CIS Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in computer information systems? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and computer information systems master's and PhD programs.
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Studying Computer Information Systems: Degrees at a Glance

Graduate programs in computer information systems cover a variety of advanced information technology (IT) subjects, including database and network administration, Web development, software development and project management. These programs are designed to teach students how to use technical knowledge of information systems in a business setting. A master's degree can lead to a high-level IT position within an organization, such as computer or information systems management. The PhD program is usually meant for students who wish to work in an academic setting after graduation.

You should have solid job prospects with a graduate degree in computer information systems; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that computer and information systems managers were expected to see an 18% increase in jobs from 2010-2020, and computer and information research scientists were projected to experience an employment growth of 19% during this time frame. The BLS noted that there were a limited number of PhD holders to fill computer and information research positions, so demand for qualified workers should remain high.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking advanced information technology positions People interested in becoming computer and information researchers or professors
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Computer and information systems manager ($118,000)*
- Postsecondary computer science instructor ($51,000)**
- Chief technology officer ($193,000 - with 15 years of experience)**
- Postsecondary computer science professor ($98,000)**
- Computer and information research scientist ($101,000)*
Time to Completion Between one and two years, full-time About four or five years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly four to eight core computer information courses
- About three or four concentration courses
- Thesis or capstone project
- Up to 10 core graduate courses covering IT subjects
- PhD qualifying exam
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Letters of recommendation
- Recent GMAT or GRE scores
- Bachelor's or master's degree (may vary between programs)
- Recent GRE or GMAT scores
- Letters of recommendation
Online Availability Yes Not at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (figures as of August 2012).

Master's in Computer Information Systems

Most computer information systems master's programs are designed to give you diverse training that can be used in a number of industries and careers. You don't necessarily have to have a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field, but schools may want you to have IT work experience. You may also have to take a few prerequisite courses if you have a bachelor's degree in a non-computer field.

Some schools may allow you to choose a concentration, such as information systems management, database management or Web development. Keep in mind that most concentrations at the master's level only consist of about three or four courses, so you won't dive too deep into any one area of computer technology. Schools typically give you an option to complete a thesis or a capstone project towards the end of the program.

Pros and Cons


  • Can lead to jobs with a number of different employers (government agencies, non-profit organizations, large corporations)
  • Can give you an advantage over other IT specialists who only have a bachelor's degree
  • Many schools offer this program in flexible formats (from a one-year accelerated plan to a plan that spreads courses out over three years)


  • Diverse curriculum means you won't become an expert in any particular IT specialty
  • May not be able to jump directly into a master's program, as some schools require professional experience prior to admission
  • Rarely a hard requirement for most IT jobs (employers often require a bachelor's degree)

Common Courses and Requirements

The core required courses in a computer information systems master's program usually cover a variety of topics, such as systems analysis, network design and operating systems. If you're not pursuing a particular concentration, you'll choose about five or six elective courses, which can include cryptography, IT security, artificial intelligence and digital forensics. This particular master's program typically gives you some added flexibility by allowing you to choose a thesis, capstone course or project to round out your graduate studies.

Online Degree Options

This master's program is commonly available completely online or in a hybrid format. You might have slightly fewer concentration options in a distance learning program, but the rest of the program is basically identical to an on-campus one. Some schools record the on-campus lectures, allowing online students to receive the exact same instruction as students in the classroom.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Obtaining an advanced IT certification may give you an edge over other applicants who have a graduate degree. Since the computer information systems master's programs can prepare you for a number of careers, you'll probably need to figure out which area of information systems you plan to work in before pursuing a specific certification. For example, CompTIA offers a number of certifications for IT professionals, including the Cloud Essentials, Green IT, IT for Sales and Healthcare IT Technician designations. Cisco offers five levels of certification, giving you an opportunity to work towards a higher certification as your career progresses.

PhD in Computer Information Systems

A PhD program in computer information systems focuses on teaching you high-level research methods and gives you a chance to get some teaching experience. The program is designed for students wishing to become teachers or researchers and is not usually a good option for IT professionals wishing to advance their careers.

You'll need at least a bachelor's degree in a computer-related field to qualify for admission to the PhD program, but most schools prefer you to have a master's degree. PhD programs are highly competitive, and you'll likely need to have relevant work experience as well. Some schools may also allow you to choose a concentration or research track.

Pros and Cons


  • Can lead to a career as a tenured professor or information science researcher
  • Research component allows you to focus your studies on a specific area of interest in computer information systems
  • Most programs provide teaching experience as part of the program


  • Admission to this PhD program may be very competitive
  • Few IT jobs besides teaching and researching are filled by candidates with a PhD
  • Salaries for jobs that require a PhD are not usually higher than jobs that only require a master's degree

Courses and Requirements

You'll typically spend your first two years taking graduate-level courses covering a variety of IT subjects, including network security, database systems and software systems. You'll usually complete a semester of teaching at some point during your program and may participate in a teaching seminar as well. If your program features a concentration, these requirements are often fulfilled after finishing the core courses.

Students are usually admitted to PhD candidacy in their third year and begin working on the dissertation. You'll team up with a faculty member for your dissertation, which usually takes about two year to complete. You can focus your dissertation research on just about any subject within computer information systems as long as it's approved by the dissertation advisory committee.

Online Degree Options

PhD programs in computer information systems are not currently available. You may have the opportunity to take a couple of your core courses in an online format, but the majority of your studies typically take place on campus at the PhD level. If you do happen to find any schools that claim to offer this program online, make sure the program is accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Stand Out with This Degree

Since studies in computer information systems can span such a broad range of topics, you may want to explore the research interests of the faculty members who teach at the institutions you're interested in attending. Talking to faculty members beforehand can help you figure out which programs would likely fit your goals the best.

If you're hoping to become a teacher, find out if you can teach additional courses beyond what you're required to teach. Students interested in becoming researchers may want to find out what research centers are at prospective universities. Becoming a student member of a professional association, such as the Association for Computing Machinery, can give you access to unique research publications and keep you up-to-date with the latest advances in computing technology.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

      • PhD in Business Admin - Management Information Systems
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management Information Systems
      • PhD-TIM - Information Systems
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Walden University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Information Systems Management
  • Greensboro, NC

    University of North Carolina at Greensboro

  • Chicago, IL

    University of Illinois at Chicago

  • San Antonio, TX

    The University of Texas at San Antonio

  • Pittsburgh, PA

    Carnegie Mellon University

  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Denton, TX

    University of North Texas

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Management Information Systems
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Management Information Systems
  • PhD-TIM - Information Systems

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Walden University

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Information Systems Management

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University of North Carolina at Greensboro

University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Texas at San Antonio

Carnegie Mellon University