Best Online Master’s Degrees in Computer Science

One of the best ways to stand out in today’s highly-competitive, tech-driven job market is by earning a master’s degree from an accredited and flexible online computer science master’s program. Learn about top-rated schools and get other key info in this guide.

Computer science is one of the hottest career fields today. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in information technology and computer occupations in the U.S. is projected to grow 11 percent over the coming decade, almost three times faster than all occupations combined. Computer science is also a highly-competitive field for employment and career advancement. One of the best ways to give yourself a leg up as a computer science professional is to enroll in a fully-accredited online master’s in computer science program.

We’ve put together this guide to help you answer many important questions about online master’s of computer science programs, such as: “What are some of the top-rated programs?”, “What are the admissions requirements and what will it cost?” and “What are my career options after I graduate?”. Below, you’ll find answers to all of these questions and more. Keep reading to find out how you can advance your CS career by earning an online master’s in computer science degree.

College Spotlights: Best Online Master’s in Computer Science in 2021

Once you start looking at online master’s in computer science programs, you’ll quickly realize that there are tons of great program choices. There are several important factors to consider, including cost, curriculum, specialization options, course formats and study flexibility, and the availability of valuable support services. We’ve taken all of these factors into account for the following three best-in-class programs. There are lots of excellent online computer science master’s degree programs to consider, so use these spotlights as a guide to making the best decision for your career.

Arizona State University

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Arizona State University has a long history of offering high-quality degree programs via distance learning – its Online Master of Computer Science (MCS) program is no exception. In partnership with the popular MOOC provider, Coursera,

Arizona State’s online MCS degree program is designed to reflect both the scientific and engineering aspects of computer science through a curriculum that emphasizes theory and practical applications. Topics covered include software engineering, artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, cybersecurity, and many others. MCS students have the option of selecting one of two concentrations: Cybersecurity and Big Data. All coursework in this fully-online, 30-credit hour, non-thesis program is accessed and completed through the Coursera platform, with one-on-one advice and assessment provided by ASU faculty and teaching assistants.

Admissions requirements for ASU’s program include a bachelor’s degree earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA on the last 60 credit hours of coursework. Additionally, applicants must have completed a number of specific math and computer-related courses, which are typically part of STEM-related undergraduate curriculums. Applicants with a non-STEM undergrad degree must either complete the prerequisite courses or satisfy the requirement by taking and passing prerequisite knowledge exams available from the university.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)

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Through a partnership with AT&T and MOOC provider Udacity, Georgia Tech offers this Online MS in Computer Science (OMS CS) that can be completed 100% online at an affordable price of $7,000. All coursework is accessed and completed asynchronously via the Udacity learning platform, with students connecting with instructors and other course personnel via email and discussion boards. The 30-credit hour curriculum consists of five to six courses in the student’s chosen specialization (Computational Perception & Robotics, Computing Systems, Interactive Intelligence, or Machine Learning) and four to five electives (any of the other courses offered in the OMS CS program). The OMS CS program is fully accredited through Georgia Tech and provides the same rigorous curriculum as the school’s on-campus MS in Computer Science program.

Admission into Georgia Tech’s OMS CS program requires a previously-earned bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Preference is given to applicants holding a bachelor’s degree in computer science or related field (such as mathematics, electrical engineering, or computer engineering) earned with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants not meeting these criteria are considered on a case-by-case basis. International students must also demonstrate English language proficiency by providing satisfactory test scores on either the IELTS-Academic or TOEFL.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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The Online Master of Computer Science (MCS) degree program from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is presented in partnership with Coursera, employing the MOOC provider’s online platform to deliver course materials. Program advisement and assessment of assignments, projects, and exams are carried out by U of I instructors and teaching assistants. The curriculum of this non-thesis MCS program requires completion of 32 credit hours of coursework beginning with four “core” courses, one each chosen by the student from among seven subject areas: artificial intelligence, database and information systems, graphics/HCI, parallel computing, programming languages, and software engineering, scientific computing, and systems and networking. Students then complete an additional 16 credit hours of advanced-level courses. Those students interested in the field of data science specifically can opt for U of I’s online Master of Computer Science in Data Science (MCS-DS) program.

Admission requirements for U of I’s MCS program are also similar to the ASU program and include a previously-earned bachelor’s degree or equivalent in computer science. Applicants possessing a non-CS bachelor’s degree may also be admitted following completion of a series of prerequisite courses.

3 Major Benefits of Earning an Online Master’s in Computer Science

Taking on an online computer science master’s degree program requires a substantial time, effort, and cash investment. However, it has significant advantages that can make it more than worth your while. Here are three advantages you’ll gain by earning an online master’s in computer science degree.

  1. You’ll gain advanced and specialized skills

    In the ever-progressing world of computer science, CS professionals need to keep up-to-date on cutting-edge skills and technologies. A master’s in computer science provides those skills.

  2. You’ll be prepared for leadership positions

    Along with technological skills, a master’s in computer science program provides students with essential business, communication, and problem-solving skills for planning, implementing, and managing technology within an organization. You’ll also be prepared to interact effectively with organizational stakeholders, partners, and customers.

  3. You can earn your degree while keeping your current job

    Online master’s in computer science programs are designed with working professionals in mind, providing the options and flexibility needed to integrate academic pursuits with job commitments effectively.

What You’ll Learn in an Online Master’s in Computer Science Program

The diverse nature of the CS field demands that computer science master’s programs encompass all of the varied aspects of the subject to adequately prepare students for advanced practice roles throughout the CS industry. Computer science master’s programs typically include coursework in leadership and management, providing graduates with the skills needed to take on supervisory positions within their organizations successfully.

Below are descriptions for five foundational CS courses you can expect to find in the core curriculum of your online master’s in computer science program:

Courses You Can Expect to Take

  • Algorithms

    Graduate-level study in the design and analysis of algorithms – how they work and where they work best. Specific topics include algorithm design techniques, dynamic programming, linear programming, randomized algorithms, divide and conquer, graph algorithms, max-flow algorithms, NP-completeness, and more. Students completing this course can evaluate appropriate algorithmic techniques leading to more efficient coding solutions.

  • Computer Networks

    This course offers a survey of the fundamental concepts of computer networks’ design and implementation and their protocols, followed by advanced topics in computer networking. Subjects include communication, communications protocols, local area networks, TCP/IP, and the internet. Course activities include lectures, readings, class discussions, and hands-on projects.

  • Database Systems

    Introduction to the fundamental concepts of database systems. Students gain a solid understanding of how these systems work and are implemented and how to develop efficient data models for modern relational database systems. Topics covered include database design, database system architecture, efficient query processing, indexing structures, data management in cloud computing environments, NoSQL systems, and much more.

  • Operating Systems

    This course offers a comprehensive look at operating systems beginning with foundational topics such as classical internal algorithms and structures used in operating systems and basic operating system abstractions, mechanisms, and implementations. Advanced topics include operating system structuring, distributed systems (distributed computing models and distributed storage techniques), synchronization, recovery management, and system support for internet-scale computing.

  • Software Analysis and Design

    Advanced, hands-on course in which students apply methodologies, frameworks, and design, implementation, and software architecture techniques to solve real-world software engineering problems. Specific topics include principles of software architecture and design, object-oriented design and analysis, architecture of mobile applications; service-oriented architecture and microservices-based web applications; and software engineering in autonomous systems and robotics.

Specialization Options for Your CS Master’s

Computer science master’s students with a clear interest in a particular area of practice want to customize their degree studies to focus on that area. The computer science field is filled with specialization opportunities, and a few online master’s in computer science programs offer specialization (or concentration) tracks for them. However, most online programs do not provide specialization tracks but allow their students to tailor their studies to emphasize a specialized area of the CS field through elective course choices.

Here are five popular areas of specialization within the larger computer science field that you may pursue in your online computer science master’s program:

  • Artificial Intelligence

    Artificial intelligence, simply defined, is “intelligence” that is possessed and demonstrated by machines. The artificial intelligence specialization combines theoretical concepts with the practical knowledge and skills required to create and develop new AI features. Topics commonly covered include robotics, natural language processing, image processing, machine learning, intelligent algorithms, pattern recognition, human/technology integration, and many others.

  • Computing Systems Design

    Students choosing this specialization will focus on designing computing systems to meet given specifications by defining the systems’ various systems elements (architecture, data, interfaces, modules). Course subjects include graduate algorithms, advanced operating systems, database systems design, programming languages, software development, network security, high-performance computer architecture, and many others.

  • Data Science

    The data science specialization is for students seeking to launch or advance careers as a data scientist. It is designed to understand, create, collect, and analyze large-scale data to make effective decisions based on discoveries made through that analysis. Students complete coursework in data science theory and systems, databases, data mining, data management and analysis, probability, statistical analysis, and more.

  • Machine Learning

    An application of the broader artificial intelligence (AI) field, machine learning has to do with algorithms that allow computer programs to “learn” and improve through experience. Machine learning is a particularly hot topic in the CS world today, and specializing in it may give you a leg up in the AI job market.

  • Software Engineering

    Software engineering has long been and continues to be a hugely in-demand segment of the larger CS field. This specialization offers students a comprehensive introduction to software engineering, covering all relevant aspects of the subject, including requirements engineering, software architecture, design, construction, maintenance, software testing methods and quality assurance, and software project management.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Computer Science Programs

Accreditation is the process that assures colleges and universities, and the degree programs they offer, meet specific necessary standards for academic quality. Accreditation is also important because it’s a requirement for obtaining most forms of financial aid, particularly federal student financial aid. There are two primary forms of postsecondary accreditation in the U.S.: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation concerns the vetting of colleges and universities themselves and is carried out by many Department of Education approved regional and national accrediting agencies.

Programmatic accreditation concerns the vetting of individual degree programs. While the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)

is the principal accrediting agency for computer science bachelor’s degree programs in the U.S., they do not, nor do any other similar organizations, provide programmatic accreditation for computer science master’s degrees. Because of this, you’ll be looking for proper institutional accreditation. Most U.S. colleges and universities that offer computer science master’s programs – including all of all programs mentioned in this guide – have proper institutional accreditation. Nevertheless, you must confirm the accreditation status of any program you’re considering before you enroll.

Accreditation information is typically provided on program or school accreditation webpages. You can also check accreditation status by using this DOE search engine. If you have any questions regarding accreditation, however, be sure to contact the degree program directly.

What You Can Do with an Online Master’s in Computer Science

Earning a master’s in computer science online is a great way to launch yourself up the career ladder and into a wide range of advanced positions in research, development, and management. Benefits include gaining new computer science and leadership skills, expanding your professional network, and, of course, increasing your earnings potential. We’ve listed below five popular career opportunities for computer science master’s degree holders. Included are recent salary figures for those positions taken from the U.S. Department of Labor’s BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook to give you an idea of what you can expect to make in your advanced computer science job.

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Computer and information research scientists create, design, and develop new theories and technologies in computer architecture, hardware, and software. Specific tasks include inventing new and improved computing languages, methods, tools, and equipment; working with engineers and scientists to solve complex computing-related problems; and designing experiments to test hardware and software systems and analyzing the test results.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$69,990 $122,840 $189,780

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Database Administrators

Database administrators (DBA) are in charge of maintaining computer databases and database software to ensure their security and efficiency. DBAs often take “general purpose” roles in managing a company’s or organization’s database operations. Still, they may also act as specialists like systems DBAs (requiring advanced skills in systems architecture) and application DBAs (maintaining databases for a specific application or set of applications).

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$51,800 $93,750 $148,060

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts are responsible for creating and maintaining computer security for an organization’s computer and IT systems and networks. Typical job tasks include installing and maintaining security software, such as data encryption programs and firewalls; monitoring systems for security breaches and finding solutions to those breaches when they occur; advising management on information security issues and recommending program enhancements; and developing disaster recovery plans and procedures.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$57,810 $99,730 $158,860

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Software Developers

Software developers are the ones that develop all of the programs and applications that make the computer and IT worlds go round. Tasks include writing code to create applications; testing, modifying, and debugging application software; and documenting application systems for reference in future upgrades and maintenance. Software developers must have a vital mastery of commonly-used computer languages and a solid familiarity with a variety of operating systems.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$64,240 $107,510 $164,590

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Web Developers

Web developers meet with management or clients to map out their specific website requirements and preferences and then design a website that meets those specifications. Web developers may be responsible for the way a website looks (front-end development) or the website’s technical construction (back-end development). They may also act as a site’s webmaster, responsible for site maintenance (ensuring overall performance, fixing broken links and other problems, etc.)

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$39,550 $73,760 $142,080

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s in Computer Science

Regardless of which program you choose, pursuing your master’s in computer science degree can be expensive. The good news is that there are several valuable financial aid resources to explore, including scholarships and grants (from private providers and degree programs themselves), graduate fellowships and assistantships, work-study programs, employer tuition assistance programs, and loans. Our advice is to consider all of these funding sources and start your funding search as soon as possible. For more information on the various resources available for funding your online master’s in computer science program, visit our financial aid webpage.

What Your Online Master’s in Computer Science Could Cost

Here are the current tuition figures for three online programs to give you an idea of what you might pay for your computer science master’s degree. Please note that your total program cost will be greater than the figures below once you add additional program fees like the cost of books and supplies or internet access fees.

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

Colorado State University

35

$715.00

$25,025

Drexel University

43

$1,342.00

$60,390

University of West Florida

30

$425.00

$12,750

Online Master’s Q&A with a CS Professor and Department Head

Dr. Scott DeLoach is a Professor and the Head of the Department of Computer Science at Kansas State University. Dr. DeLoach served in the United States Air Force from 1981 to 2001. During that time he earned his B.S. in Computer Engineering from Iowa State University (1982) and both his M.S. and Ph.D. in Computer Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology (1987 and 1996, respectively). Dr. DeLoach joined the faculty of K-State’s Department of Computing and Information Sciences in 2001, and was named the permanent head of the Department of Computer Science in 2016. Dr. DeLoach is the author of more than 20 journal articles and book chapters, 17 technical reports, and 70 refereed conference and workshop papers related to the computer science field.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about who your students are and what they’re seeking to gain in their computer science master’s programs?

Most of the students we get are out working in industry. They want to get enhanced skills. They want to go deeper and learn things they didn’t have a chance to at the undergraduate level and so far haven’t in their industry jobs.

There are really, in my view, two kinds of [online] master’s degrees out there. There are those that are basically set up to do online where you take ten courses or whatever and that’s your master’s degree. There’s special faculty and special courses for the online version. Many of our students were telling us that they really didn’t want to go through that and wanted to be more connected. They wanted to do some research or projects that would be larger than just a single course. Our students actually have the opportunity to do a thesis or report which is similar to a thesis, just not quite as theoretically intensive. Or they can do a coursework-only option as well, although that’s not very popular.

Q. Do you find that you have students coming to your program for the purpose of gaining the skills needed to address the most current technologies and trends in computer science?

Yeah, a lot of people have specific things they want to learn about. One of the unique things in our master’s program is that we have very strong programs in data science and artificial intelligence. Cybersecurity is another one. What we call high-performance software engineering is another one of our key areas. People will come back looking at those specific areas. But a lot of times students will come back and say, “Oh, I’m really interested in, say, cyber-physical systems (which is another one of our areas) but I want to have security with that. They want to create their own specialized knowledge area. So, they can also create courses if they find a faculty member who is interested in pursuing that topic area with them.

Q. Do you have students planning to earn their PhDs, or is your program geared more toward applied skills for students moving on in their industry careers?

A little bit of both, really. By providing the project and thesis options, we attract students who may not know now if they want to pursue academia but want to do a thesis and see if that’s something they’re going to be interested in. So, our version of the master’s degree opens up more toward the academic side, even though I would say that two-thirds to three-quarters of our students are more industry-focused.

Q. Do you have students coming in directly from their bachelor’s programs?

The on-campus version has almost all students coming directly from undergraduate programs. The online program is almost all students that have been working. I’ve always told people that the preferred way is, once you get your undergraduate degree, to go work for a couple of years and then come back and get your master’s. That’s what I did. I was a much better student, so much more interested and had a better understanding of how what we were learning applied. It just made a night and day difference.

I’m teaching a class this spring that has both online students and on-campus students in it. I try to mix up my groups or teams so that some of the on-campus students get to work with some of the online because [the online students] have so much to offer them.

Q. Do you have any advice for online students coming into the program that would help them but maybe they hadn’t thought about?

I think probably the most important thing is that if they’re going to be successful, they have to take control of their education. This is not about Kansas State giving them an education, it’s more about educating themselves with the help of Kansas State. Especially in the online arena. They have to make sure they keep up. You can’t just pop into the professor’s office to ask a question, so you have to find ways to communicate. And the professor isn’t just going to check up on you and email you or call you up on the phone all the time and ask you how you’re doing and if you have any questions. So, because they’re not having that in-person experience in class, students have to take a little more responsibility for their own interactions with the professors.

Q. Do you believe that students that interact more get more out of their programs?

Absolutely. Just like on-campus. It’s not really any different. The more effort you put in to interacting with your professors and other students, the more you get out of it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Computer Science Master’s Degrees

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in computer science?

Admissions requirements for online master’s in computer science programs vary from program to program, but there are plenty of similarities. Below are a number of admissions requirements comparable to those you’ll likely encounter for the program you choose. Just remember to be detail-oriented when applying to any program. Leaving anything out or making even a small error can impact your chances for acceptance.

  • Previously-earned degree: A baccalaureate degree in computer science, computer engineering, IT, or a closely-related major (mathematics, electrical engineering, etc.) from a regionally- or nationally accredited college or university (or international equivalent) is typically required. In some cases, applicants with a bachelor’s degree in a non-CS major may be required to complete undergraduate CS-related prerequisites before applying to the master’s program.
  • Undergraduate GPA: A stated minimum cumulative GPA on undergraduate coursework, usually 2.75 to 3.0, is also a common requirement for admission in good standing. In some cases, applicants with a lower undergraduate GPA may be accepted under conditional admission.
  • GRE/GMAT test scores: GRE test scores may or may not be required. For example, some programs that call for GRE scores (Old Dominion University’s Computer Science MS program) will waive the requirement for applicants with demonstrated industry experience.
  • Other application requirements: Additional requirements may include a personal statement outlining academic and career goals, letters of recommendation or references from professional and academic sources, and a current resume or CV. International students typically must also provide proof of English proficiency, often in TOEFL or IELTS scores.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in computer science online?

Most online master’s in computer science programs can be completed in as little as 15 months to two years, sometimes less than that. But most students, on average, complete their programs in three years. Your actual program length will depend on factors such as course load (full-time or part-time study), course availability, and how long you require for completion of your thesis or capstone project. Some programs may allow you to transfer previously-earned credits for relevant graduate-level coursework, which may shorten your degree completion time.

Many programs also feature generous completion times on the back end, but there are maximum time limits. For example, students in the MCS program from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign must complete their programs within five years of their start date.

Can I earn a master’s in computer science 100% online, or do I need to visit campus?

Coursework in computer science lends itself particularly well to the distance learning environment. The majority of online master’s in computer science programs are offered 100% online, meaning no on-campus or in-person requirements to complete. Many schools provide their computer science master’s programs both online and on-campus, and some – like the University of Louisville – allow students the option of including some on-campus classes. It should also be noted that not all online computer science master’s programs feature all-asynchronous coursework. For example, all courses at Syracuse University’s MS in Computer Science program live online with face-to-face interaction.