Before you make a big financial decision, like buying a car or applying for a mortgage, you want to know you’re getting a good deal, and that the benefits of your purchase outweigh—or at least match—the costs. Deciding to pursue a graduate education is no different. If you’re considering earning a Master of Science in Computer Science (MS in CS), you want to know it’s the right choice for you—ideally before you’re halfway through the program.
You’ve probably found yourself asking a lot of questions about common job titles for graduates, how much you can earn with your degree, the skills it can equip you with, and the work it will prepare you for. Perhaps you’re even wondering if you can even enroll in a program without a background in computer science.
Ultimately, the answers to all of these questions will help you decide: Is earning a master’s degree in computer science worth the investment of time, money, and effort that you will have to put into earning it?
Download Our Free Guide to Breaking into Computer Science
Whether you have a technical or non-technical background, here’s what you need to know.
Whether or not a degree is “worth it” will depend largely on how you define the value you hope to gain from having earned the degree. This value could be quantifiable—in the form of a certain salary—or it could be subjective—in the form of a certain job title, career path, or both.
Whatever your motivations, it’s essential that you have a firm understanding of the outcomes you should expect from a degree before you enroll. Otherwise, it’s impossible to judge whether or not earning the degree is the right decision for you and your career.
Is a Graduate Degree the Right Career Decision for Me?
Before pursuing any graduate degree, it’s important for you to do a bit of homework to make sure that the degree you’re considering will actually help you achieve your goals. Otherwise, you might earn a degree that doesn’t get you where you want to be—in which case, earning the degree would not be worth the investment.
To make sure that earning a graduate degree is the best next step for you, you should ask yourself a number of questions, including:
- What is my motivation for wanting to earn this degree? Do I want to advance in my current field, or transition careers entirely?
- Will earning my graduate degree make it easier to reach my personal and career goals?
- What type of educational experience am I hoping to have while pursuing my graduate degree?
- Does the format of the degree fit my lifestyle? Is the degree program residential, online, or some combination of the two?
- Can I afford all of the costs that earning a graduate degree will entail, including tuition, books, fees, and transportation?
Once you have a clear sense of your motivations and expectations, you will better be able to determine whether or not earning a graduate degree is the best next step for you and your career.
What Are the Benefits of Earning a Master’s in Computer Science?
Bachelor’s degrees have become much more common among workers in recent years. According to a 2019 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 39 percent of Millennials have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 29 percent of Gen Xers and 25 percent of Baby Boomers. And this percentage is only expected to continue growing as time goes on.
That means that—for both younger workers just entering the job market and older workers seeking mid- to senior-level positions—earning a graduate degree is a great way for potential students to help themselves stand out in today’s job market. For that reason, earning a graduate degree is generally associated with a number of benefits, the most common of which are:
- Career Advancement: Many organizations prefer that their employees have a graduate degree. This means that earning one can help you stand out in a competitive job market.
- Increased Earning Potential: On average, employees with a graduate degree earn 18 percent more than bachelor’s degree holders over their lifetime. Data from PayScale shows that computer science professionals with a master’s degree, specifically, see an average salary of $109,000, compared to $72,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree.
- Broadened Professional Network: Earning a graduate degree will widen your professional network by helping you meet, work, and learn with professors and other students, who may help your career down the road.
Of course, the benefits of earning a degree will vary by industry and degree. Below are three of the most common benefits of earning an MS in CS so that you can better understand whether or not it is the right move for you to make to achieve your personal and career goals.
1. Increased Career Options
It’s often possible to gain employment in a computer science-related field with as little as a bachelor’s degree and some internship experience. But these are typically entry-level jobs with entry-level salaries, benefits, and responsibilities. In order to earn placement into a more senior-level position, candidates must stand out from other applicants in some way.
One of these ways is to have a wide breadth of experience under your belt, but it takes time to gain that experience through work. That’s why individuals seeking a more senior-level job title or position often earn a master’s degree in computer science from a university that focuses on experiential learning.
Learn More → Popular Computer Science Jobs for MS in CS Graduates
At Northeastern, each MS in CS student completes a four- to eight-month co-op where they work on a project full-time for a company, which allows them to bring what they learn in the classroom out into the workplace. In addition to giving them a project they can leverage on their resumé, it directly connects students with potential employers.
Employees aren’t the only ones noticing this education gap. Many employers have begun requiring or at least preferring applicants who have earned a graduate degree: According to Burning Glass Labor Insights, 24 percent of computer-science employers would prefer to hire workers with advanced degrees.
2. High Salaries
One of the most common reasons that individuals seek a graduate degree is that they want the ability to command a higher salary. Master’s degree holders earn 18 percent more over their lifetime—showing that earning a graduate degree does, in fact, tend to bring with it an increase in pay.
That being said, the increase in pay that comes with a master’s degree in computer science far outpaces the country’s overall average. Some of the top-paying jobs held by MS in CS degree holders include software development engineer, with an average salary of $92,046, and computer scientist, with an average salary of $99,050.
3. Stable Job Growth
Aside from increased career options and higher salaries, job stability is one of the most common reasons that individuals seek to earn a graduate degree. Prospective students want to know the following:
- Whether they’re entering a stable field
- Whether they’re entering a growing field
- Whether it would be relatively easy to find a replacement position if they lost their job
Computer science-related jobs are expected to grow 21 percent between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—substantially higher than the growth expected for all occupations. And according to Burning Glass Labor Insights, this growth is expected to be even higher for certain occupations:
- 14 percent for computer and information research scientists
- 20 percent for software developers
- 23 percent for computer systems analysts
This healthy growth will keep the job market stable for CS degree holders, ensuring continued value from their degree.
In addition, since there are more unfilled computer science positions than qualified applicants, CS degree holders will be able to command higher salaries and benefits. As more and more students seek to graduate with bachelor’s degrees in computer science to fill this employment gap, holding a master’s degree will help individuals stand out from the pack and be considered for the most competitive positions.
The booming, yet unmet demand for computer science professionals has also attracted workers without an existing background in CS to consider changing careers. While it can seem intimidating to transition into such a technical field, programs like bootcamps, specialized master’s degrees, and other training options allow newcomers to hit the ground running.
Northeastern’s MS in CS Align program, for example, equips students with diverse academic and professional backgrounds with the skills and experience they need to break into the industry.
Weighing Your Options
If you are trying to determine whether or not earning a master’s degree in computer science is worth the investment, it’s important to understand your motivations for wanting to earn the degree in the first place. Increased career options, higher salaries, and stable job growth are very common motivations. If any of these motivations are your ultimate goal, then earning an MS in CS from Northeastern University can certainly help you achieve them.
Learn More → Balancing Work and a Part-Time CS Program
If your goal is to transition into an exciting industry with abundant career opportunities, a program like Align can help you build the foundations you need to get started. With all of the benefits of Northeastern’s regular master’s program—like experiential learning and co-op opportunities—plus initial foundational coursework, students are able to accelerate their learning and demonstrate the skills that employers are seeking.
Download the free guide below to learn more about the skills you need to break into computer science.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2017. It has since been updated for recency and accuracy.