Earning an advanced degree in computer science can help you stay ahead of the game by allowing you to develop a solid, fundamental knowledge base and the ability to adapt to continually changing software technologies and applications. A flexible, online degree program can also help you meet your individual career and educational needs with less disruption to your schedule. Find out the best online master’s programs in computer science and how they’ll help you advance in your career.
There are many factors students should weigh when considering which program is right for them. To help students choose the best online master’s in computer science program, we’ve ranked the top programs based on data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, the U.S. Department of Education and the universities themselves. Each program included in this list has been accredited.
An online master’s in computer science usually takes about two years of full-time study, or three to five years if attending part-time. The curriculum covers software and web-based applications, programming languages and managing complex data structures including computer architecture, operating systems and artificial intelligence.
Students attending an online program will have access to the same content and faculty as students attending classes on campus. Given the nature of the work, a master’s in computer science is well suited to online learning, which offers more flexibility at a reduced cost.
Both a master’s degree in computer science and an MBA with a specialization in computer science will help professionals advance in their careers. But while a master’s degree will provide in-depth education in the technical aspects of the field, the MBA program is designed to offer broad-based business management skills with a focus on the computer industry. Students interested in pursuing programming, software development or other technical careers are well served by a master’s program, while those interested in managing tech companies or departments may prefer an MBA.
Here are some common courses offered in an online master’s in computer science program:
Students will learn about standard and recent architectural concepts, numeric data representation, assembly language organization, memory addressing, memory systems, coding and compression, input/output structures, and functional system and CPU organization.
Topics covered can include analysis of time and space complexity of iterative and recursive algorithms and performance bounds, data structures design for efficient performance, sorting algorithms, probabilistic algorithms, strategies, algorithms on graphs and np completeness.
Studies include the principles and approaches to programming languages such as syntax study, semantics, and pragmatics, and major programming paradigms (imperative, object-oriented, functional and logical).
Topics covered can include an overview of computer networks, TCP/IP protocol suite, computer-networking applications and protocols, transport-layer protocols, network architectures, IP, routing, link-layer protocols, local area and wireless networks, medium access control, physical aspects of data transmission and network-performance analysis.
Students can expect to learn about computer operating system design, including multiprogramming, time-sharing, real-time processing, job and task control, synchronization of concurrent processes and processors, resource scheduling, protection and management of hierarchical storage. Other topics covered include mathematical properties and usage of database programming languages, methods of database design and conceptual modeling, methods of physical storage for database information, and concepts of concurrency control and recovery in database systems.
This course covers subjects such as design and implementation of intelligent computer systems, intelligent search, adversarial search in games, reasoning with graphical models, reinforcement learning and connectionist machines.
Graduation tracts vary between programs, but students are often allowed to select from an exam, thesis or project option in order to complete their degree. A thesis in computer science may involve a design project or laboratory research. Final projects are often similar in scope to a thesis, but the topic is often chosen by the graduate professor rather than the student, unlike a thesis. A final exam will test students on the core concepts covered throughout the entire master’s program.
There are almost 20 different possible specializations in a master’s in computer science program. A few of the most common specializations are listed below.
AI includes the study of principles and techniques, topics such as logic, probability, and language, knowledge representation and logical reasoning, robotics, probability models and inference, natural language processing, and machine learning. This specialization also includes applications in biology and text processing domains.Information/Data Management and Analytics
This specialization covers database and information management systems, and techniques for mining massive data sets. Topics include developing applications for database and information systems, system design, architecture, and management, applying algorithms and techniques from data mining and machine learning to perform analyses of bioinformatics, web searches and social media applications.Mobile and Internet Computing
This specialization covers a broad array of topics including courses in networking, operating systems, web applications, security, cryptography and interface design. Students learn how to organize domains to connect many sets of topics across engineering. They learn to connect both mathematical and psychological theories and system building. Focus is placed on the sociotechnical nature of modern systems design.Software Engineering/Theory
In this specialization, students explore programming systems and languages, compilers, and databases, learning how to build an operating system, router, and take intensive programming courses. They apply programming languages and applications to areas like security.
Computer science is one of the fastest growing fields with jobs in almost every type of business globally. A skilled professional with a master’s degree in this field has great earning potential. It is estimated that within the next two years, these skills will be used in more than 1.4 million jobs. Below are a few of the top paying positions in this field:
SDEs build, design and maintain systems and software in virtually every industry. With a wide range of possibilities, professionals in this area have backgrounds in computer software applications, or computer software systems. Skills are used to analyze needs, test, design and develop software theories and principles.Computer Scientist
Computer scientists develop a wide range of computer-based tools specific to the industry involved, including database design, algorithm development and other processes to increase system efficiency and productivity. Knowledge of programming languages such as SQL, C++, Python, Java and XML are important in this type of position.Security Engineer
To work in this field, a specialization in networking and IT security systems is useful to develop and implement security systems and protocols. Professionals diagnose security systems and create solutions for defense layers, firewalls and detection systems that help fend of cyber attacks. Additionally, individuals in this field test hardware and software, and perform regular system testing.Mobile Application Developer
As technology takes over every aspect of life, mobile application developers are in high demand. They are responsible for developing applications for mobile devices, and need to be well versed in programming languages, mobile operating systems, and user experience. A specialization in mobile and internet computing helps develop the skills necessary to perform this job.
Professional organizations not only help connect graduates with other professionals in the field, but also to stay abreast of the most current industry standards, trends and technologies. A few of the top organizations are listed below.
A worldwide organization that promotes computing professions. Publications available to members include a newsletter, the latest industry news, a student magazine and a quarterly email newsletter highlighting opportunities for professional growth.
With over 4,000 members in the many fields of computer science and technology, this organization has supported computer science and technology since its inception in 1937. Members receive subscriptions to publications, service member discounts, free online seminars and voting rights.
The IEEE Computer Society provides research, networking and professional development opportunities to its more than 60,000 members worldwide. It sponsors over 200 technical conferences each year and publishes 30 journals and magazines.
AAAI promotes understanding, and responsible use, of artificial intelligence through seminars, conferences and a quarterly newsletter. It also publishes books and awards scholarships.
There are a large variety of computer science positions available, especially for those with a master’s degree. Here are a few possible positions and their median salaries, though students should note that a master’s degree in computer science won’t guarantee eligibility for any position and that some may require additional certification or training.
|Career||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Software Developer||Less than $59,870||$101,790||More than $160,100||+24%|
|Computer and Information Research Scientists||Less than $65,540||$114,520||More than $176,780||+19%|
|Information Security Analyst||Less than $55,560||$95,510||More than $153,090||+28%|
|Computer Systems Analyst||Less than $53,750||$88,270||More than $139,850||+9%|
|Computer Network Architect||Less than $58,160||$104,649||More than $162,390||+ 6%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Projected job growth in many computer science professionals is much higher than the average rate of 8 percent and salaries also tend to be significantly higher than average salaries as well. With this kind of earning potential and job prospects, money spent on a online master’s in computer science has the potential to pay off handsomely.
Going the extra mile to earn a master’s degree usually results in substantially higher median wages. According to Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the median wage for a professional with a bachelor’s degree in computer science is $83,000 compared to $100,000 for those holding a graduate degree.
Prospective students should consider online master’s degree programs in computer science that are accredited. Accreditation ensures that an independent agency has confirmed the quality of the program’s curriculum, faculty and research. Look for accreditation from the Computing Accreditation Commission at the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
ABET has accredited over 3,800 programs worldwide. Accreditation from CAC/ABET ensures the program meets high standards for technical education and improves your job prospects since many employers require a degree from an accredited program. Accreditation may also be required to get licensed or certified in your area of specialization.
Oftentimes, the biggest obstacle to pursuing graduate studies is figuring out how to pay for it. Fortunately, there are many opportunities for students to get financial aid to help cover the cost of a master’s degree in computer science.
The best place to start is by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will determine a student’s eligibility for federal loans, grants and assistantships in a graduate program.
In addition, because of the rapid growth in the field, more agencies are funding scholarships to ensure there are enough graduates to fill the increased job openings. Below are just a few examples of the scholarships available to students pursing an online master’s degree in computer science.
This scholarship, funded by the National Science Foundation, offers scholarships of up to $34,000 to students who commit to working in cyber security for a government agency after graduation. They must commit to working for the government for the same amount of time that their scholarship lasted.
Previously the Google Anita Borg Scholarship Program, this is a Google-sponsored scholarship for women pursing degrees in computer science. Awards of $10,000 will be given to recipients who show academic achievement and community leadership.
This scholarship is for student members of the IEEE Computer Society and provides support of $1,000 or more to students studying computer science.