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Best Programs: Online Masters in Computer Science for Non-CS Majors

Author: Angela Myers

Editor: Kari Scare

Many people believe getting an online masters in computer science (CS) without a CS undergrad is difficult, if not impossible. Fortunately, there are plenty of online masters in computer science programs for non-CS majors to choose from.

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A person wearing glasses stands in a server room, looking at a large screen displaying various code and data visualizations. The room is filled with computer equipment, indicating a high-tech and secure environment.

The computer science sector offers ample jobs, high salaries, opportunities for promotions, and work/life balance. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for this field was $104,420 in 2023 and that number only expected to rise.

Computer science (CS) is often seen as a hard field to enter, though — especially if you studied a different field for your bachelor’s degree. The good news is that it’s still possible to earn your online masters in computer science. Even so, you likely have questions about how difficult it is to change majors for grad school, which programs are available, and what careers you will qualify for after graduation.

This guide answers the big questions you have about earning an online masters in computer science without a CS undergrad. It also provides information on cost, curriculum, and how online classes work. By the end, you’ll have everything you need to decide whether or not you want to pursue your CS master’s with a different undergrad degree.

Previewing Computer Science Programs for Non-CS Undergrads

Completing an online masters in computer science without CS undergrad qualifications comes down to choosing the right program, one that is affordable and offers flexible course delivery. You also want a program with a curriculum designed for students from non-CS backgrounds. The best-in-class programs profiled below give you a solid view of what a computer science program for non-CS undergrads looks like.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University hosts one of the best online masters in computer science for non CS majors. The program focuses on cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and big data. It includes foundational courses for those new to the field, making it a great choice for anyone wanting to transition into computer science. The curriculum also leaves a lot of room for electives, so students can tailor their education to their career goals.

All courses are online, and students can elect how many classes they take each semester for ample flexibility and work/school/life balance. Applicants need an undergraduate degree, and there are math and science prerequisites. Whether students are Arizona residents or not, the program has a flat tuition of $15,000, making it one of the most affordable online masters in computer science for non-CS majors.

Franklin University

Franklin University offers an online master’s in computer science for non cs majors that can be earned 100% online, and most students complete the program in about two years. For those who don’t have experience in computer science, Franklin offers a preliminary three-course pathway to get you up to speed. This pathway covers the foundations of programming, data structure, and mathematics for computing.

Students in this computer science master’s program can also take electives or specialize in a specific area. Concentrations and electives are offered in data analytics, software systems, and cybersecurity. Students also get hands-on, virtual experience with the industry’s leading tools, including SQL/MariaDB, MongoDB, Java, Java EE, and Git. To make the program even more practical, all instructors are in-field practitioners and teach based on current advancements in the field. Applicants need an undergraduate degree with a GPA of 2.75 or higher.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign offers a 100% online master’s in computer science program for those with non-cs backgrounds. This program is for working professionals, and all courses can be taken asynchronously or synchronously in the evenings or on weekends. Students also have flexibility in how many courses they take per semester with graduation timelines varying from as little as one to as many as five years.

This degree is also affordable at $686 per credit. While the school regularly updates the curriculum to reflect advancements in the industry, current courses focus on artificial intelligence, databases, human-computer interaction, scientific computing, software engineering, and high-performance computing. Applicants need bachelor’s degrees with a 3.2 GPA or higher in all coursework and experience or coursework in data structures, algorithms, linear algebra, and statistics.

How Much Does a Computer Science Master’s Degree Cost?

A master’s degree is a significant financial investment with an average cost, according to Education Data Initiative estimates, between $56,000 and $75,000. Many of the profiled in this guide fall on the lower end (see table below), and there are many excellent affordable degrees out there.

School Program No. of Credits Est. Tuition
Franklin University MS in Computer Science (MSCS)

36

$24,120

Arizona State University Master of Computer Science

30

$15,000

Illinois State University Master of Computer Science

32

$21,952

Tuition and Financial Aid for an Online CS Master’s

While it’s important to look at tuition, it doesn’t tell the entire financial story. Financial aid in the form of scholarships, fellowships, and employer tuition assistance can bring down the cost of your master’s degree significantly. There are even scholarships and other financial aid resources specifically designed for computer science graduate students.

FAQs About Earning a Computer Science Master’s Without a CS Undergrad

How can I get accepted into an online comp sci master’s program without a CS undergrad?

Many online computer science graduate programs are designed for those without a CS undergraduate degree, and these are often the easiest programs to get into. Typically, these degrees have similar admissions requirements:

  • An undergraduate degree with a specific GPA.
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.
  • Work experience, often relevant to the computer science space.
  • Essays or short answer questions about why you want this degree.
  • Letters of recommendation.

Not all these components are required by every university, and it is possible to find programs that require something not listed here. Because of this, it’s important to check the individual requirements of each program you apply to.

How long does it take to earn an online computer science master’s degree?

Earning an online master’s degree typically takes one to four years, and completion time often boils down to if you complete the degree on a full-time or part-time basis. A full-time computer science master’s degree can take as little as one year to complete but may be hard to balance with a full-time job. Part-time degrees take longer but can fit around work and life responsibilities.

What basic knowledge does someone need to succeed in a CS master’s program?

While some programs are open to beginners, knowing basic coding languages increases your chances of being accepted and is a requirement for some programs. Good programming languages to learn include HTML, CSS, Java, and JavaScript. If you don’t already know these languages, you may be able to find affordable courses at a nearby community college or take an online program through a platform like Coursera.

A Look into Computer Science Master’s Program Coursework

Computer science programs for non-cs majors often start with the basics. This includes foundational courses in programming, data science, cybersecurity, data structures, and mathematics. Below are three common courses most graduate students take. The next section spotlights some specialization tracks for after students complete foundational courses.

Programming Foundations

Since students enter these programs without a formal background in computer science, many programs start with a foundational course on programming languages. This can cover HTML, CSS, Java, Python, and other common coding languages and discuss the theories behind how programming works. For a better idea of what this course may look like, explore the programming foundations class offered by Franklin University.

Algorithms

With the advent of AI, social media, and other technologies based on algorithms, learning the theory behind how these systems work, how to create new algorithms, and how to modify existing ones is important. For this reason, most master’s in computer science programs offer at least an introductory course in algorithms but often multiple classes on the topic. At Northeastern University, for example, non-cs students start with a basic course in algorithms and can then take additional electives on the topic.

Data Structures + Design

Another key element of computer science is understanding how data structure works, how to edit or modify them as needed, and how to design new ones. To help non-cs majors grasp these concepts, most schools offer a class in designing data structures. This course focuses on the theory of these structures and design principles, though it may go into some practical knowledge as well. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, offers a data structures course all students must take plus electives on this topic.

Comp Sci Specializations for Non-CS Undergrads to Consider

Computer science is a large industry with many specialized niches, ranging from AI to human-computer interactions. Often, working in a specialized career leads to a higher salary, greater job security, and more expert-level job opportunities. To help graduates take advantage of these benefits, many master’s programs offer specializations. Five of the most popular, and lucrative, are listed below.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence is one of the fastest-growing industries, according to recent data from the International Trade Administration. Master’s programs with this specialization often offer courses in machine learning, data science algorithms, and how to work with artificial intelligence programs. Students in AI master’s programs also take electives in subjects such as generative AI, data visualization, and neural networks. For a better idea of what this specialization looks like, check out the CS program at Northeastern University.

Cloud Computing

Many universities, including the University of Illinois, offer specialization in cloud computing, an on-demand data storage technique where data is stored on virtual clouds instead of physical servers. Popular courses in this specialization track include parallel computing, cybersecurity, and cloud computing. A master’s with a specialization in cloud computing may be especially useful for those who want to work in cybersecurity or data management.

Human Computer Interaction

Each year, our businesses, lives, and communities become more dependent on computers. However, human-computer interactions are often lacking, which is why many companies are hiring specialists in this area. To accommodate them, many graduate programs are offering a specialization in human-computer interaction. Courses for this concentration include user-centered design, human-computer interaction, user research methods, and design fundamentals. For a better idea of what these programs look like, explore the one at DePaul University.

Machine Learning

Closely related to artificial intelligence, machine learning is a booming field that focuses on analyzing and developing algorithms to enable AI programs. Typically, those with this specialization get high-paying jobs as data scientists or analysts upon graduating, though other career opportunities exist too. To help graduates enter this field, many master’s programs like the one at Georgia Tech offer a concentration in machine learning. This specialization includes courses in computation, computational theory, randomized algorithms, and engineering algorithms.

Robotics

Another fast-growing field within computer science is robotics. Since robotics requires specialized knowledge in coding and engineering, it’s a great option for those with an engineering background who want to get their computer science master’s. Some computer science programs with a specialization in robotics, such as the program at the University of Michigan Dearborn, are also open to those with other undergraduate degrees. Courses in this concentration include mathematical methods for robotics, computer engineering, and electrical engineering.

What Can You Do with a Computer Science Master’s Degree?

Computer science degrees lead to job opportunities with high salaries, job security, and growth opportunities. Many sectors of tech – AI, information technology, and cloud computing, for example – are booming, and a master’s degree in these fields allows you to take advantage of those opportunities. Five in-demand jobs are detailed below to give you a better idea of the work you could do after graduating with a CS master’s degree.

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Computer and information research scientists apply their computer science background and research skills to solve problems within the technology sector. Experts in this field discover new ways to use existing technologies, conduct research on new technologies, and work across teams within a company to solve technology-related problems. Those who thrive in this role enjoy research, have a background in research methods, and are good at communicating key findings with stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds.

Career Outlook: Computer and Information Research Scientists

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$145,080 $233,110 23% Professional, Scientific, and
Technical Services; Government

Median Annual Pay
$145,080
90th Percentile
$233,110
Projected Growth (2022-32)
23%
Top Industry
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Government

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Computer Programmers

Becoming a computer programmer is perhaps the most traditional role for a computer science graduate. Programmers generate new code and test and modify existing code to ensure technologies run as they are supposed to or to create new technologies. Graduates who thrive in this role typically enjoy processing data, analyzing information, and solving complex, data-heavy problems. It’s also a great career path for those who like to work alone and prefer to minimize collaborating with stakeholders in other departments.

Career Outlook: Computer Programmers

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$99,700 $167,230 -2% Professional, Scientific, and
Technical Services

Median Annual Pay
$99,700
90th Percentile
$167,230
Projected Growth (2022-32)
-2%
Top Industry
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Computer Systems Analysts

Most organizations have a computer system they currently use. To ensure the system is as efficient, safe, and innovative as possible, they hire computer systems analysts. These analysts study current technology systems and propose ways to make them more effective. Working as an analyst is a great job for those who enjoy problem-solving and diving deep into how systems work. Since these analysts are often responsible for creating plans to implement changes and communicating those plans with various stakeholders, project management and communication skills are also important.

Career Outlook: Computer Systems Analysts

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$103,800 $165,700 10% Finance and Insurance

Median Annual Pay
$103,800
90th Percentile
$165,700
Projected Growth (2022-32)
10%
Top Industry
Finance and Insurance

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Information Security Analysts

Cybersecurity is a top concern for many companies, so they hire information security analysts to keep company data and information safe. These individuals study current information security systems and recommend ways to improve safety or efficiency. They also implement recommended security measures and analyze how successful they are. Since job responsibilities vary, individuals who are good in this role are often detail-oriented but able to analyze the big picture of how an entire system works, too.

Career Outlook: Information Security Analysts

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$120,360 $182,370 32% Professional, Scientific, and
Technical Services

Median Annual Pay
$120,360
90th Percentile
$182,370
Projected Growth (2022-32)
32%
Top Industry
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Database Administrators

Most companies have comprehensive databases full of important and secure data. To help manage these systems, suggest improvements, and carry out routine data security measures, companies hire database administrators. To thrive in the role, computer science graduates should be detail-oriented, able to handle the many moving parts of a company database, and knowledgeable about cybersecurity. The ability to work for long periods with minimal social interaction and problem-solving skills is also useful in this role.

Career Outlook: Database Administrators

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$101,510 $157,710 8% Finance and Insurance

Median Annual Pay
$101,510
90th Percentile
$157,710
Projected Growth (2022-32)
8%
Top Industry
Finance and Insurance

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023