Is a master's in computer science worth it? A consideration checklist

A computer science master's degree could help you meet your career and salary goals. Read on to learn if it's right for you and how to choose a program.

While a computer science master's degree opens personal and professional opportunities, it may not be a good fit for everyone. 

A master's degree in computer science incorporates theoretical content and practical activities and builds on existing knowledge and skills. Most computer science master's degree students have a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field. 

With a master's degree, computer science professionals can advance to managerial and leadership roles. A master's in computer science also allows for increased specialization within the larger discipline.

Here are some things to consider while you determine if a master's in computer science is right for you and find the best one to meet your needs. 

Is a master's in computer science right for you?

When considering a computer science master's degree, think about your career goals, comparable programs, and what type of preparation you may need.

Does it fit your career goals?

Only one person can determine if a computer science master's degree is right for your career: You. When imagining your near and distant future, it's important to think about how a degree will help you get there. For some positions, a master's degree may be essential. Others may only require additional experience or industry certifications. 

Enrolling in a degree requires time and money. If your career goals don't require a master's in computer science, there's no need to invest.

Would another option be a better fit?

The discipline of computer science has numerous branches, each requiring different knowledge and schooling. A master's degree in information technology, cybersecurity, or a related area might better fit your goals. 

Alternatives to a computer science master's include professional information technology certifications. Organizations offer certifications at different levels and in topics such as security, cloud essentials, and project development. One or several of these might better equip you for your career. 

Do you meet master's program prerequisites?

As an advanced degree, a master's in computer science requires prerequisite coursework. Students need a background in mathematics, programming, and technology fundamentals. While requirements vary by program, learners may need to have prior work experience as well.

Choosing a computer science master's program

Once you decide a computer science master's degree is right for you, it's time to ask yourself about which program best fits your needs. Programs vary in coursework, concentrations, and research emphasis, with online and in-person options providing formats that match different kinds of learners. 

Curriculum and concentrations

Core coursework in a computer science master's degree focuses on theoretical foundations and practical applications. Students study topics including computer architecture, operating systems, logic design, and device utilization. 

Master's degrees in computer science typically incorporate research classes, an internship, and a final project or paper.

To supplement the core curriculum, computer science programs include elective classes and specializations. Concentrations areas include:

  • Cybersecurity specializations emphasize processes and practices of protecting electronic data.

  • Artificial intelligence concentrations explore using technology to realize and replicate human intelligence.

Accreditation

Colleges and institutions should hold regional or national accreditation. Additionally, individual programs and departments may hold accreditation through a professional body. 

The main accrediting organization for computer science degrees is the Computer Accreditation Commission of ABET. Accreditation attests to the quality and reputability of a degree.

Cost

Cost varies by institution and program, typically ranging between $500 and $2,000 per credit. Students should consider all potential expenses as they look for a computer science master's degree. Factors include tuition, fees, textbooks, and transportation costs. 

To reduce costs, students can request federal financial aid with a FAFSA application. Computer science scholarships and grants support individuals enrolled in computer science degrees. many employers may contribute. Additional financial aid options include fellowships and loans. 

Online vs. in-person

An online degree is often more flexible than an in-person program. Many online computer science degrees provide accelerated options, giving learners a chance to earn a master's degree in fewer than the traditional two years. 

However, distance learners can be a disadvantage when it comes to personal attention and building relationships among peers and instructors. Resources may be limited for online learners, as well.

In-person programs allow for face-to-face interaction but present other challenges. Meeting at a specific time can present difficulties for working professionals and students with busy schedules. 

Time to complete

A traditional master's degree in computer science lasts two years. Some accelerated programs take as few as 18 months.

How much can I make with a master's in computer science?

Earning potential for individuals with a masters' in computer science varies by position. Earning a master's degree can qualify a graduate for high-earning upper-level or management positions. For example: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information research scientists earned median salaries above $125,000 in 2020.

Most computer science jobs offer annual salaries well above the national median wage of $41,950, according to the BLS.

This article was reviewed by Brian Nichols

Brian Nichols, a man with dark hair and facial hair, wears a suit and smiles at the camera.

Born and raised in upstate New York, Brian Nichols began his IT education through a vocational high school where he focused on computer science, IT fundamentals, and networking. Brian earned his associate of science in computer information science at his local community college. He then received his bachelor of science in applied networking and system administration from a private college. 

Brian now lives in Kansas City, where he works full-time as a DevOps engineer. Brian is also a part-time instructor in cybersecurity. He's passionate about cybersecurity and helping students succeed. 

Brian Nichols is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.