Computer science ranks as one of the fastest growing industries today, which is why many students find themselves looking at the top online master's in computer science programs. For the purposes of this article though, we tracked down the most affordable of those online programs. While students have the chance to make $100,000 or more after they graduate, many have concerns about how they will pay for their education before enrolling.
Computer science degrees prepare students for working as information technology specialists and helping people with their computer needs. They also work in game and software development to create the games and programs that people use every day. Enrolling in an online CS program gives students the chance to gain more experience and develop better skills working with the same forms of technology that people will use for their games and software. Any student with a bachelor's degree and an interest in computer science can find the perfect online program for them after looking at our ranking.
Ranking Low-cost Online Computer Science Master's
To create a list of the most affordable online Master's in Computer Science programs, we turned to the NCES College Navigator Database for help. This database updates regularly as new information becomes available and lists all degree programs available from schools across the country. After looking for computer science master's degree online, we found 40 programs of this type in the nation. We then looked at the in-state tuition charged by each school, which is what most charge of online students, to find the top 10 most affordable programs. Our list ranks the top 10 most affordable programs, with the cheapest programs on the bottom.
10. City University of Seattle
Master of Science in Computer Science
City University of Seattle offers one of the most affordable computer science graduate degree programs, which is available both online and on its Seattle campus. Students need to take just 39 credits to graduate, but those who have less CS experience and those who studied other subjects as an undergrad may need to take up to 59 credits. The program takes two years to finish and requires that students do a capstone to demonstrate the research and development skills they gained. It includes courses like System Administration for Information Security, Ethical Obligations in Information Security, Principles of Software Engineering and Introduction to Cloud Computing.
9. Colorado Technical University – Colorado Springs
Master of Science in Computer Science
Colorado Technical University – Colorado Springs has a strong reputation for the online programs that it offers, which now includes an online Master of Science in Computer Science. Unlike other schools that follow a strict semester format, CTU-CS allows new students to start in almost any month of the year. Students can take courses from other disciplines, including database management, data science and software engineering. Local students have the option of taking some classes on the Colorado Springs campus or finishing the entire program online. The program allows students to take 20 credits of electives and some required courses, including Computer Networking, Database Systems and Design and Analysis of Algorithms.
8. National University
Master of Science in Computer Science
National University offers one of the top online Master's in Computer Science programs for students who want to study more than just one set subject area. Students in this program have the chance to study cloud computing, software engineering and a number of other fields. All students must pick a specialization in advanced computing, database engineering or software engineering, which will dictate some of the courses they take. National offers a transition program for undergrads to make it easier for them to enroll in the graduate program. Students will take four courses from the specialization track chosen and eight required courses that include Modern Operating Systems, Web and Cloud Computing and Database Design and Implementation.
7. Frostburg State University
Master of Science – Applied Computer Science
Frostburg State University knows that some students have less free time than others, which is why it now offers its Master of Science – Applied Computer Science program online. The online program provides students with resources that they can use from home as they work on their classes. It also allows online students to network with its alumni who work in top companies. The program is available as a general program or with a concentration in databases. It features a number of traditional and unique electives, including Robotics and Computer Control, Interactive Computer Graphics, Web Development and Programming and Special Topics in Data Mining and Data Warehousing.
6. Georgia Southern University
M.S. in Computer Science
One of the newest online programs for computer science students is the one offered by Georgia Southern University. GSU announced in 2018 that it would now offer this as a hybrid program for those who want to take some courses on its campus, but it's also available for online students who live outside of Georgia. Called a Best Buy because of its low tuition rate, this program also ranks as one of the best online programs for graduate computer information technology students by U.S. News & World Report. It includes courses on software and software systems engineering, database design and network engineering.
5. University of Idaho
M.S. Computer Science
The M.S. Computer Science program available through the University of Idaho covers all the knowledge that students need to succeed in a doctoral program, and many of its graduates actually stay and enroll in IU to earn their doctoral degrees. This is one of the more selective online programs and looks for students who have a strong background in computer science courses and those with high test scores. It is available for students who want to do a thesis and those who do not want to do a thesis, but those who enroll in the non-thesis track will need to make more electives than thesis students do. The thesis route allows students to study a CS subject in more depth.
4. East Carolina University
Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) Degree
East Carolina University wants students to feel ready for the future, which is why it requires that graduate computer science students maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 in all their graduate classes. After completing 12 credits of work, students must sit for a comprehensive exam and pass with a high grade to remain in this program. They'll also take a second comprehensive exam before they can graduate. The program features core courses and electives that include Computer Systems Architecture, Program Transition, Software Engineering Foundations and Operating Systems. Students can also take classes like Software Security Engineering, Software Verification and Validation and Software Requirements Engineering.
3. University of Houston – Victoria
Computer Science (M.S.)
Students enrolling in the cheap online Master's in Computer Science that the University of Houston – Victoria offers can do a thesis or enroll in the non-thesis track. Thesis students gain six semester hours of credit for the work that they do on their final projects and papers. Non-thesis students must take electives to fulfill those credits. The program features a computer science core that is worth 12 credits, but students must also take 18 credits of specialization classes. The university offers a number of specialization classes, including Advanced Level Design, Artificial Intelligence for Games, Database Systems Development, Internet Programming and Fundamentals of Game Networks.
2. University of West Georgia
Online MS in Applied Computer Science
U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of West Georgia Online MS in Applied Computer Science as one of the nation's best graduate computer information technology programs. With a tuition of less than $6,000 a year, it also ranks as one of the most affordable of those programs. The program features 10 classes that are each worth 10 credits and a final project that is worth six credits. Students work with their advisers to select a subject for this project, and they must receive a satisfactory mark on this project to graduate. The program looks at software design and engineering, database systems and software for the web.
1. Georgia Southwestern State University
Online Master of Science in Computer Science
Georgia Southwestern State University offers one of the best online computer science programs and one of the most affordable. Students can complete their studies and pay less than half what students in other programs pay. Its Online Master of Science in Computer Science program uses a unique delivery system that makes it easier for students to finish assignments and interact with others in their classes. Students earn six credits for doing a thesis, but they can also take six credits of extra electives instead of doing a thesis. GSSU also offers an online certificate in computer information systems that allows students to begin their studies and then transition into the full graduate program.
Extra Information for Students
We know that many students have questions that looking at school descriptions won't answer, which is why we wanted to include some basic information that answers some of those questions.
What Career Options are Available with an Online Master's in Computer Science Degree?
One of the top questions that prospective computer science students have is about what careers become open to them after they complete one of these degrees. Graduates of the top programs now work as software engineers, software designers and developers, programmers and technology specialists. Jobs in this field also include positions as computer and research scientists hardware engineers, computer systems analysts and teachers.
Many graduates want to work in software and game development and design. They imagine themselves playing games all day and every day, but those who work in this field often spend more time testing those games and apps. These testers may spend hours playing the same level multiple times or trying to force out any hidden bugs. This position involves some research skills too because developers need to look for what customers want and find software and programs that meet their wishes.
Researchers and research scientists are the ones who look at both common and complex problems and find solutions to those problems. They might work on computers to find ways to make those computers run faster, but they can also work in the design of new computers to change the layout to reduce stress on users.
Analysts often work as consultants and are responsible for helping clients analyze and change the way they use computers to do their business. They find solutions to the problems that employees and customers have. Hardware engineers are those who work with the individual components that make up computers and other tech products. Engineers must look for bugs and other issues that can make products run slower or too hot. They often work for top companies like Microsoft, Samsung, HP and Apple.
How Much Do Graduates of Online Programs Make?
Online programs did not have the best reputation during the early days of the internet, but that changed quite a bit in recent years and as more reputable schools launched online campuses. The salaries of those who studied online and those in traditional programs is quite similar. Those who studied online may even have the change to make more money because they show employers that they have strong time management skills and more experience using computers and the web.
Researchers working in this field bring home more than $110,000 a year. While those with more experience generally make more, it's possible for recent graduates to make more than $70,000 a year. Software developers earn a little over $100,000 a year, which equals an hourly wage of more than $40 an hour. The average salary for those working as analysts is around $80,000 a year, but analysts often work less hours than those in other positions do.
The salary for computer programmers is similar to other positions and is around $80,000 a year. Programmers can work for companies and design games, apps and programs, but they can also open their own businesses and design their own products for sale. Computer science teachers earn between $40,000 and $155,000 a year. The top 10 percent of CS teachers work for major colleges and universities.
What is the Job Outlook for Computer Science Graduates?
Many students focus so much on how much they can make that they don't think about how long they can make money. Though computer science is a quickly growing field, not all jobs will grow at the same rate. Master's in Computer Science online graduates will find that the growth in the computer programming field is among the lowest. While the field will grow by eight percent in the future, this may not account for all the students enrolling in these programs or the number of graduates leaving those programs in the future.
The job with the highest growth in the future is that of a computer systems analyst. As more companies look for ways to do business online, those companies will need analysts who can help their systems run more efficiently. This field will grow by 25% through the 2020s. The need for analysts will keep growing as businesses like Target and Walmart suffer data breaches like they did in the past.
Other positions in this field that will grow at a faster than average rate include jobs as web developers and software developers. Web developers create websites for others and ensure that the site operates properly and that the information of anyone who uses the site remains protected. These professionals can work for companies to launch new sites and to improve existing sites, but they can also work for individuals and nonprofit organizations. The need for both web developers and software developers will grow at a rate of at least 20% in the future, which is must faster than the average rate.
Students in Master's in Computer Science online programs can also find jobs as database administrators and network architects. Network architects design the computer networks that others use. They can work for the companies that offer internet access to others or for businesses that have their own on-site networks. Database administrators are responsible for the daily operations of a database. These positions will grow by 15% in the coming years. The need for computer and information researchers and scientists will grow at the same rate.
How Can Students Gain Experience While in School?
Employers who hire students with a degree from a computer science master's online program want employees who have more experience. Students sometimes think that they cannot gain experience while in college, but those in an online program will have the free time necessary to get some experience. They can actually use the skills they learned in design and development classes to design new apps and games that they put up for sale online. Some students actually make enough money from their apps to pay their tuition. Students can also begin creating websites for others while in college to make some money and gain some experience.
One of the requirements for many of these programs is a bachelor's in computer science, information technology or a similar field. Students with a degree in one of those areas can go to work in the field and gain experience in software development, computer networks and information technology. An undergrad degree qualifies an individual to work as an IT specialist. Students in these programs can leverage the degrees they earn to get a raise from their current employers once they graduate.
What is the Best Way to Pay for One of These Degrees?
While we ranked the 10 most affordable online computer science master's programs, some students will still have a hard time coming up with $5,000 or more upfront to pay their tuition. The most common form of aid given to graduate students today is a federal loan. Students can borrow a little over $20,000 a year, which will cover their tuition and any other costs they might have. Some use the extra money to buy a new computer, purchase software or pay their rent. Depending on how much an individual borrows though, it can take up to 20 years or longer to pay off those loans. Private and alternative students loans can take even longer to pay back because of the high interest rates on those loans.
Looking for scholarships is a better option for online computer science students. These scholarships come from different sources and have different requirements. Some are only available to those living in specific states, those who are female or in a minority group or those studying a specific area of computer science like game development or programming. There are also scholarships available for cybersecurity students who want to protect those using the web.
Each scholarship program has its own application that students need to fill out. They may need to supply a copy of a portfolio or include a link to an online portfolio. Some programs ask for proof that the student enrolled in an accredited computer science program. Though some scholarships only award students a set amount one time, others allow students to apply for a renewal and get the same amount each year. Scholarships range in size from $500 to more than $10,000.
Students working in the computer science field should also talk to their employers. Many employers have tuition reimbursement plans. As long as the student maintains a set grade point average, the employer will reimburse him or her for the money paid out of pocket.