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Across industries, topics like A.I., cloud computing, and large-scale data analysis are top of mind for business leaders. The demand for these skills means there are now more options than ever for degree programs geared toward developing tech skill sets. To help prospective students navigate this competitive landscape, for the second year in a row, Fortune has ranked the best online master’s degree programs in computer science. In total, we included 12 programs in the 2023 list.
Yes—at least in terms of salary and career options. Professionals with master’s degrees in computer science, on average, earn the highest starting salaries of any graduate degree—typically with a base of around $100,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. What’s more, a master’s degree in computer science can also be worthwhile because graduates may be qualified for a broader range of job opportunities, including in management.
Neither a bachelor’s degree in computer science nor a background in technology is required to pursue a master’s degree, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. An analytical mindset is a crucial identifier for success—and requires a student to look at a problem, analyze it, and find a solution (knowing that there are typically multiple solutions for every problem). Still, like any field, the key to success is motivation and drive fueled by passion—and a desire to tackle some challenging tech problems in roles ranging from the private sector to the government.
Fortune ranked the best online master’s degree programs in computer science to help in your decision process, with the final ranking determined by three components: selectivity, success, and demand. Vanderbilt University landed the No. 1 on Fortune’s list, with an acceptance rate of 52%. Rounding out the top five spots are Colorado State University, Syracuse University, DePaul University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
On average, it takes about two years of full-time study to complete a master’s degree in computer science. But programs may have different pathways and degree requirements, so it does depend where you choose to earn your degree. There are also options for part-time study, but those programs typically have a separate set of requirements and are often completed anywhere from three to five years. Finally, students increasingly want to gain some hands-on experience in a master’s degree program, which could add additional time to the course of study.
Computing is “an indispensable—if not central—part of society,” a professor and director at DePaul University’s School of Computing told Fortune. Thanks to the broad applicability of this field of study, the number of master’s degrees conferred in computer and information science nearly tripled in a decade, according to figures from the National Center for Education Statistics. In computer science programs, students learn how to improve their IT skills and increase their understanding of software development—tools that can serve anyone in an increasingly digital world. Even so, the degree reinforces what most company’s look for in their hiring process: Problem solvers.
Although students with undergraduate degrees in computer science still have a higher starting salary than most people with that degree level, professionals with graduate degrees in computer science earn around $100,000 annually, according to PayScale. Annual salaries for graduates of master’s degree programs can range from $100,000 to $200,000, and that’s just in base pay. Finally, the extra one-to-two years of study required of a master’s degree program can earn grads, on average, $30,000 more in annual salary than those people who only have an undergrad degree, according to figures compiled by the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
A degree in computer science can definitely open doors. Some common roles include: Computer and information research scientists, computer network architects, computer programmers, web developers, and information security analysts. Professionals with degrees in computer science are needed in so many different industries simply because almost every field has a technical component that requires that specific skill set—which means computer science-educated professionals have the ability to dive into whatever interests them.
A career in computer science is dependable and stable. Job opportunities in computer science typically are high-paying and offer a flexible career path that reaches a variety of industries. What’s more, the already-high demand for people with computer science skills is likely to continue growing—which creates more job opportunities for people with a background in this field.
No, computer science isn’t just coding, though that is a necessary skill for people hoping to build a career within the industry. Because companies are looking to become more data-driven in business strategy, graduates of computer science programs are expected to provide the skills to make that possible. Rather than looking at computer science as strictly coding, think of it as problem solving—and then decide how you plan to use that skill.