10 Ways to Strengthen Your Master's in Computer Science Application

Two women talk in the corner of a room. One sits on a blue couch and the other sits on a windowsill, with her laptop open.

Applying to graduate school can be intimidating, but there are numerous reasons to get a master's degree in computer science. For starters: Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) holders may have an easier time getting jobs at top companies that are known for paying well. In fact, 21%-36% of employees at companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google have master's degrees.

Even at non-FAANG firms (prominent companies in the tech sector), the MSCS has one of the highest wage premiums of any master's degree. PayScale reports that computer science professionals with bachelor's degrees earn about $86,000, per year while those with graduate degrees earn average salaries close to $104,000 per year. Master's degree holders also have lower unemployment rates across fields than bachelor's degree holders.

Computer science master's program graduates enjoy this high pay and career stability because they have advanced technical skills, well-developed soft skills and advantageous professional connections. They're also prepared to adapt to a changing employment landscape in which graduate degrees are becoming increasingly common. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 74% of employers have raised educational standards over the last several years. The upside is that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts jobs requiring a master's degree will grow faster than jobs requiring bachelor's, associate's and other degrees.

Luckily, applying to graduate school to earn an MSCS isn't complicated. It's important, however, to do everything you can to make your application as strong as possible—especially when you apply to selective graduate programs like the MSCS offered 100% online by Case Western Reserve University.

How admissions officers review applications

When reviewing applications from prospective MSCS students, admissions officers typically look for individuals who are academically strong with an undergraduate degree in a STEM field. They are also seeking people who are goal-oriented, inquisitive, innovative and prepared to commit to about two years of graduate-level work.

Getting into an on-campus or online master's in computer science program isn't just a matter of having the best grades, top GRE scores or a lengthy employment history—though these can certainly strengthen your MSCS application. Admissions officers also review applications for markers—including relevant employment in fields like software development, machine learning or cybersecurity—that indicate prospective students' interests and goals align with those of the program. In other words, they're looking for applicants who are a good "fit."

Fit is a key consideration but also an ambiguous one. The ideal application explains to admissions officers how graduating from this particular program will help you meet your goals.

Admissions officers look at the whole picture when reviewing your application for Case School of Engineering’s online master’s in computer science program, including your academic history, work experience and professional goals. Making that picture a compelling one isn't difficult but does take time and care.

10 tips to make your MSCS application as strong as possible

1. Explore your skills and goals first

Online degree programs in computer science tend to attract experienced software developers, computing systems analysts, information systems specialists, network security engineers and other tech professionals. Successful Case School of Engineering applicants are usually working professionals who understand where they want to take their careers and how completing an MSCS program will help them get there.

Before you apply, take a thoughtful look at your education, past work experience, technical and soft skills and five- to 10-year career plan. This will give a better idea of the competencies you need to develop to excel in your computer science career. That knowledge will help you put together a stronger application and get more out of graduate school and, importantly, choose the right master’s program for you and your skillset.

Case School of Engineering's online Master of Science in Computer Science program, for example, offers two tracks tailored to your level of technical knowledge. The pathways track addresses foundational computer science skills for professionals looking to transition into the field, whereas the advanced track coursework helps technology professionals further develop their expertise.

2. Find programs that align with your background and ambitions

The strongest MSCS applications demonstrate why and how a candidate for admission is a good fit for a specific program. That's why it's so important to look closely at not only program focus but also the curriculum, faculty and format. As you research full-time and part-time on-campus and online programs, consider the following questions:

The answers to these questions will help you identify computer science master's degree programs that will advance your career and then, once you’re ready to apply, write a compelling personal statement. Fully knowing a program lets you speak to how that program—as opposed to the degree it confers—will help you meet your goals.

Both the pathways and advanced tracks in Case Western Reserve University's online MS in Computer Science look for applicants with strong STEM backgrounds. Successful applicants want to develop knowledge and skills in critical areas of computer science such as software engineering, security and privacy, databases and data mining and artificial intelligence to launch new technology careers or advance in their current roles.

3. Speak with an enrollment advisor

Colleges and universities employ professionals known as enrollment advisors whose sole job is to answer prospective students' questions and support them when they decide to apply. These enrollment specialists are an amazing resource because they know exactly what's required to apply to specific programs and what kinds of applicants are admitted. You can ask them almost anything. For instance, if you have questions about whether you meet a university's master's in computer science requirements for admission, an enrollment advisor can review your transcripts and resume and walk you through each of the prerequisites. They can also tell you more about the MSCS degree requirements you'll need to fulfill to graduate. Case Western Reserve's enrollment advisors are available via email at onlinemscs@case.edu to answer your questions.

4. Give yourself more time than you think you'll need

Most universities have multiple application submission deadlines. Putting together a well-crafted, compelling application can take months.

First, you need to study the application guidelines carefully to be sure you understand the deadlines for each application submission round. Case School of Engineering, for example, has three application submission deadlines—Early Decision, Priority Application and Final Application—for its online computer science master's program, and there is approximately a month between each application deadline. The admissions committee reviews applications for the fall semester in late May, late June and mid-July and for the summer semester in late February, late March and early April.

Once you choose a target deadline, you can create a timeline. This ensures you won't make the kinds of rushed mistakes that weaken an otherwise strong application.

The following idealized sample timeline assumes you're applying for fall entry and will submit materials by the June Priority Application deadline:

  • In March:

    • Fill out the FAFSA
    • Create a list of application materials
    • Ask for recommendations
    • Update your resume
    • Gather ideas for your personal statement
    • Research private scholarships
  • In April:

    • Touch base with your references
    • Request your unofficial transcripts
    • Write the first draft of your personal statement
    • Share your personal statement with reviewers
    • Ask a colleague or mentor to review your resume
    • Work on your private scholarship applications
  • In May:

    • Edit and revise your personal statement and resume
    • Ask your reviewers to take another look at your materials
    • Read through each section of the online application
    • Check that your letters of recommendation are ready
    • Work on any additional scholarship applications
  • In June:

    • Compose the final draft of your personal statement
    • Verify that your recommenders have submitted their letters
    • Make copies of your application materials for your records
    • Submit your online application

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, and may be eligible for additional university scholarships. But if you need more time to put together the strongest possible application, aiming for the Priority Application deadline or Final Application deadline makes sense.

You should only submit your application materials once they're ready—even if that means waiting until the next deadline.

5. Connect with current students

Current and former students can help you understand what it takes to get into and succeed in an on-campus or online master's in computer science program. You can find on-campus and online students who can answer your questions about a program by checking department websites, which may feature current students (along with contact information) as program ambassadors, and reaching out to the department or admissions office directly to ask if there are current students willing to answer some questions.

You can also get in touch with current students by contacting university clubs and student groups related to your chosen program. Alumni are often easier to track down. You can contact the school's career center, email the alumni association to ask for connections or even search LinkedIn for professionals in your field who graduated from the program. Cast a wide net. Some people will be too busy to answer your questions, but if you keep trying, you'll eventually make some useful connections.

6. Take preparatory computer science courses

To succeed in a challenging part-time MSCS program like Case Western Reserve's online Master of Science in Computer Science, you must have the academic or professional background in computer science, information technology and related fields that permits you to do the work required.

Ideally, you'll apply with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or an undergraduate degree in another computation discipline like computer engineering, plus some related real-world experience. If you don't have either, you might need to take and pass specific prerequisite courses in computer science, programming languages, software systems and advanced mathematics before applying.

If you meet the on-paper admission requirements of an MSCS program, it's still a good idea to look at the master's in computer science curriculum to determine if it includes courses you might struggle with. There are numerous foundational computer science courses online you can take to boost your skills in areas of computer science such as data structures, algorithms, software engineering, artificial intelligence, computer architecture, networking, operating systems and programming.

Some programs, such as Case Western Reserve University's online Master of Science in Computer Science, accommodate learners who have the technology skills to succeed in an MSCS program but not the fundamental computer science knowledge. Case Western Reserve’s pathways track is for students with strong STEM backgrounds who can benefit from additional foundational computer science courses.

7. Don't wait to reach out for letters of recommendation

Request letters of recommendation as soon as possible. The more time you give recommenders, the better their letters of recommendation will be.

Ideally, recommenders are people who can speak to your academic and professional abilities and accomplishments. The best letters of recommendation are written by people who know you well and are well-known in your field. That said, admissions officers would rather see a detailed letter of recommendation from a professor, manager or mentor than a cursory one from a famous computer scientist.

Make sure each of your chosen letter writers are aware of the application deadline and understand how to submit their rating and letter through Case Western Reserve's online recommendation system.

8. Tailor your resume

A strong resume includes relevant work experience and awards—not every one of your accomplishments. The ideal graduate school application resume illustrates why you're a good fit for a particular program by highlighting accomplishments in areas of computer science related to a specific master's program. In other words, it shows a clear correlation between your past experience and future goals. Early-career applicants can include related part-time employment, internships and co-op opportunities on their resumes.

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 make edits based on the feedback you receive, and another week to reshare your resume for another round of feedback.

9. Write an authentic personal statement

A personal statement is an essay explaining your motivation for pursuing a program and how a degree will help you meet your goals. Don't write what you think admissions officers want to read. If you try to make yourself sound like the average enrollee, you'll end up writing an average personal statement.

Aim for authenticity as you explore why you want to earn an MSCS at this time in your life, how the program will support your short- and long-term career goals and why the program is the right one for you. Don't rehash your resume and don't be too humble. This is your opportunity to showcase your skills and achievements.

Start composing your personal statement as early as you can—no later than two months before the application deadline—but think about your reasons for wanting to attend a specific program before you begin writing. Ask one or more trusted colleagues to review your first and second drafts and take their suggestions seriously.

10. Edit your application materials multiple times before submission

Proofreading is crucial. Admissions officers will overlook minor mistakes but may regard more than one or two typos or errors as a sign you're not serious about attending a program—or detail-oriented enough to thrive in it.

Catching typos in your own writing can be tough but is easier when you use a text-to-speech app to listen to your words instead of trying to read them on a screen. You can also ask someone you trust to do a second round of proofreading. Give them at least a week to read through your materials.

Editing for content is also vital. Try to review your application holistically, the way admissions officers do. Look for weaknesses and address them proactively with a positive spin in your personal statement. For example, an average undergraduate GPA isn't necessarily a disadvantage when you can show how much your grades improved between your junior and senior years.

How to get started on your MSCS application

A master's-level computer science degree can propel your computer science career forward, help you pivot into a new area of technology or put you on the management track at your company. An MSCS from Case School of Engineering can also increase your lifetime earning potential by anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, based on the average salaries associated with computer science bachelor's degrees and computer science master's degrees.

That's why you owe it to yourself to invest the time and effort it takes to make your application as strong as possible.

To get started, spend a few days thinking about what you want to get out of graduate school and reading about Case Western Reserve's online master's in computer science. Next, review the MSCS online program prerequisites and admission requirements carefully. Begin collecting materials for your application as soon as possible. The more time you spend preparing your application, the stronger it will be.

Finally, don't be afraid to ask for help or advice. Many people don't realize applying to graduate school can and should be a team sport. Chances are you have friends, family and colleagues who will be more than happy to support you as you embark upon this next phase of your career.

Case Western Reserve's enrollment advisors are also available via email at onlinemscs@case.edu and phone at 216.859.9922 to talk about tuition and financial aid, help you get started and answer any questions you think of along the way.

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