Have a Bachelor’s degree in another field, but want to transition to computer science? Turns out you can earn a Masters in computer science without CS undergrad by attending a specialized MSCS for non-CS majors!
In this article, we will review the top 7 on-campus MSCS programs in the United States designed for non-CS majors (you may also want to check out the list of online Masters in computer science for non-CS majors).
Why Master’s and not second Bachelor’s for a career changer?
As someone with a Bachelor’s degree in another discipline under your belt, you have probably had your share of undergraduate experience and have already learned organizational skills such as planning workload, accomplishing tasks, teamwork, and other things you usually learn in college.
While a second Bachelor’s degree (this time in Computer Science) may provide you with a fresh all-round preparation for a career in computer science, you may not want to spend an average of additional four years in college accumulating knowledge with a breadth-first approach.
One way to transition to career in tech without getting another Bachelor’s degree is enrolling in a Master’s program for non-CS majors. In recent years, there has been a large influx of professionals pouring into the field of computer science from many different disciplines. To accommodate this professional migration, reputable colleges across the United States have opened degree programs known as Computer Science Masters for non-majors.
Advantages of getting a CS Masters for non CS majors
While other options exist, which we will discuss in other articles, getting a Masters in Computer Science for non-CS majors allows for the following advantages:
- Averages 1.5 – 3 years of education
- Provides foundational as well as advanced graduate-level courses
- Excellent community/resources specific for career changers
- Makes up for the strongest hiring potential
Disadvantages of getting a CS Masters for non CS majors
The disadvantages of getting a Master’s degree, as opposed to a second Bachelor’s in CS, are:
- Shorter exposure to foundational courses
- Less time (fewer summers) for internships
- Dense curriculum; less time for extracurricular activities and personal projects
- Financial Aid is usually unavailable for Master’s degrees
Curriculum of Masters in CS for non CS majors
As a student of Masters in computer science without Bachelors degree, you may expect to study a range of courses that span from introductory undergraduate-level classes to more sophisticated concepts seen in graduate school. In order to get an all-round education in computer science, you will often need to complete basic preparatory materials in math, basic sciences, and entry-level engineering.
Classic MS in CS for non-CS students program includes the following coursework:
- Math, which may include subfields such as linear math, calculus, and discrete mathematics
- Object-Oriented Programming
- Computer Systems
- Data Structures and Algorithms
- Operating Systems
- Computer Networks
*Electives may include such courses as:
- Software Engineering
- Web Development
- Database Systems
- Multimedia Systems Design
- Artificial Intelligence
- Natural Language Processing
- Mobile Development
- Cloud Computing
- Distributed Systems
- UI/UX design
- Machine Learning
In order to be admitted to a Master’s program in CS for non-CS majors, you will need to prepare a set of documents to submit along with your main application. Most such programs have standard application requirements that include:
- Bachelor’s degree in some discipline
- GRE scores (often optional)
- 2-3 letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
Do I need to complete any prerequisites to get admitted to MSCS for non-CS majors?
Contrary to what many people think, MSCS for non-CS majors do not require any prerequisites. This is due to the fact that these programs are designed for students with unrelated undergraduate degrees. Most commonly, these programs incorporate introductory courses in their main curriculum, so you don’t need to take these courses separately prior to applying for the program.
This, of course, is very convenient for students who are seeking to get a degree in CS as quickly as possible in the least complicated way and transition to their new career in tech. Fundamental courses, such as foundational math, introduction to programming, and computer architecture are thus offered during the first semester of these Master’s degree programs.
If you do wish to expand your options, you may want to consider taking prerequisites and applying to Master’s program for non-CS majors that DO require some prerequisites.
Tips on gaining admission to Masters in Computer Science without CS undergrad
Although most Computer Science Masters for non-majors do not require you to possess coding or other technical skills, they want to see that you are capable of understanding and using technical knowledge. Thus, Masters in CS for non-CS majors programs will look for signs of aptitude in quantitative fields in your application. Accordingly, you should attempt to gather as much evidence of your potential to succeed in computer science as you can.
Some ways in which you can showcase your technical abilities are:
- GRE scores – your quantitative GRE scores are an excellent indicator of your computational wit and mathematical reasoning. When possible, you should take GRE and aim for high scores, even if your target universities list the test as optional.
- Online courses – there are no prerequisites for the schools we list in this article. However, taking an online course or two may show your prospective program that you are able to study and comprehend CS material.
- Coding projects – even though you are not expected to have any programming abilities, it may be beneficial for your application to build a small project and talk about it in your personal statement. This will show the admissions team that you are, in fact, capable of creating your own programs and show promise as an applicant.
In order to gain admission to your school of choice, you may also want to consider applying early decision to increase your chances of getting in. Universities usually look favorably to early action applicants and have larger quota during the first wave of applications. This will mean applying at an earlier deadline and having less time to prepare all of your supporting documents and test scores, but if you manage your time and start acting well in advance, it may prove worth it to apply as an early decision applicant.
Another tip you may find useful is to try and make connections with individuals in the field of CS. You could plan projects with your CS-studying friends, connect with software engineers on LinkedIn, or seek interactions with computer science professors at your university. By doing so, you may be able to write about your experiences with them in your personal statement and ask for their recommendations when the time comes to send in your applications, which may prove valuable in gaining admission to a Master’s program.
My experience applying to Masters in Computer Science without CS undergrad
As a career changer myself, I have personal experience with the process of applying to and attending a computer science Masters for non majors. To add a personal touch to this informative article, I will talk about how things worked out for me.
I applied to all of the 7 programs listed below and got accepted to the program I wanted to attend the most. My success in the admissions process was due to several important factors, which I talked about in this article.
First, I signed up for and took GRE even though most schools had waived their requirement for standardized tests for the year I was applying. I studied for approximately 4 months, after which I took the test from home and got excellent scores (Q166/V163).
Next, I showed my interest in computer science through delivering a presentation about the use of artificial intelligence in neuroscience research at the university where I was working. Faculty members that attended the presentation got interested in what I had to say and introduced me to an AI lab within the same university. We initiated a collaboration wrote a grant proposal to conduct research in automatic detection of animal emotion through computer vision.
I wrote about all of the above in my personal statement and asked my newly-made connections to write a letter of recommendation for me, which proved incredibly valuable coming from someone with computer science background.
I applied early decision to my first-choice program to increase my chances of admission and was admitted within the first wave of applications.
Paying for your Master’s degree
When it comes to paying for your graduate education, you should keep in mind that opportunities for funding are often limited for Master’s students in the United States. Most students who do not have sufficient funds to cover their educational expenses choose to take on student loans to pay for tuition and living costs.
Some universities may have opportunities for students to earn money as a teaching or research assistant, but those positions are usually competitive. Still, it is possible to secure such opportunities if one is proactive about applying and communicating with the appropriate faculty members. To learn more about potential funding resources and jobs, you should check in with the program coordinators of each of the programs and with financial aid office of the universities.
Employment prospects of CS masters for non-CS majors graduates
You may be wondering what kind of expectations you should have about market competitiveness, employment, and salary once you graduate from a Masters in computer science without Bachelors in CS. Will you be as valuable as someone with a CS undergrad? Will your salary suffer as a result of not having a Bachelor’s in computer science? Let’s dive into that.
To answer your concerns regarding employment prospects, let’s take a look at a couple of programs that offer computer science Masters for non-majors. MCIT program at University of Pennsylvania is a program designed specifically for students with no technical background. Career services at UPenn publish statistics for employment for their alumni each year, so it is possible to see what kinds of positions, as well as salaries, can be expected for graduates of the MCIT program. As such, the 2021 report for career outcomes states that MCIT graduates of 2021 went on to work at such places as Amazon, AWS, Bloomberg, NVIDIA, Oracle, and Tesla, among others. Median salary for software developer graduates of University of Pennsylvania was $116,100 for new grads.
Another example of computer science Masters programs for non-majors is Align program at Northeastern University. The official website of the program states that graduates of the Align program go on to become engineers at such renowned companies as Facebook, Amazon, Cisco, LinkedIn, and Bose.
Even though it is hard to derive a direct comparison between those who completed a Bachelor’s degree prior to their CS Master’s and those who decided to switch careers to tech, a tendency can be seen that graduates of the MSCS for non-CS majors programs are having excellent employment prospects and are able to compete for positions in the top tech companies.
How to make the most out of your Master’s education
Getting into a Master’s program is only part of the job. In order to make the most out of your education and set yourself up for success in your future tech career, especially as a career changers, you need to put as much effort into building your professional profile while you are in school.
We have several suggestions for you as to what you may want to do in order to stand out from others and get the most out of your Master’s program. We will leave out getting good grades as something painfully obvious, and jump directly to less clear suggestions:
- Hackathons – these are programming competitions for computer science students, which are usually held once or twice a year at major universities. Try to attend as many as you can to build a competitive portfolio and gain awards you could brag about to potential employers.
- Internships – employers look favorably at candidates who have job experience behind their belts. The more internships you complete, the more practice you will get, and the higher your employment chances will become.
- Personal projects – having completed coding projects will show hiring managers that you possess actual skills necessary to build real projects. Attempt to create 2-3 personal projects while you are in school.
- Clubs – joining engineering clubs will help you expand your network and gain more connections. You will also get to socialize more with people who have similar interests and possibly work on some cool projects!
- Research – join a computer science laboratory and work on pushing edges of technology! This is guaranteed to force you to think in new and creative ways, and get in good relationships with faculty members and more seniors students.
- Early employer outreach – try to make a list of your favorites companies early on and starting reaching out to their recruiters. Building strong connections takes time, so the sooner you introduce yourself and start a dialogue, the better outcomes you can expect later on.
Choosing a Computer Science Masters for non majors
As we said, there is a number of US universities that have opened doors for interdisciplinary students to study Masters in computer science without CS undergrad. However, their number is not that large.
The good news is that there are colleges of different ranks that have such programs, including some of the best schools in the country, as well as some more accessible schools, which makes it easier for students of any caliber to transition to a computer science career.
Below we present you our selection of on-campus Computer Science Masters for non-majors programs in the US, ranked in order of prestige and popularity. (You can see our selection of online Masters in Computer Science for non-CS majors programs in another post.)
1. MCIT at University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League school with unquestionably high reputation and world-class faculty, while Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is consistently ranked in the top 20 best engineering schools in the country.
MCIT, or Master’s in Computer and Information Technology, a program that has been operating for a couple of decades now, is a computer science Master’s degree designed specifically for best-performing students from disciplines other than computer science, who have had minimal-to-none exposure to computer science in the past.
- 2 years (4 semesters) in duration
- First year encompasses compulsory foundational Bachelor’s-level courses; second year includes graduate-level electives
- Designed for students with little-to-no exposure in CS
- Excellent Ivy League education with excellent job placement
2. MSCS for Scientists & Engineers at University of Southern California
University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering has also consistently been ranked as a Top 20 engineering schools in the United States. USC’s Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) for Scientists and Engineers is a specialized program for persons with a STEM background who have had little exposure to computer science in their past. The program includes introductory undergraduate-level foundational coursework, as well as graduate-level courses and electives.
- 1.5 – 2 years in duration
- Includes preparatory and advanced coursework
- Designed for students with STEM background
- Among the top 3 universities to be hired in Silicon Valley
3. MPCS at University of Chicago
University of Chicago is currently placed among the top 10 universities in the country. UChicago’s Master’s Program in Computer Science (MPCS) offers an opportunity for students with non-CS backgrounds to transition into tech and earn an advanced degree in computer science building from the ground up.
- 1.5 – 2 years in duration
- Includes introductory prerequisite coursework
- Options to complete a 9-course general degree or 12-course specialization in Application Development, Data Analytics, High Performance Computing, or Software Engineering.
- Flexible application deadlines
4. CS@CU MS Bridge Program at Columbia University
CS@CU MS Bridge program at one of the top universities in the United States is a 6-term computer science program that includes preparatory non-degree undergraduate-level “bridge” courses, upon the completion of which, a student progresses into the actual MSCS degree program with no additional admissions procedure.
- 3 terms of preparatory “bridge” coursework + 3 terms of MS coursework
- Downside is that the first year of foundational courses is considered a non-degree program, thus deeming it ineligible for federal student loans
5. MSCS Align program at Northeastern University
Northeastern University’s Khoury College of Computer Science offers an excellent MS Align Program in Computer Science for students with minimal-to-no background in CS. Through this comprehensive program, you may acquire extensive knowledge in the field and gain practical experience through their affiliated internship program!
- 2.5 – 3 years in duration
- Core courses combined with specialized advanced electives
- Includes up to 12 months of paid co-op or internship experience
- Options to complete the program at Boston, Seattle, Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and other campuses
6. MSCS for non-majors at Brandeis University
Brandeis University is another college that offers a specialized Master of Science program in Computer Science for students coming from non-technical backgrounds.
- 2 years in duration
- 12-course program: 3 core courses and 9 electives
- Offers substantial financial aid with no additional application required
7. Three-year MSCS at Syracuse University
While Syracuse University’s MSCS is a traditional 2-year graduate program for students seeking to advance their skills in computer science after completing a bachelor’s degree in CS or a related field, the program also offers a modified three-year curriculum for students seeking to join the field from outside majors. As such, non-traditional students, are able to complete the Master’s program by taking additional undergraduate-level courses in the beginning.
- 3 years in duration
- Comprehensive 18-course program that includes undergraduate-level preparatory courses
- Financial support in the form of tuition grants is available to outstanding applicants with no additional application needed
Other honorable mentions
– MSCS at Stevens Institute of Technology
This program, located at one of New York City’s central campuses, offers a 36-credit option to students without a computer science background. Stevens Institute of Technology boasts 99% employment within 3 months of graduation and a $100,000+ salary at your first job following completion of the MSCS program.
– MSCS at Pace University
Pace university MSCS program now accepts students without CS undergrad with a condition of passing a single 4-credir introductory bridge course, which encompasses all the required knowledge needed to begin your advanced CS degree.
– MSCS at DePaul University
DePaul University also opens doors to students with non CS background and allows students to complete their Master’s in Computer Science with no previous coding experience. The program highlights possibility of customizing your education toward your personal interests, including cybersecurity, app design, AI, or data science.
– Three-year MSCS at University of San Francisco
USF, located in US’s biggest tech hub, offers an innovative 3-year MSCS program for students with no CS Bachelor’s degree. The program comprises a year of introductory coursework, after which students are allowed to continue to the standard Master’s degree in Computer Science.
– MSCS at University of California Santa Barbara
This program is designed to accommodate students from a variety of different backgrounds. The program may be completed with a project, thesis, or comprehensive examination tracks.
– Msc Computing at Imperial College London
This program in one of the most prestigious universities in UK is suitable for those who would like to switch careers to the world of tech and accepts students with non-CS background. University states that individuals who want to retrain as computing professionals are a natural target of this degree program. This intensive program can be completed in 1 years of studies.
– MSc Computer Science at University College London
UCL is another one of UK’s best schools that offers a Master’s degree for non-CS majors. Even though the program does not expect any computer science background from its applicants, prospective students must show quantitative aptitude and computational thinking abilities in order to be admitted.
Other options for CS education
While completing an on-campus Master’s degree in computer science is an excellent way to acquire both fundamental and advanced knowledge in CS for a career changer who already possesses a Bachelor’s degree in another discipline, there are several other options that you may want to assess when considering breaking into the field of computer science. Here are some of the other possibilities to consider:
- Online Master’s degree for non-majors
- Post-baccalaureate programs
- Bridge to CS programs
- Second Bachelor’s degree
- Coding Bootcamps
For those who are interested in tech entrepreneurship, management positions in tech, and business & software development in general, I also recommend you to check out the joint MBA/MSCS programs. They are an excellent opportunity to get education in both the business part and development part of software engineering and increase your salary severalfold!
In our opinion, getting a Master’s degree in computer science is one of the most effective and easiest ways to transition your career to CS and gain an excellent knowledgebase with strong look on your resume. In a relatively short amount of time, you get to acquire foundational basis, advanced graduate-level skills, an internship (usually), and a diploma to showcase undeniable expertise and commitment that will look great on your job applications. This is, by far, our most preferred and guaranteed option for career changers with previous undergraduate experience, who are willing to invest some money and time in their education.
If you would rather study your degree online, we have also curated a list of top 10 online Master’s degrees in Computer Science for non-CS majors. And if you want to get a head start on getting an internship in the first summer after starting your degree (we recommend starting early!), you may want to check out our guide on how to find a software engineering internship. Good luck with in your pursuits and let us know if we can be of help in the comments below!
Elmar Mammadov is a software developer, tech startup founder, and computer science career specialist. He is the founder of CS Careerline and a true career changer who has previously pursued careers in medicine and neuroscience.
Due to his interest in programming and years of past personal experience in coding, he decided to break into the tech industry by attending a Master’s in Computer Science for career changers at University of Pennsylvania. Elmar passionately writes and coaches about breaking into the tech industry and computer science in general.