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Is a Master's in Computer Science Worth It?

See the 5 situations where a master’s degree in computer science is worth it. Learn how a master’s education can increase your salary and career potential.

Is a Master's in Computer Science Worth It - 5 Situations

A master of computer science degree can help you strengthen your command of computer science as a broad discipline, along with the practical skills to excel in a variety of high-salary tech fields. But deciding whether pursuing a master of computer science is worth it for you is something only you can decide.

A masters degree from an accredited, reputable and trusted university is coveted by leading employers and can be a life-changing, fulfilling experience for many students. Here are five situations where it may be worth pursuing a MCS program:

1. You Want to Change or Transition Career Fields

2. You Want to Advance Your Current Career Path

3. You Want to Increase Your Salary

4. You Want to Drive Innovation Within the Tech Community, and Beyond

5. You're Unsure of your Path, but Want Options

Situation 1: You Want to Change or Transition Career Fields

If you’re dissatisfied with your current career or concerned about your occupation's relevance, making the switch to computer science is an excellent way to set yourself up for a promising career path. Careers in computer science are expected to grow by 11% from 2019-2029 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making it one of the fastest-growing and highest demand occupations. Conversely, programming jobs are expected to decline by as much as 9% over the same 10-year period, in part due to automation. The more advanced R&D jobs that require a background in computer science and research science are expected to increase in demand by as much as 15%. With a master of computer science degree, you will become more competitive for these careers.

The MCS program changed my way of thinking and my worldview,” explained Eric Engineer, an ‘02 MCS graduate and Venture Partner at S3 Ventures. “It gave me an engineer’s mindset, a way to approach business building, organizations, machinery. It’s a core way of thinking that I found very valuable...thinking about things in frameworks and pattern matching over large time scales.

You will be well prepared for master’s of computer science careers in the same industry or transition into any number of sectors, including:

  • The Energy Sector: The energy sector is being reshaped by a software revolution, and computer scientists are needed across all areas, from developing smart grids and advancing renewable energy solutions, to developing innovative approaches for energy generation, storage, distribution, and consumption.
  • Healthcare and Medical Innovation: Healthcare and medical innovation continually rely more on data and cutting-edge technology. Tech breakthroughs in the medical field can be just as integral to patient health as new medical advancements. Computer scientists are needed to develop new ways to keep that data updated, secure and available, and to manage systems to drive enhanced efficiency across hospital systems and enterprises.
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering: A "cousin" of computer science, the broad field of electrical and computer engineering exists at the crossroads of software and hardware. With a deep understanding of math, these engineers develop innovative electrical equipment and solutions to enable the world's digital transformation. With a masters of computer science, electrical engineers realize expanded employment opportunities and greater salary potential.

How can you tell if computer science is right for you? Think about the things you enjoy most. If you like seeing patterns within the 'bigger picture' and problem solving at scale, computer science could be a smart career choice. If you already have the following knowledge and technical skills, you could be a candidate for the online MCS@Rice program:

  • Ability to write short programs in a conventional programming language like Python, Java, C++, or other similar programming languages
  • Experience programming in a statically typed language like Java, C, and C++
  • An elementary understanding of data structures (arrays, stacks, queues, trees, and graphs)
  • Basic understanding of binary search and merge sort algorithms
  • High-school level proficiency in algebra and trigonometry
  • College-level proficiency in calculus

Prospective students are not required to have an educational background in computer science but would do better with a background in engineering or math and should have solid programming skills to be accepted into most MCS programs. If you aren’t confident in your skills, a bridge course can help fill in the gaps by teaching you the fundamentals of programming, math, and data science that you’ll need to be accepted into the MCS@Rice program.

If you're a potential career changer, also keep in mind that traditional, on-campus master’s programs require you to attend classes in-person on a set schedule, which can make pursuing a master’s in computer science difficult if you’re working full time. The online MCS@Rice program at Rice University allows you to continue working while getting the education you need to pursue a career that fits your long-term goals. You’ll be able to take advantage of flexible self-paced lectures and weekly live sessions with professors.

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Situation 2: You Want to Advance Your Current Career Path

Sometimes, programmers hit a career ceiling after achieving a senior developer role. While they know how to execute well, they might lack the breadth of knowledge to solve business challenges, scale solutions, and drive innovation across siloed functional areas. When this happens, it can be difficult to break "out of the mold" and challenge hiring leaders' perceptions of them. A master of computer science degree can help people transition out of executional roles into more "generalist" and strategic positions, faster.

When the Career Expo came up in the fall, I had only been in the MCS program one month. At the time, I was shocked by the number of companies who wanted to talk to CS students – even those with only a month of classes – about careers and internships," said Liuliu Zheng, MCS Alumni at Airbnb. “Schlumberger offered me an internship, and then Microsoft offered me a full-time role, and that gave me confidence in myself as a software engineer. That is when I began thinking it might be my future career.

A Master of Computer Science may be a great option If you already have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, but need a unique competitive differentiator to help you stand out among other talented software engineers and developers. Also, if you find that internal company mobility is difficult and you lack confidence in the computer science fundamentals across a range of fast-evolving, emerging tech applications, a Master of Computer Science degree may be right for you.

To get into and through competitive interviews at leading companies, you’ll need to demonstrate that you can think critically about business problems, users' needs, and how to effectively scale solutions. Some employers may even be willing to pay for a portion of the tuition costs incurred as you pursue your master’s degree. Rice works with a number of employers who offer tuition support or reimbursement programs.

The online MCS@Rice program is designed to develop advanced technical understanding and the practical business project management soft skills to excel at solving business challenges. You’ll acquire a blend of foundational understanding and in-demand skills that leading companies are specifically looking to hire – detailed knowledge of algorithms, databases, AI/ML, cybersecurity, statistics, data analysis, automation, robotics, etc. You’ll be prepared to pursue senior engineering positions that deal with emerging technologies and even stand out for competitive product manager roles where you can demonstrate that you can lead engineers toward a common objective in a rapidly changing environment.

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Situation 3: You Want to Increase Your Salary

According to data from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, Computer science majors with a graduate degree earned up to $30,000 more than their counterparts with no master's degree, or a 'Year 1 ROI' (assuming a 2-year master's). For non-Computer Science majors like Economics or History, the salary booth was between $26,000-$28,000. And once you graduate with an MS in computer science, you’ll be able to earn a median salary of $126,830 per year – potentially a 2x increase in salary compared to some top-tier coding bootcamp graduates.

Earnings by Computer Science Job Title

The table below shows how much you can expect to earn in general computer science positions with a master’s degree:

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY JOB OUTLOOK
Database Administrator1 Database administrators are skilled in using specialized software to secure, store and organize data. $98,860 Demand is expected to increase 10% between 2019-2029.
Information Security Analyst1 Information security analysts are responsible for developing solutions that protect and secure information networks and systems. $103,590 Demand is expected to increase as much as 31% between 2019-2029.
Software Developer1 Developers create software and programs to solve a particular user’s pain point or problem. $110,140 Demand is expected to increase as much as 22% between 2019-2029.
Computer Network Architects1 Computer network architects design, build and maintain computer networks and devices. $116,780 Demand is expected to increase 5% between 2019-2029.
Computer Scientist1 Computer scientists look for new ways to use existing technology and identify innovations to improve specific processes. $126,830 Demand is expected to increase 15% between 2019-2029.
Computer and Information Systems Manager1 Systems managers oversee, plan, and implement all computer-related tasks for businesses in both the private and public sectors. $151,150 Demand is expected to increase 10% between 2019-2029.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO)2 CTOs oversee and determine all technology used in businesses and organizations including identifying shortcomings, finding solutions, and deciding what technology is needed for each department. $251,835 Demand is expected to increase 12% between 2016-2026.3
1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2Salary.com, 3RaiseMe.com
Note: The values represented in this chart are based on averages. Salaries depend on specific roles and qualifications.
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Salary.com, RaiseMe.com

No matter which career path you’re interested in, pursuing a master’s of computer science degree can make it possible for you to increase your salary from the beginning, without waiting to get years of experience in the industry.

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Situation 4: You Want to Drive Innovation Within the Tech Community, and Beyond

A top-notch master’s in computer science program will give you the single greatest skill any professional can have to thrive in a constantly-changing field: the ability to adapt and learn new things on your own. Big data and machine learning/AI may be the hot skills of the moment, but there will always be new emerging technologies to harness in solving business challenges.

At Microsoft, I have the chance to work with the best and brightest people coming up in the field, as well as veterans of the industry," said Harsh Upadhyay, MCS Alumni at Microsoft. "The culture encourages technological innovation, and I am constantly learning. It’s exciting to be learning so many new things, it’s almost like being back at Rice!

Driving innovation goes beyond implementing a particular emerging technology; it’s about cultivating curiosity and developing a deep understanding of why things work the way they do. This depth of understanding is what enables effective computer scientists to dream up the next breakthrough and improve the world. Computer scientists with advanced skills and education are able to work at highly-influential companies in the tech space where they will be able to improve society and affordability. Some examples of these societal betterment opportunities include working with teams of engineers to digitize energy systems and secure the “smart grid,” develop safer, smarter cars and autonomous electric vehicles, and transform financial security using modern blockchain solutions.

Working professionals across industries come to Rice to gain that depth of understanding before accepting competitive tech roles at places like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Halliburton, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, and many other leading companies.

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Situation 5: You’re Unsure of Your Path, but Want Options

In a recent BestColleges survey of college graduates, 61% said they would change their bachelors degrees if they could go back. The top reasons for this included "Pursuing my passion" and "Finding better (or more) job opportunities." And by the time college graduates have spent a few years in the workplace, they often wonder if their career choices are aligned with personal values and a sense of purpose.

What stands out most in my mind is how Dr. Wong stayed up all night with us leading up to the final demo day, helping us debug our final project," recalled Yifan “Eva” Li, MCS Alumni. "He didn’t just sit at a table and wait for us to come to him--he walked around asking questions and making subtle suggestions that helped us check and recheck our code. That night, Dr. Wong showed us what it feels to be an enthusiastic programmer.

As visionaries, creative inventors, builders and collaborators, computer scientists are leading digital innovation and transformation across industries. Beyond its present reach and influence, the tech industry is interested in the kind of disruption that improves lives through greater transparency, access and affordability, and improves the environment through smart use of "clean" technology and big data.

Sometimes, the best educational experience is to surround yourself with passionate, curious, and invested people with a diversity of backgrounds and interests. Among other things, a high-value master's in computer science program will deliver a community of dedicated Faculty members and other committed students, all within a highly-engaging setting that truly cements and reinforces life-changing learning.

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Decided a Masters in Computer Science is Worth It for You?

How to Choose a Master's Degree Program

When it comes to choosing a master of computer science program, it can be tempting to base a decision on price alone. And if you’re just looking for a way to check-the-box on job applications or to satisfy specific education requirements for job openings, any master’s in computer science program will do. However, if any of the 5 scenarios above describe your situation, you may want to prioritize programs that have a great reputation and the best return on investment (in terms of salary, job availability in your area, and employer placement)--not just the lowest cost of tuition.

When comparing masters of computer science programs, think about overall value and the following considerations:

  • Does this program have a track record of high student job placement, including among leading employers, both nationally and in my geographic area?
  • Does the program provide experienced Faculty who are thought leaders in their fields, accessible to students, and skilled in teaching online?
  • Is the curriculum (content) the same across online and on-campus, providing a quality education regardless of your preferred format?
  • Does the curriculum (content) align with your career goals and areas of interest?
  • Does the curriculum (content) lend itself better to an online or on-campus modality?
  • Does the curriculum (content) include practical, hands-on experience in the form of a Capstone project or internships to help you build a portfolio for interviews?
  • What are the admissions requirements? The tighter the admissions policies, the greater likelihood that your fellow students will be invested and high-quality, ensuring thoughtful discussions within an experiential-based learning environment. Easier admissions processes and lower barriers-to-entry may mean fewer opportunities to cement your knowledge and less competitive differentiation during job interviews.

MCS@Rice is the perfect combination for a working professional with a day job, having the ability to learn at my own pace," said Eric Schumacker, MCS Alumni, Amazon. "Other programs had a lower cost, but Rice is a value proposition of quality and flexibility.

If you’re currently looking for one of the best master's in computer science programs, request more information about the online MCS@Rice program today.