Master’s in Computer Science Program Guide

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As technology changes, tech professionals must change with it. Master's degrees equip learners with the tools they need to keep pace.

Computing's continued push into the social and economic mainstream has sparked the growth of a large, technically skilled labor force. As competition within that labor force becomes heavier, job-seekers must find new ways to stand out. To that end, a master's in computer science holds appeal.

Graduate programs offer the chance to develop targeted skills and advanced specializations. They also help build a more agile knowledge base, adapting to the fast-changing needs of the global technology industry.

Read on to explore the many ways in which advanced computer science degrees could boost your career value.

What Is a Master's in Computer Science?

At the bachelor's level, computer science students focus on essential skills and concepts leading to entry-level careers. Meanwhile, a master's in computer science focuses on advanced proficiencies that support technical specialization, advancement into doctoral programs, and career growth and development.

Some undergraduate computer science programs offer specializations in areas like information technology and cybersecurity. However, such concentrations are more readily available at the master's level since graduate schools expect students to possess foundational knowledge. This facilitates learners' ready progression into specialized areas such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, and robotics.

A bachelor's degree in computer science is helpful but not strictly necessary to enter a master's-level program. There are even online programs specific to non-computer science majors.

If you don't come from a computer science background, you will likely need to provide a demonstration of your relevant knowledge as part of the admission process.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Should I Get a Master's in Computer Science Degree?

Employers often prefer or require candidates with master's degrees when filling top-paying vacancies, especially in specialized areas. If career growth is a high priority for you, a master's in computer science may hold value.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes numerous well-paid technology careers for which a master's degree is a preferred or required qualification. Examples include computer and information research scientists, network architects, senior software developers, and database architects and administrators.

As of April 2024, Payscale lists $93,000 per year as the average base salary of a professional with a bachelor's in computer science. Meanwhile, those with a master's in computer science earned average base salaries of $112,000 per year. That's a difference of nearly 20%.

As another tool for assessing your options, consider the major pros and cons of pursuing a computer science master's:


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    Access to targeted specialization opportunities that help job-seekers stand out
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    Higher earning power
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    Greater career advancement potential


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    Increased financial and time investments, which can delay salary-based earnings
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    Higher student debt if you need loans to help cover your education costs
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    Professional certifications are an alternative path that may offer a more favorable cost profile

What Will I Learn in a Computer Science Master's Program?

Computer science master's programs often aim to develop a balance of theory-based and applied skills. They can target specific proficiencies, or allow the student to curate their own specializations through the strategic use of elective courses.

Some programs focus on developing research proficiencies as learners prepare for possible future doctoral studies.

In exploring the following concentrations, consider how each may match your learning objectives and career goals.

Master's in Computer Science Degree Concentrations

Computer science master's students can enroll in generalist programs, but many opt for specialized degrees. Consider these five popular concentration options:

Software Engineering

Master's programs in software engineering focus on skills specific to conceiving, designing, developing, refining, and improving desktop and mobile applications. In addition to technical expertise, many software engineering programs also develop project management and managerial proficiencies.

Cybersecurity/Information Security

Specialized cybersecurity programs teach detailed technical knowledge needed to prevent, detect, and respond to malicious online activity. The related field of information security takes a broader focus, covering both online and offline data security.

Data Science

According to the BLS, data science ranks among the fastest-growing computer science specializations. Students learn advanced techniques for designing, mining, exploring, visualizing, and extracting actionable insights from data. Coursework covers relevant programming languages and mathematical concepts.

Artificial Intelligence

Graduate programs in artificial intelligence cover natural language processing, image analytics, and speech recognition in the context of machine learning. Students also engage with the complex ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence technologies.


Robotics engineering programs center student learning on fundamentals like robot mechanics, perception, and human-robot interactions. Coursework also covers computing algorithms specific to robotics, and the machine learning technologies increasingly integrated into robotic systems.

Master's in Computer Science Program Courses

Master's in computer science curricula vary among schools and programs, sometimes significantly. Exact course offerings strongly depend on your chosen specialization or concentration.

The following list profiles courses commonly offered in general computer science master's programs:

  • Linear Algebra: Linear algebra comprises the mathematical backbone of many advanced computing functions. This course applies linear algebra to computing concepts including matrices, algorithms, and floating-point arithmetic.
  • Computer Algorithms: Moving beyond fundamentals, master's-level courses in computer algorithms build familiarity and proficiency with multiple major algorithm subtypes. Specific examples may include recursive, randomized, dynamic programming, searching, sorting, divide-and-conquer, and brute force algorithms.
  • Advanced Programming: This course reviews core programming concepts and skills, then develops advanced proficiencies in areas including object-oriented, event-driven, and structured programming. Coursework may also cover application development in multiple major and specialized programming languages.
  • Computation Theory: Students engage with deep coverage of key concepts in computation theory. Specific topics may include time complexity, temporal and spatial hierarchies, and complexity classes.
  • Computer Architecture: Focusing on system design and architecture, this course examines topics including parallelism, hierarchy, networking, and data storage architecture. Coursework investigates all major elements and components of contemporary computing systems.

How Do I Get Into a Computer Science Graduate Program?

A bachelor's in computer science is the ideal academic background for aspiring computer science master's students. However, many graduate programs do not specifically require one if you can show your work.

These typically include advanced coursework in calculus, discrete mathematics, and linear algebra; demonstrated knowledge of computer programming and architecture; and paid professional experience in a technical area of computing.

Learners with bachelor's degrees in areas other than computer science may need to complete prerequisite courses prior to program entry. Academic performance requirements vary, but an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 is a general benchmark.

How Soon Can I Get a Master's in Computer Science?

A master's in computer science typically covers about 30-36 credits. Full-time learners can usually complete program requirements in the equivalent of two academic years. With part-time enrollment, learners can graduate in 3-5 years, depending on their course loads. Online and in-person programs usually have comparable structures and schedules.

If you do not have a bachelor's in computer science, you might need to complete prerequisites. This may add a semester or more to your expected graduation timeline.

Experienced learners can expedite graduation by enrolling in accelerated programs. These condensed programs move through material more quickly. Some online degrees build acceleration options into their program structures, making them an option for knowledgeable students.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Computer Science?

Advanced degrees mainly appeal to learners seeking to build authoritative expertise in a specific computer science field. Thus, a master's in computer science prepares learners for specialized professional roles and career paths with advancement potential.

As computing becomes increasingly specialized, employers seek candidates whose knowledge and backgrounds extend beyond general areas. A master's in computer science can therefore lead more directly into career paths that interest you, especially if you mastered with a concentration area

A computer science master's is also an essential step for learners interested in research or postsecondary teaching. Graduate degrees often act as prerequisites for entry to doctoral programs in information technology or artificial intelligence.

The following table profiles popular careers that may be available to candidates with generalist or specialized master's degrees in computer science:

Computer Science Careers

*May benefit from additional certification or licensure

How Much Money Will I Make With a Master's in CS Degree?

A master's in computer science may lead to well-paid careers that exceed labor market averages. For example, consider the role of computer and information research scientists: The BLS lists this career — which brings in a median of $145,080 annually — as requiring a master's degree.

Beyond that $145,080 annual total, the top 10% of computer and information research scientists made more than $233,110, while the lowest 10% made approximately $81,450. Notably, even the lowest 10% of earners easily exceeded the national average for all occupations, which the BLS cited as $65,470 per year.

Average Annual Salaries for Computer Scientists

Entry Level Computer Scientists


Mid Career Computer Scientists


Experienced Computer Scientists


Source: Payscale, April 2024

More Questions About Computer Science Master's Degrees

How much does it cost to get a master's in computer science degree?

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), graduate students in computer science and information programs paid an average of $16,750 in tuition fees in 2020.

Your program costs may be higher or lower, depending on whether you attend a public or private college, or study online. Note that out-of-state students usually pay higher tuition fees at public universities.

Do I need a bachelor's in computer science to get a master's in CS?

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Not necessarily. Graduate schools tend to be more interested in whether you possess the hard skills and the mathematical and technical knowledge required to succeed. If you can demonstrate the necessary knowledge and skills, you may qualify for a master's in computer science program without a bachelor's in the field.

How hard is a master's in computer science degree?

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Computer science is a challenging subject. It takes a well-developed technical foundation, strong mathematics skills, organization, and self-discipline to succeed at the graduate level. Core courses in master's computer science programs tend to be significantly more advanced and faster-paced than their undergraduate counterparts.

How long is a master's in CS program?

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A master's in computer science usually covers about 30-36 credits, or two academic years of full-time study. Accelerated options are also available, which can compress your graduation timeline to the range of 12-16 months.

Is a master's in computer science worth it?

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A master's in computer science may open doors to specialized career paths with more responsibility, greater advancement potential, and higher pay. From this perspective, they often generate strong returns on educational investment.

Payscale data from April 2024 supports the thesis that a master's degree can boost your earning power. According to Payscale, working professionals with a computer science bachelor's earned an average of $93,000 per year. Those with master's degrees made an average of $112,000 per year.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed January 2, 2024. 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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