Are You Qualified to Get Into a Computer Science Master's Program?

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The Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) is a must-have degree for aspiring tech leaders and, increasingly, an entry-level credential in emerging computer science specialties. Top programs teach in-demand technical skills and crucial soft skills, preparing students for impactful careers at the kinds of high-profile companies known for hiring the best computer scientists. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the MSCS offered the second-largest wage premium when Forbes ranked graduate degrees by salary increase.

Given the career-boosting value of an MSCS earned on campus or online, you may be wondering what it takes to meet the computer science master's prerequisites at highly rated institutions—and whether you are qualified to apply. The answer to both questions varies considerably from university to university. Schools like Case Western Reserve University, with reputations for excellence in innovation, scholarship and research, take a holistic approach when reviewing applications. In other words, you don't necessarily have to check every box when it comes to the master's in computer science requirements to be a great fit.

Case School of Engineering looks for the computer science innovators of the future when assessing applications, not just candidates with undergraduate degrees in computer science. The ideal online MSCS candidate has experience working with data structures and algorithms and knowledge related to software engineering, artificial intelligence, computer architecture, networking, operating systems, programming languages and database systems. More importantly, they have goals aligned with Case Western Reserve's cutting-edge MS in Computer Science curriculum and are ready to do whatever it takes to grow personally and professionally.

Is earning an MSCS online from CWRU the right choice?

Fit is crucial because two programs that cover roughly the same material and confer the same degree can be as different as night and day. There are, for instance, numerous full-time, on-campus MSCS programs appropriate for recent undergraduates and career-switchers. Online Master of Science in Computer Science programs tend to attract experienced software engineers, computer systems analysts, information systems specialists and professionals otherwise skilled in multiple programming languages and software systems. They intend to work full time while studying so as not to sacrifice income and have no desire to move across the country to attend an in-person degree program. Additionally, they are excited by the possibility of applying what they learn in the classroom in their professional lives.

The Case School of Engineering's 100% online MSCS is for ambitious professionals who want to grow in their computer science careers and hone their leadership skills. The online student experience is supportive but also gives students room to be independent. MS in Computer Science candidates learn from wherever they're located through a blend of self-paced coursework and live interaction with peers and instructors. Classes are not interdependent, so students can complete them in any order. The university's reputation is one of excellence and innovation—particularly in robotics, smart technology and data science—and 99% of students contribute to the university's research efforts in some way.

Case Western Reserve is also notable for its commitment to ensuring that students (for whom an online part-time computer science master's is the right choice) don't have to sacrifice quality for flexibility. Unlike many schools, the university does not differentiate between its online and in-person graduate-level programs. MSCS candidates take the same core computer science courses from the same professors and instructors in the computer science department. They have ample chances to network in student groups. As a result, graduates frequently secure jobs at top companies, earning $100,000 or more.

What are the prerequisites for earning an MSCS at CWRU?

The master's in computer science requirements at Case Western Reserve are straightforward. You should be comfortable with data structures, algorithms and at least one more core area of computer science. A STEM background is helpful, though you don't need an undergraduate degree in computer science to apply. The most important computer science master's prerequisite is an academic or professional background in computing and technology that permits you to do the work required in the program. Beyond that, admissions officers look for candidates with clearly definable drive. Wanting to learn more about computer science isn't enough. You should know how Case Western Reserve's MSCS curriculum will help you apply your talents in your industry. If you have questions about whether you meet the university's master's in computer science requirements for admission, an enrollment advisor can walk you through each step of the application process.

CWRU's MSCS application requirements

Case School of Engineering's admissions committee requires prospective online MSCS students to submit the following materials:

  • An online application capturing your general contact and demographic information, as well as your education and employment history.
  • Unofficial transcripts showing your complete undergraduate history plus any graduate credits earned that might be transferable. You only need to request official transcripts (which convey the same information in secure .pdf files or on watermarked or tamper-proof paper) when you decide to enroll. Don't worry if your GPA isn't your strongest attribute. Ask one of your letter of recommendation writers to address academic performance or address it in your personal statement.
  • Letters of recommendation speaking to your academic and professional abilities and accomplishments.
  • A personal statement (or statement of impact) explaining your motivation for pursuing an MSCS and how Case Western Reserve's program will help you meet your goals.
  • A professional resume/CV detailing your work experience. Early-career applicants can include part-time employment, internships and co-op opportunities.
  • International students whose native language is not English must also submit proof of English language proficiency. Those who have or will have earned a three-year bachelor’s degree may need a transcript evaluation prepared by World Education Services (WES) or Education Credential Evaluators (ECE).

MSCS application deadlines

Case School of Engineering has three application submission deadlines—Early Decision, Priority Application and Final Application—for its online computer science MS program. There is approximately a month between each application deadline. For example, the admissions committee reviews applications for the fall semester in late May, late June and mid-July. Prospective applicants often wonder if they're more likely to be accepted if they apply as early as possible or wait, but there's no "best" time to apply. If you can submit a polished application by the Early Decision deadline, you will receive your admissions decision earlier, giving you more time to prepare for classes. If you need more time to put together the strongest possible application, aiming for the Priority Application deadline or Final Application deadline makes sense.

Choosing a deadline that works for you is important. Knowing when application materials are due not only ensures you submit materials on time but also lets you create a workable timeline for submission.

When to prepare MSCS application materials

As early as possible: Research financial aid options and apply.

It's never too early to look into the full cost of a master's in computer science and your funding options. Case Western Reserve's 30-credit online MSCS costs $1,939 per credit hour, which adds up to $58,170 total tuition, though few students pay the full sticker price of this degree out of pocket. Most fund their degrees through some combination of financial aid, grants, employer funding, private scholarships and university scholarships, such as Case Western Reserve's $5,000 scholarship for students who apply by the Early Decision Application Deadline.

If you plan to apply for financial aid, file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible after the new funding season opens Oct. 1. This way, you can take advantage of federal student aid programs with limited funds that agencies award on a first-come, first-serve basis and apply for graduate school, confident you'll be able to accept your offer of admission. You and each of the colleges and universities you list on your FAFSA will receive a Student Aid Report about three to five days after you apply.

Three months before deadline: Create a list of references and reach out.

There is no reason to wait to reach out to references to request letters of recommendation. The more time you give recommenders, the better their recommendations will be. If you haven't spoken to a reference in the past six months, schedule a catch-up before requesting a recommendation. Be sure to send each recommender information detailing how to submit their letter through Case Western University's online recommendation system and the deadline for submission.

Two months before deadline: Begin writing your statement of impact.

Start writing your statement of impact as early as you can—no later than two months before the application deadline—so you have time to explore why Case School of Engineering's MSCS is the right degree for you. It may not take you long to write the first draft of your personal statement, but you should give yourself plenty of time for edits. Ask three or four trusted colleagues or friends for honest feedback, and give them at least a week to review your statement.

At least one month before deadline: Request your unofficial transcripts.

You don't have to wait until you submit your MSCS application to request transcripts. Transcripts are sent from the registrar's office at each of the schools you've attended to the graduate admissions office, and this takes time. Many colleges and universities take about two weeks to process transcript requests or longer during admissions season.

Be aware that you may need more time to secure your unofficial transcripts if you still have college debt. Some institutions will not grant transcript requests from former students with outstanding account balances. Suppose your undergraduate alma mater denies your request. In that case, you can pay off the debt, negotiate with the school for a one-time release, or contact the Department of Education in the state where the school is located to find out if there are laws in place that bar colleges and universities from withholding transcripts based on debt.

One month before deadline: Update your resume.

It's a good idea to ask one or more colleagues or mentors to review your resume before you submit your application materials. Give yourself at least two weeks to implement the feedback you receive and another week to reshare your resume for the second round of feedback.

An MSCS sample timeline

This idealized sample timeline assumes you're applying for fall entry and will submit your materials by the June Priority Application deadline.

In March...

  • Fill out the FAFSA
  • Create a list of application materials
  • Ask for recommendations
  • Begin updating your resume
  • Brainstorm ideas for your personal statement
  • Start researching private scholarships

In April...

  • Work on the online application
  • Check in with your references
  • Request transcripts
  • Write the first draft of your personal statement
  • Share your personal statement with reviewers
  • Ask colleagues to review your resume
  • Start applying for private scholarships

In May...

  • Revise your personal statement and resume
  • Ask your reviewers to take another look
  • Check over each section of the online application
  • Make sure your letters of recommendation are ready

In June...

  • Write the final draft of your personal statement
  • Verify that your recommenders have submitted their letters of recommendation
  • Make copies of all your materials for your records
  • Double check application fees
  • Submit the online application

MSCS application tips

First, if you can, speak to a current or former student of Case Western Reserve's MSCS program to find out what they felt was the strongest element of their application.

Next, review your application holistically. Look for weaknesses and address them with a positive spin in your personal statement. For example, an average undergraduate GPA isn't a disadvantage when you can show how much your grades improved between your junior and senior years.

"What's much more important is that you can explain how graduating from Case School of Engineering's online MSCS program will help you meet your unique goals."

When will you know if you've been accepted?

There is no one set date on which Case Western Reserve issues admissions decisions, though the university makes every effort to share decisions in a timely fashion—usually within 24 hours after the materials review phase is complete. When decisions become available, they appear in the online application system and you will receive an email informing you that your decision is ready to view. Once in the online application system, you can view your letter in your browser or download it as a PDF.

There are three acceptance types. Case Western Reserve grants Admit Full Standing to applicants who submitted official transcripts along with their applications. Admit Conditional acceptance is much more common. This status is for students who've been accepted but still need to submit official transcripts or other materials. The university admits some students with a conditional Admit Provisional status. When they complete specific prerequisite courses or fulfill certain requirements, their admits change to Full Standing. For each acceptance type, students can either accept or decline the offer.

What happens next?

You don't have to accept or decline immediately. MSCS applicants who receive acceptance offers can defer admission for up to two terms by requesting a deferral from the Department of Computer and Data Sciences. If you enroll, you will pay a deposit of $250 that you can apply to the cost of your first semester. Because you already received your FAFSA Student Aid Report, you already have some idea of how much federal aid you can expect. Case Western Reserve sends out financial aid award letters soon after announcing admissions decisions. This letter will tell you how much of your total tuition financial aid will cover, so you have time to plan how you will fund the remainder.

Don't forget to share the good news with your manager if you're earning an MSCS to advance in your current career. Be sure to highlight how this degree will boost your skills and make you a more valuable employee—and to ask what accommodations your company will make to help you balance your studies and a full-time workload.

Can you re-apply?

Yes! It can be disheartening to have your MSCS application denied, but the good news is that you can apply for any future term. This is your chance to put together a brand new application. Unfortunately, rejections don't explain why applicants didn't make it in, but reapplying is a fresh chance to reach out to graduates and an enrollment advisor for advice on how to make your application as strong as possible.

Master’s in computer science requirements for graduation

Most students can complete Case Western Reserve's 30-credit online MSCS in five semesters—or about two years—by taking two classes per semester. Some take longer to complete the coursework required for graduation, but most find that taking two graduate courses is manageable even while working full time and meeting other commitments. The typical MSCS candidate spends about six to nine hours per week in live classes, doing self-paced core courses and studying, and students can take graduate-level courses in whatever order they prefer.

The work is challenging, however, and graduate students have to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher—no small feat for working professionals. To support student success, Case School of Engineering pairs each online MSCS candidate with a Student Success Coach who provides personal, social and career support from matriculation through graduation. They help students with proactive planning and goal setting each semester, developing a personalized academic success plan and acting as students' liaisons with the university. They're also there to answer any questions students have about the online student experience, degree requirements, expectations and balancing work, academics and personal responsibilities.

What to do if you still have questions

You're not alone. Most MSCS applicants have questions because while "fit" is essential, it is also ambiguous. Some prospective students have top-notch materials but aren't sure if their interests and goals align with the strengths of their target schools. Others are passionately driven to be a part of the Case School of Engineering's mission to engineer a better world but don't feel their application materials reflect their strengths. That's why admissions officers at Case Western Reserve University take your academic history, personal statement and professional goals into account when reviewing your application. Being qualified to get into a computer science master's program isn't about having the best grades or a lengthy employment history—though those can certainly strengthen an application. What's much more important is that you can explain how graduating from Case School of Engineering's online MSCS program will help you meet your unique goals. A master's degree is an investment, and you owe it to yourself to be sure you're making the right one.

Case Western Reserve's enrollment advisors are available via email at onlinemscs@case.edu and phone at 216.859.9922 to answer your questions about the university's computer science master's prerequisites and help you decide if the online MSCS is the program for you.

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