Promising Prospects and Flexible Professions in Computer Science
In 2018 around 2 million STEM positions went unfilled according to the 2020 Computer Science Education Week, and yet the projected job growth within STEM fields continues unabated. Between 2017 and 2027, STEM jobs will grow by 13% as compared to a growth rate of 9% in non-STEM positions. So what are we to take from these statistics?
Simply put, there has never been a better time to pursue a STEM career, a fact that is perhaps most true for pursuits leading to a career in computer science which expands with around 100,000 new jobs annually. This trend is recognized by parents who wish their children to study computer science in school–with 9 of 10 parents in agreement despite only one in four schools offering it in pre-undergraduate computer science programs. This means that prospective professionals distinguish themselves in an undergraduate computer science education.
While an undergraduate education represents the baseline of preparation for a promising future in computer science, a graduate education offers the key to unlocking the upper tiers of success. With a Master of Computer Science you can expect doors to open to a number of excellent careers such as data analytics, web programming, or software development.
There’s No Wrong Time to Start
But perhaps of even more benefit than the diversity of career paths available is the flexibility of job types on offer within these career paths. The dynamic nature of computer science means that prospective students can likely find a professional context for computer science that matches their individual personality and professional aspirations. This is just one of many components that contributes to the widespread popularity of computer science.
Careers in computer science can take you anywhere from a traditional office environment working as a coder, to a field position where the focus is on installing software on-site, or even to a political office where computer scientists often work as campaign IT consultants. Other options lean more heavily into the theoretical nature of computer science which leads to roles in education and research. In other words, it is important to remember that while computer science may sound like a cut-and-dry profession, it is anything but and is perhaps one of the most malleable professions in the IT job market today, which also speaks to the importance of graduate education so that students may refine their personal approach in accordance with career goals.
For this reason, many professionals pursue a computer science education later in life to supplement an existing career, or replace it all together. With this in mind, we have tailored this ranking to focus on online master of computer science programs to cater to prospective students who value quality education delivered with efficiency and convenience, given that a career change is anything but.
Before we dive-in to our ranking of the best master programs in computer science, let’s take a look under the hood at how we arrived at this ranking. Each program ranked according to a combination of performance metrics of the university as a whole as well as performance metrics specific to the computer science program. The computer science programs scored percentile-based points according to the following metrics:
- Graduation Rate
- Number of Available Concentrations
- New York Times Higher Education Ranking
- Average Salary of Graduates (University wide / not program specific)
The summary section for each school further evaluates the specific program offerings available as well as the unique merits of each, such as internship opportunities, program flexibility, or any other distinguishing factors. These summaries catalogue the program elements that may appeal most to the individual as compared to the overall evaluation quality represented by the program’s rank number.
In other words, each of the programs in this ranking equates to one of the best computer science programs in the world. What further delineates the best program of these will depend on the interests and goals of the individual. So the #20 school may be the best option for some students even more so than the #1 school, and so on.
Stanford University is one of those schools whose name and reputation precedes itself. This remains true for the Stanford School of Engineering which offers a Master of Science in Computer Science. Defined by a global awareness, the Stanford School of Engineering operates with a core philosophy of educating students according to a global standard of excellence.
Stanford’s Master of Computer Science program offers noteable flexibility with both full-time and part-time paths as well as an online coursework. Students interested in an eventual PhD in computer science will find this program is designed with such preparation in mind, and offers continuity of education if students are interested in earning both consecutively at Stanford.
The path of coursework will depend largely on the individual student’s unique area of focus, professional aspiration, and previous professional experience, which means that students play a determinative role in what they study and how they study it–an impressive leaning towards flexibility for Stanford’s long and established history of traditional education that demonstrates the school’s philosophy of innovation and adaptation in action.
Columbia University ranks among the most popular universities in public awareness around the world. Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering exhibits the worthiness of this popularity by its commitment to real world applications. Known for innovation and industry-defining advancements in STEM research, students looking to work on the bleeding edge of their field should look no further.
Columbia University’s Master of Computer Science program offers students entry into most, if not all, major areas of computer science through offering an impressive number of degree options. Students can pursue study in any of the following 8 programs:
- M.S. in Natural Language Processing
- M.S. in Foundations of Computer Science
- M.S. in Machine Learning
- M.S. in Network Systems
- M.S. in Software Systems
- M.S. in Vision, Graphics, Interaction and Robotics
- M.S. in Computer Science
- M.S. in Computational Biology
While comparable programs attempt to achieve the same scope of study by offering student-directed flexibility within a single program, Stanford looks to maximize the value and completeness by continually updating 8 different program paths to offer the most in accordance with real world industry developments and according to the most current research. This ensures students achieve the education needed no matter what their desired career path. In other words, if any of these programs match your professional interest then you can be sure it represents one of the best in the world.
Johns Hopkins University is a name known around the world for academic excellence and medical innovation. Johns Hopkins University offers a likewise innovative computer science education through the world class Whiting School of Engineering. The master of computer science program operates with a more focused curriculum, offering a single primary track of study in Communications and Networking that can be tailored to the pursuits of students through 10 focus areas:
- Data Communications and Networking
- Data Science and Cloud Computing
- Database Systems and Knowledge Management
- Enterprise and Web Computing
- Human-computer Interaction and Visualization
- Software Engineering
The primary track of Communications and Networking is meant to function as a foundation of study that is relevant to nearly any profession in computer science, while the student directs further specialization by choosing from these areas of study those that are most conducive to individual career goals. Conversely this program approach offers an opportunity for a student–who is uncertain of these career goals–to dabble in relevant subjects in order to help them attain professional clarity and direction. This makes JHU’s computer science program an excellent option for both students with a set career in mind and those who are still uncertain.
Known for a large and active student body, Boston University distinguishes itself in areas of cutting edge research and global business. With nearly $580 million awarded for research initiatives and over 90 active study abroad programs, BU is clearly committed to maintaining its strengths. Boston University’s Metropolitan College offers an online master’s of computer science as well as blended options, which employ both online and traditional classroom learning. The computer science program offers two primary master’s degree tracks combined with several degree concentrations for students looking to further specialize, as well as some graduate certification options.
- Advanced information technology, Graduate Certificate
- Applied Data Analytics, Master’s Degree
- Computer Information Systems, Master’s Degree
- Computer Networks Concentration
- Data Analytics Concentration
- Business Intelligence Concentration
- Health Informatics Concentration
- IT Project Management Concentration
- Security Concentration
- Web Application Development Concentration
While the program’s foundation is built around data analytics and information systems, students can use the coursework available through the concentration paths to develop specialized skill sets. Developing real world skills to meet current needs of the industry constitutes a core tenet of Metropolitan College. Students can expect coursework to reflect not only the most current national market demands, but also global trends with an intention towards understanding the systems behind these trends. Students interested in a top-notch fully online master of computer science within the context of international industry will find this program to be an ideal option.
The University of Southern California is a name familiar to anyone who follows the tech industry in california, and anywhere for that matter. USC manages to stay at the forefront of high tech research and experimentation year after year, and has provided many heavy hitter professionals from its impressive pool of alumni. USC offers an online master of computer science through the Viterbi School of Engineering.
According to its director the program has a very clear goal, to understand both the fundamentals, but also the current trends in the computer science industry, so that upon graduation students can leverage this knowledge of real-world challenges to pursue either an advanced degree or an advanced career.
The computer science program is designed specifically to prepare students for the highly competitive job market of top-tier positions of aerospace and defense, computer programming, software design, bioinformatics, and computer simulation–just to name a few. Students can choose from the following degree paths that allow for students to gain specialized knowledge in one these areas of concentration:
- M.S. in Computer Science (Computer Security)
- M.S. in Computer Science (Data Science)
- M.S. in Computer Science (Scientists and Engineers)
- M.S. in Computer Science (Software Engineering)
- M.S. in Applied Data Science
- Software Architecture, Graduate Certificate
The Stevens Institute of Technology offers a robust computer science program through the Schaefer School of Engineering and Science. Schaefer aims to make the most out of distance learning education systems and technology in order to provide an education that is on-par and perhaps even superior to the traditional schooling format. Students can expect a multidisciplinary approach to presenting rigorous coursework with a design-based philosophy.
Students choose from several master’s degree programs, one of which provides the standard computer science degree through a generalized learning format while other programs focus on specific areas of specialty within the field of computer science.
- Master’s in Computer Science
- Master’s in Applied Artificial Intelligence
- Master’s in Computer Engineering
- Master’s in Machine Learning
While on the surface it appears there are less program options available, it is however, an approach intended to be a strength rather than a limitation. By separating general computer science education from specialty studies, students are faced with a choice–between either more freedom of focus in the general studies route, or the specialized route that involves less flexible study within the confines of the rigid syllabus of the chosen concentration. Thus this program is ideal for students who are ready to commit to one path or the other. Conversely though, students who are still figuring out their desired path may find this program less accommodating to such professional uncertainty.
The first class enrolled in Georgia Tech in 1885 and consisted of only 85 male students; today that number is closer to 30,000 students, a student body composed of individuals of each gender, race, and socioeconomic background. But the student body isn’t the only thing that’s evolved over the years. Beyond maintaining a stellar reputation for academic excellence, Georgia Tech also spear-headed the charge into distance education when it was cutting-edge technology.
As one of the first institutions of its caliber to commit the resources required to successfully build out an online education program, students can rest assured that while some universities are certainly new to online education, Georgia Tech and its faculty are old pros by now. Georgia Tech offers a fully online Master of Computer Science through the College of Computing with three program routes on offer:
- Master of Science in Computer Science (General studies)
- Master of Science in Analytics
- Master of Science in Computational Science and Engineering
Because online degree programs have operated successfully for a number of years at Georgia Tech, its programs acknowledge the challenges associated with returning to school mid-career or working during it. Online syllabi are designed specifically to offer flexibility and convenience to accommodate both traditional students and working professionals alike. This means students can complete the computer science program online either full-time or part-time, making this program ideal for students who will need to work during the program, or who require this level of flexibility for other reasons.
The University of Illinois consistently ranks as one of the best educational institutions in the world. Fueling this consistent excellence is the university’s commitment to research-based program design that incorporates international research and market trends through a multi-vocational approach. And despite bearing the weight of a large state school infrastructure, the University employs an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which is a number more commonly achieved in smaller private universities. So students at the University of Illinois receive the best of both worlds–all the benefits and opportunities associated with a state school sized operation as well as the student-centric environment of a smaller and more personalized program.
The University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering offers a fully online Master of Computer Science. 8 classes compose the majority of requirements to complete the degree, which can be completed in as quick as one year or as long as five. This ensures that students with even the most demanding schedules find an agreeable cadence of progress. Students can also work towards specialization through an optionable concentration in data science.
Students will decide what classes to take in order to direct their studies towards individual career aspirations and interests. Further adding to the depth of specialization options is the University’s enormous resources for independent research, which with the university’s global network is capable of realizing even the most ambitious of imaginations. While the resulting flexibility of all these opportunities might overwhelm some students who prefer a more linear path of study, it will constitute an ideal program for more self-driven students who enjoy the idea of taking charge of their education.
With a rich history dating back to 1890, The Illinois Institute of Technology establishes itself as one of the top technical institutes in the country today with a wide array of engineering degrees–from aerospace to biomedical engineering and computer science. Students can pursue degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate level with a number of these leading directly into prestigious PhD programs.
Illinois Institute of Technology offers fully online options for a range of Master of Science and Professional Master’s (M.A.S) degrees as well a professional certificates:
- Master of Science in Computer Engineering
- Professional Master’s in Computer Engineering in Internet of Things
- Computer Engineering (certificate)
- Professional Master’s in Computer Science
- Computer Science (certificate)
- Professional Master’s in Computational Decision Science and Operations Research
- Professionals Master’s in Engineering, Biomedicine Track
- Professional Master’s in Cybersecurity and Forensics
- Professional Master’s in Cybersecurity
- Professional Master’s in Cybersecurity Engineering
The online Master of Computer Science program prepares students to either transition into a PhD program or jump into an advanced computer science career with a speciality in research and development. Illinois Institute of Technology offers a number of independent and group research programs to bolster professional experience. Students in the computer science program work towards career specialization by focusing on specific subject matter throughout their research. This empowers students to build a resume in the direction of their interests and career goals, making it an excellent program for any students looking for an emphasis in computer science research and development.
North Carolina State University at Raleigh is a university well-known for top-tier programs in science and technology. NC State further distinguishes itself with its elite group of computer science faculty, which consists of around 40 tenured professors who have demonstrated professional success in real-world industry. Twenty of these faculty members received the National Science Foundation’s prestigious CAREER Award.
These expert faculty bring students access to multi-vocational expertise, so that students can expand their horizons or narrow their focus toward one goal. The same faculty teach both the on-campus and online versions of the computer science program, so online students can rest assured they are receiving the same quality of education as their peers in the classroom.
The program consists of 31 credit hours without a thesis or final oral exam. Students choose the pacing of their progress, taking one to two courses a semester respectively. Combined with digital lectures and online testings options, students can complete coursework amidst part-time or even full-time work
The University of Minnesota at Twin Cities focuses on providing an environment of collaboration. Regardless of their chosen program of study, students will receive guidance from faculty advisors, peer and research groups, and from a departmental program administrator that’s assigned to each student. This is particularly valuable in ensuring that each online student feels connected to both their program and their instructors despite being physically distant.
The real value of this support program however, is experienced after graduation when these support systems move away from academic guidance towards encouraging professional growth and sharing opportunities. During their time in the online Master of Computer Science program, students will find that coursework leans heavily towards skill-development, rather than on research.
This prioritization of skill-building is meant to prepare students for the highly competitive job market in computer science. Students are still encouraged to explore professional interests in order to determine the skillsets most needed for success in their chosen concentration, but in order to develop skills completely students are expected to follow a more linear path of study. The University of Minnesota prides itself on designing course curriculum to stay relevant amidst the ever-changing environments of business and industry. Students looking for a skill-based and career-focused computer science program will likely find this program to be an ideal match.
12.) National University
Since its beginning in 1971, National University has brought innovative education programs to adult learners. Today National University is the largest private non-profit university in San Diego, California. Despite its relatively young age, National University has produced a large alumni pool of over 170,000 students worldwide. This alumni network is taught to work together in order to mentor recent graduates and ensure they reach their potential.
National University offers a host of both traditional and online programs, among which is the Master of Computer Science program. This fully-online program offers students the highest level of flexibility and convenience. Classes move at a brisk pace of 4 weeks to completion, enrollment opens monthly year-round, and students can take as many or as few classes as best fits their schedule. This level of flexibility ensures that students with even the most demanding schedules will be able to complete their Master of Computer Science degree at National University.
According to the program directors, students will be prepared to assume roles of leadership in their field. Students will develop fundamental knowledge of best practices in a myriad of subjects that are crucial to success in the job market. These areas include database theory and design, cloud computing, and software engineering. But what sets this program apart is its commitment to developing advanced communication skills in students, so that they will be able to clearly discuss critical challenges and their solutions in the real world.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) offers a robust Master of Science in Computer Science from Ying Wu College of Computing Sciences. Ying Wu’s computer science department is the largest academic department at NJIT, comprising one tenth of the student population, and also ranks as the largest computer science department among all research universities in the New York metropolitan area.
The mission of the Master of Computer Science program is twofold–to develop a mastery of both theoretical concepts and applied computing practices in computer science. Through this process students will strengthen their knowledge of algorithms, programming, computing systems, just to name a few. Online students can also pursue a more focused specialization in a skillset through choosing a degree concentration in one of three primary directions.
- Database and Database Mining
The NJIT Online Computer Science program also allows for students, who haven’t taken the necessary undergraduate STEM courses, to enroll in the computer science program after completing a one-semester bridge program comprising four preparatory courses. This makes the NJIT program one of few in the country to provide such an efficient transition into a computer science career from an unrelated field.
14.) Syracuse University
Syracuse University offers an online Master of Computer Science through The College of Engineering and Computer Science whose mission statement explains that the program’s mission is to move beyond theoretical learning in order to prepare students to meet the real-world challenges of the job market. The perceived shortcomings of online education are counterbalanced by an emphasis on social learning, peer group collaboration, and a curriculum designed in tandem with industry trends.
The College of Engineering and Computer Science offers three primary online degrees. A Master of Science in Cybersecurity, a Master of Science in Computer Science, and a Master of Science in Computer Engineering. The Computer Science program in particular ranks as one of the best technology programs in the country, servicing a wide-range of students with ages ranging from 20 to 60 years old.
Students can expect coursework to focus on driving innovation and development through the program’s following core learning objectives:
- Ability to incorporate emerging technologies into new system designs
- Development of expertise in areas such as security and assurance, artificial intelligence, computer architecture, and advanced programming
- Mastery of analytical, critical thinking, and mathematical skills necessary to take on advanced challenges
James Madison University (JMU) offers one of the most prestigious fully-online computer science programs in the country. JMU established a master of science in information security in January 1997, making it one of the first programs in the country to focus on information security through distance education. The program earned renown for the quality of its graduates.
In 1994, 34 students graduated the program, 19 of which were Department of Defense employees educated under a contract with the United States National Security Agency. Students can expect the program to groom and prepare them for top-level positions in the industry, as indicated by the program’s mission statement which indicates a three-fold approach in teaching students mastery over modern information infrastructure through design, implementation, and maintenance.
Given the prestige of the program, students should expect more steep requirements for success. For instance, program directors require that candidates have skills in the following areas:
- Computer Organization
- Data Structures
- Discrete Mathematics
For students who are interested in an information security career and are able to develop these necessary prerequisites to excel in the program, they will likely find themselves receiving one of the best educations available in the world.
Florida Atlantic University (FAU) offers a Master of Computer Science program through its College of Engineering and Computer Science. Two primary degree paths are on offer–a non-thesis option that requires a minimum of 30 credits, and a thesis option that requires 30 credits in addition to the 6 credits of a thesis. Students can view the choice between these two program paths as a choice between efficiency and a specialization. In other words, students who forego the thesis will be able to graduate quicker with a more affordable tuition, but students who pursue a thesis will pursue independent research guided by expert faculty, which may be invaluable in some careers.
Online students progress through synchronous formatting, which means that classes are streamed and coursework uploaded online on the same day as they occur in the classroom for traditional students. This means that online students are ensured to receive the same education as their counterparts in the classroom.
Interaction between students and instructors occurs through online meetings, chat rooms, and collaborative projects. The online programs coursework is divided into the following sections: Group 1 – Theory with 4 available courses, Group 2 – Software Development with 7 available courses, and Group 3 – Computer Systems with 14 available courses.
17.) Bellevue University
Bellevue University offers a fully online Master’s in Computer Information Systems. Program faculty design coursework to meet the ever-changing needs of the business industries. Students will focus on assessing the business needs of stakeholders in order to provide them with optimal experiences in selection, integration, and administration of computer-based technology and systems. Students will choose to develop skills in one of the program’s three available concentration paths:
- Software Development
These concentrations are designed to fully prepare students for successful careers in areas such as systems development, systems management, IT project management, software development, database analysis and design, and information systems security.
According to the program directors, students will be tasked with achieving the following outcomes throughout their education:
- Apply communication and interpersonal skills to translate technical information in order to align computer information systems and tools with stakeholder goals
- Apply knowledge gained in the curriculum to projects targeted to real-world problems
- Analyze technical aspects of IT projects and apply project management strategies to meet stakeholder business needs
- Apply core aspects of IT principles and tools to the development of applications and administration of computing systems
- Differentiate IT infrastructure and administrative systems solutions to meet desired business needs
Computer science is the second most popular major at Missouri S&T (after mechanical engineering). Missouri S&T holds a unique history with computer science as it was one of the first universities in the nation to offer computer science instruction, where computer classes were offered by both the math and electrical engineering departments in the early 1960s. A Masters of Science degree in Computer Science was then created by the university in 1964 to prepare students for further expertise in their field. Since then the Computer Science Department has awarded over 1,100 Masters degrees.
Missouri S&T’s Master of Computer Science program can be completed along one of two paths, a thesis option or a non-thesis option. Both paths are 31 credit hours, which means students do not have to pay more to undertake the thesis path as they would in some similar programs. The trade-off is that students who pursue a thesis will need to use some of their available credit hours to do so, whereas a non-thesis student will be free to use those credits to explore professional interests.
East Carolina University (ECU) offers an impressive selection of advanced degree programs with more than 70 master’s degree programs, 2 intermediate programs, and over 60 graduate certificate programs through 11 colleges and schools. ECU’s Department of Computer Science distinguishes itself through a focus on a more theoretical mission of helping humanity solve problems. Offering computer science within the context of a humanitarian doctrine is an excellent approach for students who wish to maintain a social element to their studies.
While the Online Master of Computer Science program is a more singular course of study without major specializations or degree concentrations, students can expect to learn a multi-vocational approach to problem solving in service of the program’s large humanitarian mission. This means that students will learn more about the philosophy of computer science than they would in strictly research or skill-based programs, which will be of great appeal to some students.
Nova Southeastern University offers a fully online Master of Computer Science program with a focus on real-world applications. The program is completed through ten courses and 30 credit-hours and is designed to help students specialize in a specific area of career-expertise. Online courses are delivered via the CANVAS system in order to accommodate students with varying schedules and in order to ensure that peer-group collaboration is still efficient and productive amidst conflicting schedules.
The program goes to great lengths to ensure that students establish a strong foundation in the general and theoretical study of computer science. Coursework will be delivered through 5 core areas of investigation: theory of programming, analysis and design of algorithms, software engineering, operating systems, and database management. Students will then pursue specialized knowledge in a concentration of their choice, by choosing 1 of the following 5 areas:
- Software Engineering
- Artificial Intelligence
- Computer Systems
- Data Science
- Information Assurance and Cybersecurity
- Real-world Computing