3 Ways to Get a Master’s in Computer Science as a Non-CS Major

Find out how to get a master's in computer science without a bachelor's degree in computer science.
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Updated on September 7, 2023
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  • You don't need a bachelor's in computer science to study for a master's degree.
  • Some programs accept degrees in related fields, such as engineering and mathematics.
  • Others require prerequisite courses for admissions or design classes for non-CS majors.
  • A master's in computer science can lead to job opportunities earning over $131,000.

What do college graduates who majored in science, engineering, and philosophy have in common? They all have a shot at getting into a graduate computer science (CS) program.

It's true: You don't have to be a computer science major to get a master's in computer science. The road may be bumpier, depending on your skill set. But it's possible.

Admission rules vary, but many graduate computer science programs are flexible. For example, you can earn your way into Harvard University's program with any bachelor's degree. Admission depends on passing two graduate-level courses in programming language and data structures.

That's one option. There are at least three ways for non-CS majors to get a master's in computer science:

  1. Find a program accepting related degrees
  2. Take prerequisite or bridge courses for admission
  3. Enroll in a degree program designed for non-CS majors

Let's learn more about these options, including admission requirements and career paths. Remember that each path comes with different challenges and rewards.

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1. Getting a Master's in Computer Science with a Related Degree

Many graduate computer science programs consider applicants with degrees from various backgrounds.

Computer science is a big field of study. It combines mathematics, engineering, physics, statistics, and many other disciplines – even philosophy.

Having a degree in a related discipline can help bridge some knowledge gaps. Some related degrees provide prerequisite technical skills. Others involve methods of quantitative analysis and critical thinking relevant to computer science.

Here are some common undergraduate degrees for admission to graduate computer science programs:

2. Taking Bridge Courses for Admission

Bridge courses are pathways to master's degree programs. They provide the foundational knowledge for admission. Some are like boot camps and cover many subjects from a beginner's perspective. Others are for more experienced students.

Seattle University's bridge program is two semesters long. It's open to anyone, regardless of their bachelor's degree. Students take preparatory and fundamental courses in programming, data structures and algorithms.

Rice University has a six-week bridge course for computer science or data science. But, unlike SU's program, entering students need a basic understanding of linear algebra and calculus. The course divides into three parts, covering:

  • Calculus and linear algebra
  • Discrete mathematics (e.g., logic and inductive proofs)
  • Programming basics (e.g., algorithms, data structures, and programming languages)

3. Enrolling in a Program for Non-CS Majors

Some graduate computer science programs are for non-CS majors, including online programs. These programs are for students who are brand new to computer science and programming.

They usually begin with computer science fundamentals. For example, Northeastern University's program starts with programming, mathematical structures, and computer systems.

Once the basics are down, students move on to more advanced material in core and elective courses. Hands-on projects and real-world coding experience often come next.

The University of Pennsylvania's program combine computer science theory and applied learning. One course uses linear algebra and optimization to solve computer science problems. Others teach machine learning through real-world tools such as TensorFlow.

Admissions Requirements for MCS Programs

Admission requirements for MCS programs vary. According to Johns Hopkins University, prerequisites for many computer science master’s degrees include experience with:

  • Calculus
  • Advanced math
  • Java/C++
  • Computer organization
  • Data structures

The admissions requirements also vary for non-CS or bridge programs. UPenn assesses an applicant's abilities to complete the program and if their interests align with the program. Similarly, the requirements at Rice include:

Some prefer applicants with science or engineering degrees but may individually consider other degrees. Some are more holistic, focusing on the sum of your experiences. In addition, some programs prefer one or more years of computer science or tech industry experience.

Generally, most applicants must know mathematics, programming, calculus, and other related areas at an undergraduate level. Some students may need to bridge any knowledge gaps before starting the graduate program if they don't.

What Can You Do With a Masters Degree in Computer Science?

A master's degree often takes 2-3 years to finish, after which you can start looking for careers in computer science and related fields. Potential careers you can pursue as a non-CS major with a master's degree in computer science include:

CS Occupations and Pay
Occupation 2021 Median Pay
Computer scientist $131,490
Computer network architect $120,520
Software developer $109,020
Data scientist $100,910
Computer systems analyst $99,270
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Computer science is one of the highest-paying careers you can pursue with a master's in computer science. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer scientists earned a median annual salary of $131,490 as of May 2021.

According to the BLS, the median annual wage was $97,430 for all computer and information technology roles. It's about twice the median annual wage for all occupations, $45,760.

And these salary ranges are possible regardless of your undergraduate major. The return on investment of a master's in computer science doesn't change based on whether or not you have a computer science undergraduate degree, according to Southern Methodist University.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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