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Best Value Online Master’s in Computer Science Programs 2021

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Best Value Online Master's in Computer Science Programs

Computer science (CS) professionals use technical and mathematical tools such as algorithms and programming languages to solve problems, achieve goals, and enhance modern life. This diverse discipline contains many fields and overlaps with other technology-related disciplines, including information technology, information systems, software engineering, and computer engineering.

Master’s in computer science programs typically require 21-24 months to complete. However, students with transferable credits or those who enroll in accelerated programs can often graduate in 12 months. Applicants to online computer science master’s programs usually need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Additional admission requirements may include satisfactory GRE scores, prior CS coursework, or relevant professional experience.

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Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information technology professionals earn above-average salaries and enjoy promising career prospects. The BLS reports that professionals in the field earn a median annual salary of $88,240, which is more than double the median salary for all occupations.

The BLS projects employment for software developers and information security analysts to increase 22% and 31%, respectively, from 2019-2029. The following guide includes information about master’s in computer science jobs, requirements, curricula, and scholarships.

What Can I Do With a Computer Science Degree?

Most entry-level computer science jobs require only a bachelor’s degree, but advanced positions may require a master’s degree in the field. Professionals such as computer and information research scientists, computer science professors, and computer and information systems managers often need a graduate education.

Students with an undergraduate degree in an unrelated field sometimes earn a CS master’s degree to switch careers. A master’s degree in computer science can increase an individual’s competitiveness for lucrative tech careers. Graduates often become software developers, information security analysts, computer programmers, and network architects. Master’s degrees can also improve hireability by demonstrating specialization in a niche field, such as data analytics, data visualization, or cybersecurity.

Many computer and information technology professionals earn above-average salaries. According to the BLS, professionals in the field earned a median annual salary of $88,240 in 2019. Salary potential varies by position, with computer and information systems managers earning a particularly generous median salary of $146,360 per year, according to the BLS.

Accreditation for a Computer Science Degree



Students should choose an accredited school to ensure they can qualify for financial aid and that their credits will transfer to other institutions. The federal government only awards financial aid to students at accredited schools. To earn accreditation, higher education institutions undergo an evaluation and improvement process facilitated by a third-party agency. Accrediting agencies in the U.S. need approval from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Generally, regional accrediting agencies evaluate institutions based on higher academic standards than national accrediting agencies. Vocational and religious schools often receive national accreditation. Regionally accredited colleges and universities usually only accept transfer credits and degrees from other regionally accredited schools. Consequently, computer science master’s students considering doctoral studies should only apply to regionally accredited schools.

The best computer science programs may also feature programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) or from one of its member societies, such as CSAB, Inc. Learners can consult the searchable database from the Department of Education to verify the accreditation status of any school or program.

FAQ

Question Answer
What do you do with a degree in computer science? A master’s degree in computer science meets or exceeds the educational requirements for many computer technology-related jobs. Graduates can become database administrators, computer and information systems managers, and computer and information research scientists.
Do you have to be good at math for computer science? Successful computer science students typically possess solid quantitative skills. Most computer science programs include advanced coursework in statistics, calculus, and algebra.
How do I start a career in computer science? Most computer science jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, so aspiring CS professionals usually begin by earning a relevant undergraduate degree. Some jobs require additional certification and training.
What are some fields in computer science? Major computer science fields include computer programming, software development, computer architecture, and computational science. Related fields include networks, databases, data visualization and graphics, and human-computer interaction.

What Are the Requirements for a Computer Science Degree?

Admission requirements for computer science master’s programs vary by school. However, applicants often need a minimum 3.0 GPA, positive recommendation letters, and a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Competitive programs also may require satisfactory GMAT or GRE scores, relevant professional experience, prior coursework in computer science, and admission interviews.

CS master’s curricula typically comprise about 60 credits, including core courses, specialized classes, and a capstone project or thesis. Students without completed prerequisites may need to take foundational courses. Enrollees must often defend their thesis or culminating project before a faculty committee.

Courses in a Computer Science Program



Master’s in computer science programs usually feature core and specialized math and computer science courses. Learners typically take classes in statistics, numerical analysis, and mathematical methods. Computer science courses may cover software development, distributed systems, and database management.

Depending on the student’s concentration, specialized computer science coursework may include bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity. CS master’s programs help students build advanced skills in communication, analysis, coding, and problem-solving.

Master’s in computer science programs often include the courses below. However, curricula often vary significantly by program. Students should contact their prospective school to verify course availability.

Database Systems
This core course covers system architecture, design, and structured query language. Learners explore key concepts for aspiring database administrators, including database system implementation, security issues, and efficient data modeling for today’s relational databases. Additional topics may include contemporary trends, such as MapReduce and big data. Enrollees often complete a database application project. This course may require prior coursework in software development or systems architecture.
Introduction to Distributed Systems
Part of many CS master’s programs’ core curricula, this course surveys key issues in distributed systems-building. The class often requires prior coursework in operating systems. Learners explore issues such as scalable service and file system design, safety and thread pools, parallel programming, and pipelining. Additional topics may include consensus, consistency, and distributed objects and mutual exclusion. Enrollees learn to build servers, write MapReduce programs, and design analytic tasks and data representation formats. This course often entails Java programming assignments that prepare students to build distributed systems.
Software Evaluation
This class covers software product and process evaluation research and practices. Enrollees learn how to assess usability, functionality, design structure, and maintainability. Learners usually examine software development processes and improvement, and they practice using quantitative and experimental software engineering methods. Students cultivate skills in software testing, fault localization, and program repair. Degree-seekers also gain knowledge in security topics, such as penetration testing and vulnerability assessment.
Artificial Intelligence
Master’s programs typically offer this course as an elective or as part of a concentration. Artificial intelligence (AI) involves methods for instilling computers with human-like intelligence and behavior. AI goals usually focus on autonomous problem-solving, learning, reasoning, and planning. Additional research and discussion topics may include automatic programming, computer vision, machine learning, and natural linguistic learning. Enrollees study common search algorithms involved in representing knowledge, recognizing patterns, solving problems, and using fuzzy logic.
Computer Security
Students learn about information storage and processing systems security. Participants examine security threats such as viruses, worms, and Trojan horses. Coursework covers information systems security tools and policies, and degree-seekers explore defenses such as systems evaluation, cryptography, and authentication. Programs typically offer this course as an elective course or as part of a cybersecurity concentration. Enrollees may need prior coursework in distributed systems or systems security.

Certifications and Licensure for Computer Science Majors



A master’s degree in computer science meets or exceeds degree requirements for most CS jobs. However, professionals can earn additional credentials to improve their hireability and to qualify for specialized positions. The diverse computer science discipline features dozens of fields and hundreds of professional certifications, including those below.

Certified Information Systems Auditor


ISACA offers this certification for IT professionals in fields such as security, auditing, and control. This certification demonstrates competency in major information systems security procedures and practices. To earn this certification, candidates need at least five years of relevant professional experience and must pass a four-hour exam comprising 150 multiple-choice questions.

VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization


Ideal for cloud computing professionals, this certification indicates skills in vSphere V6 infrastructure administration and troubleshooting. Holders possess the knowledge and skills needed to create organizations’ virtualization platforms. Candidates must complete a training course at an authorized center and must pass the vSphere 6 or 6.5 Foundations Exam and the Data Center Virtualization Exam.

Microsoft SQL Server Certifications


Database and data technologies professionals often benefit from Microsoft’s various certifications. Available certification areas include SQL server 2012/2014, business intelligence and database administration, and data management and analytics. Requirements vary by certification, but candidates must typically demonstrate their competency by passing an exam.

Professional Organizations for Computer Science Majors



Computer science students and professionals can join professional organizations to receive help with networking, job hunting, and continuing education. Many professional organizations in the field offer job boards, conferences, certification programs, and publications. Some organizations also advocate for the profession and establish professional and ethical standards.


  • Association for Women in Computing AWC offers networking, education, and mentorship for women in computing. The organization emphasizes competence and professionalism, and members can access computing and professional development programs. AWC facilitates networking online and through local chapters, including student chapters at colleges and universities.

  • Computer Science Teachers Association CSTA supports K-12 computer science educators by establishing professional standards, publishing relevant research, running professional development events, and maintaining local chapters. To foster equal educational access, CSTA offers awards, fellowships, and virtual teaching resources.

  • Computing Research Association Comprising more than 200 computer research and professional organizations, CRA supports computing research and researchers by hosting computing community consortiums and leadership development programs. The association also provides consulting to the federal government regarding computing research-support policies.

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society The largest technology-advancing technical professional organization, IEEE encourages global networking and innovation. Members collaborate on beneficial technology projects related to sustainable energy, healthcare, robotics, and communications. IEEE supports technology students and professionals by setting technology standards and providing conferences, networking, and collaboration tools.

Scholarships for Computer Science Students

Like other undergraduate and graduate students, those earning a computer science master’s degree may qualify for scholarships from nonprofits, companies, and schools. Scholarship programs may require applicants to demonstrate financial need, academic talent, or membership in an underrepresented group. Students pursuing a computer science master’s degree can explore a sampling of available scholarships below.

CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service

Who Can Apply: This government-funded award supports cybersecurity students attending participating universities. Application requirements vary by institution, and the award is renewable for up to three years. Recipients must complete 10-week summer internships and fulfill government employment contracts.
Amount: Tuition and fees remission, $25,000-$34,000 annual stipends, and $6,000 professional allowance

Out to Innovate Scholarships

Who Can Apply: LGBTQ+ students with a declared STEM or STEM teaching major can qualify for this award. Applicants must demonstrate involvement in LGBTQ+ organizations or programming. Additional requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA and at least two years of college-level coursework completed at an accredited school.
Amount: Varies

Society of Women Engineers Scholarships

Who Can Apply: SWE offers various scholarships supporting full-time students in ABET-accredited computer science or engineering programs. Applicants must identify as female and must live in one of the 20 approved states. Application requirements vary by scholarship but usually include recommendation letters and official transcripts.
Amount: Varies

Upsilon Pi Epsilon Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Full-time students with membership in the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) can apply. Applicants must also participate in a UPE or ACM student chapter. Application requirements include a UPE advisor recommendation, a personal statement, an outline of professional goals, and official transcripts.
Amount: $1,000-$2,500

Women Techmakers Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This Google-funded scholarship honors Dr. Anita Borg and supports women in computer science-related programs. Candidates should demonstrate exceptional academic performance, a commitment to gender equity in technology fields, and leadership capabilities. Applicants submit recommendation letters, a resume, an essay, and transcripts. Finalists also undergo a phone interview.
Amount: $10,000, plus an invitation to the annual Google Scholars’ Retreat

Best Value Online Master’s in Computer Science Programs 2021



  1. Georgia Institute of Technology
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Georgia Tech develops programs focused on science and technology. Degree-seekers can earn a top-ranked computer science degree without giving up employment. The online master of science in computer science – a partnership between Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T – offers coursework-only, project, and thesis options.

    Enrollees complete 30 credits that include courses in one of four specializations: computing systems, machine learning, interactive intelligence, and computational perception and robotics. Each specialization requires a core curriculum and electives. The machine learning specialization covers computability, the design and analysis of algorithms, and big data systems and analysis. The interactive intelligence specialization covers the software development process and artificial intelligence.

    Applicants need a bachelor's in computer science or a related field and a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA.

  2. Columbia University in the City of New York
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Columbia maintains a stellar reputation as one of the nation's best colleges. Columbia Video Network allows working students to earn computer science and engineering degrees entirely online with part-time enrollment. Columbia's master of computer science equally emphasizes mathematics, theoretical computer science, and experimental computer technology.

    During their first semester, students select a 30-credit plan of study in one of eight concentration tracks, including computational biology, machine learning, and network systems. Each track features courses chosen from three groups: systems, theory, and AI applications. The machine learning track covers machine learning theory, AI, and algorithms for data science. Enrollees complete the program asynchronously and receive remote access to library resources.

    Enrollees pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Admission requires a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, a minimum 3.3 GPA, and GRE scores.

  3. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Renowned for academic excellence, Stanford offers select online degrees in science and engineering. The 45-credit master of science in computer science offers a part-time curriculum that enrollees complete in 3-5 years with live stream or video on demand. Students complete foundation courses including computer organizations and systems; logic, automata, and complexity; and design and analysis of algorithms. Enrollees may satisfy this requirement with coursework completed at other institutions.

    Learners complete coursework in four breadth areas: applications, computer systems, computing and society, and mathematical and theoretical foundations. Enrollees also complete a 21-unit depth requirement fulfilled by one of nine specializations, including artificial intelligence, computer and network security, and human-computer interaction. Learners work with an advisor to select elective credit as needed. Students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, strong quantitative and analytical skills, college transcripts, and GRE scores.

  4. University of Illinois Springfield
    Location

    Springfield, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    UIS offers a 32-credit master of science in computer science that focuses on software design, analysis, and implementation. Students complete the degree at their own pace as part of an interactive online learning community. Enrollees develop a degree plan with advanced coursework and a graduate research seminar. Computer science courses cover topics such as computer networks, software engineering, and software testing and reliability.

    Enrollees culminate the degree by completing an exercise that demonstrates their ability to develop, analyze, and report on a computer science problem. Learners may transfer up to four graduate credits. Students complete prerequisite coursework such as discrete math and computer programming. Admission requires a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related program and a minimum 2.7 GPA.

  5. Missouri University of Science and Technology
    Location

    Rolla, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Missouri S&T offers a 31-credit master of science in computer science that emphasizes data science and cybersecurity. Missouri S&T is the state's only college designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Research.

    Enrollees choose a thesis or non-thesis option. All students complete an analysis of algorithms course and a seminar in computer science. Learners who choose the thesis track complete 6-9 hours of research. Students can start earning credit toward this degree by completing a graduate certificate such as cybersecurity or big data management and security. Learners pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Admission requires a bachelor's degree in a related discipline, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and competitive GRE scores.

  6. Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    The nation's first research college, Johns Hopkins offers an online master of science in computer science that enrollees complete part time. The program features 10 courses that build competencies in areas such as theory, analysis, and design of information systems. Learners fulfill prerequisite requirements by taking courses at Johns Hopkins, passing a proficiency exam, or transferring prior coursework. All enrollees complete foundation courses in software engineering, algorithms, and computer architecture.

    Students choose from one of 11 tracks or concentrations, including cybersecurity, systems, data communications and networking, and human-computer interaction and visualization. Enrollees may also choose an independent study option that allows them to work with a faculty mentor on research in selected areas. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory gives learners access to top-level scientists, engineers, and other experts. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and prerequisite courses in computer science.

  7. Bellevue University
    Location

    Bellevue, NE

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Founded in 1966, BU is a private college located in Nebraska. BU's virtual college offers a 36-credit master of science in computer information systems that teaches enrollees how to select, integrate, and administer computer technologies within organizations. Learners study IT infrastructure, software development, and the management and design of database systems.

    Students complete nine credits in one of four concentrations: database, cybersecurity, software development, or data science. Faculty combine theoretical concepts and hands-on learning. Enrollees in the cybersecurity concentration develop ethical hacking techniques while students in the database concentration engineer a data mart using an extract, transform, and load system.

    Online students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Admission requires a bachelor's or master's degree, a minimum 2.5-3.0 GPA, and prerequisite coursework such as programming using C#.

  8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Location

    Champaign, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Illinois continues an 80-year legacy of computing innovation with the online master of science in computer science. Illinois computer science department partners with Coursera to deliver coursework through the massive open online course platform, saving students time and money. Applicants do not need a bachelor's in computer science. However, they need prior coursework or experience in areas such as data structures and object-oriented programming. Enrollees can complete the 32-credit program in 12 months.

    The curriculum requires four breadth courses from a choice of seven core areas, including artificial intelligence, systems and networking, and database and information systems. Students choose 12 additional credits of advanced coursework, exploring topics such as scientific visualization and advanced bayesian modeling.

    Learners pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.2 GPA.

  9. National University
    Location

    La Jolla, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    NU offers an online master of science in computer science that covers computing fundamentals and best practices in specialized areas. The degree requires three prerequisite programming courses. The core 58.5-quarter-unit curriculum covers advanced programming, modern operating systems, database design and implementation, and database web interface. Students apply their skills during a three-month project working on deadline for a real client.

    Graduates know how to develop complex software systems, identify computer security vulnerabilities and threats, and develop database solutions. Participants complete this degree in computer science at their own pace. The program's four-week courses accelerate degree completion, and monthly start dates give learners flexibility. Students pay the same tuition regardless of residency.

    Learners without a bachelor's in computer science or a related field must complete the prerequisite coursework. Admission requires a bachelor's degree.

  10. North Carolina State University
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    NC State specializes in science, technology, engineering, and math programming. The 31-credit online master of computer science program enrolls learners with a bachelor's degree in computer science or sufficient computer science coursework. Students begin the program with an orientation that outlines program requirements and departmental and university resources.

    Students choose three courses from two categories: theory and systems. These courses develop competencies in areas such as the design and analysis of algorithms, computer performance modeling, and software engineering. Learners complete the rest of the degree with advanced computer science courses. The degree requires no culminating thesis or comprehensive examination.

    Students may opt to take some courses on campus in Raleigh. Distance learners pay affordable tuition, though out-of-state students pay more. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and GRE scores.

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