Best Online Master’s Degrees in Computer Science: 2016

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Advanced Degree, Career & Salary Possibilities in Computer Science

Computers run our world. From the tiny computers in car engines to the smartphones that store all of our information, there is a team of programmers, software developers, network architects, designers and other experts behind it. Becoming one of those innovative experts starts with a degree in computer science. Though many can find entry-level jobs with an associate or a bachelor’s degree, an online master’s in computer science can allow those who love computers to move into higher pay, see better employment opportunities and broaden their horizons so they can do even more of what they love.

Online Master’s in Computer Science Timeline

Getting in: The Application Process

The best online master’s in computer science programs are highly competitive, which means an application must truly stand out in order for a student to gain acceptance. By understanding what is required from the beginning, students can plan their application process appropriately and give themselves enough time to complete all the steps. Here’s what most programs examine:

  • GRE scores.

    All students bound for grad school must take the Graduate Record Examination. The good news is that it can be taken more than once, so it is possible to improve scores. Computer science master’s programs may place more importance on analytical writing and quantitative reasoning scores – but students should strive for high marks in all three sections.

  • Undergraduate performance.

    Most schools require a student to already hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a closely related field, such as math, physics or engineering. The minimum accepted GPA is typically a 3.0, but students applying to competitive programs should aim for at least a 3.5 average. High grades are particularly important in foundational undergrad CS courses that the master’s degree builds on.

  • Statement or personal essay.

    The admissions essay or statement should explain the applicant’s primary reasons for pursuing a graduate degree in computer science, any specific research goals, and past academic and professional experience in the field. Those without a background in computer science should spend extra time here to convince the school why they’d be a good fit.

  • Resume.

    Some graduate programs in computer science require that the applicant have at least a few years of practical work experience in the field. A strong resume will showcase this and other accomplishments. Applicants should include all computer language proficiencies and, if they have one, a link to their GitHub profile.

  • Letters of recommendation.

    Glowing letters from former professors, colleagues, experts in the field and others can be a great way to bolster an already impressive application. While general praise is appreciated, the most effective letters of recommendations will highlight specific accomplishments – a well-received mobile app project for example.

  • Interview.

    As the field narrows, colleges interview the most promising candidates. Interviews can be done in person or via video chat for those who don’t live near the physical campus. Some schools may want to discuss prior computer programming projects and review an applicant’s code on GitHub during the interview.

Year 1

The first year is dedicated to setting the stage for graduation requirements by completing core CS courses. Topics covered typically include programming languages, algorithms, compilers, and computer networks. In addition to core courses, some students will be able to take courses in their chosen specialization, such as machine learning. Near the end of this year, students will meet with their advisors to discuss steps toward graduation.

Year 2

This year features courses that delve deeper into the student’s chosen computer science concentration as well as courses that prepare students for other degree requirements, such as a master’s thesis or capstone. For instance, many students will take a capstone seminar or research methods class to learn what to expect for their final project. These projects span topics ranging from computer Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to web analytics to computational neuroscience.

Testing & Graduation Requirements

Now that the courses are done, what’s next? Graduation requirements go beyond courses and focus on ensuring the student has learned the proper skills and knowledge to have a great career in computer science. Most graduate schools choose from the following when putting together the graduation requirements for the online computer science master’s program:

  • Capstone project.

    This project, which should be closely related to the concentration of the major, requires unique ideas and a great deal of research – with the goal of solving a specific problem within the computer science field.

  • Internship.

    This provides real-world experience in a position related to the concentration. An internship might be set up through the college, or students might have to find one on their own. Internship opportunities in computer science may include work in game design, data analytics, web development and other areas.

  • Master’s thesis.

    The thesis wraps up the master’s pursuit with a report or presentation that includes original research and theories.

  • Comprehensive exam.

    This examination tests the knowledge and skills that should have been gained during the computer science master’s program. Studying for this exam should begin well in advance.

Search Online Master’s Degrees in Computer Science

Online computer science master’s degrees are quite popular — so popular, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to view the list of schools that offer one. That’s where this handy search tool comes in. Students can narrow down the options by location, degree level, school type, tuition rates and even student population. Use it to create a “short list” of schools.

Student Population:
School Type:
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Career & Salary Possibilities with a Master’s in Computer Science

The online master’s computer science program broadens the horizons of anyone working in the world of computers and technology. In fact, there are numerous jobs available to those who have a master’s degree and the right kind of experience. Here are some of the most popular concentrations in computer science and the careers that welcome those with the master’s degree.

Concentrations
Database Systems

This concentration prepares students to understand and analyze the massive data streams going in and out of organizations and businesses, mine that data for usable information, and keep it secure.

Career:
Computer Network Architect
Computer Network Architect

Works with businesses, organizations and even governments to put together a computer network that serves the needs of everyone, from a few people in an office to a massive global system.

Database Administrator
Database Administrator

Works to keep data safe, clean and backed up on the appropriate systems.

Computer and Information Systems Managers
Computer and Information Systems Managers

Looks at what a business needs and wants, both now and in the future, and chooses the technology accordingly – then installs, tests, implements and upgrades it as needed.

Software Engineering

Without the software to make it do what it should, a computer is just an oversized paperweight. This concentration prepares students to create software with courses in program design, coding methodologies, programming languages and algorithm analysis.

Career:
Software Developer
Software Developer

Designs and develops software for a variety of purposes, tests it out, then maintains and updates the software as new technology emerges.

Computer Support Specialist
Computer Support Specialist

Tests, repairs and maintains hardware, and helps workers with their software issues.

Computer Programmer
Computer Programmer

Writes code for software, updates and debugs software programs, and assists consumers in understanding software issues.

Informatics

This concentration focuses on using technology to solve problems and comes in especially handy in the world of big data and medical records. Students will benefit from courses in security, web and network design, software testing and other relevant topics.

Career:
Software Developer
Software Developer

Designs and develops software for a variety of purposes, tests it out, then maintains and updates the software as new technology emerges.

Database Administrator
Database Administrator

Works to keep data safe, clean and backed up on the appropriate systems.

Computer and Information Systems Manager
Computer and Information Systems Manager

Looks at what a business needs and wants, both now and in the future, and chooses the technology accordingly – then installs, tests, implements and upgrades it as needed.

Game Development

Video games are not just about fun anymore; today’s new games have found their way into education, medicine and other fields. Students can learn about everything from game structure to modeling and simulations to infusing human emotion into a video game.

Career:
Software Developer
Software Developer

Designs and develops software for a variety of purposes, tests it out, then maintains and updates the software as new technology emerges.

Computer Programmer
Computer Programmer

Writes code for software, updates and debugs software programs, and assists consumers in understanding software issues.

Computer Security

As more personal information is stored on computers and in the cloud, security becomes more important than ever. The computer security concentration covers everything from data communications to artificial intelligence.

Career:
Ethical Hacker
Ethical Hacker

Tries to break into major business and government systems to expose security weaknesses, then explains how to close those security holes.

Information Security Analyst
Information Security Analyst

Protects networks from security breaches by monitoring networks, investigating breaches and installing the proper software to combat them.

Digital Forensics Examiner
Digital Forensics Examiner

Tracks down evidence modern criminals leave behind on computers.

Salary Potential with a Master’s Degree

Students who complete an online computer science master’s program often do so for the job advancement opportunities and potential pay increase that come along with the higher degree. But just how high is that salary potential? PayScale.com users with a bachelor’s in computer science earned between $45,643 and $106,120, while those with a master’s in computer science earned between $81,810 and $117,386. Moreover, the majority of these master’s degree holders said they were “extremely satisfied” with their jobs, while those holding a bachelor’s degree were only “highly satisfied.” It’s easy to see why computer scientists are so satisfied, given the positive growth numbers and salary statistics like the ones below for systems software developers:

Growth Potential 22%
Average salary $102,880

Additional Resources & Links

Computer buffs looking for a group of like-minded individuals can find them at the following links, which are full of resources for their members, whether they are professionals or students:

Best Online Master’s in Computer Science Degrees

Computer science was one of the first online degrees available to students, and today the offerings have expanded to include an impressive number of colleges and universities. How does an aspiring student determine which school is the best fit? One of the ways to narrow down the field is to look at reputable rankings that take into account the finer points of online computer science master’s degrees.

Check out our rankings of the Best Online Master’s in Computer Science Degrees for 2015-2016 — and learn more about our methodology here.

RANK COLLEGE SCORE TEACHER/STUDENT RATIO COST GRADUATION RATE
1 Johns Hopkins University 100.00 9:1 93%
2 Purdue University-Main Campus 99.75 12:1 73%
3 University of Southern California 98.75 9:1 91%
4 Brandeis University 98.25 10:1 91%
5 Columbia University in the City of New York 96.75 6:1 95%
5 Carnegie Mellon University 96.75 10:1 88%
7 Harvard University 95.75 8:1 98%
8 North Carolina State University at Raleigh 95.25 16:1 75%
8 James Madison University 95.25 16:1 82%
10 Stanford University 94.25 10:1 95%
11 North Carolina Central University 93.00 15:1 47%
11 Northwestern University 93.00 7:1 93%
13 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University 92.50 16:1 83%
14 Towson University 92.00 16:1 68%
15 Creighton University 91.25 11:1 78%
16 New York University 91.00 10:1 83%
17 University of Dallas 90.50 10:1 70%
18 Endicott College 89.50 13:1 73%
18 East Carolina University 89.50 18:1 59%
20 Case Western Reserve University 89.25 11:1 81%
20 Murray State University 89.25 16:1 52%
22 University of Hawaii at Manoa 89.00 13:1 56%
23 University of California-Berkeley 88.75 17:1 91%
24 Pennsylvania State University-Penn State Harrisburg 88.50 14:1 67%
24 Lewis University 88.50 13:1 62%
26 Azusa Pacific University 88.25 11:1 67%
27 George Mason University 88.00 16:1 67%
27 Elmhurst College 88.00 13:1 74%
29 Drexel University 87.50 10:1 67%
30 University of Memphis 87.25 14:1 44%
31 Colorado State University-Fort Collins 87.00 16:1 65%
32 Illinois Institute of Technology 86.75 13:1 65%
32 Boston University 86.75 13:1 85%
34 Oklahoma State University-Main Campus 86.50 20:1 61%
35 Southern Methodist University 86.25 11:1 77%
36 La Salle University 86.00 12:1 66%
36 Dakota State University 86.00 16:1 41%
38 Marquette University 85.75 14:1 79%
38 Florida State University 85.75 26:1 79%
40 University of Michigan-Dearborn 85.50 15:1 50%
40 Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus 85.50 18:1 82%
42 Quinnipiac University 85.25 13:1 76%
43 Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus 85.00 17:1 86%
44 Concordia University-Wisconsin 84.75 13:1 61%
45 University of Idaho 84.50 17:1 58%
46 University of Illinois at Springfield 84.25 14:1 49%
46 Iowa State University 84.25 19:1 69%
46 George Washington University 84.25 12:1 79%