Computer scientists develop new software, technology, systems, and solutions to solve technological and software problems across the sectors of business, healthcare, research, education, and more.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they expect the demand for computer science professionals to grow by an estimated 11% from 2020 to 2030, above the average projected growth of all industries. Additionally, the median annual salary for computer scientists is $91,250, which is also much higher than the average for all other occupations.
It’s an exciting time to be a computer science professional. Technology is still growing, and there’s always something new and interesting to explore. Unfortunately, the world of computer science is also a somewhat saturated one, which can occasionally make it challenging for some to find a job.
Since many employers look for professionals with a master’s in computer science, this degree is beneficial for building a profitable career and giving you an edge over other applicants. A master’s degree in computer science prepares students with the advanced skills and knowledge necessary for career success.
Read on to learn about the best computer science masters programs, the universities that provide them, and other handy info about this degree.
What Are Computer Science Master’s Programs?
If at any point you decide to go back to school to earn your Master of Science in Computer Science degree, then you do so by enrolling in a CS master’s program.
Getting an MS in CS will provide you with advanced and in-depth skills and knowledge that can help advance your career. You’ll learn programming languages and other skills that can set you up for future careers in fields like software development or artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
When choosing from the best CS masters programs, chances are you’ll see options for either a thesis or non-thesis option. Either option is acceptable, though some people may prefer the thesis option so they can get extra hands-on experience to further cement what they’ve learned.
Another thing to know is that most Master of Science in Computer Science programs require about 30 credit hours to complete. Many also offer specialization tracks to allow you to learn the necessary skills to go into fields like data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, cyber security, etc.
What Do Computer Science Students Learn?
Before you look at the best CS grad schools, let’s first talk about what you’ll likely learn in a Master of Science in Computer Science program.
Here are some topics you can expect some of the best computer science masters to cover:
Computer science theory
Software design and engineering
These are just some of the surface-level topics included in some of the top computer science master’s programs. Some programs can cover specific topics more in-depth than others, and some programs have specializations you can go into. It’s best to check each program’s curriculum to see whether you’ll learn what you need.
Best Master’s in Computer Science Programs and Universities
Financial aid: None from CMU for the MSCS program; you will need to take out loans
Acceptance rate: 17.3%
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Carnegie Mellon University, founded through a merger between two different technological institutes, now has a presence on six continents. The University was ranked #1 in computer science on the US News and World report in 2018, and its computer science master degree is one of the best computer science master’s programs.
Right now, it still sits at #2 — unseated only by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT at number one. What’s more, Carnegie Mellon University shares its #2 spot with other high-quality institutions, such as Stanford University and the University of California-Berkeley.
It aims to provide students with an advanced outlook on computer science. Students have the flexibility to choose their preferred courses following consultation with advisors. This MSCS program has three variants you can choose from, though the most commonly selected variant is the standard MSCS pathway.
Harvard University is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, showcasing excellence in learning, research, and teaching. It is a private, Ivy League research university with many graduate and undergraduate programs across various disciplines. The program teaches students how to simulate and model complex systems, engage in collaborative software development, and analyze large data sets.
The Master’s in Computational Science and Engineering program at Harvard is a one-year program that requires you to complete eight courses altogether. Getting into Harvard can be quite challenging, so if you need a little help with the admissions process, you can check out our how-to guide.
Cornell University is a renowned land grant and private Ivy League research university. Its College of Computing and Information Science is among the best computer science graduate schools today. Cornell’s MS program in computer science helps students develop an expert level of knowledge of computer science concepts and practice through advanced coursework, teaching, and research.
One of the reasons Cornell is absolutely one of the best grad schools for computer science is that it is incredibly selective — and for a good reason. That reason is that if you get accepted into this program, you automatically receive an assistantship, where you must work as a teaching assistant. In return, Cornell waives the total cost of your tuition and even gives you a small living expenses stipend.
The University of Southern California is a prestigious private research institution, well-known as a global center for technology, arts, and business. Both its on-campus and online MS programs in computer science provide students with an intensive knowledge of design, application building, and programming for computing systems.
Enrolling in the MS CS program at the University of Southern California means completing 28 credit hours. However, adding just four credits will allow you to specialize in various fields like software engineering, computer networks, intelligent robotics, high-performance computing and simulation, data science, computer security, and more.
Stanford University is a world-renowned private research university with seven prestigious academic schools across various disciplines and one of the country’s largest campuses. Though Stanford designed its MS program as a terminal degree, you can opt for a research-intensive version if you want to pursue a PhD. You can mostly complete the program online, though some on-campus study may be required.
If you want to earn your master’s, computer science ranking websites are often one of the first places you’ll check for information. And if you look at the US News CS school rankings, you’ll see that Stanford shares the #2 spot with a few other schools. Needless to say, Stanford is a strong contender for the title of the top computer science graduate school.
The University of Pennsylvania, commonly known as Penn, is a private Ivy League university founded in 1740. The school’s Master of Science in Engineering in Computer and Information Science covers a range of courses, including the theory of computation, internet and web systems, and computer architecture. This program asks for an undergraduate major in computer science, but the university also offers a Master of Computer and Information Technology, which is suitable for students with a bachelor’s degree in other areas.
When you enroll in the UPenn MS in Engineering in Computer and Information Science, you must complete ten courses. Seven of those must be courses under the Computer and Information Science umbrella. You can also choose a master’s thesis option or specialize in various niches in computer science.
The University of California Berkeley is one of the top public universities in the country. The prestigious university is known for its strength in computer science. Its Master of Science in Computer Science has a research focus that lays the groundwork for a PhD. As part of the program, students must complete either a thesis or a master’s project. Students interested in applying to the program must have a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Although this program (and school) is rather selective and competitive, getting in means you’ll get a high-quality education that might boost your career. One of the best things about this program is you can choose an area to specialize in. There are ten to choose from, namely:
The University of Washington is a leading research university and one of the oldest state-supported universities on the West Coast. The university’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering offers a PMP in Computer Science and Engineering specifically designed for working professionals. Most courses are delivered online, with one in-person evening class per week.
If you enroll in the University of Washington (Seattle Campus) for the PMP in computer science and engineering, you’ll be studying in the #6 best computer science school (according to the most recent US News ranking).
Since its founding in 1867, the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign has been a research and invention leader. Its inventions include the first-ever graphical web browser, released in 1993 by alum Marc Andreessen. This school is currently ranked the 41st best national university, according to US News. That’s an impressive feat, but what makes it even better is that the UI at Urbana-Champaign ranks US News’ 5th best computer science school.
Earning your MS CS at this university means enrolling in The Grainger College of Engineering. In this program, you must complete 28 credit hours plus another four for your thesis. The good news is some of your credits may count toward the CS PhD, also available at UI Urbana-Champaign. In this program, students will learn various topics like Artificial Intelligence, Interactive Computing, Scientific Computing, Security and Privacy, Programming Languages, Software Engineering, and more.
The minimum GPA for admission at this institution is 3.2.
Georgia Tech, or the Georgia Institute of Technology, is easily one of the best graduate schools for computer science. Ranked 6th best computer science school by US News, Georgia Tech offers a high-quality education in three study pathways and ten specializations.
Here are the three study options available to you:
Course Option: 30 credit hours dedicated solely to coursework, no thesis or project
Project Option: 21 credit hours for coursework, 9 credit hours for a project
Thesis Option: 18 credit hours for coursework, 12 credit hours for your thesis
You’ll learn about computing systems, social computing, computer graphics, high-performance computing, interactive intelligence, machine learning, social computing, visual analytics, and more.
One of the best things about Georgia Tech is you can enroll in the online MS CS at an affordable rate of $180 per credit hour.
Financial Aid: Loans, assistantships, external fellowships and grants
Acceptance Rate: 32%
Location: Austin, TX, and online
The University of Texas at Austin owns the distinction of being one of the biggest schools in the nation. There’s no doubting the quality of education you’ll get at this institution, which ranks 43rd on US News’ list of the Best Universities in the World in 2022-2023.
The MSCS program at UT Austin offers two pathways: coursework and thesis. Both paths require you to complete 30 credit hours. If you prefer to earn your degree online, UT Austin offers a fully online MS CS program. Regardless of your choice, you’ll learn topics like computer architecture, artificial intelligence, computer programming, and more.
Financial Aid: teaching or research assistantships (in CS or external departments), loans, external paid internships, residence hall assistantships
Acceptance Rate: 67.2%
Location: West Lafayette, IN
It feels like Purdue is the new kid on the block compared to all the centuries-old universities on this list. However, don’t let Purdue’s age deceive you — this institution offers one of the best masters in computer science programs today. Purdue was the first to establish a Computer Science Department in the US. Today, PU is ranked #20 best computer science school by US News.
The 30-credit-hour MSCS at PU allows you to choose between a thesis or non-thesis option. You can also add a concentration that will allow you to specialize in information security.
If you’d like to apply to Purdue’s MSCS program, you will need a cumulative 3.5 GPA (4.0 scale) from your most recently conferred degree.
The University of Massachusetts-Amherst ranks 23rd on the US News best computer science schools list for 2022-2023. This institution offers a terminal non-thesis master’s degree requiring 30 credit hours. Unfortunately, assistantships and fellowships are not available to those who enroll in this option.
If you haven’t completed an MSCS degree yet, you can choose to go for UMass-Amherst’s MS/PhD track, which allows you to earn a master’s degree along the way to PhD candidacy. For this option, you will likely do more courses. The good news is students accepted into this program receive teaching/research assistantships that provide tuition waivers.
Those who prefer learning online can try UMass Amherst’s online MS CS, which requires 30 credit hours at $779 per credit. A hybrid version is also available, where you can start online and end on campus.
After being established in 1766, Rutgers University has grown to become not just the largest but also the oldest university in the state of New Jersey and its surrounding areas. Rutgers offers an MS CS program requiring 36 credit hours to complete. Students can choose between an essay or thesis option.
Rutgers’ MS CS program also allows students to choose between six concentrations:
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
General computer science
The MS CS program at this university helps to prepare students for their careers in the design, development, and implementation of software applications and computer systems.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Opportunities for CS Master’s Programs
Our list of the best grad schools for computer science won’t help you if every school is out of your reach. Luckily, plenty of financial aid opportunities are available to help you fund your future life as a graduate student. Regardless of financial capabilities, graduate students can benefit from and take advantage of the opportunities mentioned below.
Here are a few ways you can reduce the financial burden of paying for your Master of Science in Computer Science:
Fill out the FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid should always be your first step in securing funding for your Master of Science in Computer Science degree. If you do not apply, you’ll miss the opportunity to access federal grants (such as the Pell Grant) and subsidized loans from the government. Completing your FAFSA early is ideal. It’s also worth mentioning that you’ll need to file your FAFSA every year you intend to seek financial aid. The aid granted to you will depend on your financial situation.
Scholarships and Grants
Thanks to the increasing popularity of computer science classes and the growing number of people who want to find computer science jobs, colleges and universities have started scholarship and grant programs specifically for CS graduate students. These programs may award a certain amount of money or cover partial or full tuition costs. They can also be one-time opportunities or renewable each year.
Grants and scholarships are typically awarded to students who meet specific criteria determined by the donor(s). If you believe you have a chance, apply — and apply for many. It’s challenging to secure a grant or scholarship due to how many others are applying, so you may want to apply to several to increase your chances of success.
You can usually find pertinent information and scholarship or grant applications on school websites, often under the financial aid department page. Sometimes, school websites will also have information available under the computer science department page.
It’s worth mentioning that you can also find external scholarships or grants from private donors, NGOs, non-profits, etc.
Assistantships and Fellowships
Many educational institutions, including some of the best computer science graduate schools, offer assistantships and fellowships to help students pay for their degrees. Some schools even strictly forbid their students from finding employment during their studies so they can focus on academics instead. Generally, schools that disallow students from working during their studies will require them to participate in assistantships and fellowships.
But what exactly are assistantships and fellowships?
Assistantships require students to work as research or teaching assistants for 15-20 hours each week. In return, the school will offer partial or complete tuition remission. In some cases, some schools will also provide a small stipend to cover students’ living expenses during their program.
Fellowships are much like scholarships and grants, but they may have some strings attached. Fellowships can also cover part or all of your tuition costs.
Careers for Computer Science Master’s Graduates
What type of work can you find once you graduate from a computer science master’s degree program? Computer science schools will usually offer career services to help prepare you for eventual careers in fields and roles like the ones listed below.
Here are the most common roles for graduates of a master’s in computer science, along with the annual median salary for each:
Computer Scientists ($81,747): Computer scientists develop computer-based solutions to enhance the quality and efficiency of operations in the business, government, and non-profit sectors.
Information Systems Managers ($85,400): These professionals lead IT departments and oversee the IT team to implement hardware and software solutions and ensure everything runs smoothly.
Computer Hardware Engineers ($85,837): Computer hardware engineers design and develop computer hardware systems or components.
Computer Network Architects ($121,687): These IT professionals are responsible for designing, reviewing, and upgrading network capabilities and infrastructure.
Information Security Analysts ($73,550): Information security analysts conduct research and recommend strategies to address security issues.
Computer Programmers ($65,264): These professionals write code as well as test, debug, and design programs.
Computer Support Specialists ($51,257): They diagnose and solve hardware and software issues of computer systems for consumers.
There are many more career options for computer science graduates, including:
You don’t necessarily need an MS in computer science to pursue a tech career. Because computer science has a range of branches that specialize in different sub-disciplines, having a master’s in any of these areas can allow you to pursue a career in this field. The truth is people can even find work in the fields below without having computer science degrees.
Electrical Engineering (although this is less of a computer-related field)
Most of these fields do involve having a computer science background of some sort. However, you can always earn your alternative degree and supplement your bachelor’s degree knowledge with computer science courses or bootcamps. You may even find a short-term computer science program instead.
How We Selected the Best Computer Science Masters Programs [Our Ranking Criteria]
Our first step was to conduct hours upon hours of research to pull together our initial list. From there, we began eliminating programs that didn’t “make the cut.” We did this by considering several criteria to ensure that we only included the best computer science graduate programs.
Of course, before we seriously considered a program for inclusion on this list, we ensured that they were accredited to guarantee their quality.
We then judged accredited programs against the following factors:
Cost and Affordability – We ensured that the programs on this list were within reach, either by being low cost or offering various financial aid opportunities to those seeking an education.
Selectiveness – A selective program (and school) often implies that the institution provides a high-quality education. After all, when a program’s admissions process is highly competitive, that means (too) many applicants are vying for a coveted spot.
Student Satisfaction and Graduate Outcomes – We looked for all the data we could find on graduate outcomes for each item on this list. In doing so, we included schools that offered alums satisfactory experiences.
Ranking – We also made sure to consider computer science masters program rankings from websites like US News. That way, we only include the best computer science schools in these recommendations.
Our priority is to help you find the best master’s programs for computer science for your specific needs. If you believe we missed programs that should be on this list, let us know in the comments below.
Frequently asked questions
Is a Master’s in Computer Science Worth it?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer science professionals enjoy better job prospects and average salaries than most other professions. And standard employers prefer a master’s over an undergraduate qualification. These factors imply that a master’s in computer science is a worthwhile qualification for your career.
Is a Computer Science Master’s Hard?
A computer science master’s could be challenging if you don’t have a background in the discipline. However, if your undergraduate program was in computer science or a related field, such as mathematics, programming, or data science, you won’t find it any more difficult than any other master’s. Even if you lack a background in computer science, you’ll find the program manageable with a little effort.
What GPA Do You Need for a Computer Science Master’s?
Typically, universities look for a minimum GPA of around 2.5 or 3 when considering applications for any master’s program. Your GPA is only one of many factors they take into account, so you can compensate for a low GPA with an application that is strong in other areas.
Which Master’s Degree is Best for Computer Science?
There is no single answer to this question because the best program for you will depend on your interests and preferences. The programs listed above are some of the best in the country, and each has its strengths. In choosing the right program for you, it’s essential to consider factors such as career prospects, cost, flexibility, and whether you want to study online or on campus.
What is the Best Way to Get into a Master’s Program in Computer Science?
There are no shortcuts to getting a master’s degree in computer science. The primary qualification is an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related field. You will also need a high score on other tests to be selected.
You must study the prospects well, understand the selection processes of universities, and research the best programs and universities, costs, and other practical considerations. You must also evaluate your career interests and goals. And based on all such considerations, you must plan well to get into one of the best master’s in computer science programs from a reputable university.
Which is Better, an MBA or MSc in Computer Science?
Both an MBA and an MSc can help you build a rewarding career in IT. The choice comes down to your academic interests and career goals. Generally speaking, an MBA is most helpful if you want to explore the business or management side of the industry, while an MSc will equip you for more technical roles.
With the modern world revolving around digital technology, there is a massive demand for computer science professionals in almost every field. A master’s in computer science can set you on the path to a rewarding and lucrative career. Masters programs in computer science are fantastic investments that can help you improve your earnings potential significantly.
If you’re unsure where or how to begin looking for the best computer science masters programs, feel free to bookmark this list and keep it as a handy reference. Good luck!
Lisa is a full-time writer specializing in career advice, further education, and personal development. She works from all over the world, and when not writing you'll find her hiking, practicing yoga, or enjoying a glass of Malbec.