Will You Succeed in CWRU's Online CS Master's Program? Answer These 9 Questions to Find Out.

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Choosing the right Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) program is no simple matter. Computer science is a broad, multi-layered discipline with specializations that range from practical to abstract, and colleges and universities make strategic decisions about what their computer science master's curricula will and will not cover. Graduate-level computer science programs at different institutions may fall under the MSCS umbrella but support very different career paths and attract very different types of prospective students.

That's why it's crucial that you research computer science, or CS, master's programs carefully before applying. There are two ways of assessing on-campus and online CS master's programs. First, you can look at quality indicators such as school rank and reputation—the benefits of enrolling in a degree program offered by a well-regarded engineering institution are obvious. Second, you can think critically about how successful you're likely to be in a particular program.

Your interests, aptitudes, goals and needs can help you narrow your graduate program search down to only those programs right for you. A computer science master's from Case School of Engineering can help you tackle real-world challenges with technology, advance in your career and pivot as discoveries in computer science change the employment landscape. But will you thrive in Case Western Reserve University's 100% online CS master's program? The following nine questions can help you determine whether it's the right MSCS for you.

1. Am I a good fit for CWRU's online master's in computer science program?

Fit is a crucial consideration, given how different computer science master's programs can be. There are full-time, on-campus MSCS programs appropriate for recent undergraduates with computer science bachelor's degrees or career-switchers, and part-time online CS master's programs geared toward experienced software developers, computer systems analysts, information systems specialists and technologists. Some offer numerous concentration options—e.g., cloud computing, robotics or computational theory—designed to support careers in very specific areas of computer science. Others, like Case Western Reserve's online CS master's, have curricula laser-focused on the most in-demand computer science skills. The program's comprehensive curriculum focuses on four key areas of computer science: artificial intelligence (AI), databases and data mining, security and privacy, and software engineering.

2. Am I qualified to get into Case School of Engineering?

The typical MSCS admission requirements are straightforward. To apply to Case Western Reserve's online CS master's program, you'll fill out the online application and submit unofficial transcripts that show your complete undergraduate history plus any graduate credits earned, a personal statement (or statement of impact) explaining your motivation for pursuing an MSCS, a resume, and three letters of recommendation speaking to your academic and professional abilities and accomplishments.

Your materials should demonstrate that you not only meet the basic prerequisites but also have a strong working knowledge of data structures, algorithms and at least one other core area of computer science. A STEM background is helpful, but not required—you don't need a computer science bachelor's or even an undergraduate degree in technology to apply. An average undergraduate GPA or quantitative GRE score isn't necessarily a disadvantage, either. What's more important is that you can show the admissions committee that your academic or professional background in computer science and information technology has prepared you for the rigorous MSCS curriculum and that the program will support your career goals.

The Case School of Engineering admissions committee will review your MSCS applications for markers—such as relevant employment and accomplishments—that indicate your interests and aspirations align with those of the program. Before you apply, think about what excites you about Case Western Reserve's MSCS program and how the program will help you meet your short- and long-term professional goals.

3. Does the curriculum teach the skills I need to master?

Computer science is a rapidly evolving field and employers increasingly look for a mix of hard and soft skills in technology professionals. Most graduate-level computer science degree programs teach hard skills and programming languages, but not skills that, as the Strada Institute's Robot Ready report puts it, "combine the technical with the human: programming + ethics, AI + emotional intelligence or logic + judgment."

Only you can identify which core competencies—technical and otherwise—are missing from your skillset and determine whether Case School of Engineering's computer science program is the right place to address them. In the online CS master's program, you'll hone advanced technical skills related to algorithms, computer science theory, artificial intelligence, databases and data mining, and develop stronger soft skills such as intellectual flexibility, teamwork, leadership and persistence.

4. Do my goals align with CWRU's MSCS student outcomes?

"Why?" is a powerful question that can make it easier to find the right graduate program. Think about what's driving you to pursue an MSCS. Perhaps you've hit a career plateau. Or you're intrigued by the growing demand for technology professionals with automation, data mining, cybersecurity and software engineering skills. Maybe you've read that computer scientists with master's degrees can earn $100,000 or more, and advancing into a higher-paying area of computer science is one of your goals.

Case Western Reserve's graduate computer science program was designed to propel careers forward. An MSCS from Case School of Engineering can help you compete in an increasingly automated world, give you the credentials to step into management roles, boost your earning potential and give you a foot in the door at top technology companies. Case Western Reserve graduates go on to work at prestigious companies such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce, as well as top scientific organizations such as IBM Research and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

5. Do I want to study with the people behind the program?

Top MSCS programs create industry leaders in two ways. First, they give degree candidates leading-edge skills. Second, they give them access to a community of innovators, researchers, industry experts and knowledgeable peers.

In Case School of Engineering's online CS master's program, you'll study with leaders in the field, such as Professor Jing Li (who received a National Science Foundation grant to develop advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms to address questions in computational drug prediction) and Assistant Professor Xusheng Xiao (who received a $500,000 National Science Foundation Early Career Award to develop a context- and user-aware framework for the optimization of mobile application security).

You will also take real-time virtual classes and participate in live student study sessions with peers who are talented software engineers, computer systems analysts, information systems specialists and programmers skilled in multiple programming languages and software systems. After graduation, you can tap into a thriving worldwide network of Case Western Reserve graduates as part of the Case Alumni Association and the Case Western Reserve University Alumni Association.

6. Does the program offer the student support and resources I need?

Studying computer science online doesn't have to mean studying alone—when you choose a program designed to set you up for success. As a distance learner enrolled at Case Western Reserve, you'll receive robust pre- and post-graduation student support, which means the salary-boosting, career-enhancing properties of the Case School of Engineering MSCS are the same for on-campus students and remote students. You’ll work closely with a Student Success Coach who will give you whatever personal, social and career support you require from matriculation through graduation. You’ll have access to a wide array of resources, support and guidance to help advance your career. You can also tap into career services that include post-graduate planning, resume writing and interview preparation, as well as post-graduation placement assistance from advisors who can help you find and connect with the right company or position, thanks to the university's deep ties with some of the world’s largest engineering, technology and science firms.

7. What is the online learning experience like?

Every institution approaches distance education differently, so be sure the programs you're considering offer the student experience you want. For example, some online MS in Computer Science programs prioritize live classes and collaboration while others involve no synchronous coursework at all and are entirely self-paced. As an online student enrolled at Case School of Engineering, you’ll get the best of both worlds: engaging virtual class time with professors and peers plus self-paced project-based work you can complete on your own schedule. Class sizes are small so you can be sure you'll receive a hands-on, high-engagement education. You can ask questions, share insights and get feedback in real time, just like you would taking classes on campus. There are live office hours and virtual networking events, reciprocal peer learning is part of the program, and you can even join clubs and groups.

8. Can I comfortably pay for this degree?

It's worth looking into the cost of computer science master's programs so you can budget for tuition and other expenses before you enroll. Putting together a plan in advance gives you plenty of time to research and apply for student loans, financial aid, university grants, employer funding and scholarships so you're not worrying about paying for your education when you should be focusing on passing your classes. Case Western Reserve's 30-credit online Master of Science in Computer Science costs $2,057 per credit hour, which adds up to $61,710 total tuition, and you can finance your online degree in various ways. If you're like most MSCS candidates, you'll pay for graduate school with a mix of loans, financial aid and work-study or research assistantships. Be sure to ask your employer about tuition reimbursement. If your company doesn't have an official tuition reimbursement program with an application process, you may still be able to secure tuition assistance with the help of HR and manager sponsorship.

9. How do I know pursuing an MSCS will be worth it?

Look at the long-term return on investment, or ROI, of this degree. You can measure ROI using various metrics, but most people consider salary first. MSCS holders in technology and computer science careers out-earn their peers by tens of thousands of dollars, with annual salaries of $104,000 versus $87,000 for bachelor's degree holders. You can also measure ROI in access to opportunity. Senior-level roles in computer science and related fields are commonly filled by professionals with significant experience and advanced credentials such as the Master of Science in Computer Science. If your goal is to advance into one of the highest-paying computer science careers, you will likely need a graduate degree. Finally, you can look at ROI in terms of the impact your time in a program will have on your professional network and your resume.

At Case School of Engineering, you'll study under influential researchers doing revenue-generating, paradigm-shifting work in computer science. You'll also interface regularly with faculty who have deep expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning, computational neuroscience, software engineering, data science and data mining, cybersecurity, data privacy and computer networking. Should you choose to participate in research, you'll join an ecosystem of innovation that generated 80 breakthrough inventions, 70 leading-edge U.S. patents and 237 grant-sponsored research projects in 2020 alone. You might even take the lead in university research endeavors, authoring papers in elite peer-reviewed journals in collaboration with professors and peers.

More importantly, you will do all that and more without needing to move or otherwise interrupt the progression of your career. In the online master of computer science program, you will take the same core computer science courses from the same world-renowned professors and instructors in the computer science department. The value of a computer science master's from Case Western Reserve is the same regardless of how you earn it.

What to do if you're still not sure you'll succeed in CWRU's online MSCS program

You owe it to yourself to be absolutely sure you're enrolling in an online CS master's program that will support your ambitions. Fortunately, there are many people out there who can help you make the best possible decision. Chances are you have friends, family and colleagues who will be more than happy to look at the on-campus and online programs you're considering and give you their thoughts. Case Western Reserve Enrollment Advisors are also available via email at onlinemscs@case.edu and phone at 216.859.9922 to answer any questions you have about the online MSCS program and help you determine whether you'll be successful in it. Don't be afraid to ask for help, advice or more information. Remember, an MSCS on your resume can give you an advantage as you search for new opportunities, but a degree from the right computer science master's program will take your career to new heights.

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