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Best online master's in computer science 2021: Top picks

The best online computer science master's programs prepare graduates for many rewarding and in-demand careers within the fast-growing computer and information technology industry.

The information technology field offers incredible opportunities for skilled professionals, and a computer science master's degree puts graduates in a position to capitalize. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of more than 660,000 new computer occupations between 2020 and 2030. An advanced computer science degree can lead to some of the most in-demand positions among them. 

Master's graduates are equipped to work in cybersecurity, big data, cloud computing, and software and application development -- some of the fastest-growing and most integral IT fields. Here, we rank the best computer science master's programs in the country. We also examine the computer science discipline and degree levels more closely. 

The best online master's in computer science degrees

Our rankings leverage the most relevant and up-to-date publicly available information. To find out more about how we determine which programs deserve the highest spots, check out ZDNet's ranking methodology

Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, College Scorecard, and each program's website.

1. North Carolina State University

Raleigh, North Carolina

About the program: NC State's 31-credit online computer science master's program features core training in engineering and computer theory and systems. The degree has no thesis or on-campus requirements.

Acceptance rate: 45%

Graduation rate: 79%

Avg. annual net price: $16,458

Years to completion: 2 (part-time and accelerated schedules may be available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Tw0

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: NC State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

2. Stanford University

Stanford, California

About the program: Stanford's 45-unit online computer science master's program features specializations in artificial intelligence, computer and network security, information management, and biocomputation.

Acceptance rate: 4%

Graduation rate: 96%

Avg. annual net price: $11,496

Years to completion: 3-5

Minimum GPA: Not publicly available

Enrollment periods per year: Four

Course delivery methods: Online, synchronous and asynchronous

Accreditation: Stanford is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

3. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Champaign, Illinois

About the program: U of I's online computer science master's program features 32 credit hours of core computer science training in human-computer interaction, software engineering, artificial intelligence, and high-performance computing.

Acceptance rate: 59%

Graduation rate: 86%

Avg. annual net price: $15,880

Years to completion: 2 (self-paced schedules available)

Minimum GPA: 3.2

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

4. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California

About the program: USC's 28-credit online computer science master's program offers concentrations in computer security, data science, and software engineering. 

Acceptance rate: 11%

Graduation rate: 92%

Avg. annual net price: $29,528

Years to completion: 1.5-3

Minimum GPA: Not publicly available

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online and synchronous

Accreditation: The University of Southern California is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

5. East Carolina University

Greenville, North Carolina

About the program: ECU's online computer science master's program features a minimum of 30 semester-hours, including core training in machine learning and the design and analysis of algorithms.

Acceptance rate: 79%

Graduation rate: 66%

Avg. annual net price: $15,844

Years to completion: 2 (part-time schedules may be available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Three

Course delivery methods: Online, synchronous and asynchronous

Accreditation: East Carolina University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

6. University of Idaho

Moscow, Idaho

About the program: U of I's online computer science master's program offers a 30-credit thesis and non-thesis option, along with emphases in cybersecurity, survivable systems, data science, and collaborative virtual environments.  

Acceptance rate: 78%

Graduation rate: 57%

Avg. annual net price: $14,132

Years to completion: 2

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Three

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: The University of Idaho is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU).

7. Kansas State University

Manhattan, Kansas

About the program: K-State's online computer science master's program features between 30-33 credits, covering core areas like high assurance software engineering, artificial intelligence, data science, and cybersecurity. 

Acceptance rate: 95%

Graduation rate: 61%

Avg. annual net price: $18,285

Years to completion: 2

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Three

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: Kansas State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

8. University of Massachusetts Amherst

Amherst, Massachusetts

About the program: UMass Amherst's 30-credit online computer science master's program focuses on software development and features courses in database design, bioinformatics, and mobile robotics.

Acceptance rate: 64%

Graduation rate: 77%

Avg. annual net price: $22,501

Years to completion: 2

Minimum GPA: 2.75

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous 

Accreditation: The University of Massachusetts Amherst is regionally accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE).

9. Boston University

Boston, Massachusetts

About the program: BU's online computer science master's program features 40 credits of training in computer application systems. The degree offers concentrations in IT project management, computer networks, health informatics, and security. 

Acceptance rate: 19%

Graduation rate: 86%

Avg. annual net price: $30,259

Years to completion: 1.5-2

Minimum GPA: 3.0 recommended

Enrollment periods per year: Rolling

Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous and synchronous

Accreditation: Boston University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE).

10. Colorado State University

Fort Collins, Colorado

About the program: CSU's 35-credit online computer science master's program provides training in parallel computing, software engineering, database systems, and networking and security.

Acceptance rate: 81%

Graduation rate: 69%

Avg. annual net price: $18,668

Years to completion: 2

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous 

Accreditation: Colorado State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

11. University of Illinois Springfield

Springfield, Illinois

About the program: UIS' 32-credit online computer science master's program focuses on software program design and implementation, along with research and analysis.

Acceptance rate: 77%

Graduation rate: 55%

Avg. annual net price: $12,477

Years to completion: 2

Minimum GPA: 2.5

Enrollment periods per year: Three

Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous and synchronous

Accreditation: The University of Illinois Springfield is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

12. Missouri University of Science and Technology

Rolla, Missouri

About the program: Missouri S&T's 31-credit online computer science master's program emphasizes training in cybersecurity and data science. 

Acceptance rate: 79%

Graduation rate: 68%

Avg. annual net price: $14,262

Years to completion: 2

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Three

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: Missouri University of Science and Technology is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

13. University of Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky

About the program: UofL's online computer science master's program features 30-credit hours of training in the areas of data mining, analytics, and artificial intelligence. 

Acceptance rate: 69%

Graduation rate: 53%

Avg. annual net price: $16,867

Years to completion: 2 (part-time options are available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Three

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: University of Louisville is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

14. Southern Methodist University

Dallas, Texas

About the program: SMU's 30-credit online computer science master's program features an artificial intelligence specialization, along with courses in cloud computing and data mining.

Acceptance rate: 47%

Graduation rate: 80%

Avg. annual net price: $36,222

Years to completion: 2

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online, synchronous and asynchronous

Accreditation: Southern Methodist University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

15. New Jersey Institute of Technology

Newark, New Jersey

About the program: NJIT's 30-credit online computer science master's program focuses on software and computer systems design and development. The program also offers specializations in bioinformatics, software engineering, and database and data mining. 

Acceptance rate: 73%

Graduation rate: 77%

Avg. annual net price: $19,706

Years to completion: 1.5-2 (part-time schedules may be available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online, synchronous and asynchronous

Accreditation: The New Jersey Institute of Technology is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

16. Stevens Institute of Technology

Hoboken, New Jersey

About the program: Stevens' 30-credit online computer science master's program focuses on programming and software design. The degree offers 10 specialization options, including secure systems, cloud computing databases, and gaming and simulation.

Acceptance rate: 40%

Graduation rate: 83%

Avg. annual net price: $37,588

Years to completion: 2 (part-time schedules are available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online, synchronous and asynchronous

Accreditation: Stevens Institute of Technology is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

17. Georgia Southwestern State University

Americus, Georgia

About the program: GSW's online computer science master's program includes 30 credits and prepares students to design and develop new computer technologies to serve various industries. 

Acceptance rate: 58%

Graduation rate: 44%

Avg. annual net price: $11,157

Years to completion: 2 (part-time schedules may be available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Three

Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Georgia Southwestern State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

18. DePaul University

Chicago, Illinois

About the program: DePaul's 52-credit online computer science master's program features a research and thesis option, along with emphasis areas in data science, artificial intelligence, and software and systems development.

Acceptance rate: 68%

Graduation rate: 68%

Avg. annual net price: $30,090

Years to completion: 2 (part-time schedules may be available)

Minimum GPA: 2.5

Enrollment periods per year: Four

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: DePaul University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

19. Drexel University

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

About the program: Drexel's online computer science master's program features 45 credits, including core courses in data structures and algorithms, developing user interfaces, and computer graphics. Electives come from the fields of applications, computer systems, and programming systems.

Acceptance rate: 75%

Graduation rate: 66%

Avg. annual net price: $34,914

Years to completion: 2 (part-time and accelerated schedules are available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Four

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: Drexel University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

20. Lewis University

Romeoville, Illinois

About the program: Lewis' 32-credit online computer science master's program prepares students to develop practical IT applications and innovations. The degree features concentrations in software engineering, cybersecurity, digital forensics, and enterprise and cloud computing. 

Acceptance rate: 64%

Graduation rate: 67%

Avg. annual net price: $18,664

Years to completion: 1-2 (accelerated and part-time schedules are available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online

Accreditation: Lewis University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

21. Hofstra University

Hempstead, New York

About the program: Hofstra University's online computer science master's program features 30 semester hours and trains students in programming, algorithms, and operating systems. The program also offers concentrations in networking and security and web engineering. 

Acceptance rate: 68%

Graduation rate: 63%

Avg. annual net price: $32,838

Years to completion: 2 (part-time options are available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Rolling

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: Hofstra University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

22. Concordia University Wisconsin

Mequon, Wisconsin

About the program: CUW's 30-credit online computer science master's program teaches students how to create and manage hardware and software systems. The degree features concentrations in software engineering and information systems. 

Acceptance rate: 64%

Graduation rate: 54%

Avg. annual net price: $23,855

Years to completion: 1.5-2 (part-time and accelerated schedules are available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Rolling

Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous and synchronous 

Accreditation: Concordia University Wisconsin is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

23. University of Bridgeport

Bridgeport, Connecticut

About the program: UB's online computer science master's program features 34 credits and trains students in operating systems, algorithm analysis, and data and computer communication.

Acceptance rate: 55% 

Graduation rate: 46%

Avg. annual net price: $22,600

Years to completion: 2 (part-time and accelerated schedules are available)

Minimum GPA: 2.9

Enrollment periods per year: Two

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: The University of Bridgeport is regionally accredited by the New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE).

24. National University

San Diego, California

About the program: NU's online computer science master's program features 58.5 quarter units of study in the areas of software architecture, modern operating systems, database design, and computing security.

Acceptance rate: 55%

Graduation rate: 46%

Avg. annual net price: $22,600

Years to completion: 1-2

Minimum GPA: 2.0

Enrollment periods per year: Rolling

Course delivery methods: Online and asynchronous

Accreditation: National University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC).

25. City University of Seattle

Seattle, Washington

About the program: CityU's online computer science master's program features 39-59 credits and offers courses in computer architecture, software testing, technology project management. 

Acceptance rate: Not publicly available

Graduation rate: 48%

Avg. annual net price: Not publicly available

Years to completion: 2 (part-time and accelerated schedules are available)

Minimum GPA: 3.0

Enrollment periods per year: Four

Course delivery methods: Online, asynchronous and synchronous

Accreditation: City University of Seattle is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU).

Insights from a computer science graduate

Krimy Jain, a woman with dark eyes and dark hair pulled into a ponytail, smiles.

Krimy Jain is the co-founder and CTO of the rental housing marketplace Cirtru. She has a master's degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

Previously, she worked at an enterprise company and was also an early engineer at a startup called SumoLogic, now listed on NASDAQ. She was a short-term contractor at Eightfold.ai, which is now a unicorn. She has also interned at Microsoft and has met Bill Gates.

ZDNet: What type of person is successful and thrives in a computer science career? What type of person may not be the best fit?

Krimy Jain: In a computer science career, a person with strong debugging skills will thrive. In addition, you need to be good at logical reasoning and breaking down a complex problem into smaller easy problems. You need to be dynamic and keep updating your skillset. You also need to be a prompt prototyper to validate solutions to problems. 

But if you get complacent and do not keep up with the latest tools and technologies, you are bound to get dated and be unsuccessful. If you are not the one who can solve problems, computer science is not for you.

ZDNet: What was the most challenging, rigorous course you took in your computer science master's program? What advice would you give to students who are about to start this course?

KJ: High-performance computing architecture was the most rigorous course that I took up in my MS CS program. My advice would be to work hard every day, not just nearer to the deadline. You will have peace of mind and also will be able to optimize your projects and submissions if you have ample time on hand. 

Do not take up more than one or two rigorous courses per semester. Balance them out throughout the length of your computer science program.

ZDNet: How did you make the most of your computer science degree program so that it prepared you for post-grad jobs? 

KJ: I tried to take courses that interested me the most. If I was interested in the courses I pursued, I would naturally fare well in the grades.

 I would advise young pursuers to focus on building a strong foundation on which they can extend their computer science skills. If you have a solid foundation, you will be able to tackle any problem that comes your way. 

Fetching great post-grad jobs gets easier if you can crack their interviews, which involves you demonstrating your problem-solving skills without getting nervous while doing so. This only happens when you are a natural problem-solver.

What to expect in an online computer science master's degree program

An online computer science master's program provides technical and theoretical training in several areas, including programming, computer systems, software development, networking and security. Learn more by checking out our guide on what to expect in a computer science degree program.

Computer science master's degree courses

While every computer science master's degree features a unique curriculum, some subjects tend to appear in most programs. Prospective students can find a list and details of some of the most common topics in our overview of computer science courses.

Computer science degree levels

Computer science offers several degree levels, with each level featuring different postgraduate opportunities and approaches to the material. 

For example, associate degrees and bachelor's degrees usually lead to entry-level computer science jobs, master's degrees can lead to leadership positions, and doctorates lead to research and academic careers. 

The following section provides details on the different degree levels and highlights some of the possible career pathways opened by them.

Associate in computer science

Length: Two years

Cost: $11,389 per year

Post-grad careers: Computer support specialist, web developers, and computer programmers

A computer science associate degree provides students with the field's fundamentals. Students learn the basics of computer systems, programming, and web development through traditional lessons. They also pick up practical skills for solving computing problems through hands-on assignments.

While the training prepares learners for some entry-level careers, it also helps degree-seekers develop a strong foundation for further computer-related training. Graduates gain an informed perspective on the industry and can choose a more specialized field of interest. 

Bachelor's in computer science

Length: Four years

Cost: $28,123 per year

Post-grad careers: Computer network architects, computer systems analyst, and information security analyst

The most common of the computer science degrees, a bachelor's degree provides a comprehensive exploration of the field, covering fundamentals and advanced materials. Through a combination of instruction, project-based learning, and practicums and internships, students gather skills in software and application development and security.

According to the BLS, a bachelor's degree qualifies graduates for most entry-level computer occupations, including computer analysts, architects, and administrators. Due to the high demand for professionals in this field, many computer science scholarships are available.

Master's in computer science

Length: 1-2 years

Cost: $19,792 per year

Post-grad careers: Computer and information research scientist, computer and information systems manager, and computer hardware engineer

A computer science master's builds on the fundamentals from earlier programs, teaching more complex programming languages and techniques, scientific computing, and software engineering. Students may also have the ability to specialize in different subdisciplines, such as artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, and data mining and management.

The training methods at this level involve much more research- and practice-based learning. Online computer science master's programs prepare graduates for careers in research and management, along with large-scale engineering and architecture roles.

Doctorate in computer science

Length: 3-5 years

Cost: $92,200-$127,100

Post-grad careers: Postsecondary teacher, computer scientist, and computer systems engineer

A computer science Ph.D. is the terminal degree for the field and focuses on applied research in a particular subdiscipline. Students typically choose a specialization -- such as data science, digital media, or game design -- and complete research and publications on the subject.

In addition to highly advanced and specialized knowledge, Ph.D. students develop expert research, communication, and leadership skills. They can go on to teach students, lead complex projects, or research and develop computing innovations.

In conclusion

The computer science field provides beneficial educational and professional flexibility for all student types. Prospective students enjoy varying teaching methods, specializations, and career opportunities from each degree level. 

Among those, a computer science master's degree delivers some of the most sought-after training and rewarding postgraduate pathways.