Master's Degree in Computer Programming

Written by Doug Wintemute


What Is a Master's Degree in Computer Programming?

Computer programming degrees provide students with problem-solving skills using computer applications and software programs. Learners also gain advanced knowledge of programming languages and operating systems. The discipline falls under one of the largest and fastest growing occupational groups in the country.

Graduate-level computer programming degrees tend to focus on practical skills and feature a high level of customization. Students can specialize in areas such as program design, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. Learners also apply their skills to the analysis and resolution of technological issues.

With their advanced and specialized training, master's degree graduates enjoy great career potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for all computer and information technology occupations is over $88,000, which is much higher than the median annual wage for all occupations, $39,810.

This page features information about master's degrees in computer programming, including program options and career potential.

Should I Get a Master's Degree in Computer Programming?

A master's degree in computer programming brings numerous professional rewards. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the number of conferred computer and information science degrees grew 50% between 2010-2016. The following list examines some of the benefits that attract students.

  • Financial Rewards: According to the BLS, the computer programming field features median annual wages over $88,000. The top 10% of earners bring in more than $140,000 per year.
  • Job Diversity: With a master's degree in computer programming, graduates can access many different careers. In addition to computer programming, they may pursue jobs in computer research, systems analysis, and information security analysis.
  • Professional Demand: Across all computer and information technology occupations, the BLS projects 12% growth in employment between 2018-2028, with nearly 550,000 new jobs expected to be added to the field.
  • Career Development: A master's degree may help professionals within the technology field advance their career. Many management and leadership positions require candidates to possess a graduate degree.
  • Continued Learning: While many people view a master's degree as the end of their education, the degree can lead to further training. In addition to a Ph.D. in the field, master's graduates may also pursue a variety of industry certifications.

Admission Requirements for a Master's Degree in Computer Programming

Admission into an online master's degree in computer programming typically requires a bachelor's degree at minimum. Some schools and programs may also require applicants to hold a degree in a specific discipline, such as computer programming or computer science. Some programs may require candidates meet a minimum GPA requirement, as well.

Graduate schools commonly require applicants to submit GRE or GMAT scores, sometimes with minimum score requirements. Schools often request other materials, such as academic purpose statements, letters of recommendation, resumes, thesis topics, and TOEFL results (for non-native English speakers).

Many schools prefer applicants with relevant professional experience. Candidates with documented proficiency in computer programming or industry certifications may receive preferential treatment. These components, however, are not typically mandatory for admission.

What Can I Do With a Master's Degree in Computer Programming?

After completing an online master's degree in computer programming, graduates typically enter the workforce or pursue a Ph.D. in a related field. The following sections provide more details on these pathways and their potential outcomes.

Career and Salary Outlook for Computer Programming Graduates

While computer programming graduates can certainly become computer programmers, they enjoy a large variety of additional career options. Their training qualifies them for many computer science careers and other information technology careers. Students can influence their career options further by selecting courses, concentrations, and internships that prepare them for different professions.

The specialized training of computer programming graduates provides them with a strong salary outlook. Many careers in computer programming and related fields offer median annual wages exceeding $100,000, and those with a master's degree can earn even higher salaries.

With a master's degree, graduates can access some of the highest-paying jobs in computer programming. Other factors, such as experience and continuing education, can impact salaries even more. While a computer programming degree can lead graduates into a wide range of fields, the following list outlines some of the most popular options.

Computer Programmer
Programmers create and test code for computer software and applications. They use their skills to update, fix, and improve programming. Most programmers need a bachelor's degree, though a master's degree may lead to managerial positions or work with larger organizations.
Computer Research Scientist
Computer research scientists research and design new innovations or improvements to existing technology. They work with algorithms, programs, and software to solve problems for organizations and industries. While some positions may only require a bachelor's degree, most professionals in this field boast a master's or doctoral degree.
Software Developer
Software developers create programs and applications based on the needs of consumers and organizations. They often work with programmers to ensure that their plans and designs are translated effectively into code. These professionals usually have a bachelor's degree, but some employers and positions may require a master's degree.
Computer Systems Analyst
Computer systems analysts assess an organization's systems and propose solutions. Analysts often specialize in a type of technology or industry. Many computer systems analysts possess a bachelor's degree, but employers may require a master's degree for more complex fields and professions.
Computer Network Architect
Network architects design and build data communication networks for organizations. They evaluate the needs of an organization and design and implement systems to help satisfy their goals. Many employers require candidates to possess a bachelor's degree, but some prefer a master's degree.

Master's Degree in Computer Programming Careers: Median Salaries by Experience, 2020
Job Title Entry Level (0-12 Months) Early Career (1-4 Years) Mid-career (5-9 Years) Experienced (10-19 Years)
Computer Programmer $52,000 $57,000 $70,000 $78,000
Computer Research Scientist $74,000 $76,000 $81,000 $86,000
Software Developer $62,000 $69,000 $82,000 $91,000
Computer Systems Analyst $55,000 $60,000 $71,000 $78,000
Computer Network Architect $64,000 $68,000 $76,000 $85,000
Source: PayScale

Continuing Education in Computer Programming

Experience typically leads to a considerable increase in earning potential, but computer programmers can also increase their salary and career opportunities through continuing education. Master's degree graduates can hone their skills in particular areas by pursuing industry certifications or improve their access to academic and research careers with a Ph.D. Continue reading for more information on these educational options.

Earning Your Master's Degree in Computer Programming

Each online master's degree in computer programming offers its own unique structure and curriculum, but a typical program features between 30-45 credits and takes two years to complete. Depending on the school and program, learners may finish more quickly or slowly by altering their course load or delivery format.

The differences between online and on-campus programs can often impact study length and course load. For example, online courses often run asynchronously, which allows students to study during more convenient hours. Online courses may even shorten the session length and condense the degree length overall. Students should research any on-campus requirements when choosing an online program.

Learners may also choose between degree types and concentrations. While most graduate computer programming programs lead to an MS degree, some may lead to an MA degree. The difference between these degrees is usually negligible. Broadly, MA degrees focus more on broad-based education, while MS degrees emphasize sciences and mathematics.

Comparing Master's Degree Options

As mentioned above, learners can choose between several degree types. In addition to a master's in computer programming, students may pursue computer programming as a specialization under a different degree, such as computer science or information technology. Alternatively, learners may focus on computer programming through electives and internships.

The following list highlights some of the most common degrees related to computer programming. Please note that curricula may vary from school to school, and students should research whether their program can lead to a computer programming career.

MS in Computer Programming
An MS in computer programming typically focuses on the different programming languages. Students can influence their eventual career by choosing a specialization for their programming skills. They may, for example, concentrate in web applications, cloud computing, or object-oriented programming.
MS in Applied Computer Science
Applied computer science programs focus on the practical application of computer science within various settings, such as business. Many of these degrees offer programming electives or specializations, which allow learners to ground their applied computer science training in a programming context.
MS in Computer Science - Programming
A computer science degree with a programming concentration is one of the most common degrees available in this discipline. Computer science training typically focuses on a wide range of information technology topics, and a programming concentration allows students to apply their specialized programming knowledge to diverse areas in the computer science field.
Master of Engineering in Computer Science
Through this slightly less common route, aspiring computer programmers may pursue training through an M.Eng. degree. This pathway provides students with computer science and programming training set within an engineering context. Learners may have the option to concentrate in programming or simply choose electives that best complement the field.

Popular Master's Degree in Computer Programming Courses

When choosing a master's degree in computer programming, students should pay close attention to the curriculum and course options. Each program features its own blend of traditional core programs and unique electives. While core courses provide learners with a foundation, optional courses allow them to chart their educational path.

Students with a particular career in mind may want to select a program that offers the most focused training to that end. To give candidates an idea of the types of courses they might encounter, the following list details some of the more popular core courses and electives available.

  • Advanced Algorithms

    These courses teach students how to design, analyze, and implement algorithms. Learners explore problems and use algorithms to solve them. Some of the possible topics may include network flows, linear programming, and streaming algorithms.

  • Software Design

    Software design courses may explore a range of material, including software engineering principles, design pattern best practices, and software element modeling. The training seeks to provide students with the knowledge to create quality software using both common and uncommon programming languages.

  • Network Security

    Network security courses teach learners to assess network inefficiencies and vulnerabilities and establish and maintain secure systems and networks. They may cover authentication protocols and cryptographic tools and algorithms. Students may explore systems and network protection, threat detection, prevention measures, and digital forensics.

  • Machine Learning

    These courses explore the uses and potential of machine learning. Students learn how to develop intelligent systems using essential algorithms.

  • Online Learning and Optimization

    In this course, students learn about the fundamental algorithms for online learning and large-scale convex optimization. They examine the uses and applications of complex programming and machine learning in the online learning environment and seek out new ways to improve outcomes and data tracking.


The Master's Practicum and Thesis

The location of a student's practicum or the focus of their thesis can contribute to a career focus or concentration. Learners should factor these degree components into their decision process and ensure their ideal program aligns with their career goals.

A master's degree thesis offers students one of the best ways to develop a specialization in the field. Though not always mandatory, some programs require students to complete an in-depth thesis project to graduate. Students typically spend the better part of their final year gathering material for these research projects.

A practicum gives a student space to apply their training to a practical setting. Many learners choose a practicum within an organization or industry that they hope to work with after graduation. This helps them gain valuable experience and build a network in a relevant area before finishing their degree. Like a thesis, practicums cover a large portion of the final year of study.

Selecting Your Master's Degree in Computer Programming Program

Students need to consider which factors mean the most to them when choosing a school and program. After finding accredited programs, you may decide on a particular location and delivery format. Online programs allow learners to study from a distance, but some programs may feature on-campus requirements.

Learners should also examine program specifics. Look at the curriculum, electives, and available concentrations to ensure they help you meet your career and educational goals. Consider the delivery methods, class sizes, and overall program length. Ensure that the tuition prices and available financial aid satisfy your expectations.

Enrollees should evaluate their potential school's culture and faculty. What is the student-to-teacher ratio? Does the faculty feature professors with research interests in your area? Are there any ongoing research projects that interest you? Assess how your school and faculty's reputation in the field might influence your education and career afterward.

Finally, students should not overlook the school's resources and extracurriculars. Research what student groups or organizations you can join, and look into how the school supports students during and after their studies. Consider exploring the alumni network and research the admission requirements, as well.

Should You Get Your Master's Degree in Computer Programming Online?

The growth in online education has helped make training more accessible and convenient for students everywhere. Not only does distance learning allow working professionals and nontraditional learners to pursue an education, but it also increases the pool of available programs. No longer are students limited to local schools or evening programs; instead, they can access top education from schools anywhere in the country.

This means that students can expand their search and find programs that meet their specific needs. They can locate more affordable programs, fast-track options, and specializations in their particular field of interest. For computer programming students, the heavy computer focus and independent study of this master's degree lends itself well to online study.

When deciding on a delivery format, consider how your learning style will work online. Compared to traditional training, online courses require more independence and motivation. Most programs still feature strict deadlines, so students need to ensure they complete the necessary work on time. Additionally, some students may find online programs feature less interaction.

Accreditation for Computer Programming Schools and Programs

All aspiring students should pay close attention to accreditation when choosing schools and programs. For the computer programming discipline, both institutional and programmatic accreditation may come into play. To search for accredited schools and programs, students should use the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Institutional accreditation applies to every degree program in a given school. Institutional accreditation may be national or regional. National accreditation usually covers technical, religious, and for-profit schools. Regional accreditation recognizes that schools meet or exceed the standards set by one of the seven regional agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Not only does regional accreditation set higher standards, but students usually need it for financial aid, transfer credits, and employment.

Though programmatic accreditation is not mandatory in the programming discipline, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) does recognize excellent programs in the computing field. Some employers may prefer candidates to come from ABET-accredited programs, as it demonstrates they underwent a high quality of instruction.

Resources

Professional Organizations for Computer Programming

Professional organizations give students, new graduates, and experienced professionals a way to connect with their industry and peers in exciting ways. These organizations offer professionals access to industry news, networking events, and professional development programs. Students can gain access to mentoring programs and educational support such as scholarships and publications.

The list below describes three of the best professional organizations for computer programming students and professionals.

  • International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology Comprising educators, graduate students, researchers, and development leads, IACSIT strives to develop the field through collaboration and networking. Members can access lifelong learning, conferences, and industry research and publications.
  • Association for Computing Machinery The largest computing society in the world, ACM connects students, educators, professionals, and researchers to promote and grow the computing industry. Members can access networking, professional development programs, and career opportunities.
  • Association for Women in Computing The first computing association for women, AWC was founded in 1978 to promote and advance women in the field. Members can access networking, professional development, and mentoring opportunities.

Scholarships for Master's Degree Programs in Computer Programming

Financing a degree remains one of the biggest concerns for students in all disciplines. Thankfully, computer programming students enjoy access to a variety of financial aid opportunities, including federal, school-specific, and program-specific scholarships. The following list looks at some of the program-specific scholarships for computer programming students at the graduate level.

SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program

Who Can Apply: In an effort to recruit talented professionals for the Department of Defense, this scholarship rewards students in computing fields with full scholarships in return for employment. Applicants need a 3.0 GPA to qualify.

Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship

Ralph W. Shrader Graduate Diversity Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Awarded to women and minority students pursuing a graduate degree in a STEM-related discipline, this scholarship requires applicants to possess a minimum 3.5 GPA and be in their second semester of study.

Amount: $3,000

Apply for Scholarship

Women Techmakers Scholars Program

Who Can Apply: Available to women in the technology field, this scholarship rewards applicants who demonstrate leadership, diversity, and a strong academic record. Winners receive an invitation to the annual Google Scholars Retreat for networking and development workshops.

Amount: $10,000

Apply for Scholarship

Society of Women Engineers Scholarships

Who Can Apply: SWE offers several scholarships to students at different levels pursuing a degree in computer science or a related field. All applicants must be female and have strong academic standing for eligibility.

Amount Varies

Apply for Scholarship

Richard E. Merwin Student Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Funded by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society, this scholarship rewards active student volunteer leaders. In addition to the scholarship funds, winners receive the title of regional student ambassador.

Amount: $1,000 and up

Apply for Scholarship

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a computer programming degree worth it?
Getting a master's degree in computer programming can lead to a number of exciting, well-paid professions. As the computer and information technology field grows, new graduates with cutting-edge skills and training will remain in demand.
How long does it take to get a master's in computer programming?
The length of time required to earn a master's degree in computer programming depends on many factors. In general, it takes four years to earn a bachelor's degree and two years to earn a master's degree.
What are the requirements for a master's in computer programming?
Though the requirements vary by program and school, master's degree students typically need to complete between 30-45 credits, a practicum, and a thesis. For admission, applicants usually need a bachelor's degree and GRE or GMAT scores. Some schools also require relevant computer science-related training.
How hard is a master's in computer programming?
How hard a master's program is depends on the individual student. Those with experience and prior computer or programming training may find the program easier than others. For the best results, learners should dedicate appropriate time to studying and complete all the recommended readings and materials.

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