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Is a Master’s in Computer Science Worth the Investment?

Industry Advice Computing and IT

Before you make a big financial decision, like buying a certain model car or applying for a mortgage, you want to know you’re getting a good deal. You want the benefits of your purchase to outweigh—or at least match—the costs. You want to make sure that whatever you’re considering buying is worth the money you’re paying, and the time you’re putting into the process.

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, and before you get halfway through the program. You’ve probably found yourself asking a lot of questions about the types of job titles that are common for graduates, the kind of money you’ll earn with your degree, the skills a program can equip you with, and the work it will allow you to perform.

Ultimately, you are asking all of these questions to 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?

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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 or career path, or both.

Whatever your motivations, it’s essential that you have a firm understanding of the outcomes you 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 embarking on the journey of earning any graduate degree, it’s important for prospective students to do a bit of homework to make sure that the degree they’re considering will actually help them achieve their goals. Otherwise, you might earn a degree that does not 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, in fact, the best next step for you to take, you should ask yourself a number of questions, including:

  • What is my motivation for wanting to earn this degree?
  • 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 an MS in CS?

Bachelor’s degrees have become much more common amongst workers in recent years. According to a 2016 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Millennials have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 32 percent of Gen Xers and 26 percent of Baby Boomers. And this percentage is only expected to continue growing as time goes on.

That means that for both younger workers entering the job market for the first time and for 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 broad benefits, the most common of which are:

  • Career Advancement: Many organizations prefer that their employees have some sort of graduate degree; in fact, 74 percent of employers have recently raised their educational standards.
  • Increased Earning Potential: On average, employees with a master’s degree earn 18 percent more than bachelor’s degree holders over their lifetime. Computer science professionals, specifically, see an average $30,000 boost in salary after earning their graduate degree.
  • Broadened Professional Network: Earning a graduate degree will help you 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 from industry to industry and from degree to degree. Below are 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 is often possible to gain employment in a computer science-related field with as little as a bachelor’s degree and some internship experience. But more often than not, these are entry-level jobs that bring with them 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, of course, 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.

“At Northeastern University, each MS in CS student is required to complete a six- 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,” says Professor of the Practice Tiffani Williams, director of the Computer Science Programs at Northeastern University–Charlotte. “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. Case in point: The median salary for computer science professionals is $114,000 per year. Some of the top-paying jobs held by MS in CS degree holders include software development engineer, with a median salary of $116,679, and computer scientist, with a median salary of $113,180.

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 that they are a) entering a stable field, b) whether they are entering a growing field, and c) that if they were to lose their job, it would be relatively easy to find a replacement.

Computer science-related jobs are expected to grow 11 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—substantially higher than the seven percent 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, and 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.

And because it is predicted that, 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, 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 in computer science will help individuals stand out from the pack and be considered for the most competitive positions.

Weighing Your Options

If you are trying to determine whether or not earning a master’s degree in computer science (MS in CS) is worth the investment of time, money, and energy that you will need to put into earning it, it is important for you 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.

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