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.

Top 5 Best Online Computer Science Grad Schools

Rank School Location
1 North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC
2 Stanford University Stanford, CA
3 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL
4 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
5 Purdue University Main-Campus West Lafayette, IN

Top Online Programs

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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. North Carolina State University

    Raleigh, NC



    NC State is in Raleigh, North Carolina. It enrolls more than 36,000 undergraduate and graduate students. NC State was founded in 1887 and experienced rapid growth after World War I when soldiers joined the campus.

    Master's Degree in Computer Science

    The master of computer science (MCS) degree is hosted by the College of Engineering and boasts national recognition. The faculty comprises 50 tenure-track professors, an array of industry specialists, visiting lecturers, and adjunct lecturers. Twenty of the faculty's alumni have also received the esteemed National Science Foundation CAREER award to date.

    The MCS is perfect for working students and open to U.S. citizens and military members living outside the United States. Students do not have to submit a thesis or write a campus examination for this, as coursework forms the basis. All student exchanges are conducted online, and there is an online examination.

    Applying to NC

    Students need a minimum 3.0 GPA to apply for admission. They also need to complete a graduate record exam to qualify. Undergraduate coursework in statistics and calculus is also required.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: SACSCOC
    Tuition: $446/credit (in state); $1,298/credit (out of state)
    Required Credits: 31 credits
    Program Length: 3 years
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  2. Stanford University

    Stanford, CA



    Stanford is in California. It was established in 1855 by California senator Leland Stanford and his spouse. Their objective was to boost public welfare. Stanford boasts alumni like Tiger Woods and actress Jennifer Connelly.

    Computer Science MS Degree

    This online computer science degree does not lead to a Ph.D., as it was designed as a terminal degree. Students need to complete 45 units for this degree.

    Students need to file an initial program sheet for this degree, prior to the conclusion of their first semester as a master of science computer Science (MSCS) degree.

    This degree is flexible, as it allows students to design their program at an appropriate level. Students need to have basic knowledge in specific subjects at an undergraduate level too. They should have a prior understanding of principles of computer systems, algorithmic analysis, logic and automata, and computer systems.

    Applying to Stanford

    There is one admissions cycle for this online computer science degree. Students must submit applications to the Department of Computer Science. Students are required to submit their transcripts and letters of recommendations, plus a GRE.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Private
    Accreditation: WSCUC
    Tuition: $1,352/unit
    Required Credits: 45 credits
    Program Length: 5 years or less
    Delivery Format: Online (asynchronous) with some in-person requirements

  3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Champaign, IL



    Illinois is a public university located in Urbana and Champaign. It was established in 1867. Some of its notable alumni includes celebrities like Jesse Jackson and Larry Ellison.

    Online Master of Computer Science

    This online computer science degree is ideal for a working professional who wants to study in their own time and continue working. The program is hosted by the Illinois Computer Science Department. They have collaborated with Coursera, which offers a massive open online course (MOOC) platform for students.

    The degree does not require a thesis and is based on coursework. Coursework is derived from fundamental areas such as software engineering, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and databases. Students can also access lectures via the MOOC platform, although the bulk of coursework is assessed via the UOI faculty for more in-depth assignments.

    Applying to U of I

    Students who have a four-year bachelor's degree may apply to this online computer science degree. If they do not have a computer science degree, they need to have completed prior coursework in linear algebra, statistics, and algorithms.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $670/credit
    Required Credits: 32 credits
    Program Length: 5 years or less
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  4. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA



    The University of South California is a private research establishment that was founded in 1880. Celebrities such as Tom Selleck and Neil Armstrong attended USC. This private research university also hosts 23 schools.

    Master of Science in Computer Science

    This program boasts a 92% graduation rate. It's available on campus and online. It prepares students adequately for matters pertaining to computer design and programming. Students can study the online degree via DEN@Viterbi.

    DEN@Viterbi lets students take a class anywhere at a time suitable for them. Program concentrations include software engineering, data science, and computer security. Students who possess an engineering undergraduate degree not specified to computer science, may enroll for the MSCS degree for scientists and engineers.

    Graduates who complete this degree can pursue a career in computer simulation, bioinformatics, aerospace and defense, architecture, software design, and communications.

    Applying to USC

    Applicants must have completed a computer science undergraduate degree. They may also have an equivalent degree with a strong emphasis on computing. Students must include electronic transcripts, a personal statement, a GRE, CV, and recommendation letters.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Private
    Accreditation: WSCUC
    Tuition: $2,148/credit
    Required Credits: 28 credits
    Program Length: 1.5-2 years (full time); 2.5-3 years (part time)
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  5. Purdue University Main-Campus

    West Lafayette, IN



    This public university in Lafayette, Indiana, was founded in 1869 by John Purdue. It is an establishment that boasts several campuses, as well as adult-learning, online, and polytechnic programs. Purdue also offers a variety of club and intramural sports.

    Master's Program in Computer Science

    This online program was designed for working professionals looking for an edge over their competitors. Students can choose from thesis and non-thesis options. The program is hosted by the College of Engineering.

    The same faculty who teaches on campus, also lectures online students. Course menu subject matter for this degree include graphics and visualization, data mining, computational science and engineering, and distributed systems.

    An academic advisor contacts students to help them create a plan chartering the course of their studies. Some well-known alumni here include Neil Armstrong and Gus Grissom. The program has an 81% graduation rate, and was ranked in the best ten programs by the U.S. News & World Report.

    Applying to Purdue

    Apply online by creating an application account on the Purdue portal. Purdue may require GRE, IELTS, TOEFL, and GMAT results. Students are also required to pay the university an application fee.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $1,139/credit (in state); $1,382/credit (out of state)
    Required Credits: 30 credits
    Program Length: 3 years or less
    Delivery Format: 100% online

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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