Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

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  • Graduate students can specialize in subfields like artificial intelligence, computer engineering, or software development
  • Schools awarded roughly 14,274 master's in computer science degrees in 2020-2021
  • Master's in computer science degree-holders earn an average base salary of $110,000
  • Specializations of computer science can ready you for high-paying computer science careers

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), universities awarded over 14,000 master's degrees in computer science during the 2021-2021 school year.

A master's in computer science elevates your undergraduate-level programming and statistics knowledge through in-depth studies of advanced engineering, scripting, security, information systems, and computational theory.

More than a bachelor's degree, a graduate degree in computer science offers a specialized education. Earning a specialization unlocks opportunities to work as a computer network architect, software developer, information security analyst, or data scientist.

Here we discuss what you can do with specializations of computer science, your career prospects, and salary expectations.

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

Finding the Right Computer Science Master's Degree

There is no universally perfect computer science program for everyone. Your capability, interests, and life circumstances play a role in determining the best computer science degree for you.

Think about how a specific master's degree in computer science can support you in reaching your career goal. For instance, if you're considering a path in cybersecurity, it's worth looking into specializing in computer security.

To find a specialization of computer science that works for you, consider a school's resources and student services. The college retention rates and graduation rates often demonstrate how well a school supports its students.

Making sure the school holds accreditation is crucial, because accreditation impacts transfer credits and how legitimate some employers may consider your degree.

Only accrediting agencies recognized by the United States Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation can confer institutional accreditation. Master's in computer science degrees may also hold programmatic accreditation from accrediting bodies organizations like the ABET.

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#1 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

  • Champaign, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $686
Out-of-State | $686

Credits to Graduate: 32

U of I's master in computer science program, offered through Coursera, provides a flexible time frame, letting you graduate in 1-5 years. This program requires eight courses. 

You'll study database and information systems, software engineering, scientific computing, and artificial intelligence. To graduate, you must complete a capstone in cloud computing or data mining.

Applicants with any bachelor's degree can apply, if they complete undergraduate coursework that includes linear algebra, object-oriented programming, and statistics. A GPA of at least 3.2 is advised.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$14,446
Out-of-state
$34,444
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$14,635
Out-of-state
$27,674
Retention Rate
93%
Acceptance Rate
60%
Students Enrolled
56,607
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
84% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#2 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus

  • Atlanta, GA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $180
Out-of-State | $180

Credits to Graduate: 30

The Georgia Tech online master's in computer science, offered in partnership with Udacity and AT&T, provides five specializations. Areas of focus include computational perception and robotics, computing systems, human computer interaction, interactive intelligence, and machine learning. Most students graduate within a three-year timeframe.

New students start in the fall and spring. For admission, the college looks for students with a bachelor's degree in computer science or a similar field and a GPA of 3.0 or higher. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$10,258
Out-of-state
$31,370
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$14,570
Out-of-state
$29,140
Retention Rate
97%
Acceptance Rate
16%
Students Enrolled
43,859
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
62% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#3 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

  • Raleigh, NC
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $525
Out-of-State | $525

Credits to Graduate: 31

NC State's master's in computer science is taught by tenured faculty members, many of whom have won awards. Streaming courses combine theory, systems principles, software engineering, artificial intelligence, and networks. There is no comprehensive exam. 

After completing your second semester with a minimum of a 3.0 GPA, you can apply for assistantships. The college admits students on a rolling basis. Applicants need to show proof of U.S. citizenship and submit GRE scores.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$6,535
Out-of-state
$27,320
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$9,095
Out-of-state
$27,082
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
47%
Students Enrolled
36,831
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
50% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#4 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

Stevens Institute of Technology

  • Hoboken, NJ
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $1,864
Out-of-State | $1,864

Credits to Graduate: 30

Enroll in Stevens master's in computer science program and you can graduate within two years. The 10 virtual courses explore algorithm design, machine learning, agile development skills, mobile application development, software design, and programming languages like Java, C++, and Python.

You do not need a computer science background to apply, but candidates must hold a bachelor's degree and a minimum of 3.0 a GPA. Your application also must include a statement of purpose and two letters of recommendation. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$54,780
Out-of-state
$54,780
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$38,076
Out-of-state
$38,076
Retention Rate
93%
Acceptance Rate
53%
Students Enrolled
8,287
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
37% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#5 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

Stanford University

  • Stanford, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $1,304
Out-of-State | $1,304

Credits to Graduate: 45

At Stanford's computer science department, you can complete Stanford's online master's in computer science program and specialize in artificial intelligence, systems specializations, or information management and analytics.

To complete the required 45 credits takes 3-5 years on a part time schedule and 1-2 years if you study full time. The coursework combines operating systems and systems programming, networking, databases, and computer graphics and imaging.

Qualified applicants need solid quantitative and analytical skills and a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$55,473
Out-of-state
$55,473
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$54,315
Out-of-state
$54,315
Retention Rate
98%
Acceptance Rate
4%
Students Enrolled
17,680
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
5% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#6 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

  • Worcester, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $1,610
Out-of-State | $1,610

Credits to Graduate: 30

At WPI's master of computer science program, you have the opportunity to customize your master's with electives and four specializations. You can specialize in artificial intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity, data analytics and management, or business intelligence. The courses emphasize the use of programming languages such as Python and Javascript, culminating in a final capstone project to exhibit your learning.

WPI's program doesn't ask for GRE scores or an application fee. Applicants do not need a bachelor's in computer science, but they need completed calculus, statistics, or probability prerequisites.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$54,640
Out-of-state
$54,640
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$28,980
Out-of-state
$28,980
Retention Rate
94%
Acceptance Rate
60%
Students Enrolled
7,230
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
32% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#7 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

University of Southern California

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $2,424
Out-of-State | $2,424

Credits to Graduate: 28

The USC master's in computer science degree, run through the Viterbi School of Engineering, blends computer systems applications, design, and programming. As a student, you can concentrate your studies in applied data science or cybersecurity engineering and graduate in 1.5-3 years.

Candidates need a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. Otherwise, applicants need to demonstrate proficiency in computer science courses such as database systems and organization, operating systems, and numerical computation. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$60,446
Out-of-state
$60,446
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$60,446
Out-of-state
$60,446
Retention Rate
96%
Acceptance Rate
13%
Students Enrolled
49,318
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#8 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus

  • Norman, OK
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $985
Out-of-State | $985

Credits to Graduate: 33

OU's online M.S. in computer science offers areas of emphasis in algorithm design, neural networks, security software, and more. The program consists of 11 courses covering concepts and theories in computer science, such as artificial intelligence, computer security, and data mining. 

To apply, you need a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, information technology, or a related discipline. You also need a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 during your undergraduate studies. The program takes 21 months or more to complete.

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$4,920
Out-of-state
$20,724
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$8,034
Out-of-state
$23,096
Retention Rate
89%
Acceptance Rate
85%
Students Enrolled
28,042
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
57% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#9 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

Fitchburg State University

  • Fitchburg, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $405
Out-of-State | $405

Credits to Graduate: 33

Fitchburg State's M.S. in computer science prepares students to adapt to the fast-changing industry. The 33-credit program offers a variety of fundamental and advanced concepts. Core courses include theory of computation, advanced mathematics, and computer programming. Electives branch out to topics like data communications and embedded systems. 

Candidates need the equivalent of a four-year bachelor's degree to apply. Admitted students must take a placement test for programming languages. Candidates may need to complete prerequisite courses depending on their test results. The program carries an online fee of $58 per credit. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$970
Out-of-state
$7,050
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$3,420
Out-of-state
$3,420
Retention Rate
68%
Acceptance Rate
85%
Students Enrolled
6,674
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#10 Specializations & Finding Your Niche in Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

Illinois Institute of Technology

  • Chicago, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cost per Credit:
In-State | $1,712
Out-of-State | $1,712

Credits to Graduate: 30-32

The College of Computing offers IIT's master's in computer science that lets you pick from a coursework-only, thesis, or culminating project format. The hybrid and online programs take two years to complete. Courses cover database organization, computer graphics, computation theory, and computer architecture. You can get hands-on experience through the Illinois Tech's Elevate program which offers studying abroad options and internships.

This STEM-designated program meets F-1 visa requirements. Admissions requirements include a bachelor's degree in any field and a minimum 3.0 GPA. 

Average Undergrad Tuition
In-state
$48,555
Out-of-state
$48,555
Average Graduate Tuition
In-state
$29,052
Out-of-state
$29,052
Retention Rate
87%
Acceptance Rate
66%
Students Enrolled
6,486
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
41% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission

What Can You Specialize in With a Master's in Computer Science?

Computer science pertains to the science of computing. Specializations of computer science build on this foundation, training you in specific areas beyond advanced scripting and software development. Specializations of computer science can give you access to jobs otherwise not available.

Hiring managers for cyber security analysts may interview only candidates with work experience or college credits in cybersecurity. Specializations can help you dive into a specific career that interests you right after graduation, even if you lack the work experience.

Artificial Intelligence

If you want to gain the skills to develop and implement large language models and/or generative artificial intelligence, a concentration in AI may interest you. In graduate school, you'll get experience working with Python machine learning libraries needed for AI engineering careers.

Bioinformatics

As a bioinformatic engineer, you'll need to perform data analyzing and processing in collaboration with healthcare workers, engineers, and other scientists. A bioinformatics concentration trains you in career-specific skills, such as Next Generation Sequencing technology, a common job requirement.

Computer Engineering

Earn a concentration in computer engineering and you'll combine your computer science knowledge with electrical engineering to solve complex problems. Computer engineers do everything from build silicon chips to develop software.

Networks

If you want to advance your knowledge in network integration across multiple networking systems, you can pursue a concentration in networking. The concentration teaches career-specific skills like how to improve multi-protocol label switching network architecture.

Computer Science Careers and Outlook

No matter the specialization, you have the advantage on the job market when you earn a master's in computer science. Beyond the careers discussed here, you can use this versatile graduate degree to go into research or postsecondary instruction.

Careers as computer network architects, software developer, information security analyst, or data scientist open up with a master's degree. These jobs can fetch six-figure median annual wages.

Computer Science Careers and Wages
Computer Science Career Median Annual Wage (2021)
Computer Network Architect $126,900
Database Administrator $112,120
Data Scientist $103,500
Information Security Analyst $112,000
Software Developer $124,200
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Compensation for computer science jobs correlates to experience and where you work — both in terms of the industry and region. Expect to earn more as you gain seniority in your field.

Common Coursework for Online Computer Science Master's Degrees

A master's degree in computer science emphasizes research and the development of advanced computer science theories and applications. The core coursework integrates artificial intelligence, programming, software engineering, computer security, computing theory, and computer systems and networks.

​​Schools have varying coursework; below are common courses that graduate students take to earn a master's in computer science.

  • Algorithmic Machine Learning
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Big Data Management
  • Computer Architecture
  • Computer Networking
  • Data Structures with Applications
  • Machine Learning and Data Mining
  • Network Security
  • Operating Systems Theory
  • Principles of Scientific Computing

In the final stages of a graduate program, you'll synthesize everything you have learned by writing a thesis or completing a capstone project. Capstone courses often explore specializations such as network security, artificial intelligence, or software engineering.

Frequently Asked Questions About Computer Science

Which CS specialization is in demand?

The demand for computer science jobs, particularly in artificial intelligence and machine learning, is high. Choosing to specialize in AI could provide strong job security, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a 23% growth in computer and information research scientist positions from 2022-2032.

Which is better, CS or CS with specialization?

The better choice aligns with your career ambitions and salary expectations. A generalist computer science degree may not qualify you for more niche specialty work in artificial intelligence without a specialty or certification.

Which is the fastest-growing field in CS?

According to the BLS, occupations for information security analysts should grow by 32%, with employers creating 16,800 new positions each year from 2022-2032. Also, in-demand are computer and information research scientists, with careers expected to grow by 23%.

Is it worth it to specialize in CS?

A specialization in computer science subfields like AI or machine learning can provide a good return on investment. That said, not earning a specialization does not prevent you from working in computer science, or later learning a specialization on the job.


Page last reviewed November 30, 2023.

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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