When to Pursue a Master’s in Computer Science
Which comes first: the experience or the masters? Masters educated computer professionals do tend to earn more, and the higher degree is favored by a lot of big name employers. But that doesn’t mean that a master’s is a sure ticket to a better position.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether to pursue that higher degree right out of school or on down the line.
Do You Have Very Specialized Career Interests?
Undergraduate computer science programs typically include a concentration—at least a few courses in some specialty area. But there’s a limit to how much bioinformatics or artificial intelligence you are going to get in your BS program.
Stanford University notes that their computer science master’s degree program requires that you have two things: broad knowledge of the computer science discipline and in-depth knowledge of a particular area. That makes a good package to present to future employers. Of course, they’re talking about the Stanford master’s. It’s true that some graduate programs have more rigor and will generate more name recognition -- but any accredited program should allow you to go in-depth in an area of interest.
A master’s is not always a sure ticket to a better position.
How Strong a Student Are You?
And do you have an interest in research or academia? If so, you might consider going straight on for a higher degree after you complete your undergraduate degree program. The higher your academic performance, the greater the chance that your graduate education will be funded for you, and by someone other than an employer. In addition to the prestigious fellowships, there are university level assistantships: You serve your department through teaching or research, and your department provides you funding.
If you are really outstanding academically, you sometimes find more opportunity at the PhD level than the master’s. This is especially true if you are female or a member of another group that just isn’t as well represented in the computer field. There are some big organizations vested in drawing talent in. Sometimes you need to take the plunge and apply to programs to find out what your prospects are.
Chances are when you do get that graduate degree, you’ll have more accolades on you resume.
Is Your Main Interest Software Engineering?
Many computer-related graduate programs will take students straight out of BS programs. But some do want real world experience. This can be the case with software engineering programs where students work in groups, going through the development life cycle and creating real world products. Sometimes schools like to see that you have taken products through to completion and have at least a couple years of work experience under your belt.
How Happy Are You With Your Current Prospects?
You might consider your geographical area as well as your area of interest. If you are a generalist, with an interest in developing apps in business or communications, for example, know that a lot of big companies do recruit undergraduates. Some of the most desirable employers – Intel and Intuit, to name just a couple – offer their employers support as they pursue higher education that will allow them to move into higher level positions. There is more of this in big tech markets.
If this is where you see yourself, you can pursue your master’s when you have a clear sense of what your career goals are and when you feel comfortable enough with your work that you can put in some hours at school (or online) without getting too stressed.
How Relevant Is Your Current Academic Credential?
If the position you want isn’t within current reach, it’s a different matter. The BS that looked good a few years ago may not look so good now – at least not unless your resume gives employers reason to believe you’ve stayed on top of the field in the years since. A master’s can be a chance to pick up the latest skills and make your resume stronger. It won’t make you younger, but it can give you something that the younger employees have. The BLS notes that job prospects are best for developers who are up to date on tools and languages.