Computer scientists create solutions, drive innovation, and propel growth in the digital world.
Not only are salaries booming, but there are massive increases in employment expected in the field, and far too many unfilled positions. Quartz reported on Code.Org’s finding that in 2015, there were 59,581 computer science graduates, and nearly 530,000 open computing jobs. The Obama administration estimated there would be Obama White House predicted there would be 1.4 million computer-science-related jobs available by 2020, and only around 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills and experience to fill them. Here we’ve ranked top Master’s in Computer Science programs that can be taken entirely online, based on affordability, flexibility, academic prestige (as defined by academic rankings) and special features of the programs themselves. Enjoy.
If you’re a working Computer Science or Information Technology professional who’s looking to bone up your credentials, this is an excellent time to do so. A professional with a Master’s in Computer Science can expect to earn between $80,000-$140,000+ annually, depending on their position, employer and location. If you enjoy research, there are great programs on this ranking for you. For example, the median income in 2015 for a Computer and Information Research Scientist was $131,600. Earlier this year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that Computer Science master’s degree graduates in the class of 2017 had knocked off engineering grads as the highest-paid master’s degree holders.
Is a Master’s in Computer Science Right for Me?
A master’s in computer science is not the right fit for every person or every career path. Pursuing this advanced degree will require a significant investment of time, money and hard work. Before jumping in, consider your priorities by asking yourself the following five questions about your motivation to get a computer science master’s:
- What are my career goals? If you’re looking for a future in programming or IT, a master’s in computer science may not be necessary. If you dream of supervising, leading, teaching or conducting research, however, you’ll need a graduate degree.
- What type of company do I want to work for? Tech startups may not place as much value on your degree. Larger companies’ HR departments, however, tend to pay more attention to prospective employees’ graduate credentials.
- Will graduate school fit my lifestyle? If you are between jobs, taking on a full-time graduate program may make sense for you. If you’re raising a family or holding down a full-time job (especially one you’re just starting), you’ll want to look into part-time, online degree program. You’ll need patience and dedication to balance coursework with your other outside commitments.
- Can I make the investment? A master’s in computer science can have a big payoff, but represents a big investment in terms of time, money and hard work. Can you find the resources and supports you need to make it possible?
- Will my employer provide tuition support? Some companies offer tuition reimbursement to their employees, paying for part or all or the cost of degrees that will add value to their employee’s job performance. Find out your employer’s policy. Be aware that some require employees who leave their job within 2 years of earning the degree to pay back part of reimbursed tuition.
What are the Benefits of a Master’s in Computer Science?
If a pursuing master’s in computer science makes sense for your lifestyle and career goals, you’ll want to know what the payoff is. This advanced degree confers a number of professional advantages. There are five central benefits to getting a computer science master’s:
- Resume boost. In the job market, you’ll stand out from the competition. Most professionals in the field of computer science hold bachelor’s degrees. Having “M.S. in Computer Science” on your resume will set you apart from the crowd.
- Professional connections. As you rise up beyond the entry level in the field of computer science, professional connections have increasing importance. In a master’s program, you’ll forge influential connections with professors, classmates, alumni, and corporate partners. This is true for both traditional on-campus and online master’s programs, as professional networking increasingly moves into the virtual sphere.
- Leadership preparation. Entry-level positions generally rely on technical expertise alone. For advanced positions, however, computer science experts are expected to be able to take ownership of problems, create strategic solutions and lead teams to achieve results. A master’s program in computer science will provide training in this area through coursework, research, internships, and/or practicum.
- Workplace relevance. Your new technical and management skills will enhance your job performance. As Katie Bardaro, PayscaleÕs lead economist, explains about tech jobs, “We live in a technological world where our technology footprint will continue to grow. When you combine management [skills] with a growing industry, you experience top pay and employment prospects.”
- Salary Boost. Generally speaking, a master’s degree yields a higher average salary than a bachelor’s. But the bump up in earnings varies significantly by field. The “Hard Times” report from Georgetown indicates that, of all fields surveyed, a master’s in computer science was associated with the largest increase in salary, with computer science master’s graduates earning an average of $30,000 higher annually.
How does a Master’s in Computer Science Compare to Other Technology Degrees?
Our modern world is tech-oriented, and becoming increasingly so. If you’re technically savvy and analytically inclined, there are a number of technology fields that may suit you. All of them have strong employment prospects, good salaries, interesting applications, and robust growth potential. Consider computer science relative to similar degrees to weigh which interests you most. Five of the top tech disciplines are:
- Computer Science. Computer science is the study of the theory, experimentation, and engineering that form the basis for the design and use of computers. Computer scientists work with software and software systems; this includes their theory, design, development, and application.
- Information Technology (IT). IT is concerned with systems for storing, retrieving, and sending information. IT professionals handle systems for managing and processing information and deal with technological applications within organization, as well as their use by employees.
- Computer Information Systems (CIS). CIS covers the practical applications of technology to support organizations while adding value to their offerings. CIS professionals focus on using technology and information systems to solve business problems.
- Information Systems Management. Information systems is concerned with evaluating the health of an organization such as how effectively a company is operating, including where and why it is failing to grow and thrive. Employees in this field help businesses manage and administer information technology software and hardware, and to improve organizational performance.
- Data Science. Data science is the scientific approach to gathering and analyzing data, and using this information to generate predictions of future outcomes. Data scientists help organizations understand the data of their consumers or products, then use these analytical insights to make strategic business decisions.
What is a Typical Computer Science Master’s Program Curriculum?
Needless to say, each school’s master’s degree curriculum will very significantly. Some school have a particular area of emphasis, and some require fewer or more credits for graduation. With that being said, most master’s degrees in computer science take 2 years to complete on a full-time basis, and 3-4 years part time (depending on your pace). The majority require the completion of 30-40 graduate credit hours, divided between core, specialization and elective courses. Many incorporate a workplace learning component, either as an internship or practicum. And many end with a capstone project or thesis, which synthesizes and demonstrates a student’s acquired skills. While each school’s curriculum is different, you can expect to complete coursework in these five central computer science content areas:
- Computer Science Theory
- Advanced Mathematics
- Software Engineering
- Programming Languages
- Machine Learning
In addition, many school allow students to pursue computer science concentrations, either through the choice of electives within the program, or by taking on additional coursework. Again, these vary by school, but may include options such as:
- Cyber Security
- Digital Media Technology
- Artificial Intelligence
- Data Science
What is the Career Outlook with a Master’s Degree in Computer Science?
Virtually every industry has become computer-reliant, and, as a result, there are careers available in a wide range of fields and positions for those holding a master’s in computer science. Demand is high in this field, and salaries are robust. The Computer Science Education Coalition and Code.org call computer science positions “the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. economy,” adding that “There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs, in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to healthcare, but only 50,000 computer science graduates a year.” Of the many positions available, five of the top-paying computer science jobs are:
- Software Development Engineer (SDE) Median Salary: $116,679
- Computer Scientist Median Salary: $113,180
- Security Engineer Median Salary: $107,072
- Software Developer Median Salary: $102,280
- Mobile Application Developer Median Salary: $98,492
- Academic Prestige (1/3): Each institution’s rank according to national data related to online academic quality including student faculty rates, acceptance rates, and percentage of students at a given degree level taking at least some online courses.
- Flexibility (1/3): The range of flexible options in the program, including the ability to accelerate degree completion, work part-time, choose different concentrations, get credit for prior experience, and other unique degree options.
Affordability (1/3):Tuition per credit hour as well as percentage of students receiving financial aid.
1) Georgia Tech University
Georgia Tech is a public research university that was founded in 1885 in Atlanta. It’s part of the University System of Georgia and has campuses in Savannah, Georgia, France, Ireland, China, and Singapore. Over 26,800 students attend the school, which has a 20:1 student-to-faculty ratio. It conveys Bachelor, Master and Doctoral degrees through six colleges with approximately 31 departments/units. The school is known for its focus on science and technology, and has been commended for its programs in engineering, computer science, business administration, design, liberal arts and more. Georgia Tech is ranked 7th in the in U.S. News & World Report public national universities ranking in the United States and 34th on a list of all American universities. The school also has international recognition for its engineering and business programs. Previously, Georgia Tech was called the “smartest” public college in the country based on average standardized test scores of its students.
Georgia Tech offers an entirely online Master of Science in Computer Science. The program is a product of a collaboration between Georgia Tech, Udacity and AT&T. It encompasses students from over 80 countries, and costs approximately $7,000, making it the most affordable program on this list. 77% of Georgia Tech students receive financial aid. The program is accelerated, and utilizes Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs), which helps lower its overall cost. Students choose a specialization in either Computational Perception & Robotics, Computing Systems, Interactive Intelligence or Machine Learning. The program requires at least 30 credit hours to complete. Specializations are 12-15 hours of coursework, and the remaining 15-18 hours are electives. Georgia Tech anticipates students will take 3 years to complete the program, although it can be extended to 6 for students who need more flexibility.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $167
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: accelerated, offered through MOOCs, many specializations
2) Boston University
Boston University is a private research university founded in 1839 in the city of its namesake. It has become one of Boston’s largest schools and employers. Just under 32,700 students are currently served by BU. It has an improbably low 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, especially considering its size. It conveys undergraduate and graduate degrees through 17 schools and colleges. Graduates have become Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer Prize, Academy Awards, Emmy’s and Tony’s winners. In 2017, USNR ranked it 39th among national universities and 32nd among global universities. USNR has ranked BU’s programs highly as well, including 10th among public health graduate schools, 12th among social work schools, tied for 20th among law schools, tied for 29th among medical schools (research), 35th among engineering schools, tied for 41st among business schools, and 45th among education schools. In 2016 BU was ranked 89th overall in the world by QS World University.
BU offers a Online Master of Science in Computer Information Systems Degree. It takes 18-24 months to complete, which is on the lower end for programs like this. It’s been running since 2004, and offers 7 concentrations including Computer Networks, Data Analytics, Database Management & Business Intelligence, Health Informatics, IT Project Management, Security and Web Application Development. Health Informatics and Security are two sectors of computer science that have especially bright futures in terms of job security and lucrative work. This program requires 40 credits, and costs $860 per credit hour. In 2016-17, 54% of BU students received financial aid. This program is focused on giving working professionals advanced technical skills and an understanding/competence to earn managerial positions in computer science.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $860
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: accelerated and a number of concentrations
3) Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins is a premier private research university that was founded in 1876, in Baltimore, Maryland. The school’s founder was abolitionist and entrepreneur Johns Hopkins. Over 23,900 students attend Johns Hopkins, which has a very low 10:1 student to faculty ratio. It conveys undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees through 10 divisions and campuses in Maryland, Washington, D.C., Italy, China, Singapore, and of course, online. It’s now ranked 11th among American “national universities” by U.S. News & World Report, and was respectively ranked 14th and 10th in the world by Academic Ranking of World Universities and USNR in 2017. For those interested in cyber security, it offers several concentrations in that discipline. Johns Hopkins has a world class reputation for its faculty, funding and infrastructure.
Johns Hopkins offers a Master of Computer Science. Its goal is to help graduates solve pressing, real-world problems. It comes in one concentration Communications and Networking, and many focus areas, including Bioinformatics, Cybersecurity, Data Communications and Networking, Data Science and Cloud Computing, Database Systems and Knowledge Management, Enterprise and Web Computing, Human-Computer Interaction and Visualization, Software Engineering, Systems and Theory. This high number of specializations is part of why it made this list. The program requires students complete ten courses in up to five years. Tuition is $1351 per credit hour, and 66% of students received financial aid in 2015-16.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $1351
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: wide range of concentrations
4) Colorado State University
CSU was is a public, land-granted University. It was founded in 1870. By 2020 CSU anticipates serving over 35,000 students. Currently, there are approximately 33,000 people studying at the school. Its online division, known as the Global Campus, has over 11,600 students, and a 32:1 student to faculty ratio. The school gives students access to 13 bachelor’s degree programs and 19 bachelor’s degree specializations. CSU prides itself on allowing students to combine credits earned from other sources to build towards a degree. It also offers 11 master’s degrees with 20 specializations. In the 2015 edition, U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Colleges” put CSU at #121 among public and private national universities and 58th among public universities.
CSU offers a Master of Computer Science that can be completed online. It requires 35 credits, at $696 per credit. It can be completed at the accelerated pace of two years, a major part of its inclusion on this list. CSU also notes that 70% of its computer science master’s students have job offers upon graduating. Some employers of CSU Computer Science Master’s graduates include Microsoft, Raytheon, Motorola, Lockheed-Martin, Intel, and many more small to medium-sized companies. Students will gain in depth-knowledge in Networking and Security, Parallel Computing, Software Engineering, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Systems Software and Database Systems.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $696
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: accelerated
5) Nova Southeastern University
Nova Southeastern University is a price, nonprofit university operating from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was founded in 1964 and had an initial class of 17 students. Its motto is, “engage, inspire, achieve.” NSU has 18 colleges, featuring 175 programs and 250 majors. It offers degrees in law, business, osteopathic medicine, allied health, pharmacy, dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing. Over 21,600 students attend Nova, and it has produced over 170,000 alumni. Currently, the school has a 17:1 student-to-faculty ratio. NSU is a noted research and community engaged university. It was ranked 214th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
NSU offers a Master’s in Computer Science that requires the completion of 12 courses (36 credit hours). NSU says the program was designed to give graduates an “enduring foundation for future professional growth.” It does so by combining theory, practice and skill-building that allow graduates to solve complicated, real-world problems. Courses cover programming languages, algorithms, operating systems, database management systems, software engineering and much more. Students may choose a concentration in software engineering, computer systems, data science, information assurance and cybersecurity or real-world computing. Students may also choose no concentration, and instead pick from electives of their choosing. These options were a major factor in its inclusion on this list. The cost for this program is $775 per credit hour.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $775
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: accelerated and number of concentrations
6) Columbia University
Columbia is a private research university and Ivy League school that was founded in upper Manhattan in 1754. It is the oldest college in NY state, and the fifth institution of higher learning in the country. It is known for its selectivity, and recently was accepting only 5.8% of applicants, making it the second most selective Ivy League school. Over 29,300 students attend Columbia, which has a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio. It’s especially known for its graduate schools, and offers a wealth of Master’s and Doctoral degrees. USNR ranked it 5th among “national universities” and 8th in its best global universities ranking for 2017. USNR also ranked Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (which offers its Master’s in Computer Science) 13th in the nation.
Columbia’s Computer Science Master’s program requires 30 credits, and is fully online. Taking the GRE is a prerequisite for this program. Students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.3. The program tackles theoretical computer science, advanced mathematics and experimental computer technology. Topics covered include artificial intelligence, computational complexity and the analysis of algorithms, combinatorial methods, computer architecture, computer-aided digital design, computer communications, databases, mathematical models for computation, optimization, and software systems. Students select a concentration track in their first semester from the following options: Network Systems, Software Systems, Vision, Graphics, Interaction and Robotics, Natural Language Processing, Machine Learning, Foundations of Computer Science, Computer Security and Computational Biology, which was indispensable from its inclusion on this list. This program costs $1,936 per credit hour, making it the most expensive in the ranking.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $1936
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: wide range of concentrations
7) University of Louisville
The University of Louisville (UofL) is a public university in Kentucky, founded in 1798. It’s a member of the Kentucky state university system. When it was founded, it was the first city-owned public university in America. It offers bachelor’s degrees in 70 fields, master’s degrees in 78, and doctorate degrees in 22. UofL is a sports powerhouse, offering 13 women’s and 10 men’s teams, all of which participate in the Atlantic Coast Conference of the NCAA. Over 21,500 students attend UofL, and it has a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio. Its certification options in its Computer Science Master’s program was part of its inclusion on this ranking.
UofL’s MS in Computer Science is conveyed entirely online through its J.B. Speed School of Engineering. This school has been educating technical professionals since 1924. It offers internationally recognized faculty leading students in a magnificent curriculum and world class research, as well as cutting edge computer and networking labs. This program requires 30 credit hours, and is offered year round. Students may also opt for graduate certificates in Data Science (18 credit hours) or Cybersecurity (12 credit hours). Louisville also offers a streamlined approach to allow students to earn one of these certificates while earning their master’s degree. This program costs $714 per credit hour.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $714
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: certification options in program
8) University of West Georgia
UWG is a public, doctoral-granting university operating out of Carrollton, Georgia. It’s close to Atlanta, and offers off-campus classes in Dalton, Newnan and Rome, Georgia. Carnegie has classified it as a R3-Doctoral University. The Princeton Review often names it as one of the Best Southeastern Colleges. It offers certificates and undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees through colleges of Science and Mathematics, its Richards College of Business, Nursing, Social Sciences, Education, Arts and Humanities, and an Honors College. Over 13,300 students attend the school, which offers a 21:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
UWG’s Master of Science in Applied Computer Science has been ranked as a Best Online Graduate Computer and Information Technology by USNR. It costs $412 per credit hour, making it the second most affordable school on this list. Students that take two courses per semester (6 credit hours), including summer semesters, can finish this program in two years.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $412
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: accelerated
9) Northeastern University
Northeastern University is a private research university, founded in 1898 in Boston. Its motto is “Lux, Veritas, Virtus” (Light, Truth, Courage). It serves over 20,300 students, and has a 14:1 student-to-faculty ratio. NU offers undergraduate and graduate programming at a sprawling campus in the Fenway-Kenmore, Roxbury, South End, and Back Bay neighborhoods of Boston, and exclusively offers graduate degrees at satellite campuses in Charlotte, North Carolina, Seattle, Washington and Silicon Valley, California. It’s been labeled a R1 institution for its doctoral research by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. In USNR’s 2018 rankings, NU was tied for 40th among National Universities, and it has been ranked higher and higher by USNR between 1985 and 2017, rising from 176th to 39th. Northeastern is known for helping students secure the funding they need to attend the school. For example, it gave out $239 million in the 2015-16 year via grants and scholarship assistance.
Northeastern’s Master of Science in Computer Science comes with a wealth of concentrations, including Artificial Intelligence, Computer-Human Interaction, Database Management, Game Design, Graphics, Networks, Programming Languages, Security, Software Engineering, Systems and Theory. Students will learn to create and uphold application software, master algorithms and comp sci principles, showcase abilities in advanced programming and software design, and much more. This program costs $1,540 per credit hour, and it requires 32 total semester hours.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $1540
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: wide range of concentrations
10) North Carolina A&T State University
North Carolina A&T State University is a public, coed, historically black research university in Greensboro, North Carolina. When it was founded in 1891 it was the second college established under the provisions of the Morill Land-Grant Acts and first for black people in North Carolina. There were over 11,800 students enrolled at the school in the Fall of 2017. The school leads the nation in graduating African American engineers, and African-American women engineers at the bachelor’s level. It offers a whopping 177 undergraduate, 30 master and 9 doctoral degrees through 9 professional colleges.
NCAT’s Master of Science in Information Technology consistently ranks on USNR’s top Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs list. Students are prepared for technical and managerial positions, through a solid theoretical foundation and practical experience in IT. Specializations include Computer Networking and Communications, Computer Security, Web Technologies, Digital Medial Technologies and Database Management. The program is also conveyed through a thesis option or a course work option. The former requires 30 semester hours and a thesis, and the latter requires 36 semester hours. Up to six semester hours of graduate level work may be transferred (so long as it’s comparable to NCAT 600 or 700 level courses). This program costs $555 per credit hour.
- Tuition Per Credit Hour: $555
- Flexibility-Enhancing Features: concentrations