively. The college also offers a 4+1 B.S./M.S. in Computer Science which is also an online program.
University of Oklahoma
The Gallogly College of Engineering’s College of Engineering has an accelerated, online Master’s in Computer Science you can earn in approximately 21 months. In 33 credit hours (11 courses), you’ll study various advanced and applied computer science theories in machine learning, network science, data mining, computer security, text analysis, etc. OU is recognized as having one of the nation’s Best Online Master’s in Engineering Programs by U.S. News and World Report. This graduate program is accredited by the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET.