Study Computer Science: PhD, Masters & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a computer science degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and a PhD and potential careers.
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Computer Science Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

Computer science degree programs are intended to teach you about the newest technologies and computer applications. You learn how to employ analytical thinking to test and create solutions for a variety of situations while deepening your understanding of computer application development. Many specializations are available in these programs, and they often vary for each school.

Information technology experts are necessary to many companies and organizations since so many are dependent on computers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported faster-than-average 2010-2020 employment growth rates for several computer science related careers, including computer systems analysts, software developers and database administrators. Occupations with average growth rates included computer programmers, computer and information systems managers and computer and information research scientists. However, employment for computer hardware engineers is projected to only rise a sluggish 9%.

Master's degree PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking advanced positions in the information technology field or who wish to enroll in a doctoral programStudents who want to work in industrial or research careers or attain a postsecondary teaching position
Common career paths (with approximate median salary)* Many entry-level positions in information technology require a bachelor's degree. However, those with a master's degree may move up within an organization or qualify for management positions.
- Network and computer systems administrator ($71,000)*
- Computer systems analyst ($79,000)*
- Computer and information systems manager ($118,00)*
- Computer hardware engineer ($99,000)*
- Computer programmer ($71,000)*
- Database administrator ($73,000)*
- Software developer ($99,000)*
- Computer and information research scientist ($101,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher ($73,000)*
Time to completion3-5 years, part-timeStudents with a master's degree must complete program within 14 semesters, or 7 years
Common graduation requirements - Research
- Master's thesis
- Qualifying examination
- Teaching requirement
- Research
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Computer science foundation
- Bachelor's degree
- Strong background in computer science or a related field
- Master's degree is recommended, but not required
Online availability YesRare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Computer Science

If you're looking to study a specific aspect of computer science or have a degree in a different subject and want to switch careers, a master's degree program in computer science may help you accomplish your goal. You typically gain a general understanding of this broad field in addition to a more in-depth analysis of a specific aspect, such as database systems or artificial intelligence.

Gaining acceptance into one of these programs typically requires you to have a bachelor's degree, although it doesn't necessarily need to be in computer science. However, if the bachelor's degree isn't in a relative field, you may need to take certain coursework first.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree can help you advance within your career
  • You can specialize in an area of your choosing
  • You may contribute to the existing research in your field
  • A master's degree can prepare you for doctoral study

Cons

  • A master's degree isn't necessary for many computer science careers
  • These programs expect you to have a computer science background before enrolling
  • You may have to search to find a program that offers a concentration in the area you wish to pursue

Courses and Requirements

Your coursework may start off with a broad range of computer science topics before progressing to more specialized classes. Some of your classes may cover topics such as:

  • Computer and network security
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Database systems
  • Robotics
  • Object-oriented systems design
  • Programming abstractions

You usually choose a specialty within the computer science field and complete a portion of coursework relevant to your chosen concentration. Computer science master's programs are normally research intensive and your research will likely be focused on your chosen specialty area. You may culminate your research in a thesis or other project at the program's end.

Online Degree Options

Many colleges and universities offer master's degree programs in computer science entirely online, although some programs may also allow you to complete some classes on campus. The coursework and workload is comparable to an on-campus program, and you may be expected to interact with your professors and peers.

Stand Out with This Degree

You can stay updated on current technology research and find networking and professional development opportunities by joining professional associations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Additionally, you can seek out certifications offered by various organizations and companies, such as Microsoft and Cisco, in order to prove your competency in a particular area.

Alternative Degrees

Some employers look for computer management candidates with a business background. Several schools offer Master of Business Administration degrees with some type of technology concentration, such as technology management. These programs incoporate business concepts that are vital to information technology companies.

You can also find MBA programs with a computer information systems concentration. These programs also teach you fundamental business skills in order to prepare you for management positions with technology companies.

PhD in Computer Science

A PhD in Computer Science program is research intensive and prepares you for academic, research and executive positions within the field. You may learn to apply research skills toward scientific resolution of computer hardware and software problems. Normally, you're expected to choose a specific area within the computer science field to focus majority of your studies on.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A doctoral program prepares you for the most upper-level jobs in the field
  • If you have a master's degree, your time to completion is significantly shorter
  • Leaves of absences may be granted, if necessary

Cons

  • Admission is highly competitive
  • You are required to pass a qualifying exam to gain official entrance into the program
  • You may be required to teach undergraduate courses while you're working toward your PhD

Courses and Requirements

You can expect to take some required core classes, and you may also select elective classes, which may be chosen with the guidance of an adviser. Some of your class topics may cover:

  • Computer architecture
  • Operating systems
  • Algorithms analysis
  • Artificial intelligence

Before gaining official acceptance into the PhD program, you usually have to pass a qualifying exam; this allows the department faculty to determine your ability to conduct independent research. A portion of your curriculum involves conducting research on your chosen concentration, and you may be required to write and defend a dissertation on the findings. Some programs may also include an undergraduate teaching component as part of the curriculum.

Online Degree Options

Online options are rare for this degree program, but you may be able to find some schools that offer hybrid programs. These degree programs allow you to remain employed while working toward your PhD. Research and coursework requirements are comparable to an on-campus program, but you may be able to find programs without a teaching requirement.

Stand Out with This Degree

Analyze the most current or pertinent issues within the computer science field and focus your research studies on them. After writing your dissertation, seek out journals and other scholarly periodicals, and submit your dissertation for publication. Having your research published in well-respected scholarly journals can help you stand out from the competition.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
      • PhD-TIM - Computer Science
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Computer and Information Security
      • PhD in Business Admin - Computer and Information Security
      • PhD-TIM - Cybersecurity
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctorate: Computer Science
      • Doctorate - Computer Science: Information Assurance (Executive Format)
      • Doctorate: C.S. - Enterprise Information Systems
      • Doctor of Management - Technology Management (Executive Format)
  • Ruston, LA

    Louisiana Tech University

  • El Paso, TX

    The University of Texas

  • Seattle, WA

    University of Washington

  • New Haven, CT

    Yale University

  • Worcester, MA

    Worcester Polytechnic Institute

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • Morgantown, WV

    West Virginia University

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • PhD in Business Admin - Applied Computer Science
  • PhD-TIM - Computer Science

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctorate: Computer Science
  • Doctorate - Computer Science: Information Assurance (Executive Format)
  • Doctorate: C.S. - Enterprise Information Systems

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Yale University

Worcester Polytechnic Institute