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Computer science graduate programs are divided in two principle ways: type of program and specialty. The types of programs include graduate certificates, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees (PhD). There are several types of specialties, including information systems, software development, and business and computers.
Before applying to a computer science graduate program, it is important to know what each type of program offers. A graduate certificate is not a degree. While a student will be taking graduate courses, they may or may not be able to apply to a master's degree.
A master's degree is usually earned after a student has completed his or her undergraduate work, earning a bachelor's degree. A master's usually takes between 18 months to two years to complete, and may involve a writing a thesis. A student who completes his or her master's program in computer science usually receives a master of science (MS) degree, although some schools may award a master's in business administration (MBA), depending on the program.
Students who continue their studies may earn a doctorate, also called a PhD. It is the highest possible degree you can obtain, and is sometimes referred to as a terminal degree. Once a PhD is earned, the bearer has the right to use the title doctor.
The second major way to categorize the computer science graduate programs is by specialization. Each area of specialization has its own focus, with different courses and a potentially different career path. Some of the more common specialties include information systems, software development, and business and computers.
The information systems specialization is concerned with managing networks and computer systems. This area covers the processes of storing and using data on these systems, as well as the management of the people who are using the networks. Information systems security is about keeping those networks and their data safe. Once a person obtains this degree, he or she could take a job as a systems analyst.
The software development or software engineering specialization is centered on creating software. During the course of this degree, a student would likely learn to program in one or multiple languages. If you want to make programs for a living this is the degree for you.
Another specialty is business and computers, or a master's in business administration with a concentration in applied computer science. These graduate degrees in computer science usually have less of theoretical focus, and are instead concerned with practical ways to use the knowledge in a business setting. These degrees may also have a focus on setting policies and managing technology related projects. These are the degrees that are more likely to be an MBA, rather than an MS.
When searching for computer science graduate programs, a student may also want to make a distinction between online and on-campus programs. Many schools will not differentiate between these different types of programs on your transcript. When looking at an online program, make sure it is accredited. Many other schools will not accept transfer credits from non-accredited computer science graduate programs.