Code.org reports that there more than 550,000 open computing jobs nationwide, and less than 50,000 computer science students graduated into the workforce last year. A report from the White House predicts an even larger gap in coming years: By 2020, there will be 1.4 million computer science related jobs available and only about 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills necessary to fill them.
A master’s degree isn’t required to work in this field, but with a limited number of highly skilled workers graduating with advanced computer science degrees every year, having a master’s degree may help you get your foot in the door–and once you’re in, a graduate degree may also help you climb the CS career ladder. But what if you majored in something other than computer science? The good news is programs all over the country, including many online master’s programs, offer non-CS students the opportunity to pursue an advanced degree in this exploding field.
Don’t let your lack of exposure to computer science hold you back from obtaining a master’s degree. Although some schools do require an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related field (or documented work experience), many programs will consider applicants who may not have any formal exposure to computer science.
CS bridge programs
To prepare non-CS students for the computational rigor of a graduate-level computer science program, many schools offer bridge programs and/or preparatory courses that emphasize and reinforce the foundational knowledge and competencies necessary to succeed. For example, our partner Syracuse University offers six additional credits of preparatory coursework for students admitted into the program who do not have prior academic and/or work experience in such areas as programming, discrete math, operating systems, and computer architecture.
Tips for applying
Choose the Right Program
The first step is to research graduate computer science programs and identify the best options given your level of knowledge and experience. Look for master’s programs that do not require an undergraduate degree or experience in computer science. It is also important to determine which program aligns with your end-goal: Are you pursuing a master’s in computer science to start a new career, or will you use the degree to become more marketable in your current role?
CS programs have different outcomes, so first knowing why you want to pursue a master’s in computer science will inform the decisions you make the programs you choose to apply to—and in doing so, you may select a program that’s looking for potential students just like you, regardless of computer background or experience.
Tell a compelling story
You may be at a disadvantage compared to other applicants who have a CS background, but a lack of computer science experience is not an automatic disqualifier. Instead, admissions departments will want to know why you are pursuing an advanced degree in computer science despite your non-CS background. Programs are looking for motivated, highly-driven students who will take what they learn and apply it in the real world; your admission essay should explain your ability to learn new concepts, so programs feel confident that you have the “mental make-up” to succeed.
Demonstrate your drive
Letters of recommendation are equally as important to help shed light on your potential and convince admissions officers that you have what it takes to succeed in the program. Try to submit at least one letter from a former instructor who can attest to your dedication and drive in the classroom. If asking for letters of recommendation from employers, explain why you are going back to school and ask them to talk about your ability to overcome challenges and obstacles—like those you’ll face as a graduate computer science student without any previous experience.
If you want to pursue a master’s in computer science, you have options. To help you get started in your search, here are a few online graduate CS programs that consider applicants who do not have an undergraduate degree or professional experience in computer science. This is not an exhaustive list, but merely a starting point in your journey.
|Online Master’s in Computer Science, No CS Background or Experience Required|
|School||Bridge Program/Preparatory Courses|
|Syracuse University*||Preparatory courses (6 credits)|
|Purdue University||N/A (major deficiencies are best remedied before applying)|
|University of Southern California||N/A (major deficiencies are best remedied before applying)|
|Drexel University||Preparatory courses (6 credits)|
|East Carolina University||N/A (major deficiencies are best remedied before applying)|
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See which Master in Computer Science program is right for you.