Master’s Degree in Computer Science

A master’s degree in science (MS) is the next step in education after getting a bachelor’s degree in science (BS). Many developers stick with a bachelor’s degree and experience, and only a few job paths have a master’s degree requirement, but there is still a lot of value in getting one, particularly if you’re looking to be a top earner, stand out from the fold, and to have an in-depth understanding of computer science.

Here we will cover the cost, requirements, and degree programs for a computer science graduate program. We will also take a look at the job prospects and salaries for those with this degree, and when to consider getting one. All of this info will help you when deciding if an MS in computer science is the right move for you.

A master’s degree is traditionally the next step above a bachelor’s degree in the field of computer science. Students who pursue this advanced degree have access to better job prospects, higher salaries, and automatically higher positions in some companies.

In a master’s degree program in computer science, students vastly expand their knowledge of the field. Students usually select a specialized area within computer science in which to focus, such as software development or hardware development. Computer science master’s degree programs are offered at many universities nationwide.

Here, Computer Science Hero provides an overview of essential information about computer science master’s degree programs. We aim to help you make an informed choice about advanced degrees.

Consider the following important facts about computer science master’s degree programs:

The length of master’s degree programs varies, but students usually complete programs within 1.5 to 2 years.

Student loans are available to master’s degree students.

Master degree holders can earn a PhD (doctorate) after graduation.

University admissions prerequisites include a bachelor’s degree.

Some students complete a master’s degree in computer science part-time.

What is a Master’s (MS) Degree in Computer Science?

An MS degree is a master’s of science, so a graduate of a master’s program in this field would hold a master’s of science in computer science. A master’s degree constitutes the final two years of education at a university in the United States, capping off six total years of learning. It’s called a master’s degree because those that complete this level of education have demonstrated a mastery of the topic.

MS in Computer Science Benefits

A master’s in computer science can offer many benefits to students. The greatest value is for those seeking a career in fields where a master’s degree is considered a requirement, like a position as a data scientist. Beyond this, those without job experience in the field will have a significant advantage over those with no experience and just a BS degree.

However, it should be noted that some hiring managers suggest that spending the two years required for an MS in the field gaining practical experience to be just as beneficial, if not more. In addition, spending six years (and a significant monetary investment) in a field before gaining work experience can be risky, you may devote six years to a career field that you end up hating once you try it.

The above considered, a two-year master’s in computer science is a great way for those with a bachelor’s and work experience to go further in a career that they love and are already invested in. Some companies (like Google) may even pay your tuition to get back a more skilled employee.

Computer Science Graduates

Computer science careers are one of the fastest-growing and high compensation fields available. Computers and software are essential to modern business and the daily lives of many people, and the demand for more and better tech seems never-ending. In addition, the demand for more tech professionals shows no signs of stopping; careers in this field aren’t just lucrative, they have great job security.

  • Computer Science Salary: $86,370
  • Computer Science Job Growth: 12%

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 12% project growth is not only over double the national average of 5.2%, but it’s an average figure. Some fields in computer science have an even higher growth rate, like software developers who have a steep projected growth of 21%.

  • Job Openings
  • Jobs Filled

Computer science job growth far outpaces jobs filled. As the chart demonstrates, there are far more jobs available than individuals qualified enough to fill them. This is why the field of computer science is an excellent way to start a career in technology.

As the number of computer science graduates increases, opportunities in the workforce are filled. However, as the chart above indicates, the number of jobs available far outnumbers the amount filled. Even with a stark increase in graduates over the last decade, there’s still and enormous (and exponentially increasing) demand for fresh talent in the field.

In short, computer science is a future-proof career field that’s worth considering. Computer science salaries are high, and opportunities are plentiful. An associate’s in computer science is an excellent way to test the waters and see if an IT career is right for you.

Certifications are an excellent way to boost your resume. Even if you hold an advanced degree, additional certifications can help you land a job or advance your career. Certification programs are available through large companies—such as Cisco, Apple, and Microsoft—and independent third party certification organizations. With extra credentials, it’s possible to expand your skills to encompass an impressive range of topics. There are many fields in which you can earn certifications, including network administration, cybersecurity, operating systems, and more. 

Cisco is one of the largest network and communication companies in the world. They provide service to a vast number of organizations in the public and private sectors. A Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Certificate is a big asset for any computer science professional.

CompTIA is a major certification organization that offers assessments of the knowledge of network professionals. A Network+ certificate is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge of networks to prospective employers. To earn the certification, simply complete a 90-minute exam and pay a $319 fee.

Apple is the biggest name in computer hardware. They exert their influence across the world, including in the provision of jobs. Apple Certified Associates (ACA) are trained to help businesses integrate iOS and Apple hardware into their work and systems. As such, this certification is an asset to computer science workers.

If you’re looking for an all-in-one computer science technician certification, look no further than CompTIA’s A+ Technician program. This certification covers a wide range of topics, including networks, databases, and cloud computing software. 

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is huge in the world of digital security. Credentials like this are essential for cybersecurity professionals. Now is a great time to get into the field as demand for workers is high.

In addition to Apple, Microsoft also offers certifications for people interested in working with its products. Computer science students and graduates can earn this certification to demonstrate an ability to work with Microsoft system infrastructure, cloud computing, communication, and data.

Computer Science Master’s Degree Jobs

Those holding a master’s degree in computer science get the advantage of being at the higher end of the above estimate pools. While there are few tech jobs with an MS requirement, those with a master’s have the opportunity to earn even more in many job fields. With the help of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), we will go over what MS degree holders can expect in many common tech fields.

‘Senior’ Computer Science Positions

At some companies, people with an advanced degree in technology can bypass a few years of experience and earn a ‘senior’ title. These professionals earn more than their less-educated counterparts, and often take on more responsibility, working alongside other developers and IT techs.
  • Salary: $100,000 to $200,000 +
  • Job Growth: 10% to 30% +
  • Total Employment: Varies

Computer Research Scientist

Computer scientists work with technology, data, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing. rement as listed by the BLS. Computer scientist’s work is usually more theoretical rather than practical. This career is the only one with a master’s requirement as listed by the BLS, and these professionals take home high salaries.
  • Salary: $118,370 +
  • Job Growth: 16%
  • Total Employment: 31,700

Data Scientist

Students with a master’s degree in computer science can work as data scientists. The field of data science enjoys high salaries and explosive job growth, especially in our modern data-driven economy. Data scientists manage and interpret databases. There’s a huge demand for advanced degree holders in the growing field of data science.
  • Salary: $118,370 +
  • Job Growth: 16%
  • Total Employment: 31,700

Software Engineer

Graduates with a master’s in computer science often choose software engineering careers. These professionals apply the principles of engineering and computer science skills (such as coding) to design and build complete software programs. A wide range of industries employ software engineers.
  • Salary: $105,590 +
  • Job Growth: 21%
  • Total Employment: 1,365,500

Systems Administration Specialist

Systems administration specialists with master’s degrees often earn more than entry-level professionals. Today, there’s a huge demand for system specialists across a wide range of industries. The field offers high salaries, excellent benefits, and plentiful employment opportunities. System administration managers enjoy higher salaries as well.
  • Salary: $82,050 +
  • Job Growth: 5%
  • Total Employment: 383,900

Information Technology Professional

Information technology jobs are plentiful in the United States. With a master’s degree, it’s possible to obtain the highest positions in the field, with salaries far above the national average.  Keep that in mind when considering the average salary below.  Computer science graduates work as managers and team leaders in the field, and work alongside developers and others.
  • Salary: $54,150 +
  • Job Growth: 10%
  • Total Employment: 613,780

Other Fields

With a computer science master’s there are dozens of available jobs that would also be available to those with bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, or even with no degree. However, those holding an MS in computer science earn higher salaries on average.

For example, software developers earn a total average base salary (not including bonuses, profit sharing, or commission) of $70,974 according to Payscale. However, professionals holding the same position with a master’s degree earn roughly $10k more than the normal average. When compared to those only holding a bachelor’s, software developers with a master’s earn over 17% more.

According to the same site, on a total of all averages across all listed careers in this field, MS degree holders earn an average of $15k more. In any case, in every listed career path professionals with a master’s in computer science make more than those with a bachelor’s degree by varying margins.

TitleMedian SalaryEntry-Level SalaryMid-Career SalaryLate-Career Salary
Web Developer$68,500$44,000$69,000$111,000
Software Developer$76,500$58,000$77,000$107,000
Computer Support Specialist$48,600$33,000$50,000$70,000
Systems Administration Specialist$64,800$44,000$65,000$93,000
Data Scientist$113,300$83,000$113,000$154,000
Information Technology (IT)$84,800$44,000$85,000$125,000
Network Administrator$63,000$45,000$66,000$85,000
Help Desk Technician$41,800$30,000$45,000$58,000
Support Analyst$69,00$49,000$70,000$95,000
TitleMedian SalaryLate-Career Salary
Web Developer$68,500$111,000
Software Developer$76,500$107,000
Computer Support Specialist$48,600$70,000
Systems Administration Specialist$64,800$93,000
Data Scientist$113,300$154,000
Information Technology (IT)$84,800$125,000
Network Administrator$63,000$85,000
Help Desk Technician$41,800$58,000
Support Analyst$69,00$95,000

University Accreditation

It is essential to look up a school’s accreditation before enrolling in one of their programs and paying tuition. If you’re looking to complete a master’s degree in computer science, be sure to check the accreditation of your previous university and the graduate school you plan to attend. Sometimes, it’s difficult to transfer credits between schools with different accreditations. In most cases, if you earned a bachelor’s degree from a regionally-accredited university (which most are), you’ll be able to apply to the majority of graduate schools.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional accreditation refers to the validation of coursework within a single university or a network of connected universities. Essentially, institutional accreditation is used to manage credit for specific courses, such as electives.

National Accreditation

National accreditation is valid but a bit complex. Most undergraduate universities are not nationally accredited. This accreditation is common for online schools and art programs, such as music.

Specialized Accreditation

Specialized accreditation isn’t generally a consideration when earning a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. This form of accreditation applies to specialized programs—often for career-specific courses and certifications. 

Regional Accreditation

Regional accreditation is the most common form of college accreditation. It is the primary type to look for. College credits and degrees transfer easily between schools accredited by the same regional accrediting organization.

The admissions process for graduate school is different from what you experienced applying for undergraduate programs. This time around, high school grades and SAT/ACT scores have little weight (if any) on your chances of admission. Instead, admissions committees take into account things like your college grades, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score, activities, and work experience. A high GPA and a strong application are your biggest assets when applying for a master’s degree program, along with glowing letters of recommendation and examples of your work. Each university determines the admissions requirements and application it will use. Here’s what you should aim to have if you hope to apply to a master’s degree program in computer science.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree, also known as an undergraduate degree, is required for admission to most graduate programs. Your grades from undergraduate coursework are often a big part of the admissions decision, and you will likely need to have transcripts sent as part of your application. Also, build a project portfolio and seek letters of recommendation.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

The GRE is a standardized examination designed for people who intend to enroll in graduate school. Subjects it covers include mathematics and English. Extensive study material is available, and students should prepare well in advance.

Master’s degree programs are offered widely in schools that also offer bachelor’s degrees, though not every school that has bachelor’s degrees will also have master’s degrees. The cost of these programs varies; however, the average range for Master’s degree tuition is $30,000-$120,000, depending on whether the institution is public (community college) or private (MIT).

This number does not include other fees (such as room and board) which can amount to $1,700 per month in many cases. However, this cost will vary depending on where and how you live and can be mitigated with room sharing and good budgeting.

Scholarships for Computer Science Master's Degrees

There are plenty of scholarship opportunities for those seeking a Master’s degree, especially scholarships for computer science and other STEM fields. Popular programs and scholarship institutions include ExCELAACE, and of course, the government provided FAFSA. Take note of the popular Federal Pell Grant that allows many to obtain a higher education.

With the three above scholarships, students could be granted close to $10,000 per year. If the total cost of tuition is close to $40,000, just these few programs could reduce the cost of school by half. Seeking scholarships and grants are useful for almost anyone looking to get a higher education.

Student Loans and Financing Rates

Student loans for master’s degrees are available to qualifying students. Interest rates vary, but fixed APR loans are available at rates less than 5% for some people. Remember, taking on student loans is a big responsibility, so it’s best to carefully consider your finances before committing to debt. Luckily, computer science is a high-paying field with great job outlooks.

Popular lenders for colleges, according to NerdWallet, include SoFi, Sallie Mae, MPower, Navy Federal, RISLA, LendKey, PNC, Earnest, and Wells Fargo.  Government-subsidized loans are also available, as are non-government loans.

Master’s degrees in computer science are available as graduate programs in many colleges that have a bachelor’s program in the same field. To complete a master’s degree students are typically required to complete 30-50 credit hours on top of the 120 credits needed for a bachelor’s. This brings master’s degrees to a total of 160 credits on average, though every school has different requirements, and programs vary. The credits required to complete a master’s program typically take full-time students one and one half to two years of study.

The actual courses needed in every graduate program are different. For many programs, a great deal of the course work is made up of elective studies, or classes selected by the student, and therefore the curriculum possibilities vary significantly. Electives tend to be specialized and run the gamut from biometric programming to cryptography to game design.

Machine Learning / Deep Learning / A.I.

Many students looking to get an MS in computer science are seeking a job as computer scientists. One of the most exciting fields in computer science is working with cutting edge artificial intelligence and other learning algorithms. While these courses are often electives, many programs include at least one as a core study.

Applied CS / Market Studies

Master’s degrees are the final level of education for many, and many focus on practical skills over the more foundational concepts taught in bachelor’s programs. Many courses include core courses that cover application specifically and business studies that cover how the computer science field works in the real world.

Information Security and Networking

Nearly all curriculums have core studies that teach students networking, cybersecurity, or network security. Understanding how to protect sensitive information in programs is an important skill in most non-academic careers in the technology, computer science, and development fields.

Programming / Computer Architecture

Almost all master’s courses build on existing computer science and programming knowledge with deeper studies into how computers function, and specific programming languages that students can use in the field. Students also study a wide range of programming languages, such as Python and Java.

Computer science programs share similarities at accredited community colleges. Among these are required courses, or prerequisites. These courses cover the core principles of computer science, best practices, and essential skills for the field. The vast majority of students in computer science programs will spend a significant amount of time mastering the topics presented in these classes.

Basic Computer Programming (Programming I)

Basic computer programming is often the first exposure students have to coding. This course generally covers low to medium-difficulty coding projects using Python and similar languages. Over time, students will learn best practices, syntax, and various common programming languages.

Advanced Programming (Programming II)

Students move on to advanced programming courses after learning the fundamentals. At many schools, students begin solving full-scale coding problems with complex languages during this course. Programming II generally takes place towards the end of a degree program.

Introduction to Databases (Databases I)

Databases are a big part of computer science, and schools generally cover the subject in great depth. Students begin with the basics, completing introductory assignments and learning the fundamentals of digital data and databases.

Computer Network Fundamentals (Networks I)

Computer networking is another important aspect of many computer science jobs. During an associate degree program, students dive into the basics of how computers and servers communicate using networks. This part of the course usually runs alongside another technical course, such as Programming I.

Introduction to Operating Systems (Operating Systems I)

Operating systems are the platforms that people utilize to interact with computers. For computer science students, an introductory course in operating systems is essential. Many I.T. jobs involve helping businesses adopt a new operating system, and students must be prepared to use and teach about them.

Advanced Databases (Databases II)

Advanced database courses are sometimes excluded from a computer science curriculum, though it’s common enough to mention here. This course is an elaborated version of Databases I, and often includes advanced topics and occasionally programming languages. Students who have the opportunity to attend this course should do so, especially if they intend to transfer.

Online Master’s Degree in Computer Science

Becoming a full-time student isn’t easy, especially if you are already working in your career field. Some students opt to get an online degree either full-time or part-time, which can allow them to get a master’s in computer science without sacrificing their current lifestyle, career, or responsibilities. However, a part-time degree can take much longer than a full-time one, extending the study period from two years to between four and six years.

 

Getting a master’s degree in computer science is one of the easiest degrees to complete online. Master’s degrees tend to be made up of final, practical courses and many of the courses that make up computer science master’s programs are easily completed online. However, a good deal of the programs available are not fully online, with some courses needed to be taken in person.

Flexible Degrees

Thanks to the internet, it’s now possible to complete all (or part) of an advanced degree online. Online master’s degree programs offer the flexibility of remote learning.

Transfer Opportunities

Students who intend to complete another advanced degree, such as a second master’s or a doctorate, may be able to transfer credits from their online school to an in-person program. Transfers between regionally-accredited institutions are possible (and often seamless). 

Cost Effective Education

There are notable financial benefits to attending college remotely, even if tuition is the same. By completing an online master’s degree, students can limit how much they spend on—or altogether avoid paying for—rent, transportation, and other expenses that often accompany participation in in-person programs. 

Multiple Programs

Students enrolled in online courses, especially if the programs are part-time, can simultaneously earn certifications or attend coding bootcamps. Attending multiple part-time programs is common, especially among technology students.

High Quality Education

Today, online degree programs offer the same high-quality education that you’d get in a traditional course. Much of the time, online courses incorporate the same curricula as equivalent in-person courses.

Learn and Work

Many students choose an online program so they can more easily continue to work while they are enrolled. Thanks to part-time programs and flexible learning, it’s possible to build a career and pay the bills while completing your advanced degree.

Additional Education Pathways

If you’re just beginning your tech education (or haven’t started yet), there are several other computer science education pathways to consider. One of these is a PhD (doctorate) degree. Remember, you usually have to earn a bachelor’s degree before attending graduate school. Additionally, coding bootcamps are a career-focused college alternative. These programs focus on in-demand skills instead of general education. Furthermore, computer science certifications are also worth looking into.

 

We discuss each of these three additional types of computer science pathways below.

Doctorate / PhD

A doctorate (or PhD) degree is the highest level of formal education you can complete. With a doctorate degree, you’ll be considered an expert in your field. This advanced degree takes many years to complete, and you’ll earn the title ‘Dr.’ after graduation.

Coding Bootcamp

Coding bootcamps are new arrivals to the higher education scene. These career-focused courses cram an enormous amount of in-demand training into a short time frame to prepare students for jobs. Many bootcamps offer job guarantees for graduates.

  • Length: 3 – 12 months
  • Average Cost: $13,500 total

Technology Degree Options

Computer science is an enormous career field. As a result, multiple degree options are available to students interested in learning about computers. In a master’s degree program, students often specialize in a single field. These fields include hardware engineering, software engineering, cybersecurity, and data. Here are the most common technology subfields within the broader field of computer science.

Computer Engineering

Computer engineering (CE) is hands-on and focuses on the physical components of high-tech systems. CE majors build computers, design products, and work with electronic components. Computer engineering is a popular degree option for mechanical engineers and similar professionals.

Data Administration

Data drives the modern economy, and the demand for qualified data professionals has never been higher. With an advanced degree in data, you can open the door to a senior position in an already-lucrative career field.

Software Engineering

Software engineers, unlike computer engineers, focus solely on the non-physical aspects of computing. These professionals learn to create complex software programs from scratch. Software engineers learn a wide range of coding languages, especially in graduate school.

Information Technology Management

Information technology (IT) managers are responsible for running technology systems and overseeing other IT professionals. A degree in IT management sets you up for a job in a highly profitable and in-demand career, especially if you live in or around one of the top tech cities.

 

Computer Science Professional Organizations

Joining a computer science professional organization can help jump-start your career and keep you up-to-date with the latest industry trends. Membership sometimes comes with additional perks, such as access to a strong peer network, coaching, job opportunities, and employment workshops. Computer science degree students benefit from mentoring opportunities in professional organizations.

The Association for Women in Computing, founded in 1978, is a computer science professional organization catered directly to women in tech. This organization provides a strong network, education opportunities, and support for female computer science professionals though its system of nationwide chapters.

The Association for Information Science and Technology is a popular choice for computer science graduates.  This organization offers an enormous amount of resources to technology professionals, and covers everything from jobs to legal information.  Additionally, the Association for Information Science and Technology welcomes current computer science students.

The Computing Research Association is a top organization for computer science professionals seeking networking opportunities and more. Additionally, the CRA offers opportunities and resources for computer science students and researchers, thereby delivering an all-in-one destination for the field. The organization focuses on technology, leadership, and networking.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology, or ITE for short, is a multinational professional organization for engineers and technology professionals in over 150 countries.  With over 160,000 current members, the ITE is one of the most popular and diverse professional organizations for students with a computer science degree.

The IEEE Computer Society is a technology-focused organization for software engineers, web developers, and all kinds of computer science professionals.  The IEEE Computer Society hosts dozens of annual conferences on some of the coolest technology developments, including virtual reality, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and security.

The Association for Information Systems is a premier computer science professional organization with chapters located all around the world. This organization hosts conferences, offers career support, provides educational webinars, and gives computer science workers access to a vast global professional network.

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