Should You Get a Part-Time Master's in Computer Science? How to Decide.

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The career-enhancing benefits of a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) are well-known, but the average cost of a master's in computer science and the time investment involved can sometimes discourage people from pursuing this graduate degree. What they don't know is that the MSCS has one of the highest wage premiums of any master's degree and that going to graduate school doesn't have to involve putting one's life on hold. There are numerous reasonably priced, part-time master's in computer science programs, many of which are offered by institutions known for their world-class faculty, leading-edge curriculums and research excellence.

Case Western Reserve University's Case School of Engineering is home to a 100% online part-time computer science master's program that teaches students to tackle real-world challenges with technology in just a few hours each week over less than two years. To determine whether it's the right program for you, you need to compare it to all possible options, consider whether you meet the admissions requirements and typical student profile, and then look at the average return on investment.

Why and how do master's in computer science programs vary?

Colleges and universities offer MSCS programs that vary by length, curriculum, format and commitment required. Full-time, on-campus computer science master's programs, for example, typically require students to make a full-time commitment. This can involve taking a sabbatical from work or resigning entirely to focus on graduate school. Part-time master's in computer science programs attract committed professionals who don't want to miss out on opportunities for advancement while studying. On-campus programs may appeal to learners looking for a traditional graduate school experience while online programs attract students who want to enroll in a specific program without relocating.

There tends to be greater variability among part-time master's in computer science and online MSCS programs. Some online MSCS programs are entirely asynchronous, with no live classes or real-time collaborative project work. Others involve a mix of synchronous and asynchronous coursework and require students to work together to solve real-world problems. At Case Western Reserve, every course in the MSCS curriculum involves real-time virtual classes and live student study sessions as well as asynchronous work.

There's a widespread misconception that online and part-time master's in computer science programs are easier than traditional programs. But in reality, top online and part-time MSCS programs typically offer the same core courses in areas of computing, such as software engineering and data mining, taught by the same faculty members. Over five semesters, part-time computer science master's students enrolled in Case School of Engineering will learn the same technical skills and career-boosting soft skills as their peers on campus.

Who typically pursues a part-time MSCS?

The part-time students in Case Western Reserve's computer science master's program tend to be talented software developers, computer systems analysts, information systems specialists and programmers skilled in multiple programming languages and software systems, but their reasons for pursuing advanced education in computer science vary.

Some already work in areas of computer science such as software development or systems architecture and hope a master's degree will help them advance more quickly or qualify for senior management positions. They may also want to hone their skills in key areas of computer science such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and privacy, databases and data mining, networking and software engineering—all of which the Case School of Engineering's part-time MSCS curriculum covers in depth.

Others enroll in the part-time MSCS program because they want to launch (or switch) careers and are looking for a well-rounded computer science education. Healthcare administration and management professionals might, for instance, pursue an MSCS so they can transition into jobs focused on the applications of artificial intelligence in medicine. Some financial services providers study computer science because they see how machine learning, AI and automation are disrupting traditional asset management, and that more fintech companies are becoming regulated banks. Educators find their way into part-time master's in computer science programs when they learn that less than half of all public high schools in the U.S. include computer science in their curriculum.

Still others enroll in part-time MSCS programs because they eventually want to pursue PhDs in specialty areas of computing such as cybersecurity, human-computer interaction, artificial intelligence, machine learning, or big data.

The benefits of pursuing a part-time, online MSCS at CWRU

The flexibility of the online MSCS program at Case Western Reserve is ideal for working professionals who plan to keep their full-time jobs as they study. The program supports student learning without asking MSCS candidates to make sweeping lifestyle changes. More importantly, part-time MSCS candidates can access a wide array of resources, support and guidance to advance in their education and career paths.

Online learners also have nearly as many opportunities to build relationships and work in partnership with their fellow graduate students and faculty members as students on campus and learn just as much from peers as they do from professors. Distance learners can get involved with university, department and student organizations. They can even take part in research and join a scholarly tradition that has spawned major innovation in areas of computer science such as robotics, smart technology and data science.

After graduation, students can tap into the powerful Case School of Engineering alumni association and the university-wide alumni network plus an array of resources, support and guidance that includes career planning, resume development and interview preparation.

What to expect in a part-time, online MSCS program

Every part-time master's in computer science program is different. Case School of Engineering students complete a blend of interactive, self-paced coursework and live, virtual classes from wherever they are and can continue meeting personal and professional commitments. Most can complete Case Western Reserve's 10-course, 30-credit hour part-time computer science MS program in just under two years when they take two courses per semester—a manageable load for most full-time professionals, representing just six to nine hours of work per week, made up of hour-long live classes, two to five hours of self-paced coursework and two to three hours of study time.

Class sizes in the Case School of Engineering part-time master's in computer science program are purposefully kept small to ensure students receive a hands-on, high-engagement education comparable to that of traditional full-time programs and to promote strong relationship development. The part-time, online MSCS program provides candidates with ample opportunities to connect with one another, faculty and industry representatives in computer science and related STEM fields—and those connections promote student success and lead to research opportunities, internships and jobs.

How to find work-life-school balance while earning a part-time MSCS

The most successful students in part-time graduate degree programs tend to have three things in common.

First, they don't leave anything to chance, which allows them to meet all their deadlines and obligations—often with time to spare. They create and stick to weekly and monthly work and study schedules that build in extra time for projects and exams. They also let their employers know in advance that there will be academic obligations that may make checking off their regular deliverables in the usual time frame more challenging.

Second, they're willing to make some sacrifices. They know that going to graduate school while working full time already requires juggling multiple commitments. Add personal obligations and self-care to the mix, and it becomes impossible to keep juggling without dropping the occasional ball. Savvy part-time master's in computer science candidates ask family and friends for help with childcare and other familiar responsibilities. They accept that they can't do everything, all the time. The one area where they don't make sacrifices, however, is self-care because they understand they have to be well-rested, nourished and relaxed to handle the rigors of their graduate studies.

Third, they ask for the help they need when they need it. Case School of Engineering pairs part-time MSCS candidates with academic advisors who help students with questions about course selection, and every student has a Student Success Coach who provides whatever personal, social and career support they require from matriculation through graduation. Proactive students tap into their peers' strengths during collaborative, hands-on project work and network with everyone from classmates and professors to alumni and industry contacts.

Are part-time master's programs as good or respected as full-time master's programs?

In short, yes. Many part-time MSCS programs are identical to full-time MSCS programs in every respect, save format. Case School of Engineering students meet the same admission prerequisites and take the same core computer science courses from the same world-renowned professors and instructors. They earn the same diploma, and the return on their investment is the same as that of their on-campus peers.

How students earn an MSCS is usually much less important than where they study and what they learn, but the fact that a student earned a computer science master's in a part-time program can be an asset. Most employers don't differentiate between part-time and full-time graduate degree programs because they're aware that colleges and universities seldom differentiate between them. They may, however, see more promise in applicants who have successfully earned a graduate degree from a prestigious institution such as Case Western Reserve while also meeting professional and personal commitments.

What can you do after earning a part-time master's in computer science?

People often associate a Master of Science in Computer Science with computer and information research, but an MSCS can take a career in many different directions. This degree is appropriate for professionals in software development and engineering, artificial intelligence, information technology, information systems, cybersecurity, machine perception and data mining.

Some graduates go on to become senior software engineers earning $122,000, senior software architects earning $124,000, senior database engineers earning $126,000 and senior solutions architects earning $145,000. Others rise through the ranks of technology management and advance into c-suite positions such as Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Should I get a part-time, online MSCS?

Only you can answer this question, though there are many compelling reasons to pursue a computer science master's part-time. The financial ROI of an MSCS earned in a high-profile, flexible program with a comprehensive, future-focused curriculum that teaches advanced technical skills and human+ skills is indisputable. You can continue earning income and accruing experience while studying, knowing that you're likely to earn over $100,000 soon after graduation—or nearly twice the national median household income.

Many sources report that jobs in computer science will grow by 15% over the next decade, but that figure is only valid for roles in computational research (e.g., computer scientist and information research scientist). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks growth in different disciplines of computer science employment and breaks down its estimates by geographical location, and looking at a wider variety of data can give you a more complete picture of your prospects. For example, while employers will create more than 500,000 new jobs for computer and information systems professionals between now and 2029, only 5,000 of those will be in research. More than 40,000 will be for information security professionals and close to 50,000 will be for systems analysts, but employers will create an additional 316,000 for software development and engineering professionals in the same period.

Those newly created computer science jobs will likely be clustered in certain states and metro areas the same way existing jobs in technology and STEM fields are today. In 2020, for instance, there were more than 122,000 job postings in Ohio alone for professionals in IT, R&D, telecommunications, technology manufacturing and software development. There were also more than 141,000 job listings in Ohio and nearby states posted by employers looking for candidates with technical skills related to computer science across industries—especially in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, software and cybersecurity.

They may also be geared toward the highly educated. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 33% of employers now hire workers with master's degrees for positions that previously went to candidates with four-year undergraduate degrees. LaborInsight reports that nearly four in 10 computer science job listings request that candidates have master's degrees.

Whether your goals involve transitioning into a computer science career, advancing in a technology career or leveraging the power of AI or other technologies in your current field, Case Western Reserve's part-time MSCS program will give you the knowledge and credentials to accomplish them.

Ready to learn more about what it takes to earn 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 your questions. You can also register for an upcoming webinar to learn more about how studying computer science part-time will enhance your career.

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