Best Online Master’s in Computer Science in 2021

Best Online Master’s in Computer Science in 2021
Best Online Master's in Computer Science Badge

In an increasingly digital world, computer scientists play vital roles in communities. They examine computer systems and look for ways to increase their safety, improve efficiency, and enhance software performance.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professionals need at least a master’s degree to work as computer and information research scientists. Some graduate programs may require an undergraduate degree in a related field or specific prerequisite courses.

You’re likely to see an excellent return on your investment by pursuing a master’s degree in computer science. You can easily find an online program for less than $20,000, but could potentially earn upwards of six figures, with employment in the field growing rapidly.

Keep reading to learn more about pursuing an online master’s in computer science program, the benefits of this degree, potential scholarships, and typical computer science courses. This page also discusses career salary and job outlook.

Accredited Online College Programs

10 Best Online Master’s in Computer Science in 2021

  1. Johns Hopkins University
    Location

    Baltimore, MD

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Johns Hopkins' online master's in computer science program offers a concentration in communication and multiple focus tracks in areas like cybersecurity and bioinformatics. Each track includes courses in software engineering, computer architecture, and algorithms. Although degree-seekers can complete the degree entirely online, professors only teach some electives on Johns Hopkins' Baltimore, Maryland campus.

    Students gain access to career services like Vault, Handshake, and PeopleGrove. The latter pairs learners with an alumni mentor who earned the same degree. Many students also research careers in foreign countries by creating an account on GoinGlobal.

    Applicants need undergraduate prerequisites in mathematics and computer programming. Prospective students who do not meet this requirement but possess a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA often receive conditional admission. Maryland high school STEM teachers may qualify for a tuition waiver.

  2. Stanford University
    Location

    Stanford, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Stanford's online master's in computer science appeals to learners who do not plan to enter a doctoral program after graduation. Foundation courses include probability, computer organization and systems, and the principles of computer systems. Students pursue specializations in areas such as software theory or information management.

    Stanford Career Education (SCE) offers personalized online appointments, virtual career fairs, and a robust alumni network. SCE counselors teach career success courses such as creating a professional portfolio and finding a job within 10 weeks of graduating. Many online learners prepare for a successful job hunt using StandOut, software that imparts essential interviewing skills.

    Stanford accepts new computer science learners in the fall semester. Admission requirements include GRE scores and undergraduate transcripts. Stanford charges the same per-credit tuition rate to all online degree-seekers regardless of residency.

  3. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus
    Location

    Atlanta, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Georgia Tech partnered with Udacity and AT&T to create its online computer science master's degree. The program offers four specializations including computational perception and robotics, computing systems, and machine learning. Students who take two courses per term graduate in approximately 18 months.

    The College of Computing's advisors help students and alumni with interviewing, salary negotiation, and professional development. Other free online services include webinars, a blog, and virtual career fairs. Learners gain access to these and additional resources by creating a Handshake account.

    Eligible applicants hold a bachelor's in computer science with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Georgia Tech admits some prospective students without a computer science background but requires that they complete multiple foundation courses.

  4. North Carolina State University at Raleigh
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Learners who enroll in NC State's online master's in computer science program learn from professors who possess significant industry experience. After taking an orientation course, learners customize their educational experience by choosing from electives on topics like compiler construction, graph theory, and the principles of computer graphics. The program does not require a master's thesis or comprehensive examination.

    The NC State Career Services website features virtual advising, a career planning guide, and information regarding funding opportunities. Learners can access a free app that highlights upcoming virtual career fairs and other online events. Students also enjoy access to blog posts that cover internship and job-hunting tips.

    NC State requires prerequisites in calculus, statistics, and computer sciences. Eligible applicants hold a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit GRE scores. NC State charges out-of-state learners three times the in-state tuition rate.

  5. Columbia University in the City of New York
    Location

    New York, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Columbia's 30-credit online master's in computer science offers eight concentrations including computational biology, computer security, and network systems. The university also allows degree-seekers to create a personalized concentration. All students complete coursework in theory, systems, and artificial intelligence during the program's first year.

    Students gain access to the Center for Career Education's (CCE) internship opportunities, expert counselors, and career assessments. CCE's virtual tips and resources help students and alumni create a strong resume and hone interviewing skills. Additionally, degree-seekers can find information regarding workplace professionalism and how to make a career change.

    Applicants need a bachelor's degree in any field. The majority of incoming learners possess at least a 3.5 GPA. Many degree-seekers qualify for federal or state grants.

  6. Missouri University of Science and Technology
    Location

    Rolla, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Missouri S&T's offers a 31-credit, online computer science master's degree with thesis and non-thesis tracks. Students who do not write a thesis take two additional upper-division electives. Many degree-seekers also supplement their degree with a graduate certificate in one of six areas including cybersecurity, information systems, and big data management.

    Students prepare for life after graduation by attending professional development seminars and virtual career fairs. Popular seminar topics include building a personal brand and networking online.

    Prospective students need a bachelor's in computer science or a related field with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Missouri S&T uses a GRE score cutoff, as well. The university charges the same per-credit tuition rate to all online learners, and active-duty service members receive an automatic 40% tuition discount.

  7. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Location

    Champaign, IL

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    U of I's online master's in computer science program features a part-time, cohort format. Students take asynchronous courses, allowing them to balance their studies with personal and professional responsibilities. Learners study topics like text information systems, distributed systems, and data visualization.

    Learners gain access to drop-in advising, cover letter critiques, and Handshake. Additionally, degree-seekers explore the school's Career Center website to discover internship opportunities and interviewing tips.

    Applicants need a bachelor's in computer science. Applicants without a degree in computer science must complete multiple prerequisites. The university prefers prospective students with a minimum 3.2 GPA. In addition to tuition, learners pay for exam proctoring and other online services.

  8. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    USC offers an online master's in computer science with thesis and non-thesis tracks. Non-thesis students complete an internship. Students begin the program with a course on algorithm analysis.

    The USC Viterbi School of Engineering offers career services such as a virtual internship expo, networking events, and workshops that cover multiple job-hunting topics. The school's Professional Development Toolkit features a career planning guide and information concerning the best online job resources.

    USC admits new computer science students in the spring and fall semesters. Eligible applicants hold a bachelor's in computer science and submit GRE scores. Additionally, the program prefers but does not require recommendation letters. Incoming degree-seekers with financial need can apply for the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund.

  9. East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    ECU offers an online computer science master's degree that takes two years to complete. Core topics include machine learning and the design and analysis of algorithms. Students without a background in computer science must take two programming bridge courses. The program culminates in a thesis, capstone project, or electronic portfolio.

    ECU's career services include a Career Resource Guide and industry-specific job fairs. Online degree-seekers also enjoy access to recorded webinars covering how to search for a job in a recession and virtual interviewing best practices.

    Eligible applicants hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit GRE or MAT scores. The university offers provisional and conditional admission to some applicants who do not satisfy all admission requirements. Computer science degree-seekers can research and apply for institutional financial aid on the ECU Academic Works website.

  10. Stevens Institute of Technology
    Location

    Hoboken, NJ

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Stevens' online master's in computer science program features an asynchronous curriculum that allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. The program offers 10 focus areas including software development and machine learning. Core coursework emphasizes web programming, digital privacy, and parallel programming.

    The Stevens Career Center helps learners from all backgrounds achieve professional success by providing a detailed career action plan. Students also take workshops on topics like virtual interviewing, how to update a resume, and professional writing skills.

    The program requires applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in any field and submit GRE or GMAT scores and two recommendation letters. Online learners set up an interest-free tuition payment plan through Tuition Management Systems.


  • Our Methodology, Explained


    Grad School Hub compiles rankings based on public data released from educational, commercial, and government databases. Sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics play a significant role in how we source our educational data. After collecting insight for each institution, we organize information into five weighted categories.

    Metric Data Used Percentage
    Academic Quality Full-time faculty percentage, student-to-faculty ratio, student retention and graduation rates 30%
    Affordability Tuition rates, median student debt, and financial aid 10%
    Reputation Admission and enrollment rates 30%
    Program Offerings Number of program options 20%
    Online Enrollment Score Portion of learners taking at least one online course 10%

    A more comprehensive evaluation of how each category is determined and scored is accessible on our Ranking Methodology page.


Answering your questions about master’s in computer science degrees


  • How much do computer scientists make with a master’s degree?

    Professionals with a master’s degree in computer science earn $93,800 per year on average, according to PayScale. This number varies based on professionals’ geographical location and years of experience


  • How long is a master’s in computer science?

    A master’s in computer science usually takes full-time learners about two years and part-time learners about four years. Students in accelerated or self-paced programs may finish faster.


  • Do you need a master’s in computer science?

    The answer depends on your career goals. Most leadership positions with higher salaries require a master’s in computer science. College professors who teach computer science also need at least a master’s degree.


  • What is the job outlook for computer science?

    The BLS projects jobs for computer and information research scientists to grow 15% between 2019 and 2029.


  • Is an online masters in computer science worth it?

    If you are interested in computers, mathematics, engineering, and logic, then an online master’s in computer science will be worth the years of studying as computer scientists can make more than the national average median salary.


Online Master’s in Computer Science Program Overview

Some programs may require you to have knowledge of computer programming languages like Java, JavaScript, or C++ and have taken courses in Calculus. While other programs may only require that you have taken specific math classes.

While every online master’s in computer science program will be different, most require students to complete 30 to 50 credits of coursework to earn their degree. All students will have to take core courses that depend on the program requirements and have the choice to select different elective classes. In the final semester of your master’s program, you may be required to work on a thesis or research project.

Additionally, you will have a better understanding of what specific role you will want to go into. By the time you graduate, you will have met more connections within your field who may turn out to be great networks in your career path.

What Are the Benefits of a Degree in Computer Science?

Earning a computer science degree opens new opportunities for individuals. While an undergraduate degree provides many benefits, a master’s degree can help you break into competitive careers, as well bridge more knowledge gaps. Read on to learn about the benefits of earning a computer science master’s degree.

Rewarding Pay
The BLS notes that computer and information research scientists earned a median annual salary of $122,840 in 2019. Computer and information systems managers earned $146,360.
Positive Job Outlook

The BLS projects the need for computer and information technology occupations to increase 11% between 2019 and 2029.

Ability to Share Information with Others
Experienced professionals with advanced degrees gain notoriety. Computer scientists with a quality education are often invited to present at conferences and publish their findings in scholarly journals.
Ability to Advance Software and Computer Security
With the right knowledge, computer scientists can make computers and programs easier and safer for the public to use.
Chance to Solve Complex Problems
By earning a computer science degree, students learn how to solve computer problems. Education allows these professionals to advance the field for everyone.

Career and Salary Outlook for Computer Science Majors

Professionals who earn a master’s degree in computer science are likely to have excellent job prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the computer and information technology field is expected to grow by 11% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than most professions.

The median annual salary for computer and information technology jobs is $91,250, as of May 2020. But depending on the job, you may earn even more. Several computer science jobs, including some that require a master’s degree, have median salaries that exceed $100,000.

Career Paths for Online Master’s in Computer Science Graduates

There are many career paths someone can pursue with a master’s degree in computer science. We’ll share some of the most popular job opportunities.

CAREERMEDIAN ANNUAL SALARYPROJECTED GROWTH RATE (2019-2029)
Computer Systems Analyst$93,7307%
Computer and Information Systems Manager$151,15010%
Computer Network Architect$116,7805%
Computer Programmer$89,190-9%

Source: BLS

Computer Systems Analyst

Unlike other computer science positions, the BLS reports that computer systems analysts typically only need a bachelor’s degree. These professionals study computer systems and analyze ways to improve their efficiency. Some computer systems analysts work for large organizations, while others work for consulting agencies that partner with multiple clients.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

These professionals plan and coordinate an organization’s computer activities. They select computers and software for computers, oversee technology budgets, and schedule maintenance routines and repairs. They also research technological advancements and look for ways to use technology to improve a company’s daily functions. Computer and information systems managers only need a bachelor’s degree to practice.

Computer Network Architect

These professionals plan and build data communication networks. They need a strong understanding of local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. Computer network architects can connect two networks from small offices together or connect multiple users through cloud infrastructures. These professionals need at least a bachelor’s degree.

Computer Programmer

These professionals primarily work with computer code. They ensure computer programs function at peak performance by testing lines of code to make improvements. Computer programmers need a strong understanding of computer languages like C++ and Java. They often collaborate with software developers. This position requires a bachelor’s degree.

Admissions Requirements 

Each online master’s in computer science program has different requirements in the admissions process. While some may require you to know about computer programming and coding languages like Java or C++, others may only require that you have taken advanced math courses like calculus one and calculus two. Some may also require that you majored in a specific undergraduate program, while others may not.

Accreditation for a Master’s in Computer Science

Before enrolling in a program, prospective students should research the program and the school’s accreditation status. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee third-party accrediting agencies.

Some agencies provide programmatic accreditation. For example, the Computing Accreditation Commission is the top programmatic accrediting agency for computer science programs. Most colleges list their accreditation status on their websites, but prospective students can use the ED’s website to quickly verify a school or program’s accreditation status.

Courses in a Computer Science Master’s Program

Computer science curriculum varies by program. Prospective students should review a program’s course description to ensure it covers information that aligns with their career goals.

Most master’s in computer science programs include a thesis or capstone project that involves either a research project or community case study involving a current computer science topic. Since computer science positions require strategic thinking, capstones and thesis projects often aim to solve a real problem, like fixing a security breach or enhancing a system’s performance.


  • Computer Programming

    Students learn how to understand and use computer languages like Java and Python. Learners discover how to use professional programming tools like the Eclipse Integrated Development Environment. This course discusses software testing and how to make program control decisions and string manipulations. Most computer science courses require multiple computer program courses. Upon finishing a computer programming course, learners should know how to use abstract thinking processes to solve computer programming issues.

  • Calculus

    Most master’s in computer science programs require a calculus course. Students learn how to apply elements of geometry and trigonometry to solve complex math problems. This math course relates directly to computer science because calculus examines change, and computers constantly change. Other topics include continuous functions, limits, and integration. Degree-seekers also study real numbers, differentiation, continuous functions, integration, limits, analytic geometry, and trigonometry.

  • Operating Systems

    Students learn how to navigate the back end of modern operating systems including Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, and Linux systems. This class covers topics like memory, process, and storage management. Learners discover process and thread management principles as well as resource management and communication topics. Degree-seekers gain hands-on experience with solving common operating systems issues. To succeed, learners must familiarize themselves with coding basics through a prerequisite class.

  • Database Management

    Computer scientists must also know how to protect and maintain databases for businesses. In this course, learners discover how to use security mechanisms and backup and recovery processes for databases. This course also covers topics like database programming, interactive query language, and database development. Degree-seekers study current databases and analyze them for ways to improve functionality and security. This class also discusses modern database theories and how to apply them to the practice.

  • Data Security and Networking Security

    This course focuses on keeping computers and data safe from hackers. Students learn the basics of ethical hacking, a tool that aims to identify system vulnerabilities to enhance its security. Learners also explore how to keep sensitive business and personal information secure on computers. This course details modern business issues surrounding data and networking security, like cloud storage and remote working servers. Learners gain a strong understanding of the basic pillars of network security.


  • Software Engineering

    This course focuses on software lifecycle models. Students learn software design techniques, data structures, and coding and testing methods. Learners also explore software engineering techniques by industry and how to manage risk.


Online Master’s in Computer Science Concentrations

As with many programs, students pursuing a master’s degree in computer science will have the opportunity to choose from several different concentrations.

Computer Systems

Computer systems is a broad concentration where students study the foundations of computer science, including operating systems, networks, and security.

Data Analytics

Data analytics, also known as “big data”, teaches students foundational and advanced analytics strategies such as data mining and analysis. In this concentration, students will rely heavily on statistical tools and visual data.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity specializes in protecting and securing digital information, both for private companies and government agencies. Students in this concentration learn to detect and prevent cyber-attacks.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) involves programming computers to display intelligence and engage in problem-solving. As AI technology continues to expand, so will the availability of jobs in this field.

Choosing an Online Master’s in Computer Science Program

There are many programs to choose from when pursuing an online master’s degree in computer science. The variety of choices can feel overwhelming, but there are a few factors to consider to help you make the right choice.

Reputation
Having a prestigious or highly-respected university on your resume could benefit you in your job search after graduate school. Consider the reputation of each school you apply to, including both positive and negative.
Accreditation

Accreditation means an independent organization has verified the quality of the education a school provides. Be sure to choose a school that has been accredited.

Cost
Tuition costs may vary significantly from one school to the next. Be sure to consider the cost of each program you consider, and weigh the ROI of each. In many cases, a considerably more expensive school may not result in a significantly higher-paying job.
Schedule

Some schools may require that students attend full-time, while others allow for part-time schedules so students can continue to work. Consider the workload and how it will fit into your life.

Staff Credentials
Who will you be learning from? Research the faculty members at schools you’re considering attending. Learning from the right teachers can really add value to your education.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Computer Science

Like in many other career fields, there are a variety of professional organizations available to those working in computer science jobs. Joining professional organizations can help computer scientists to network with others in the field, leading to jobs and other opportunities.

Association for Information Science and Technology

The Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T) was founded in 1937 as the American Documentation Institute (ADI). It has evolved over the years into a professional association to bridge the gap between information science practice and research. 

Association for Computing Machinery

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was founded in 1947. It is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, delivering results that advance the computer science profession.

Computing Research Association

The Computing Research Association (CRA) was founded in 1972 as the Computer Science Board, but it has since changed its name and expanded its mission. Now the organization works to enhance innovation by working to strengthen research and advance education in computing.

Certifications and Licensure for Computer Science Majors



According to the BLS, computer and information research scientists are not required to have certifications to practice. However, earning certifications and licensure can help individuals position themselves as competitive job candidates. Read below for three licenses and certifications that can benefit computer science professionals.

Cisco Certified Design Professional

A CCDP certification primarily benefits computer network architects. This certification requires individuals to display their knowledge of routing, security, and overall network management. Certificate candidates must take a series of exams. They can choose between six concentrations relating to Cisco, like automation or designing wireless systems.

Professional Software Developer Certification

This certification requires a three-hour exam that includes 160 questions. Test-takers can complete this exam entirely online. To qualify, professionals need at least two years of college education in computer science and two years of industry experience. This certification demonstrates expertise in software engineering, design, construction, and testing.

Oracle Java SE 8 Programmer I

Computer scientists who want to advance the computer programming field can earn a certification in Oracle Java. Students must pay a $245 exam fee and complete 70 questions in 150 minutes. They need a passing score of 65%. This certification demonstrates knowledge of Java basics, using loop constructs, working with inheritance, and handling exceptions.

How Can a Master's Student Pay for College?

Scholarships can lower out-of-pocket expenses and future student loan payments. However, scholarships are often competitive. To improve your chances of earning a scholarship, apply for funds reserved exclusively for graduate students studying computer science. See below for five scholarships for computer science graduate students.

CyberCorps Scholarship for Service
Who Can Apply: This scholarship offers three years of financial support to undergraduate or graduate students studying information technology or a related field. Applicants must agree to work for the state or federal government in a cybersecurity position for the same length of the scholarship term. To apply, students should contact a qualifying university.
Amount: Varies

Women Techmakers Scholars Program
Who Can Apply: Women studying in a tech field may apply. Recipients must demonstrate strong academic and leadership qualities and enroll at an accredited university. This scholarship was formally the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship Program, and it honors one woman’s vision for gender equality in this field.
Amount: Varies

Richard E. Merwin Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Graduate students studying in a computer-related field can apply. Applicants must maintain membership with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for three months prior to applying. Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA and must submit transcripts, a CV, and recommendation letters.
Amount: $1,000

Lance Stafford Larson Paper Contest
Who Can Apply: Student members of the IEEE can apply. The application requires an essay with a 20-page limit on a computer-related subject. This paper must have been presented at a computer-related conference or submitted to a publication. Students must complete an online application.
Amount: $500

Upsilon Pi Epsilon Honor Society Award
Who Can Apply: Full-time students with a 3.0 GPA and IEEE membership can apply. Students must submit an online application and recommendation letters. A judging panel selects recipients based on academic achievement and involvement in computer-related extracurricular activities.
Amount: $1,000

Top Online Master’s in Computer Science



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Erin Gobler

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Erin Gobler is a freelance writer who covers education topics for Best Value Schools, Graduate School Hub, and Criminal Justice Degree Schools, among others. Her work has been published on sites like Fox Business, Rocket Mortgage, and The Balance.

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