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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Computer Science

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Editor's Picks: Online Schools for Computer Science


Stanford University won our award for best value for colleges that offer an online master's degree program in computer science. The university's annual return on investment (ROI), the amount a student pays for tuition verses what he or she receives in lifetime earnings, is 10.4%, according to Stanford University's annual ROI increases to 14% if financial aid is considered.

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Stanford University received our award for flexibility. College Prowler, a website that features rankings and student reviews of university, placed Stanford University ninth among schools with the most flexible curriculums. Stanford's computer science master's program requires the completion of 45 credit hours of study, 21 of which must come from a specific area of specialization such as biocomputation or software theory. Students may also enroll in elective courses in other disciplines, such as electrical engineering, statistics, or math.

Career Support

Stanford University also claimed our award for career support because of the services its career development center provides to its students and graduates. In addition to career counseling, the university's career development center offers career fair strategies, a jobs and internships database, a letter of recommendation service, and an on-campus interview program. Stanford University also offers an alumni mentoring program that enables students to receive career and academic advice from graduates.

Financial Support

Georgia Southern University received our award for financial support. According to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), 90% of full-time beginning undergraduate students received financial aid. Georgia Southern University's department of financial aid includes 23 full-time staff dedicated to providing accessible financial aid services that enable students to pursue a college degree. Students have access to federal, state, and local government grants and scholarship, institutional grants and scholarships, and student loan programs.

Technology Support

Johns Hopkins University claimed our award for technology support. U.S. News & World Report placed the university first in the student service and technology category of the top online graduate computer information technology programs. The Baltimore-based university offers its online students 24/7 live technical support, a smartphone application with which students can access course material, and live streaming video.

Student Engagement

The best online master's degree programs enable students to quickly and easily communicate with their peers and their professors. This is why Colorado State University received our award for student engagement and accreditation. U.S. News & World Report ranked Colorado State University second in student engagement and accreditation of the top online graduate computer information technology programs. The ease of communication between students and professors is illustrated by the amount of time it takes instructors to respond to their learner's questions: 12 hours. They also have 40 weekly office hours and they monitor student logins to the course management system, according to U.S. News.

Library/Research Support

The University of Illinois received our award for library and research support. Online students can access the online libraries of the university's three campuses in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield. These libraries feature databases, in which students can search for journals and find books, and subject-specific libraries. The library's websites also have guides to help online students learn how to fully utilize the research tools they have at their disposal, including how to obtain articles and books from a distance and how to find course reserves. If a student has a question, they can contact a librarian by phone, text, and instant message.

Learning Support
The University of Illinois also claimed our award for learning support. The school's student services include online library access and the ability to purchase textbooks from its three campus locations, as well as career, disability, and veteran services. Students can also read guides that provide information about how to be successful in an online learning environment.

Faculty Credentials

Johns Hopkins University also won our faculty credentials award. According to U.S. News & World Report, 74% of the university's professors have at least two years of online teaching experience and faculty are required to complete a school-funded online instruction training program. The university's commitment to providing high-quality instructors for its online students helped place it 12th in the U.S. News' faculty credentials and training ranking of the top online graduate computer information technology programs.

Faculty Accessibility and Involvement

Stanford University claimed our award for faculty accessibility and involvement. The university received a grade of "A+" for academics from College Prowler, which demonstrates that professors are accessible, knowledgeable, and interested in their students' performance. It also shows that professors communicate well, courses are engaging, and the class sizes are favorable for students. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 12 to one, according to the NCES, students are able to get more individualized attention from their professors.

Alumni Engagement

Colorado State University claimed top honors for alumni engagement. Members of Colorado State's alumni association have access to a wide range of benefits, including discounts on tuition, auto, home, and health insurance, and at select restaurants and retailers. Alumni association members can also list their business in the university's alumni business connection service, which enables students and graduates to connect with other Colorado State University alumni.

New Student Orientation

The University of Illinois received our award for best online master's degree in computer science for new student orientation. Students can access video tutorials that cover a variety of topics relating to the use of Blackboard, the university's online course management system. These tutorials include how to log in to a course, hide old courses, navigate the system, check grades, submit assignments, use the discussion board, and how to use the virtual classroom. The university's website also features links to research resources such as peer-reviewed journals for online education and educational technologies.

Explore a Master's Degree in Computer Science

Combining science and mathematics, computer science is the study of computing machines and processes and how they are designed. Students who want to pursue careers designing new technology and solving problems in computing can benefit from the advanced education that a master's degree in computer science provides. Along with providing a firm foundation in the discipline of computer science, most graduate programs allow students to go a step further and specialize in a particular area of computer science. Common specializations include artificial intelligence, systems, software theory, information management and analytics, computer and network security, and mobile and Internet computing.

To earn a master's degree in computer science, students are usually required to complete around 36 to 45 credit hours. While these types of programs typically take from two to three years to finish, degree completion times can vary depending on a number of factors, including a school's individual program, the student's number of prior credits, or enrollment status.

Class Curriculum

Curriculum in a graduate computer science program generally focuses on areas like mathematical and theoretical foundations in computing, computer systems, artificial intelligence, and applications. Students take courses in the areas of programming, systems design, databases, networking, mathematical methods, and algorithm analysis. Courses students are likely to encounter in a master's program include:

  • Mathematical Foundations of Computing. Students learn about computer science's use of mathematical foundations, including prepositional predicate logic, functions, induction, sets, and relations. Other course topics include formal language theory, mathematical rigor, and proof techniques and applications.
  • Computer Systems Principles. In this course, students are introduced to the principles and practices of computer systems, as they learn about the engineering of computer software and hardware systems. Lectures and course work focus on virtual memory security and encryption, networks, and performance optimization.
  • Programming Methodology. Students will gain an understanding of development as they are introduced to the engineering of computer applications. Along with learning Java programming language, students explore topics like object-oriented design, decomposition, encapsulation, abstraction, and testing.

Along with lectures, exams, and written assignments, students in computer science programs should expect to get plenty of hands-on training through individual and group projects. These types of projects may require students to develop software applications, complete programming assignments, or create databases. After completing required courses, many graduate programs will require computer science students to participate in a research colloquium or an independent study, or complete a research project, or write a master thesis.

Building a Career

Students in computer science master's programs will graduate with a working knowledge of major computer science concepts, techniques, and algorithms, along with programming, software development, and research skills. Typically, students go on to pursue careers in software development, computer science research, computer engineering, and more. Possible job titles include computer engineer, software developer, computer scientists, and computer programmers.

Those who enter computer science-related careers tend to fare well and employment projections seem positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of computer and information research scientists is projected to increase by 19% by 2020. These types of scientists earned a median annual salary of $100,660. The employment of computer programmers is expected to increase by 12%, while that of computer hardware engineers is projected to increase by 14%, and that of software developers by 30%. As far as income is concerned, computer programmers earned a median annual salary of $71,380, computer hardware engineers $98,810, and software developers brought home $90,530.

But even though career outlook in computer science looks good, these types of projections are not guarantees of employment or salary. It's important to keep in mind that job availability and earning potential can vary depending on factors, like professional experience, education level, location, and the economy.