A Guide to the Online Master's Degree in Computer Science

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Earning your online MS in computer science can be a flexible way to advance your education while working or attending to your other responsibilities.

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Earning your master’s degree in computer science can be an excellent way to advance your career, pursue more senior-level roles, and increase your earning potential. It can also be an opportunity to gain formalized education when you’re interested in changing careers and already have some technical skills, such as programming. 

Enrolling in an online master’s degree in computer science tends to be a more flexible option than attending an in-person graduate program. You won’t have to relocate, and you may even be able to keep working full-time if your schedule allows. What’s more, many renowned universities now offer computer science degrees online, so you won’t sacrifice the quality of your education by opting to learn online. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what it takes to earn your online master’s degree in computer science, the benefits of these programs, and what you can do with the degree. 

Online master’s degrees in computer science

In-person master’s degrees in computer science take around two years to complete when you’re able to attend full-time. With a similar study commitment, online master’s degrees often take less time to earn, or you can continue working full-time while going to school at your own pace. For example, the Master of Computer Science from the University of Illinois on Coursera takes between one and three years to complete, depending on how much time you can dedicate to the program. 

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specialization

Accelerated Computer Science Fundamentals

Data Structures and Algorithms in C++. Learn fundamentals of computer science while implementing efficient data structures in C++.

4.7

(2,254 ratings)

36,190 already enrolled

INTERMEDIATE level

Average time: 3 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Run-time Analysis, Algorithms, Hash Table, Trees (Data Structures), Object-Oriented Programming (OOP)

Online tuition vs. in-person tuition 

Online master’s programs in computer science may be more affordable than attending an in-person program. You won’t have to budget for relocation, and tuition tends to be less expensive because the overhead for these programs is lower. 

For instance, the total cost of the Master of Computer Science from Arizona State University is $15,000, while the University of Illinois program is $21,440. Compare those prices to the average cost of a master’s degree, which according to the Education Data Initiative, is $66,340 [1]. What’s more, in-person students may have to give up work opportunities when they relocate or attend full-time. 

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course

Algorithms, Part I

This course covers the essential information that every serious programmer needs to know about algorithms and data structures, with emphasis on applications ...

4.9

(10,171 ratings)

1,062,802 already enrolled

INTERMEDIATE level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Data Structure, Algorithms, Java Programming

Coursework

Online programs emphasize the same coursework you’d take as an in-person student. Not only will you take several core courses in fundamental topics, like algorithms and networks, but you will then be able to complete a series of elective courses based on the area of specialization you’re interested in studying. 

Online computer science master's coursework may include subjects such as: 

  • Software engineering

  • Computer systems

  • Data structures

  • Algorithms and computation

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Machine learning

  • Data visualization

  • Natural language processing

  • Numerical analysis

  • Cloud computing

  • Cryptography

Depending on your program, you may also need to complete a capstone course—or a final programming project designed to showcase what you’ve learned. Often, capstones are determined by area, so what you specialize in will determine the focus of your project. 

Sit in on a course before committing to applying for your master’s degree on Coursera. You can enroll in Cloud Computing Concepts, Part 1 or Data Visualization from the University of Illinois and see if an online program is right for you. What’s more, if you decide to apply and successfully pass either course, those credits will count toward your degree requirements. 

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course

Cloud Computing Concepts, Part 1

Cloud computing systems today, whether open-source or used inside companies, are built using a common set of core techniques, algorithms, and design ...

4.4

(1,033 ratings)

128,730 already enrolled

BEGINNER level

Average time: 1 month(s)

Learn at your own pace

Skills you'll build:

Distributed Algorithm, Distributed Computing, C++, Cloud Computing

Benefits of an online master’s in computer science 

Some of the benefits of an online master’s in computer science include the scheduling flexibility, accelerated pace, and lower tuition we outlined above. Additional benefits include: 

  • School choice: Increasingly, well-known and well-regarded colleges and universities offer online master’s degrees in computer science, meaning you have more choices when it comes to these program types without the cost of relocating or upending your life to pursue higher education. 

  • No GRE: This benefit varies by school, but online programs often do not require applicants to take the GRE, typically used as a graduate college entrance exam. 

  • Continue working: Whether you have a part-time or full-time job, you can often continue working around your studies, which can help you pay for the cost of graduate school while gaining valuable professional experience. 

  • Networking: Many online computer science master’s programs encourage and foster opportunities to network with your faculty members and peers. Even though you may be studying from around the world, you should still be able to engage with your classmates and build your network in meaningful ways. 

Learn more: Is a Master’s Degree Worth It?

What can you do with an online master’s in computer science?

Master’s degree holders often see positive financial returns on the degree. They earn a median of over $200 per week more than bachelor’s degree students, according to the BLS [2]. With your degree, you may qualify for a host of more advanced roles, including managerial roles. 

We’ve compiled the base salaries for the roles below, which often may feature additional compensation, such as bonuses or stock options. While some of the roles do not require a master’s degree, you may find that you can earn a higher salary or achieve a more senior-level title with your master’s degree. 

Job titleAnnual base salary*
Computer systems analyst$81,213
Machine learning engineer$107,999
Network architect$110,017
Senior database architect$119,692
Information security manager$119,850
Computer research scientist$131,490 (median salary)

*Salary data from Glassdoor and BLS (November 2022)

Learn more about the types of salaries you can command as a computer science professional and other jobs your computer science degree tends to open up. 

PhD in computer science

Earning your online master’s in computer science also makes it possible to go on and earn your PhD in the subject. PhDs, or doctorates as they’re often called, are terminal degrees, meaning they’re the highest education you can achieve in a subject. 

Interested in switching careers to computer science but don’t have a background in the subject? The University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Computer and Information Technology offers an Ivy League education specifically designed for students with no prior computer science training. Get a head start by learning a programming language, like Python, on Coursera.

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Finding the best online master’s computer science degree for you 

As with any choice about advanced education, it’s important to find a degree program that aligns with your larger educational and career goals. As you explore online master’s degrees in computer science, pay attention to the following parameters:

Specializations  

At the master’s level, you have the option of specializing in an area of computer science. Not every school offers every specialization, so as you consider programs, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the available options, and make sure they align with your interests and goals. 

Common specializations include: 

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Data science

  • Programming languages

  • Computer engineering

  • Network systems

  • Information security 

  • Game design

Flexibility 

Not all online programs are the same. Some may offer virtual classes that meet at a set time each week, while others offer asynchronous classes you can complete on your own time. Review each potential program to understand how you’ll finish your coursework in a way that best suits your needs. 

Accreditation 

An accredited school has typically been evaluated for offering quality education. Online degree programs in the US are often accredited through a regional or national agency, depending on the institution. Make sure you verify your school’s accreditation to make sure you’re earning your degree from a reputable school.

Explore further 

Earn your online master’s degree in computer science from accredited universities such as Arizona State University or the University of Illinois on Coursera, or explore The University of Pennsylvania's Master of Computer and Information Technology. You can also advance your knowledge through a Professional Certificate from IBM in DevOps and Software Engineering or Full Stack Development or in Back-End Development from Meta. 

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Article sources

1

Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of a Master’s Degree, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-a-masters-degree.” Accessed November 21, 2022. 

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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