Technology is the driving force behind modern daily life. Social media, mobile payments, and the "internet of things" have proven to be essential tools for our personal and professional lives, and the future promises an even more interconnected world. Demand for tech talent remains high, with excellent job outlooks for data analysts, software developers, web programmers, and network architects. With a master's in computer science, you can become part of this ongoing tech revolution.
The BLS projects that computer and informational technology jobs will grow by 13% from 2016 to 2026.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that computer and informational technology jobs will grow by 13% from 2016 to 2026. Certain jobs will grow even more, such positions for computer and information research scientists, for which the BLS projects 19% growth during that same time period. This translates to 5,400 more jobs, with a median wage of $114,520 -- about 67% more than the national average salary. As for the computer science and information technology fields as a whole, these employees make an estimated 55% more than the nation's median wage.
Should I Get a Master's in Computer Science?
A master's in computer science can lead to better job prospects in a competitive market, and opportunities for advancement. Those who choose to major in computer science (CS) and/or information technology (IT) are generally interested in math and logic; enjoy solving problems through quantitative means; and strive to innovate, develop, and create.
Computer science programs are available online and on-campus. Prospective students must decide which format works best for them and their current life. For example, an online master's degree might appeal more to working professionals, or those looking to make a career transition. Meanwhile, on-campus master's in computer science programs might attract students straight from undergraduate programs, who know they want to go directly into a credentialed position that requires a master's degree.
Students in computer science master's programs learn how to solve problems and effectively communicate with programming languages. Computer science master's applicants generally have a good grasp on coding and various programming languages already. Master's programs allow these students to use coding languages in new ways, such as for building databases and ferreting out security vulnerabilities.
While pursuing your master's, you should take full advantage of your student status. On-campus students in particular enjoy opportunities to build a professional network simply by interacting with their peers, instructors, and mentors. Student services are also helpful in learning about recruitment events, internships, and career assistance.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Computer Science?
A master's in computer science can unlock doors in the business, healthcare, finance, and technology fields. Large corporations, nonprofits, and startups alike seek tech talent to help them compete in a global economy; collect and store big data; design algorithms; and develop the latest in software, hardware, or cloud services. With a master's degree in computer science, you can pursue careers in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, data analytics, or design. Most industries use tech in some way, and your CS/IT skills and knowledge provide precisely the sort of support these industries seek. In total, BLS projects an addition of 557,100 jobs to the tech field between 2016 and 2026.
- Computer Network Architect
Computer network architects take charge of clients' data communication networks. These individuals design and deploy scalable information networks that can grow with a company. To enter into this profession, you need at least a bachelor's degree, but some employers may prefer a master's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $104,650
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Database Administrator
DBAs are the gatekeepers to the data that data analysts and editors need for their work. The databases DBAs create and maintain must be logical, easy to use, and defendable against outside threat. Their responsibilities include quality assurance and testing for vulnerabilities or bugs. Some employers prefer hiring DBAS with master's degrees.
Median Annual Salary: $87,020
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Software Developer
Software developers may work for corporations, new startups, or game developers, leading development projects from start to finish. Given a client's specs, software developers map and carry out the entire software production, after which they must determine security features, permissions, and contingency plans.
Median Annual Salary: $103,560
Projected Growth Rate: 24%
- Systems Analyst
A systems analyst continuously works to improve an organization's computer systems and setup. The goal is to design the most efficient systems for a company's specific needs. For example, a government's system will be different from that of a school or the local big-box retailer.
Median Annual Salary: $88,270
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Computer Hardware Engineer
Engineers who specialize in computer hardware are tasked with designing, developing, and improving computer hardware components. Computer hardware engineers work in all industries, on all products that use computers. Tasks are similar to those of an electrical engineer, but through a computer science lens.
Median Annual Salary: $115,120
Projected Growth Rate: 5%
How to Choose a Master's Program in Computer Science
Prospective computer science master's students must consider program length, cost, and specialization when choosing an institution. For example, students who wish to specialize in robotics may have to sift through programs before finding one with a robotics concentration. Data analytics concentrations, on the other hand, are much more common.
The cost of an advanced degree proves a major consideration, too. Online master's in computer science programs offer many options, both for distance learners and on-campus students. Students must decide which format is most conducive to their learning, considering their lifestyle, schedule, and extracurricular responsibilities. Prospective students should research each potential school's accreditation status, location, and credit transfer policy.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Computer Science
Attending an accredited school is important for a few reasons. Accreditation acts as quality assurance for students, validating that their school of choice has met or exceeded certain quality standards. Accreditation also impacts students' eligibility for federal financial aid -- only students attending properly accredited colleges are eligible for federal aid. Finally, prior credits from regionally accredited schools transfer more easily than those from non-accredited institutions.
In addition to regional and national accreditation, which are institutional, some agencies offer specialized, programmatic accreditation. This accreditation is program-specific, applying to specific degrees, departments, or schools within colleges or universities. The Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the most common accreditation for computer science or information technology programs.
Master's in Computer Science Program Admissions
Admissions criteria for a master's in computer science program varies by school regarding GPA, test scores, and prerequisites. That said, schools expect applicants to hold certain credentials and have a certain amount of experience or background relevant to their prospective major. Master's applicants should have a bachelor's degree. It does not have to be in computer science, math, statistics, or programming, but having such a degree covers most prerequisites. Students coming from an entirely different field, such as accounting, need to take prerequisite courses before qualifying for a master's in computer science.
Graduate applicants typically submit applications to a mix of safety and reach schools, especially when it comes to competitive degrees.
- Bachelor's Degree: To be admitted into a master's in computer science program, you must have a bachelor's degree. This degree doesn't have to be in a field related to computer science, but having such a degree may help you meet prerequisites.
- Professional Experience: Given that the average age of graduate students is 29, it's not surprising that most applicants bring relevant professional experience. However, prior experience is not required for this degree. Some students go straight from undergrad to a master's in computer science program, and thus have minimal professional experience.
- Minimum GPA: GPA requirements vary by school and program. If your school of interest doesn't post a minimum GPA, check out the average GPA of the previous admitted class to get an idea.
- Application: Applying to graduate school is an involved process, with many deadlines to remember. Applicants must stay organized and put in their requests for supporting documentation with plenty of notice to stay on top of deadlines.
- Transcripts: Transcripts are critical. They report applicants' past performance, demonstrating to admissions boards that prospective students are ready for graduate-level study.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most graduate school applicants need to submit at least two letters of recommendation. After your references write your letters, make sure to send them thank you notes.
- Test Scores: Given how competitive master of computer science programs are, it is important to have strong GRE or GMAT scores. Test scores could be the deciding factor in your admission, though they make up only one part of a holistic application.
- Application Fee: Application fees vary by school. Students demonstrating financial need may qualify for fee waivers, which are distributed on a case-by-case basis.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Computer Science?
The details of a master of computer science program may vary depending on the school. Some programs may focus on certain skills that are applicable today, while other programs may choose to focus on theory or more abstract concepts. Your concentration impacts your curriculum significantly.
|Software Theory and Engineering||This concentration focuses on applying varied programming languages to current and future software applications, including those involving evolution or rapid change. Students explore software theory as it applies to database creation, security, and emerging trends.||Software Developer, Web Programmer|
|Artificial Intelligence||Artificial intelligence focuses on how AI technology impacts search, cognition, and smart devices. Students explore applications of AI in everyday life, from chatbots and virtual assistants to smart home devices.||Robotics Designer, Machine Learning Developer|
|Security||This concentration examines threats to security on a global and domestic level. Cybersecurity has exploded, with individuals, companies of all sizes, and local and federal governments dealing with data breaches, theft, and identity crime. Students gain the tools to detect, combat, and predict threats to stay ahead of these criminals.||Cybersecurity Specialist, Security Architect, IT Security Consultant|
|Systems||When it comes to programming, many think of systems creation. In the systems specialization, students explore the nuts and the bolts of computer science, and graduate with an understanding of what it takes to build an operating system, router, or database.||Network Systems Architect|
|Data Science/Analytics||This concentration in CS invites students to take on big data, from navigating modern databases to extracting the data needed to inform decisions. The impact of data analytics plays out every day in search, ecommerce, baseball , healthcare, and the government. The ability to collate, synthesize, and analyze mined data is the crux of the data science/analytics specialization.||Data Scientist, Statistician, Marketing Specialist|
Courses in a Master's in Computer Science Program
Courses in a computer science master's degree may vary by school, but students should expect to take courses in theory and analytical thought, along with graduate-level courses in programming, quantitative analysis, and mathematics. You should also expect to refine your leadership, collaborative, and communication skills.
In this course, students explore the relationship between cryptography and cryptanalysis. The introductory course spends a good deal of time on the basics, such as digital signatures, encryption, and standard protocols in information security.
- Applied Machine Learning
Topics in this course include data mining, robots, search, and pattern recognition. Machine learning allows for adaptive behavior based on various statistical patterns. Students learn the roles of classification, relevance scoring, and text and web processing in teaching machines how to dynamically change.
- Advanced Systems
Students examine what goes into database design, build, and maintenance. Topics include query classification and optimization, knowledge-based protocols, and systems reliability. As an introductory course, students receive a primer on system design and management.
This course teaches students about the math behind results. Students learn about algorithms and how to create efficient solutions. They also learn to solve for optimized workflow, such as for search. An example is how algorithms affect the way a search returns data through recall, relevancy, and ranking.
- Programming Languages
Computer science master's students already have a background in programming languages, and this course further explores the syntax and structure of computer languages. As with any language, understanding the principles behind the language translates into fluency and conceptual clarity.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Computer Science?
Generally, it takes two years to complete a master's in computer science program. Some accelerated programs allow eligible students to complete their degree in one year of full-time study. Students who opt to attend school part-time may take longer, often three to five years, to complete their degrees. A master's program requires 60 credits. A full-time course load comprises between 12 and 18 credits, with the average full-time student taking 15 credits per term. Part-time students may take nine credits or fewer per term.
How Much Is a Master's in Computer Science?
Master's degrees generally lead to better job prospects and higher earning potential, but not without a significant financial investment. The cost of earning a master's degree varies by school and program. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in the 2012-13 academic year, tuition cost $16,435 on average. Tuition expenses vary depending on whether you attend an in-state or out-of-state school. Other expenses may include books and supplies, room and board, and transportation. On average, graduate students are 32 to 33 years old, meaning most are financially independent. For this reason, many graduate students choose to attend school part-time and continue to work.
The flexibility of online programs allows students to continue working, and may not prolong their time in school.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Computer Science Prepares For
- Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control
The CRISC certificate is designed for information technology (IT) who work in risk management. Administered by ISACA, this certificate is valid for three years.
- Certified Information Security Manager
Similar to the CRISC, the CISM is for IT security professionals, and particularly anyone who oversees the entirety of an organization's systems security. Candidates must have technical ability and a firm grasp on how security impacts business strategy and goals.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional
This certificate is for those who specialize in cybersecurity, working to mitigate internal and outside threats.
Resources for Graduate Computer Science Students
From Harvard University's Open Learning series, this comprehensive introduction is free to access and covers a wide variety of CS fundamentals, including data structure, algorithms, code compiling, and Flash.
This open course comes from Stanford University. It's an introductory course, inviting students who have little to no experience with coding or programming language.
This journal is courtesy of the Association of Computation Theory. First published in 2005, ToC continues to churn out essays, articles, and think pieces on the past, present, and future of computing.
This course is primarily for students with no prior coding experience, but is nonetheless helpful as a refresher course.
Established in 1998, Ars Technica is the go-to source for all things tech. It publishes article and think pieces on technology and its role in business, government, and the global economy.
Professional Organizations in Computer Science
Professional organizations provide long-term value to their members, helping them steer their careers in the right path. Students members can network with veterans and leaders in the field to learn about the latest research impacting computer science, AI, and information technology. Meanwhile, professional organization members benefit from networking, continuing education workshops, and conferences.