Best Master’s Degree Programs in Computer Science

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A master’s in computer science prepares graduates for lucrative, high-level careers in computer and information technology (IT). Computer scientists design new computer technologies to solve problems in business, healthcare, science, and education.

Potential jobs for graduates include computer and information research scientist, computer and information systems manager, and computer hardware engineer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% job growth rate, much faster than average, for computer and information research scientists from 2019-2029. 

This page includes a ranking of the best computer science master’s programs. We also touch on what to expect from a typical master’s in computer science, potential careers for graduates, and how to choose the right school for you.

Top 10 Computer Science Grad Schools

Rank School Location
1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
2 University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA
3 Columbia University in the City of New York New York City, NY
4 Stanford University Stanford, CA
5 Duke University Durham, NC
6 Northwestern University Evanston, IL
7 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
8 Brown University Providence, RI
9 University of Chicago Chicago, IL
10 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
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What Is Computer Science?

Computer science is the study of computational systems and computers. Computer scientists focus on the theory, design, and applications of computer software and hardware systems. These professionals need advanced knowledge of programming, databases, software development, and algorithms. People drawn to the field tend to demonstrate skills in analysis, critical thinking, math, and problem-solving.

The BLS projects an added 531,200 computer and IT occupations from 2019-2029. Master’s in computer science graduates find jobs as computer and information research scientists, computer and information systems managers, and computer hardware engineers. Other potential careers include computer network architect, information security analyst, and computer programmer. 

Major employing industries include research and development, government, software publishing, and computer systems design. Many employers of computer scientists, particularly large companies, prefer or require candidates with a master’s in computer science. 

Earning a graduate degree can help you distinguish yourself from other job applicants, qualify for management positions, and garner higher salaries. PayScale reports that individuals with a bachelor’s in computer science make $85,680 on average, compared to $103,190 for those with a master’s in the discipline

Why Get a Computer Science Master’s?

Earning a master’s in computer science takes time, hard work, and money, but skilled graduates qualify for lucrative positions in a growing field. Only you can decide if graduate school is worth it, and each person’s return on investment might be a little different.

Although it takes longer, a master’s degree may offer a better value and a more thorough and rigorous education than a typical computer science bootcamp. Below, we describe benefits of earning a master’s in computer science. 

Technical Skills
Computer science master’s programs develop in-demand, specialized technical skills. Because not many people possess this advanced knowledge, computer science professionals find high wages and plenty of job opportunities.
Growing Field
As more organizations put their information online, nearly every industry can benefit from the skills and knowledge of computer science professionals. The BLS projects much faster-than-average growth for computer and IT occupations from 2019-29.
High Salaries
Graduates of computer science master’s programs typically earn high salaries. For example, the BLS reports that computer and information research scientists made a median annual salary of $122,840 as of May 2019.

The Top Master’s in Computer Science Schools

  1. Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA



    Known the world over for a distinguished pedigree, Harvard continues a tradition of excellence in engineering and applied sciences. The master's in computational science and engineering (CSE) develops computer scientists skilled in the use of mathematical techniques for modeling; parallel programming and software development; and organizing, visualizing, and analyzing large data sets.

    Students earn a master of science or master of engineering (ME) on campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both programs require eight courses, which students complete in just one year. The eight courses include systems development for computational science and advanced scientific computing: numerical methods. All students complete a research requirement, which they may satisfy with a capstone or independent study project. The ME requires an additional year for students to complete a master's thesis research project.

    The admissions committee examines applicants' capacity for advanced computational work, evidenced by their background in math, computer science, statistics, and professional accomplishments. GRE scores help bolster the application for this computer science master's degree.

  2. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA



    One of the oldest colleges in the United States, Penn represents one of the nation's eight Ivy League colleges. The MSE in computer and information science (CIS) allows students to design a study plan, which may include interdisciplinary focus areas. Students complete 10 courses, seven of which focus on CIS, on campus in Philadelphia.

    Students begin the program with four core courses chosen from a suite of options. The core must include a systems course, such as software systems; a theory course, such as an analysis of algorithms; and no more than one machine learning course, such as artificial intelligence. Participants round out the degree with six elective courses: at least three must be in the CIS field, but up to three can be non-CIS classes.

    Students may use electives to pursue an interdisciplinary area, such as CIS and telecommunications, or independent study, which enhances knowledge in a specific area. Degree-seekers may choose to culminate the MSE in CIS with a thesis. Applicants to the computer science master's degree should demonstrate a strong background in mathematics and computer science.

  3. Columbia University in the City of New York

    New York City, NY



    Columbia University maintains a reputation as one of the world's most important research centers. The Ivy League college offers a 30-point MS in computer science, which deepens learners' expertise in one of several computer science disciplines.

    Students choose from between 10 track options, which include computational biology; computer security; machine learning; and vision, graphics, interaction, and robotics. Each track requires its own set curriculum, comprising breadth courses, track courses, and electives. Faculty blend lectures with project work and research in groups and labs. The machine learning track gives learners expertise in the use of techniques and applications in areas as diverse as finance and bioinformatics.

    Learners interested in pursuing advanced training not covered by an available track can choose the MS personalized track. Degree-seekers can use elective credits to complete fieldwork courses, which provide internship work experience. Admission to the computer science master's degree requires an undergraduate degree in computer science and GRE scores.

  4. Stanford University

    Stanford, CA



    One of the world's leading colleges, Stanford offers a terminal MS in computer science (MSCS). Some students enter this MS with degrees in computer science, and others return to their studies after a long hiatus. Learners design their own 45-unit MSCS degrees and complete classes on campus and/or online.

    Once students satisfy MSCS foundation requirements, they complete courses demonstrating an aptitude for substantial software development. Stanford gives learners two options to fulfill MSCS breadth and depth requirements. Option one requires students complete at least 27 units in a single specialization and take three courses from a preapproved list. Option two allows learners to complete two specializations: a 21-unit primary and 15-unit secondary specialization.

    The online master's degree in computer science offers 10 specialization options, including biocomputation, human-computer interaction, and computer and network security. Each specialization requires its own curriculum. Admission requires GRE scores and strong quantitative and analytical skills.

  5. Duke University

    Durham, NC



    Duke consistently ranks among the nation's most prestigious research colleges, and it offers one of the best master's programs for computer science. Students complete the degree on an almost 9,000-acre campus in Durham, North Carolina. The MS in computer science gives learners a firm grounding in theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience in current technologies and their applications. This program emphasizes computer science, not software engineering.

    Faculty offer course-only, thesis, or project-based completion tracks, all of which require 30 credits of coursework and an oral examination. Students choose from course options in advanced computer architecture, randomized algorithms, artificial intelligence, and computational sequence biology. An internship option gives learners industry experience.

    For the oral exam, a three-person examining committee reviews a portfolio of submitted materials including project reports, internship project descriptions, and/or artifacts created within students' capacity as research or teaching assistants. Admission requires a strong computer science background and competitive GRE scores.

  6. Northwestern University

    Evanston, IL



    Located in Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern is a private college with strong research activity.

    Northwestern lauds an MS in computer science, renowned for state-of-the-art research, award-winning faculty, and considerable student resources. Learners design curricula that address their career aspirations and research areas of interest. Enrollees choose one of three ways to complete the degree: courses only, a thesis, or a research project.

    Students take 12 courses and conduct research in areas such as artificial intelligence, human computer interaction, theoretical computer science, and distributed and real-time systems. Learners acquire research and industrial experience if permitted to participate in the Crown family graduate internship program.

    The school notes that employers from various industries recruit Northwestern graduates because of their professional expertise. The degree also prepares aspiring computer scientists to pursue Ph.D. degrees. Admission to the computer science master's degree requires GRE scores, plus a BS in computer science, computer engineering, or a related field.

  7. Cornell University

    Ithaca, NY



    Founded in 1965, Cornell's computer science department was one the first of its kind in the nation. The department offers classes on campus in Ithaca and New York City. The Ivy League college's MS in computer science enrolls a selective cohort of learners, who complete the degree in four semesters. One of the top computer science master's programs in the nation, the MS blends coursework with research and teaching. All enrollees serve as paid full-time teaching assistants (TAs).

    Students complete 36 credits, which comprise 6-8 graduate-level courses, plus thesis research. All MS students must complete an outside minor, which may include information science, mechanical engineering, or operations research. Participants must allocate at least 15 weekly hours for their mandatory TA duties. In return, they receive a full tuition scholarship, a stipend to cover living expenses, and healthcare insurance.

    This program does not provide entry into Cornell's doctoral program. Admission to the MS requires academic excellence in computer science and GRE scores.

  8. Brown University

    Providence, RI



    Brown manages one of the nation's top computer science programs, cultivating innovators at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students learn from Ivy League faculty with a reputation for innovation. The MS in computer science offers multiple tracks -- coursework-only, thesis, or project -- so students can customize their degrees. They choose courses from a portfolio of options including machine learning, design and analysis of algorithms, computational molecular biology, and probability for computing and data analysis.

    Participants engage in cutting-edge research and work as teaching assistants. They also receive hands-on experience through work with Cornell's industry partnerships, which also allows them to showcase their skills to potential employers. Students may participate in internships during the second or third semester of their computer science master's degree.

    Brown offers this program at a competitive cost compared to similar programs from top institutions. Admission requires school transcripts and recommended GRE general exam and/or GRE computer science scores.

  9. University of Chicago

    Chicago, IL



    Since 1890, UChicago has developed the next generation of leaders in their respective disciplines. The master's program in computer science (MPCS) blends CS foundational theory and applied technical content in a curriculum that suits those interested in subjects like data analytics and high-performance computing.

    Enrollees who do not meet minimum requirements may complete math and programming prerequisites to prepare for master's-level coursework. Those with advanced backgrounds begin the MPCS with higher-level classes. All students supplement core classes in programming and algorithms, with electives in areas such as big data, machine learning, and mobile application development. Participants use evening courses to complete the nine-course degree in 18-24 months.

    The daytime MPCS gives students the choice of a one-year, nine-course curriculum. They may also complete a 12-course specialization in 15 months.

    The department notes that top employers seek out graduates of this computer science master's degree. Admission to this computer science master's program requires school transcripts and GRE or GMAT scores. All students complete placement exams before beginning their MPCS studies.

  10. Vanderbilt University

    Nashville, TN



    Vanderbilt, a private research college in Nashville, offers a 30-semester-hour MS in computer science. This program focuses on four primary areas: computing foundations, information and intelligent systems, computer and network systems, and medical image computing. Learners can participate in computer science and interdisciplinary research. They choose one of two ways to complete the program: The thesis option requires 24 hours in coursework, and the non-thesis plan requires only coursework.

    All students choose which courses they want to take from a portfolio of options. These include automata, formal languages, and computation; artificial intelligence; machine learning; and modeling and simulation. Participants augment their curricula with additional computer science courses or ones chosen from other departments.

    Graduate students join engineers and faculty to conduct research in areas like artificial intelligence, computational economics, and software and system engineering. Admission to one of the nation's best computer science master's programs requires academic records and GRE scores.

What To Expect From Master’s in Computer Science Programs

A master’s in computer science equips students with advanced knowledge and technical skills in computers and IT. Typical computer science graduate programs focus on topics like machine learning, programming, software development and engineering, and database management. Most build upon the foundation laid in a bachelor’s in computer science program. 

Most master’s in computer science degrees take two full-time years to complete and require 30-60 credits. Cost expectations vary considerably, depending on school type, program format, and student residency status. Schools offer different master’s in computer science degree types and concentrations. 

Most programs require core, elective/concentration, and project/thesis credits. Typical classes explore issues like machine learning, advanced algorithms, and advanced computer architecture. Below, we discuss what to expect from a master’s in computer science in more detail. 

Read More About Computer Science Programs

Admission Requirements

Admission criteria for master’s in computer science programs vary by school, but many require a bachelor’s in computer science from a regionally accredited university and a minimum GPA of 2.5-3.0. Some programs admit those with an undergraduate degree in another subject, but require learners to complete prerequisite foundational courses prior to applying or enrolling. 

Additional admission requirements may include 3-5 years of professional experience and satisfactory GRE test scores. Applicants typically submit college transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume, and a statement of purpose. Some programs require an in-person or phone interview. 

Degree Options

Most master’s in computer science programs offer a master of science (MS) in computer science. However, schools may offer other types of master’s degrees in this field, such as a master of business administration (MBA) in computer science. 

Earning a general MS in computer science provides a strong foundation in general computer science theory and practice and prepares students for a variety of computer-related careers. An MBA in computer science focuses on business skills and theory with an emphasis on computer science. Graduates with an MBA in computer science can use their unique skill set in business or IT positions. 

Many computer science master’s programs offer concentrations in areas like artificial intelligence, data analytics, software engineering, and cybersecurity. Students who want to specialize in a subdiscipline of computer science can also earn stand-alone master’s degrees in subjects like cybersecurity and software engineering. Earning a master’s in a subdiscipline of the field helps graduates prepare for more specialized career paths. 

Popular Computer Science Courses

Specific master’s in computer science curricula and types of required classes vary by school. Computer science majors usually focus on advanced theory and practice of computer science. Topics include artificial intelligence, algorithms, machine learning, and software architecture and design. Most programs require core, elective/concentration, and thesis/project courses. Below, we describe typical master’s in computer science classes. 

This course provides an introduction to the role of intelligent technologies in engineering and science. Students learn about essential algorithms and theoretical foundations of machine learning. Other topics include least squares regression, bias variance trade-offs, statistical learning theory, and multitask learning.
This course explores the fundamentals of algorithms, including advanced methods of implementation, analysis and algorithmic design. Topics include randomization, bit scaling, network flow, and fixed-parameter algorithms. Students gain proficiency with data structures, computational geometry, network optimization, and external memory.
This class focuses on the organization and architecture of computers, historical developments, quantitative analysis of design alternatives, and principles of instruction sets. Other topics include memory, interconnection, storage, and architectural innovations. Participants learn computer architecture terminology and major principles.
Learners in this course receive an introduction to the way database systems function, with a focus on relational algebra, query processing, query optimization, and data models. The class also emphasizes database design, SQL programming, object-relational mappings, and isolation and consistency.
Students design, research, and create an advanced master’s in computer science project in this course. The class typically continues for two semesters and includes faculty supervision. Learners identify a problem in computer science and conduct original research to answer their questions.

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

The cost of a master’s in computer science varies by school. Factors that can influence how much you pay include program format (online or in-person), type of school (private or public), and tuition rate (in-state or out-of-state).

Public universities often offer the most affordable degrees, particularly if you qualify for in-state tuition. Prospective students should consider costs they may face while pursuing their degree in addition to tuition and fees, including housing, transportation, groceries, and textbooks. 

Computer science master’s programs offer a variety of financing options to help learners pay for their degree, including loans, scholarships, grants, and fellowships. Many graduate programs provide graduate research or teaching assistantships, which give students free or reduced tuition in exchange for their part-time employment at the university. Some graduate assistants receive a stipend to help pay for living expenses. See below for more information about financial aid and scholarships for master’s in computer science students.

Scholarships and Financial Aid for Computer Science

Jobs for Master’s in Computer Science Graduates

Master’s in computer science graduates pursue a variety of well-paid computer and IT careers. 

Because of their advanced knowledge and in-demand technical skills, computer science professionals make substantial salaries. As of May 2019, computer network architects earned a median annual salary of $112,690, and computer and information research scientists garnered a median of $122,840 annually. On the even higher end, computer and information systems managers earned a median annual salary of $146,360.

Below we describe potential career paths for graduates, including typical job duties, salary and career outlook, and why a computer science degree is particularly valuable.

  • Computer and Information Research Scientists

    Computer and information research scientists create new technologies and find ways to use existing technologies to solve problems in business, education, healthcare, and government. They may specialize in areas like programming or robotics. Typical job duties include inventing new programming languages, designing software experiments, and doing research on human-computer interaction.

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

  • Computer and Information Systems Managers

    One of the highest paid careers for computer science graduates, computer and information systems managers oversee computer issues at organizations of all kinds. These professionals work in the computer systems design, information, finance and insurance, and management industries. Job duties may include negotiating prices with vendors, planning installation of computer hardware, and directing IT workers.

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

  • Computer Hardware Engineers

    Computer hardware engineers work with computer systems and their components, including processors, networks, memory devices, and routers. They may design new hardware, test hardware, analyze test results, and oversee manufacturing of new hardware. They exhibit excellent analytical, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree required; many large firms require a master’s degree
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +2%
    • Median Annual Salary: $117,220

  • Computer Network Architects

    Computer network architects create data communication networks, including intranets, wide area networks, and local area networks. They need to understand their organization’s business plan to help achieve organizational goals using technology. Typical duties may include researching networking technologies, upgrading hardware, and making recommendations to management.

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

  • Information Security Analysts

    Information security analysts protect their organizations’ computer systems and networks by enacting security measures. They monitor networks for security breaches, install data encryption programs and firewalls, and research IT security trends. Information security architects can improve their career opportunities and salary potential by pursuing industry certifications.

    • Required Education: Bachelor’s degree required; master’s required by some employers
    • Job Outlook (2019-29): +31%
    • Median Annual Salary: $99,730

Explore Computer Science Careers

Choosing the Right Computer Science Graduate Program

Prospective students can learn a lot from looking at our rankings list of the best computer science master’s programs. However, you many want to consider some of these additional criteria when choosing where to apply.

Attending an accredited school improves your chances of successfully transferring credit to another institution, receiving financial aid, and qualifying for professional certifications. Master’s in computer science programs also often hold separate programmatic accreditation from ABET.
Attending a prestigious master’s in computer science program may expose students to better opportunities while in school. Graduates of well-known schools may also find better job opportunities after graduation.
Staff Credentials
Research program faculty members to see if anyone is conducting research related to your own interests. You can also check to see where faculty got their own education and whether they hold any awards.
Program Culture
Do you seek a graduate school experience in which you make close friends and participate in a lot of extracurricular activities? Or do you prefer a more professional culture?
Figure out your estimated cost of attendance and budget prior to enrolling. Keep in mind that most master’s in computer science programs provide financing opportunities like scholarships, grants, loans, and fellowships.
How difficult may it be for you to get into your desired program? Many schools post program acceptance rates online.

Should You Get Your Master’s in Computer Science Online?

Online master’s in computer science programs offer benefits such as convenience, affordability, and flexibility. Distance education programs appeal particularly to working professionals, people who graduated with a bachelor’s degree many years ago, and students with family responsibilities.

Many schools offer online degrees that feature the same curricula, faculty members, and access to university resources as their on-campus versions. 

In the past, some employers remained dubious about hiring someone with an online degree, but today distance education is widely recognized as equivalent to many in-person programs. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shift public perception of online learning, making distance learning even more popular and understood as a legitimate education. 

Factors to weigh when determining whether the online experience is right for you include your learning style, budget, and the availability of distance education programs in your field. Many people thrive in an online learning environment, but some prefer a traditional on-campus experience. Only you can decide if you should pursue an online master’s of science in computer science.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do you need a bachelor's in computer science to get a master's?

    You need a bachelor’s degree, but not necessarily in computer science. Students without a background in computer science typically need to complete prerequisite foundational classes before enrolling.

  • Can I get a computer science degree online?

    Many schools offer online master’s in computer science programs.

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

    A master’s in computer science prepares graduates for a variety of computer and IT careers. Potential jobs include computer and research information scientist, computer hardware engineer, and computer network architect.

  • Which is better: An MBA or MSc in computer science?

    An MBA or MSc in computer science can both open the door to lucrative, in-demand, and rewarding jobs. Prospective students should choose their degree based on their academic interests and career goals. Business-minded learners typically choose the MBA.

  • Is a master's in computer science worth it?

    Although a master’s in computer science requires an investment of significant time, money, and work, it typically pays off. Graduates possess the knowledge and technical skills to qualify for many in-demand, lucrative careers.

Professional Organizations for Computer Science

  • Association for Computing Machinery ACM convenes computing professionals to share resources, communicate with one another, and advance the field. With almost 100,000 members (many of whom live outside the United States), ACM is among the largest and fastest-growing organizations for computing professionals. Members receive access to various educational programs and publications, and most members can join special interest groups or local chapters to engage with peers. ACM also connects members with leadership opportunities to bolster their resumes and expand their networks.

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society Created for both computer science and engineering leaders, the IEEE Computer Society strives to promote collaboration between the two fields. The society regularly organizes conferences offering networking and professional development opportunities. Members receive access to the IEEE Spectrum magazine, a digital library, networking events, and industry discounts. The organization offers membership levels for students, basic members, and preferred members, with each level offering different benefits.

  • Association for Women in Computing Founded in 1978, AWC is among the oldest professional organizations for women in computing. AWC works to promote professional growth through online programs and networking. AWC offers mentoring, continuing education, and professional development opportunities. To reach as many women in computing as possible, AWC offers both in-person and internet-based networking. AWC encourages current students to create college chapters.

  • CompTIA A global leader for tech professionals, CompTIA offers certification, education, and professional development opportunities. Popular certifications include A+, Linux+, CySA+, and CTT+. To help prepare members for certification exams, CompTIA provides training, online study tools, instructor-led programs, and other helpful materials. The organization also features continuing education opportunities to help members meet certification renewal requirements. Professional members receive discounts on CompTIA products and join an extensive professional network, while student members gain access to scholarship opportunities, career advice, and competitions.

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Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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