How do I get into a master’s in computer science program?

Admissions offices are looking for applicants that have proven academic skills, related work experience and a specific interest or goals in the field of study. Applying for a graduate program involves application process for the typical master’s-level program involves submitting documents that demonstrate your academic abilities, related work experience, and commitment to the field you plan to study. Computer science programs typically request the following information:

Tests or Certifications

Some computer science programs require applicants to submit GRE scores.

Experience

Programs that admit students without prior experience typically require several foundational courses in math and programming. Placement tests may be used to determine the need for students to complete introductory level coursework.

Transcripts

Bachelor’s transcripts from an accredited institution are required. Some programs are designed for students who have undergraduate degrees in computer science, while others are designed for non-computer science majors.

Additional Materials

Check with each program for an up-to-date list of application materials. Computer science programs may also request submission of a current resume, a statement of purpose or interest, multiple letters of recommendation and other supplemental materials.

What can I do to improve my chances of getting accepted into a Masters of Computer Science program?

  • Earn a high undergraduate GPA. The more competitive computer science programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA to apply, and the average for admitted students can be considerably higher.
  • Learn one or more computer programming languages. Academic coursework, open educational resources (e.g., Code.org), online tutorials and MOOCs are all possible sources of information and training.
  • Complete undergraduate coursework in discrete mathematics, object-oriented programming, algorithms, operating systems and other fundamental CS topics.
  • Gain first-hand experience and participate in research. Explore part-time and volunteer activities that involve knowledge and skills related to programming, data analytics, and database management.

Application Process Timeline

  • Review program requirements.
  • Take standardized tests, as required.
  • Order undergraduate transcripts.
  • Prepare required documentation (i.e., write essay, request recommendation letters).
  • Submit a completed application by the program’s posted deadline.

Note: Program to program you will find there is a lot of variation in the application process. Some only admit students at certain times of year, which may be based on semesters or accelerated terms. Others have a rolling admissions policy that allows students to apply any time and quickly enroll. Completion timelines can also vary across programs within one institution or across a network of schools.


What are the degree options available at the master’s level?

The two primary master’s-level degrees are the Masters of Computer Science (M.C.S.) and the Master of Science in Computer Science (M.S.) The M.C.S. is typically a professional degree that prepares students for technical work in the field, and does not have a thesis component. The M.S. is usually more focused on research and designed for students interested in academic work and pursuit of doctoral degree in the field. These distinctions are not always clear cut, however. Some programs provide a combination of career preparation and academic research. You may also find M.S. programs with internship requirements and M.C.S. programs with a research emphasis. It is important to review the program outcomes, learning goals and curriculum of any program you are interested in attending.

Program Length

Master’s programs in computer science range from 32 to 52 total academic credits. These degrees can take two or more years to complete, depending on the need for students to complete foundational coursework and the curriculum requirements for internships and other experience.

Program Goals

Prepare students to enter the workforce in technical positions or to pursue academic teaching and research positions. These programs offer the opportunity to gain skills in advanced topics to be competitive in this growing and dynamic field.

Majors/Concentrations

Not all programs offer students the opportunity to specialize within the field of computer science. Those that do usually provide several options, such as software engineering, data analytics, security and computer networks. Students who are interested in more concentrated curricula should also explore Master of Science programs in specific computer science fields, such as Information Science, Information Security, Management Information Systems, Software Engineering and Data Science.


What do the major concepts and coursework look like?

Master’s students graduate with advanced knowledge in computer theory and skills in a variety of areas, such as software architecture, network security, algorithms, data management, quantitative research, application testing and implementation and more. Prerequisites in math and programming are often required, and some programs allow student to concentrate in a specific area of the computer science field.

Curriculum

Core courses provide a foundation of knowledge in topics related to programming, computer systems, computer engineering and data analytics. Common course subjects include:

  • Information Structures with Java
  • Computer Networks and the Internet
  • Database Management Systems
  • Object Oriented Architecture: Patterns, Technologies, Implementations
  • Mathematical Programming
  • Analysis of Algorithms

Concentration courses prepare students for advanced practice in their specialization area and include classes like:

  • Lattice Algorithms and Applications
  • Web Development
  • Advanced Game Graphics
  • Bioinformatics for Computer Scientists
  • Data Mining and Business Intelligence
  • Project Management of Information Systems

Electives are part of some degree plans and usually require advisor approval. These credits can include graduate-level courses in a wide range of topics, such as health informatics, high performance computing, artificial intelligence and robotics.

Internship, Research Project

Most computer science master’s programs include a practical experience requirement, such as an internship, or an independent research project, often called a thesis. Graduate programs in this field may require either, or both, as well as comprehensive exams, project-based coursework, or portfolio development.


What about program costs?

Getting In

The graduate admissions process typically includes costs related to the following:

  • Application: Printed and online forms require payment of a non-refundable fee ranging from approximately $60 to $90.
  • Standardized tests: The GRE test administration fee is $195; additional fees apply for special handling and preparation courses.

Tuition and Fees

Tuition rates can vary based on many variables such as the type of institution (i.e., private, public, for-profit), type of program (i.e., online, on-campus, blended), full- or part-time enrollment in courses and student residency (in-state, out-of-state). Costs cover a wide range across schools often including tuition plus a range of related fees and expenses.

When estimating the cost of attending a computer science program, review the options offered by multiple schools and look for the following details to guide your decisions:

  • Total costs: The amount paid to complete all courses and program requirements.
  • Annual tuition: Usually calculated based on full-time enrollment for one academic year.
  • Cost per credit: Programs require different numbers of courses and credits. The program with the fewest number of credits required isn’t necessarily the least expensive.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual full-time graduate tuition and fees was $14,993 in 2011. The total costs associated with current computer science programs range from approximately $22,000 to $60,000.

Admissions and financial aid counselors can help research funding options to offset the total cost of attendance. Review our guide on scholarships, grants and financial aid for more information.


How does accreditation work?

What accrediting agencies should I be aware of for Master of Computer Science programs?

ABET
Formerly known as the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, is the primary accrediting agency for academic programs in applied science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology. This organization provides an online directory of more than 3,000 accredited associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. This organization is a made up of 34 member societies, including the Computer Science Accrediting Board, which provide advocacy for computer science, engineering and other technology professionals across the globe.


How do I go about evaluating and selecting a program?

  • Compare specialization/concentration options. Are you more interested in networking than web development? Would you rather focus on research than technical training? Work with admissions representatives to find out more about each program’s area of emphasis. Not all programs will be strong in all areas of computer science.
  • Review department faculty bios. It is important to know that there are qualified faculty members on staff who have interests similar to yours. No matter your career goals, working closely with your instructors on a range of computer science projects will not only help you develop skills, but also lead to potential mentorships and continued professional networking.
  • Clarify program goals and expectations. In programs that are designed for experienced computer science students, there may be more prerequisites for those entering with other majors. These can lengthen the time to complete the degree and may or may not be available through the school offering the graduate program you are interested in attending. Find out more about the curriculum at each school you are considering and choose one that is a match for both your current level of expertise and career goals.

What are the keys to success once I’ve begun my program?

  • Develop a portfolio. Consider creating a portfolio to showcase examples of your best work. This can include course assignments, internships, research papers as well as previous work experience, which demonstrate your skills. Provide online access to these materials so that you can share them with faculty members or potential employers.
  • Join a professional association. There are many benefits of joining a professional computer science organization before you graduate. From large conferences to small local networking events, you’ll find access to education and training materials, trade publications, job listings and a community of people already working in the field. the Association for Computing Machinery is just one of these organizations that offers affordable student rates.
  • Complete at least one internship.Even if a formal internship isn’t required for graduation, these opportunities to learn about computer science work first hand lead to more advanced skill development, professional networking and potential employment after graduation. Work with your academic department as well as the school’s career center to find out how and when to apply.
  • Continue to learn in and out of class. Computer science is a diverse and ever changing field. Look for ways to practice your skills and explore potential career paths. Online tutorials and open online courses allow you to extend your learning outside the classroom. Staying current in this field will require continued learning after graduation.