Best Online Master’s Degrees in Computer Science

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An online master’s in computer science develops skills in computer engineering and programming.

Master’s degree-holders qualify for advanced roles in technology fields, with expertise in areas such as software engineering, robotics, and programming languages. Graduates can also apply their specialized skills in fields like business, medicine, and science.

Online computer science degrees continue to gain popularity among ambitious college students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% increase in jobs for computer scientists from 2019-2029, much faster than the average projected growth rate for all occupations. Employers often recruit master’s graduates for advanced computer science jobs, which paid a median salary of $122,840 as of 2019.

The following sections explore the characteristics of the best online computer science degrees.

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Why Get an Online Computer Science Master’s Degree?

An online computer science master’s degree suits tech-savvy problem-solvers. Computer science, the study of computers and computer systems, examines software design, development, and applications. Computer science programs emphasize programming skills and critically explore algorithms, hardware and software, and computer theory.

As the world increasingly demands optimal technology performance from all electronic devices, computer scientists continue to garner high salaries.

These professionals facilitate crucial data-mining and cybersecurity services to help businesses thrive online. They also develop new programming languages to improve software efficiency.

Most computer science jobs require a master’s degree and specialized field experience. For example, biology experts with a master’s in computer science may qualify for employment in bioinformatics analysis. More than one-quarter of all computer scientists in the U.S. work for the federal government.

Computer scientists enjoy one of the highest job growth rates, even among IT occupations. The BLS projects excellent job prospects for master’s degree graduates over the next decade. Earning an online master’s in computer science offers many benefits, including the following.

Job Variety
Earning an online computer science degree can lead to diverse technology jobs involving computer systems, networks, and programming. Graduates of a master’s program may qualify for senior roles as computer scientists, software developers, or computer network architects, all of which draw annual median salaries over $100,000.
High Earning Potential
Generally, IT occupations offer generous salaries. Incomes are commensurate to the minimum education requirement for many IT jobs — a bachelor’s degree. However, master’s graduates qualify for even greater earning potential. Computer and information research scientists require a master’s degree and earned a median annual salary of $122,840 as of 2019.
Major Industry Growth
Beyond high earnings, computer and IT jobs offer steady growth for master’s degree holders with industry experience. From 2019-2029, the BLS projects an 11% increase in computer and IT occupations, with even faster job growth (15%) for computer and information research scientists.

The Top Online Master’s in Computer Science Degrees

  1. Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore, MD



    Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins University offers one of the nation's top online computer science master's programs through its Whiting School of Engineering. The 30-credit program provides students with a highly customizable curriculum.

    Students can choose from concentrations in areas like bioinformatics, cybersecurity, data communications and networking, human-computer interaction, and software-engineering systems. Classes feature a flexible, mostly asynchronous format.

    Prerequisites include a year of calculus; a mathematics course beyond calculus; and classes in programming, data structures, and computer organization. Most applicants hold a GPA of 3.0 or better. Those who select the bioinformatics track must apply to it separately.

  2. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA



    USC offers a computer science master's degree that students can pursue entirely online. The program gives participants an immersive education in the concepts, theories, and techniques involved with designing, maintaining, and programming computer systems. Full-time students can complete the program in as little as 18 months.

    The university's Viterbi School of Engineering uses a uniquely interactive delivery method for the 28-credit computer science master's program. Online students can attend the same classes as on-campus students, ask questions via phone, and conduct live presentations. Alternatively, they can view recorded material at their convenience. Degree candidates can use electives to create a specialization in an area of interest.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's in engineering or closely related field from an accredited university with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Remote learners pay the same tuition as on-campus students.

  3. Stevens Institute of Technology

    Hoboken, NJ



    A tech school in Hoboken known for innovation, Stevens hosts an online computer science master's program with academic and professional tracks. The institute's 30-credit curriculum blends theory and practical skills to prepare graduates for doctoral programs or the workforce. Highlights include unique instruction in enterprise and cloud computing, system security, and effective written and oral communications.

    Students can choose their own core curriculum, and select a thesis or non-thesis track. Learners can also pursue nine elective credits from disciplines outside of computer science. Available focus areas include cloud-computing databases; gaming and simulation; mobile systems; modeling, simulation, and visualization; and web application development.

    Students can transfer up to 10 credits toward the degree. Applicants should hold a bachelor's degree in a related field with a GPA of 3.0 or better.

  4. Stanford University

    Stanford, CA



    Set in Silicon Valley, Stanford built its online master's in computer science as a terminal degree rather than a gateway to a doctoral program. The program provides a broad education in computer science along with the opportunity to specialize in an area of focus. The majority of coursework is delivered online, but some tracks may require visits to Stanford's campus in central California.

    Stanford's curriculum requires a fundamental computer core and 21 credits in a specialization. Students can choose from specializations such as artificial intelligence, biocomputation, computer and network security, human-computer interaction, information management and analytics, or theoretical computer science.

    Candidates need a bachelor's degree in any discipline. Applicants must submit GRE scores. Some students may need to take additional foundational courses.

  5. Columbia University in the City of New York

    New York City, NY



    Columbia designed its online master of science in computer science to prepare professionals for career advancement. The New York institution's 30-credit curriculum emphasizes theoretical computer science, mathematics, and experimental computer technology. Students can earn the degree entirely online through the school's Columbia Video Network.

    Participants pick a track during their first semester. Track options include computational biology; computer security; foundations of computer science; machine learning; natural language processing; network systems; software systems; and vision, graphics, interaction, and robotics. Degree candidates can also create their own personalized pathway with the approval of an advisor. All classes use prerecorded lectures accessible at students' convenience.

    Typical applicants hold a bachelor's degree in computer science with a minimum 3.3 GPA. Students from other backgrounds may need to take four prerequisites in computing and two in mathematics.

  6. Boston University

    Boston, MA



    BU created one of the nation's top computer science master's programs by adding managerial education to a rigorous IT curriculum, preparing graduates for leadership roles in the field.

    The program carries prestigious credentials from multiple national agencies, including the Committee on National Security Systems, the Project Management Institute Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs, and the Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education.

    The 40-credit online master's in computer science takes two years of full-time study to complete. Distance learners work through six required classes and four electives in concentration areas like networking, data analytics, database management and business intelligence, and web application development. BU delivers classes asynchronously in accelerated, seven-week terms.

    BU uses a rolling admission policy and offers six start dates each year. Applicants need a bachelor's degree in any discipline.

  7. Drexel University

    Philadelphia, PA



    Based in Philadelphia, Drexel offers an online master's in computer science with thesis and non-thesis options. The broad-based program requires 45 credits. The university uses four, 10-week terms per year rather than the traditional two semesters.

    Drexel's flexible curriculum requires students to select two core courses in each of six themed areas, including theory, intelligent systems, programming, computer systems, vision and graphics, and applications. Learners who do not choose a thesis must take two additional classes. Most classes run asynchronously.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree in any discipline with a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also score in the 50th percentile on the GRE. Drexel accepts up to nine transfer credits toward the degree.

  8. Illinois Institute of Technology

    Chicago, IL



    IIT built its online master of science in computer science for students who want to pursue Ph.D. programs in the field or careers in research. The 32-credit curriculum emphasizes theory, and participants must complete and defend a thesis or create their own software as a culminating project.

    The core consists of two classes in theory and one each in systems and programming. Students complete the remaining credits through electives and the thesis or project. IIT requires distance learners to satisfy all core coursework through the university.

    Candidates need a bachelor's degree in any discipline. They also need a score of 300 or better on the GRE's quantitative and verbal sections.

  9. North Carolina State University at Raleigh

    Raleigh, NC



    NC State's online master's in computer science boasts the same world-class faculty as its on-campus counterpart. The degree streams the same lectures and programming that occur in Raleigh straight to a student's computer. This fully online, 31-credit curriculum does not require a thesis, oral exam, or residency.

    The university designed the computer science master's program for distance learners with bachelor's degrees in computer science. Classes open with an introductory, one-credit orientation. Students then complete a curriculum divided between theory and systems. Courses are delivered asynchronously and degree candidates must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.

    Applicants need prerequisite courses in differential and integral calculus, calculus-based probability and statistics, and computer science. The school prefers candidates with a 3.0 GPA or better and acceptable scores on the GRE.

  10. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus

    Atlanta, GA



    Georgia Tech partnered with AT&T and Udacity to offer the first accredited online computer science master's delivered using the massive open online course format. This delivery method allows the renowned Atlanta institution to provide the program at a much lower cost than many others. Participants can log in from anywhere and complete the required coursework at their convenience, taking one or two classes at a time.

    The 30-credit curriculum consists of 10 courses and features no required classes. Students take electives and pursue one of four specializations: computing systems, interactive intelligence, machine learning, or computational perception and robotics. Proctors monitor all exams online.

    Georgia Tech accepts applications year-round for the program, which begins in the spring and fall. The institute extends a single tuition fee to all learners. Georgia Tech holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

What To Expect From Master’s in Computer Science Programs

Online computer science degrees prepare students for lucrative careers in computer systems, software development, and technology. Though most master’s programs take two years to complete, online computer science master’s degrees commonly offer accelerated paths to graduation in less than two years. Programs often offer concentrations in software engineering, artificial intelligence, and data science.

An online master’s in computer science allows students to gain advanced expertise in programming languages, problem-solving, and communication. Common coursework explores language coding, database and network construction, and cybersecurity. Learners also develop critical soft skills, capitalizing on their analytical abilities.

Most online master’s degrees in computer science require 60 credits. Schools may offer a choice between part-time or full-time enrollment, with full-time students typically taking 12-18 credits per term. Beyond institutional accreditation, some online computer science degrees hold programmatic accreditation through an agency such as ABET.

Read More About Computer Science Programs

Admission Requirements

Though some requirements vary, many schools adopt the same primary criteria for admission into an online master’s in computer science. Programs typically require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree. Schools generally prefer but do not require applicants to earn their bachelor’s in computer science. Learners who major in computer science as undergraduates may satisfy master’s degree prerequisites.

Minimum GPA and professional requirements vary. Many schools consider applicants holistically, through academic transcripts and professional experience. Generally, graduate programs appreciate but do not require relevant work experience. Some students pursue a master’s degree in computer science immediately following their bachelor’s degree, bypassing the opportunity for industry experience.

Most schools require graduate applicants to submit letters of recommendation with their academic transcripts. Students should also submit strong GRE or GMAT scores, which can reinforce an applicant’s qualifications. Candidates may need to satisfy prerequisites in subjects including computer science, statistics, and math.

Degree and Specialization Options

Schools offer different paths toward earning an online master’s in computer science. Most programs feature computer science as a major, with a choice of concentrations in fields like robotics, cybersecurity, or software engineering. Many schools maintain their own computer science or IT departments, while others offer online computer science degrees through their engineering or math departments.

A master’s in computer science starts where the undergraduate curriculum left off, building advanced skills in programming languages and coding.

Some computer science degrees prepare students for professional certifications such as certified in risk and information systems control or certified information security manager. Other certifications train students in specific products, such as Microsoft or Cisco.

Computer scientists aspiring to work in a particular field such as education, biology, or healthcare may pursue electives in their desired area of expertise. Additionally, they should seek out work experience in their specialty while earning an online master’s in computer science.

Popular Computer Science Courses

An online computer science degree emphasizes core training in algorithms, programming languages, and software engineering. Electives may include topics like networking, computer graphics, or cybersecurity. Though programs vary, an online master’s in computer science commonly offers concentrations including machine learning, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Most master’s degrees in computer science culminate in a capstone requirement. This may include an internship or final project, such as creating a unique software application. Some degrees prepare students for professional certification including CompTIA or Apple products.

This course covers algorithmic problem-solving, data structures, and data analysis. Students learn to implement algorithmic design and dynamic programming techniques. Topics include information retrieval, computational geometry, and randomized sets. Prerequisites may include advanced mathematics and data structures.
Expanding on the broad computer language coursework of an undergraduate program, this course explores deep concepts including semantic analysis, sentiment analysis, and machine translation. Enrollees practice applying statistical methods and deep learning processes to common computer languages. Other topics include binary classification, neural networks, and sequence tagging.
A fundamental course among master’s in computer science programs, advanced linear algebra builds skills in matrix computations, practical algorithms, and floating-point arithmetic. Students also explore topics like quantifiers and qualifiers, singular value decomposition, and solving linear systems.
Typically a core requirement of a master’s in computer science, software engineering coursework provides an overview of software engineering and development principles. Students learn to test, troubleshoot, and debug software programs. Most courses include simulations and follow a hands-on learning model.
Most online master’s in computer science programs conclude with a capstone project. Students typically spend at least one full semester preparing their final project and reflecting upon their previous studies. Some programs offer multiple options, such as completing an internship or creating an original software application.

How Much Will a Master’s in Computer Science Cost?

Many factors affect the cost of an online computer science degree, including a school’s reputation, its public or private status, and its traditional and online academic offerings. Many colleges assign different tuition rates to in-state and out-of-state students. For the 2018-19 academic year, the average cost for graduate tuition and fees totaled $12,171 at public institutions and $25,929 at private institutions.

Most graduate and undergraduate students require financial aid to earn their degree. Though undergraduates commonly fill out the FAFSA to determine eligibility, graduate students often seek out alternate aid through scholarships, grants, fellowships, and loans.

As online learners, enrollees may qualify for in-state tuition rates regardless of residency. Many students also continue working during their studies, reducing the opportunity costs of earning an online computer science degree.

Computer science typically qualifies as a STEM category, which can further increase scholarship opportunities. Most learners consider scholarships and grants, which do not require repayment, before loans, which must be repaid.

Jobs for Master’s in Computer Science Graduates

An online computer science master’s degree offers a path toward multiple lucrative career opportunities. Generally, computer scientists must hold a master’s degree to enter high-level jobs in the field. Candidates with specialized skills in programming languages like Java or fields like robotics may qualify for more exclusive job opportunities and higher earning potential.

Graduates with an online computer science degree can pursue many IT careers. Among the sample jobs listed below, the BLS projects the highest job growth rate (15%) from 2019-2029 for computer and information research scientists. Computer and information systems managers are among the highest-paid, with a median salary of $146,360 as of May 2019.

  • Computer and Information Research Scientist

    Graduates with an online master’s in computer science commonly pursue careers as computer scientists, sometimes working alongside electrical or computer hardware engineers. Computer scientists create software and applications and improve upon existing technologies to increase efficiency. This career suits innovative thinkers with excellent analytical skills.

    • Required Education: Master’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +15%
    • Median Annual Salary: $122,840

  • Software Developer

    Software developers provide the creative inspiration behind computers and technology programs. They design, test, and develop software programs based on users’ needs. These professionals may specialize in applications software or systems software. Software developers often work closely with computer programmers. Some perform job duties that overlap with IT project managers.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s required; master’s preferred
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +22%
    • Median Annual Salary: $107,510

  • Computer Network Architect

    Computer network architects construct data networks, from one-on-one communication to global cloud computing systems. Common specializations include local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. Also called network engineers, computer network architects routinely work alongside computer and information systems managers and network administrators.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s required; master’s preferred
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +5%
    • Median Annual Salary: $112,690

  • Computer Systems Analyst

    Sometimes called systems architects, computer systems analysts redesign an organization’s computer systems to improve efficiency. They require a unique combination of business and IT skills to tailor each project to a client’s needs. Some job duties may overlap with those of IT project managers. Types of computer systems analysts include programmers and software quality assurance analysts.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s required; master’s preferred
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +7%
    • Median Annual Salary: $90,920

  • Computer and Information Systems Manager

    Also called IT managers or IT project managers, these professionals develop and coordinate all IT-oriented activities for a client or organization. High-level occupations including IT director, chief technology officer, and chief information officer fall under this category. Employers often prefer candidates with a master’s degree or MBA.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s required; master’s preferred
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
    • Median Annual Salary: $146,360

Explore Computer Science Careers

Choosing the Right Computer Science Graduate Program

The process of choosing the best online computer science degree should always begin with accredited programs. Schools may hold national or regional accreditation, though the latter requires a more rigorous process and draws more prestige. Key considerations for aspiring computer scientists include:

Earning Potential
In an already lucrative field, master’s degree holders earn significantly higher salaries than undergraduates.
Some students prefer schools renowned for offering programs in computer science and IT disciplines.
Available Specializations/Concentrations
Schools may attract students with unique majors in emerging computer science specialties.
Staff Credentials/Diversity
Many programs, such as those in Silicon Valley, boast renowned computer science professionals as tenured faculty members.
Cost/Financial Aid
Cost ranks high on the list of key concerns among college-bound students.
Program Culture/Composition
Students may prefer a more technical curriculum or a broader selection of electives, for example.
Alumni Network
Many schools attract attention for their high-profile alumni and active global alumni networks.
Competitiveness/Difficulty/Cost of Admission
While still competitive, some programs accommodate students with less experience and high potential.
Future Education Opportunities
Many programs prepare students for various professional certifications or offer streamlined paths to doctoral degrees.

Why You Should Get Your Computer Science Degree Online

An online computer science degree perfectly suits the online learning environment. Beyond offering flexible enrollment, accelerated paths to graduation, and set tuition rates, an online master’s in computer science provides built-in technology training for aspiring software developers, IT managers, and systems analysts.

Though convenient for many, the online learning experience does not suit every student. Candidates should consider their own learning style and preferences in deciding between a traditional or online computer science degree. Considerations may include a virtual or traditional classroom environment, guided or self-driven learning, and personalized attention from instructors. Additionally, online programs require disciplined time management skills.

Many learners can save money by pursuing an online computer science degree. Some schools offer set tuition rates for distance learners, regardless of their state of residency. Enrollees in an online master’s in computer science can also avoid the costs of commuting, campus housing, and campus amenities.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is computer science a good major in 2021?

    Lucrative careers abound for all computer and IT occupations — especially computer scientists, who earn a median annual salary of $122,840 as of 2019. The BLS projects a 15% increase in jobs for these professionals from 2019-2029.

  • How long is a computer science master's?

    Most master’s degrees take two years to complete; however, many online master’s in computer science take less time. Schools commonly offer accelerated schedules and streamlined credit transfer policies for experienced learners.

  • What can I do with a master's degree in computer science?

    Computer and information research scientists need a master’s degree to enter the field. Master’s degree graduates can also out-rank and out-earn bachelor’s degree holders in fields like software development and computer programming.

  • Is getting your computer science degree online a good idea?

    Getting a computer science degree online can save time and money compared to a traditional program. Many online degrees offer accelerated schedules, flexible enrollment, and set or in-state tuition rates.

Professional Organizations for Computer Science

  • Association for Computing Machinery An international organization of computer professionals, educators, and researchers, ACM promotes high standards and leadership in the field. The organization hosts 37 special interest groups and chapters around the world. Each interest group and chapter offers networking opportunities through meetings and conferences. Members can take advantage of ACM's interactive career center, where they can search for jobs and post resumes. Members also gain access to volunteer opportunities, a digital library, online learning opportunities, publications, and professional discounts.

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society Dedicated to computer science and engineering, the IEEE Computer Society promotes high professional standards in the field through continuing education. The organization prioritizes the distribution of innovative information, allowing its members to stay abreast of important changes in the field. Membership is available to researchers, students, and practitioners. Members gain access to newsletters and a digital library; networking opportunities through local and regional chapters; online communities; and career resources such as a job board, sponsored events, and online programs.

  • Computing Research Association CRA supports university departments, laboratories, government agencies, and affiliated professional organizations through advanced research in computing. The organization works to ensure that lawmakers and community members understand important changes to the field of computer science as they occur. Full membership is open to academic departments, labs and centers, and professional organizations. With membership, organizations and their leaders may engage in policy and advocacy work. Members may also participate in committee work, career mentoring, and conferences. Other member benefits include access to newsletters, publications, and guides for best practices in computer research.

  • Association for Women in Computing AWC supports women in computing professions, such as programmers, system analysts, technical writers, and consultants. The association provides professional development opportunities, networking opportunities, and career guidance. AWC also gives annual awards to recognize excellence in the field. Women can join AWC on the chapter level or as independent members. Chapter members can attend monthly meetings, participate in mentorship programs, and take advantage of professional education opportunities. Independent members engage at the national level through newsletters and publications, scholarship opportunities, and membership directories.

Feature Image: alvarez / E+ / Getty Images

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