How Hard is it to Get a Computer Science Degree?

Industry Advice Computing and IT

As a rapidly-growing field with more than 550,000 new jobs predicted by 2028, computer science offers an exciting career path for people who want to use their problem-solving skills in the tech industry. Getting a master’s degree in computer science can be the perfect way to gain the other skills you’ll need to advance. 

For many professionals, however, pursuing a degree in computer science can feel like a daunting endeavor. Success requires hours of practicing coding, learning theory, networking, and searching for jobs or co-ops. Students who don’t already have a computer science background may feel the added stress of learning a completely new skillset. 

A comprehensive and supportive computer science degree program can provide the right framework for students of any background. Whether you take classes part-time or have never coded before, it’s not impossible to get a computer science degree—it just takes hard work and the right resources. Here’s how Northeastern supports its computer science graduate students throughout their education. 

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What Does a Master’s in Computer Science Curriculum Entail?

Northeastern offers both a traditional master’s in computer science programdesigned for students with a background in computer science—and the Align program, which is tailored to career changers and learners without a technical or STEM-related background.

“Align students come from very diverse backgrounds,” says Meg Barry, director of the Align program. “They start off with a two-semester sequence that gives them the foundational skills they would have received through an undergraduate degree.” 

This accelerated program begins with introductory courses in programming using Python and discrete math theory. Students then progress to an object-oriented programming course, which includes a large-scale project using Java, and one in data structures, algorithms, and computer systems applications. These courses give students the skills they need to succeed in the more advanced courses. 

Align students take the class in object-oriented programming instead of an introduction to programming course to help prepare them for the rigors of the master’s program, but they graduate with the same degree. What’s so unique about Align is that students are fully admitted into their respective master’s level degree program; that is, there are no conditional admissions decisions or pathways to another degree program.

“The master’s degree is the exact same curriculum,” Barry says. “They’re both master’s in computer science degrees, so they carry the same weight and reputation.” 

Students build a general foundation in computer science with classes in programming, algorithms, and theory, and then choose five electives in an area of interest. Two of those courses must be in the same field—such as data science, software engineering, artificial intelligence, or network security systems—to help students develop a specialization within the general program. 

How Long Does it Take to Finish a Master’s in Computer Science?

A master’s degree in computer science typically takes anywhere from two to three years.

Earning a degree in computer science takes significant time and effort, but students have many options when it comes to structuring their degree programs. Many choose to complete their degree by studying part-time. “You really want to commit to it,” Barry says. “It’s a lot of weekly and daily practice because you’re learning a new skill.”  

Unlike some degree programs, there is no difference between the full- and part-time programs at Northeastern, Barry says. Many students, particularly those who do not currently work in tech, choose to study part-time and transition to a full-time schedule before they take on their first co-op. This versatility allows students to balance their jobs, families, and other responsibilities while earning their degrees and advancing their careers. 

In their commitment to flexibility, Northeastern offers its Align and direct-entry master’s programs at multiple campuses across the U.S., each with its own unique mix of student groups, co-op and internship opportunities, and networking possibilities. This allows more students to pursue their degrees without having to uproot their existing lives with a move. 

“There’s a lot of momentum around networking with employers, doing personal projects, and connecting with each other,” Barry says of the campus communities. “There are opportunities to be a leader and connect with your peers.” 

From an academic standpoint, students can generally expect the same experience no matter where they study. Each campus features top-tier faculty who are experts in their fields with years of industry experience that informs their teaching. Students who are particularly interested in research, however, may want to consider studying at Northeastern’s flagship campus in Boston. As the longest-operating campus in Northeastern’s network, Boston offers extensive research opportunities for students to explore. 

Academic and Faculty Support for Computer Science Students

“Beginning students are often challenged with imposter syndrome,” Barry says. “We work with them on maintaining their confidence because it might not be easy to develop these skills right off the bat.” 

Northeastern’s extensive faculty and academic support resources are essential in helping students build this confidence, particularly in the Align program. Faculty members understand that their students may be working full time, have different levels of math abilities, and come from diverse industries. To this end, most professors create a scaffolded model within their classes to support students at all levels of experience. 

In addition to faculty support, students in the Align and traditional programs have access to a range of academic resources. They are each assigned a faculty advisor, who reaches out early and often to check in on students’ needs, class schedules, and questions. Students also participate in online seminars, workshops, and other programs to prepare for co-ops and their job search. 

Align students benefit from a comprehensive academic standing program in addition to these resources. Advisors track students’ progress throughout their early studies and recommend tutoring, meetings with teachers’ assistants, and follow-up meetings to promote a smooth transition to the traditional master’s program. 

Earning Your Master’s in Computer Science

Thanks to the robust resources available in many computer science programs, anyone can earn an advanced degree in this field. 

“There’s a place for so many different kinds of people in tech,” Barry says. “Companies are attracted to having students who can think about problem-solving in a new way.” 

No matter your background, Northeastern provides comprehensive support throughout your education. You’ll work with expert faculty, network with like-minded peers, and benefit from the university’s strong partnerships with tech companies around the world. 

Download our ebook here for more information about earning your master’s in computer science.  

Download Our Free Guide to Breaking into Computer Science