Best Online Master's in Computer Science Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Computer Science Degree?

Computer science is a broad field that includes a number of subfields, such as software development and cybersecurity. Computer science schools are available across the country, from computer science schools in New Jersey to California, as well as online computer science programs. At the master's level, students can typically earn an online Master of Science (MS) in Computer Science or a Master of Computer Science (MCS) degree. Many of these programs are non-thesis, terminal degree programs that help prepare students for a range of advanced positions within the field. Some of these online programs may offer various concentration areas and/or degree emphases, such as an emphasis in software development. Here we discuss these online master's programs in more depth.

The Best Online Masters Degree Programs in Computer Science

1. University of Illinois at Springfield

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11928 77% 54% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

2. Davenport University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$19338 82% 49% 98% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

3. University of North Dakota

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9736 81% 61% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits

4. East Carolina University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$7238 79% 66% 79% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits

5. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9101 45% 82% 68% Yes Yes AP Credits

6. Georgia Southwestern State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$5500 58% 38% 95% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

7. University of Idaho

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$8304 78% 56% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$17274 59% 85% 64% Yes Yes AP Credits

9. National University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$13320 89% 29% 33% Yes Yes AP / ACE / NCCRS Credits

10. University of South Carolina-Columbia

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12688 69% 77% 95% Yes Yes AP Credits

11. University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$10382 68% 51% 96% Yes Yes AP Credits

12. Purdue University-Main Campus

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9992 60% 82% 65% Yes Yes AP Credits

13. Georgia Southern University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$6463 54% 50% 91% Yes Yes AP Credits

14. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$12682 21% 90% 69% Yes Yes AP Credits

15. Franklin University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9577 No Available Data (2019-2020) 28% 96% No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Why Should I Get an Online Computer Science Master's Degree?

Students wondering if they should major in computer science or if the degree is worth the effort, may want to consider their career goals. Earning an advanced technical degree, including one in computer science, can help qualify students for a variety of advanced positions in the growing field of technology. Not only does this increase students job prospects, but is likely to lead to an increase in pay. For instance, when comparing an MBA (Master of Business Administration) vs. an MS in Computer Science salary, PayScale.com reported that MBA graduates made a median annual salary of $89,382 as of February 2021, while graduates with an MS in Computer Science made a median annual salary of $102,947 during the same time period. Earning an online degree in the field gives students the same level of technical training with the flexibility of learning at home.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Computer Science?

Many online master's programs in computer science are available in full- and/or part-time formats. The chosen format may affect the time to degree completion. For instance, some full-time programs allow students to finish their degree in as little as 1 year, but may take up to 2 years. Other part-time formats may take between 2.5 to 5 years to complete. Students may have a cap of 5 years to complete their master's degree. Course load and a student's educational background may also affect how long it takes to finish the degree. For example, at least one online master's program allows students with a bachelor's degree in computer science to finish their master's in 1 year because of the various computer science courses they have already taken.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Computer Science

Many online master's programs in computer science range from about 30 to 32 credits of coursework, but some programs may require as many as 45 units of coursework. Depending on the program, students may be able to further focus their studies in a particular concentration area and/or through elective courses. Some programs may require a final project of some kind to help students review and apply the various skills they have learned. Most programs consist of core courses in computer science with electives, but some programs may also include concentration courses. Learn more about different course topics below.

Computer Science Foundational Courses

Students may take between 16 and 35 credits of core computer science courses, depending on the program. While some programs may only require core courses, others may divide core courses into different subject areas and let students choose. For instance, one online program allows students to choose 4 different core courses from areas such as scientific computing, artificial intelligence, systems and networking, and programming languages and software engineering. In general, these core courses provide students with advanced technology-related skills and further develop their leadership and problem-solving skills. Some programs may conclude with a final master's project or project portfolio, but most of these programs are non-thesis programs. Students may take core courses in topics such as:

  • Programming
  • Machine learning
  • Database management systems
  • Algorithms
  • Information assurance/security
  • Operating systems
  • Cloud computing
  • Data mining
  • Data visualization
  • Software development

Computer Science Specialist and Elective Courses

Some online master's programs in computer science may round out the degree with elective courses, while others may allow students to choose from a list of given concentration or specialization areas. Either way, these courses are designed to allow students to pursue personal interests in the field and/or prepare for a specific position after graduation. Depending on the program, students may take around 12 credits of electives. Programs that offer online concentrations may offer them in areas such as:

  • Big data
  • Cybersecurity
  • Software engineering
  • Computer security
  • Data science
  • Bioinformatics
  • Image processing and pattern recognition
  • Database and data mining

Licensure and Certification in Computer Science

Professional certification in the field of computer science is common, but is highly specific to various positions. For instance, several different positions in the field, including computer network analysts and network and computer systems administrators, may be required to earn certification in the specific products that they work with on a regular basis. Computer programmers may also need certification in a particular product and/or programming language. Typically, these types of certifications are available from the vendor of these products. For example, Microsoft provides a wide range of professional certifications in various areas of computer science. Professionals may pursue Microsoft's certification as a security engineer, administrator, functional consultant, data scientist, and more. These certifications are also sorted by level, with beginner, intermediate, and advanced certifications available. Most certifications require an exam of some kind.

Admissions Requirements for Online Computer Science Master's Programs

Online master's degree programs in computer science typically require applicants to hold at least a bachelor's degree. Although this degree is not usually required to be in computer science or a related field, students with a background outside of computer science may be required to meet various prerequisites. Most programs require applicants to have some programming language experience, such as experience working with Java, C++, Python, and more. Students may also be required to have prior coursework and/or knowledge in areas such as:

  • Calculus
  • Operating systems
  • Data structures and algorithms
  • Statistics
  • Program/software design
  • Linear algebra
  • Programming

It is fairly common for these online programs to require a minimum GPA, such as a 3.0 or higher. Several programs do not require the GRE, but students should check the requirements for their school of interest. Other common application materials may include transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and/or a resume.

Choosing an Online Computer Science Master's Program

There are many different items to consider when choosing from the diverse online master's programs available in computer science. Students start by considering their personal interests and career goals to decide if they need to pursue a general computer science master's or one that offers specific concentration areas. Students who focus their studies in a particular area may be better equipped or qualified for specific job titles. Personal preferences concerning the curriculum may also come into play, as students compare what types of courses are available and/or culminating experiences, such as projects and portfolios. Those wishing for hands-on experiences may desire a program that is project-based and offers various ways to apply what students are learning.

Other more general factors to consider when choosing a program may include items such as accreditation, cost, and other personal preferences. For instance, employers usually prefer candidates who have earned a degree from an accredited institution. Schools with online master's programs in computer science may be regionally accredited by groups like the Higher Learning Commission. Comparing the price of an online program may also help students make a decision that is right for them and their budget. Students should also explore any available forms of financial aid at their schools of interest. Finally, students may want to look for programs that offer various resources or other unique characteristics, such as one-on-one advising and small class sizes.

What Can I Do with a Computer Science Master's Degree?

Graduates with a master's degree in computer science can pursue diverse computer-related positions in a variety of fields. For instance, students may work in areas such as computer software, aerospace, architecture, consulting, bioinformatics, communications, and more. Some job titles may even combine multiple fields, such as becoming a computer science engineer or a computer science professor. Generally, graduates are prepared to take on more advanced positions that may have more responsibilities and/or supervise other workers. Although exact titles and requirements vary by employer, graduates of these online master's programs may pursue careers such as:

  • Computer network administrator
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Computer scientist
  • IT consultant
  • Software developer
  • Computer programmer
  • Quality assurance engineer
  • Computer system architect

Job Outlook for a Master's in Computer Science

With the growing demand and use for technology, graduates with a master's degree in computer science should easily be able to find a job after graduation. The flexibility of the degree also increases job prospects, as students may qualify for multiple positions. While the individual job outlooks for various positions differ, in general, much of the growth is positive. However, some positions may be growing faster than others. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that network and computer systems administrators had a job outlook of 4% from 2019 to 2029, which is as fast as the national average. Computer systems analysts, on the other hand, had a job outlook of 7% for the same time period, which is faster than average. Overall, the BLS reported that computer occupations had a job outlook of 11% from 2019 to 2029.

How to Become a Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Those wishing to become a network and computer systems administrator must have at least a bachelor's degree, typically. However, some employers may only require a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree, while still others may require a master's degree. Usually, these administrators hold a degree in or related to computer or information science, but some may also have a background in related areas, such as computer or electrical engineering. Staying updated with current trends and technologies in the field is important, so many of these professionals may participate in continuing education opportunities. Most employers also require them to have certification in the programs and products they use on a regular basis.

Per the BLS, network and computer systems administrators made a median annual salary of $83,510, as of 2019. These administrators are responsible for organizing a variety of computer systems for an organization, including local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). They are also responsible for installing, troubleshooting, maintaining, and updating these various systems as needed. Training users how to properly access and utilize these different computer systems may also be a key role for these professionals.

How to Become a Computer Systems Analyst

It is also fairly common for organizations to require computer systems analysts to hold at least a bachelor's degree in areas pertaining to computer or information science, although some employers may not require a technical degree. Depending on the employer, a master's degree may be preferred. Based on the position, a technical master's degree in computer science may be needed, while other positions may benefit more from a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a focus in information systems. Some of these analysts may need to have additional background or familiarity with the particular field in which they work, such as finance or healthcare. Continuing education is also important to stay updated on the latest advances in the field.

As of 2019, according to the BLS, computer systems analysts made a median annual salary of $90,920. Computer systems analysts work to make an organization's computer systems more efficient and effective. This requires them to analyze and then adjust or redesign current systems and procedures. They may need to install new systems, train users, test systems, and compare costs and benefits of new projects.

Computer Science Professional Organizations

To help professionals in the field of computer science stay updated on the most current trends and technologies, professional organizations in computer science provide a variety of resources. These organizations may also offer additional benefits to members and ways for professionals to connect with others in the field around the country and/or world. Each professional organization is unique and typically has its own set of goals and objectives. Some of these groups may be broader or more general in nature, while others may focus on a particular area of computer science or population within the field. A couple of computer science organizations available include:

  • Association for Computing Machinery- The ACM is a broader group that aims to advance computing as a science and profession through involvement in public policy and education. The group hosts conferences, gives awards, and posts publications to its website. The ACM's Learning Center provides online tools for professional development, including TechTalks and online books.
  • Association for Women in Computing- The AWC is a group specifically for women in computing-related professions and works to support and advance women in the profession. The group offers membership and local chapters, as well as mentoring, professional networking, and continuing education opportunities.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Computer Science

Although students can enter an online master's degree program in computer science with any degree background, those with a background in computer science or a related field will be at an advantage. As mentioned, many of these master's programs have prerequisite courses for those who do not have a background in the field and this may extend the time to degree completion with extra courses, whereas some programs may allow those who already have a degree in the field to finish in as little as 1 year. Some students may enter these graduate programs with a double major, such as a computer science and mechanical engineering double major or other specific areas of computer science, such as cybersecurity and software development.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Computer Science

Some graduates of a master's program in computer science may wish to continue their studies in the field. Those wishing to earn a doctoral degree online may choose from a Doctor of Computer Science or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Computer Science. Some of these programs may still have some in-person requirements on campus and commonly include research opportunities and/or a dissertation. Depending on the program, students may be able to earn their doctoral degree in as little as 3 years.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants for Online Master's in Computer Science Programs

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can notify students of any federal and/or state loans or grants that they may qualify for, but students also have a variety of financial aid options beyond loans. Scholarships and grants are a great option because they do not have to be repaid and are widely available from a number of sources for an array of reasons. For example, students in computer science may find scholarships from their particular school of interest or technology-related organizations. Some of these scholarships may be intended for a specific population of students within the field and/or have different qualification requirements. A couple of scholarship examples for master's students in computer science include:

  • Double Jumbo Scholarships- In order to try and recruit alumni to earn their master's at the school, Tufts University offers this scholarship for alumni pursuing their online MS in Computer Science. The award provides students with waived application fees, a 20% discount on tuition, and only requires 2 letters of recommendation.
  • Generation Google Scholarship- Google provides this scholarship for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in computer science. Underrepresented communities are strongly encouraged to apply and winners receive $10,000 to put towards their degree.
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