How Long Does It Take to Complete a Part-Time Master's in Computer Science Program?

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Investing in a graduate degree such as a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) means spending not only money but also time. Prospective students often think more about the financial cost of a master's in computer science than about the time it takes to earn this degree, which is paradoxical. While the MSCS is associated with one of the highest wage premiums of any master's degree, no degree can make time anything but finite. So it makes sense to consider how long it takes to get a master's degree in computer science—not just ROI—when calculating the value of this degree.

The first question people usually ask themselves when considering grad school is "Full time or part time?" Many assume that the best computer science master's program will be an accelerated, full-time program that gets them into the workforce faster, but faster doesn't always mean better when it comes to master's degrees. Understanding what influences how long it takes to earn an MSCS—covered in detail below—is the key to making the smartest possible decision.

Who typically earns a part-time master's in computer science?

The answer is often working professionals already employed in tech. Programs for full-time students are often geared toward career changers and recent undergraduates who want to hone their skills in academia before entering the working world. Part-time master's in computer science programs, on the other hand, are geared toward developers and programmers, network engineers and architects, systems analysts and managers, database administrators and security analysts who don't want to put their professional lives on hold to advance along their career paths.

Part-time graduate-level programs like Case Western Reserve University's online MSCS offer more than flexibility, however. Students in part-time MSCS programs bring valuable industry experience to the classroom and benefit from reciprocal peer learning. They also develop advantageous professional connections and broad professional networks not bound by geography—one of many reasons why Case School of Engineering graduates go on to work at prestigious organizations such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon and IBM, as well as top research institutions such as IBM Research, the Institute of Systems Biology, NASA Glenn Research Center and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Because part-time students in these programs have experience, are comfortable with computer science fundamentals and can apply what they're learning in their professional lives right away, they're able to absorb advanced material quickly.

What are the benefits of earning a part-time online MSCS?

The benefits of choosing an online MSCS program include the ability to study anywhere without having to relocate. Many students are surprised to discover there's virtually no downside to studying online—and that they're not required to indicate on a resume that they studied remotely. How students earn an MSCS is much less important than where they study and what they learn. Very few employers differentiate between degrees earned online and degrees earned on campus because, increasingly, colleges and universities don't differentiate between them. Case Western Reserve, in particular, draws no hard distinction between its online and in-person graduate programs. Part-time online MSCS candidates take the same classes covering the same computer science skills from the same faculty members—and they receive the same high-touch support as students who take classes on campus.

"The financial ROI of an MSCS—especially one earned in a high-profile program with a comprehensive, industry-driven curriculum that teaches advanced technical skills and human+ skills—is indisputable."

The fact that a student earned a computer science master's online can actually be an asset. Many employers recognize and respect that online programs are seldom easier than on-campus programs and can even be more challenging because success requires extra dedication, refined time-management skills, a high degree of organization and perseverance—all in-demand soft skills in tech. Hiring managers may regard applicants who graduate from online degree programs as more ambitious, more skilled and more serious about taking their computer science careers to the next level.

How does an online MSCS program save time?

Online master's degree programs are no shorter than similar programs delivered on campus, but they may condense the path from application to graduation in certain circumstances. A student who chooses a full-time, on-campus program at a faraway school, for instance, may need weeks or even months to coordinate and then prepare to relocate to another city or state. They may need to defer enrollment until they can get their living situation and affairs sorted, while a computer scientist enrolled in a comparable online MSCS program can start as soon as their program allows.

What are the benefits of earning an MSCS from CWRU?

Case School of Engineering delivers its part-time master's in computer science 100% online so students can continue working full time while earning this degree. Students complete graduate studies work wherever they're located through a blend of self-paced coursework and live interaction with peers and instructors, and the core courses in the program are not interdependent so graduate students can complete them in any order.

What they don't have to do is sacrifice quality for flexibility. Online MSCS candidates can join clubs and groups, just like students on campus. Distance learners enrolled in Case Western Reserve's graduate degree programs can also participate in real-world technology-focused projects and leading-edge computer science research. That's relatively unusual and one of the reasons why employers respect online technology degrees from Case School of Engineering. The university as a whole has a reputation for excellence that spans nearly 200 years, and Case School of Engineering has spawned major innovations in areas of computer science like robotics and data science.

How long does it take to finish a computer science MS program if I want to continue working full time?

How long it takes to earn an MSCS in a part-time program varies from institution to institution and depends on each student's drive. Students can complete Case Western Reserve's 10-course, 30-credit hour online computer science MS program in five semesters (or just under two years) when they take two courses per semester. That's a manageable load for most full-time professionals, representing just six to nine hours of work per week total made up of live classes, self-paced coursework and study time. When Master of Science in Computer Science candidates opt to take a single class for a semester or two, they may need an additional term to fulfill the MSCS graduation requirements.

Some students initially look into online master's in computer science programs because they're curious about how quickly one can earn an MSCS or whether there are any accelerated computer science master's programs. Few full-time, one-year programs offer an academically rigorous curriculums comparable to Case Western Reserve's part-time program. Consequently, when students research computer science degrees, "How long?" is not the question they should be asking. A better question is "When can I start?"

What is the right time to begin a part-time MSCS program?

“Sooner begun, sooner done,” or so the adage goes. Some prospective students plan to enroll in a computer science master's program right after earning bachelor's degrees—a move that can potentially be a time-saver. There are, however, compelling reasons to wait, even if it means earning a master's degree later in your career. While Case School of Engineering welcomes early-career professionals to apply for the part-time MSCS program, most students in the program are working professionals with a keen understanding of where they want to take their careers and how the program will help them reach their goals. Additionally, students who work in computer science, computer engineering, software engineering, cybersecurity or information technology have typically identified where their skills are lacking and can get more out of an advanced graduate school program.

"Ultimately, program length is much less important than program content and quality because *good things take time*."

It may also be easier to get into a top part-time master's in computer science program when your resume shows years of achievement—and easier to finish a program when you're not worried about financing your degree. While amassing years of experience in technical roles can mean it takes longer to enroll in a graduate computer science program and subsequently earn a degree, employers are also more likely to offer loyal employees tuition reimbursement.

What other factors influence how long it takes to complete your degree?

Calculating how long it takes to get a master's degree in computer science at a given college or university involves more than simply looking at the length of the school's program. Prospective students should factor in how long it takes to apply as well as the time from acceptance to the start of the term. For example, Case Western Reserve MSCS applicants submit materials like undergraduate degree and graduate course transcripts, three letters of recommendation and a two-page statement of impact—all of which can take months to procure and prepare. Applicants without a professional or educational STEM background may need to fulfill additional prerequisite requirements before they qualify for full acceptance, which can add six months to a year to the application process. Understanding that process and the associated deadlines is key because missing your target application deadline may lengthen the time it takes to get from application to graduation.

When should I start applying to MSCS programs?

Every college and university sets unique application deadlines. Like many higher education institutions, Case Western Reserve has an Early Decision deadline, a Priority Application deadline and a Final Application deadline with roughly a month between each. For fall admission, prospective students can submit materials in late May, late June and mid-July. There's no right or wrong time to apply. Students who start their applications early can aim for the first round.

Then there are those students who could meet the deadlines for one start date but ultimately choose to wait. They include early-career applicants who decide to accrue another year of professional experience before applying to make their application stronger and applicants without computer science bachelor's degrees who need to take bridge courses to be sure they qualify for acceptance. The path these students take is a longer one but also one that boosts their chances of acceptance and success in the program.

Is an MSCS worth the amount of time it takes to earn?

This is a much better question for prospective students to ask than "How long does it take to get a master's degree in computer science?" The financial ROI of an MSCS—especially one earned in a high-profile program with a comprehensive, industry-driven curriculum that teaches advanced technical skills and human+ skills—is indisputable. When that program is online and part time but gives distance learners the same access as on-campus students to research opportunities, an active alumni network and robust career support, the ROI goes up. Ultimately, program length is much less important than program content and quality because good things take time.

If you still have questions about earning a part-time online MSCS, Case Western Reserve's enrollment advisors are available via email at onlinemscs@case.edu and phone at 216.859.9922 to answer them. Be on the lookout for any upcoming webinars to learn more about how a computer science master's will enhance your career.

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