Feb 15, 2021
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the need for computer and information technology professionals will grow much faster than average for all occupations through 2029. Employers in both the public and private sectors are actively seeking out and competing for computer science doctorate degree holders to develop new products and innovate cutting-edge services for consumers. To facilitate this growth, colleges and universities have added blended and online programs in computer science, giving students the flexibility they need to earn an advanced degree on a schedule that’s right for them.
But which doctorate is right for me? Is an online PhD in computer science worth the cost? Can I earn an online doctorate part-time?
These are some of the questions that computer science students and professionals ask when considering a doctorate. The good news is, you’re in the right place to get answers. We address these questions and other online CS PhD concerns, provide resources to help you understand the degree, and help you find the program you need to boost your career. Let’s personalize your path to an online doctorate in computer science.
Best Online Computer Science Doctorate Programs for 2021
With so much variation, “the best” program will be different for each student. Your high-quality, affordable program may not meet the needs of another student who is looking for a program that shines in the number of specializations offered. Differences aside, many programs excel in numerous areas, including cost, quality, convenience, and the resources and support that students need to achieve success. See which schools landed on our list of the best online computer science doctorates for 2021.
Online CS Doctorate Spotlight
Northcentral University’s doctor of philosophy in computer science program is 100% online and gives students the flexibility to propose their own research and build a portfolio of work that best illustrates their abilities and focus. Flexibility is one of the main themes of NCU’s CS doctorate program. The program has ongoing admissions, meaning that students can jump in and start earning their degree every Monday. The program takes about 40 months, with 60 earned credits spread over 20 courses required to earn the degree. The school rewards two full-tuition scholarships and two $20,000 scholarships to new students. The total estimated cost of the program is $68,365, but you should check directly with the school for the most updated tuition and fee schedule.
Colorado Technical University
CTU offers three computer science online doctorate programs, include the general doctorate of computer science. The school also offers a doctorate in big data analytics online and the online doctorate in cybersecurity. CTU has raised the bar when it comes to convenience for online computer science doctorates, offering three start times during the year, the option to complete the program in as little as three years, and dissertation development integrated into the program. While this program is online, there is an on-campus residency requirement for students and opportunities to attend in-person symposiums. Online doctoral candidates at CTU are required to complete 100 credits, and tuition costs run about $59,800, with fees and supplies costing extra.
Mississippi State University
MSU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering offers an online Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer engineering (ECE). The program prepares students for leadership roles and research in computer and electrical engineering, with a component that allows for students to create and develop their own specific areas of interest. One particular feature that helps this doctorate program stand out is that no matter what state students of Mississippi State University’s online education programs reside, they pay in-state tuition. This can represent a savings of thousands of dollars for out-of-state students. Online graduate students pay $514 per credit, with the total amount of credits required to graduate ranging from 48 to 66 credits, depending on which prerequisites have been completed prior to enrollment.
Benefits of the Online Doctorate in Computer Science
The computer science doctorate is one of the most diverse advanced degrees available. Students interested in studying technology at the doctoral level can earn a PhD in a computing specialization, a doctor of computer science, or a doctor of engineering sciences, and specialize in areas ranging from big data and information systems to information quality and artificial intelligence. In addition, graduates can go on to work as tenure-track faculty or research scientists at top universities, government consultants, or senior engineers at companies such as Google and Facebook. The doctorate continues to grow as a top degree for computer science students.
Recognizing this growth, colleges across the U.S. are making computer science doctorates accessible to their students online. Distance learning programs and courses allow students to work toward their PhD or doctorate degrees in computer science in a flexible setting. This has two real and distinct benefits when it comes to earning a degree:
The growth of online learning has made computer science doctorates a reality for more students than ever before. Before deciding if it’s right for you, however, make sure you understand the different types of online programs out there. Let’s take a more detailed look at online program deliveries and how each could impact your journey to a computer science doctorate.
Types of Online PhD Degrees in Computer Science
High-quality online higher education is available in many forms, from fully online programs with no in-person requirements to blended programs with required campus visits for residencies, symposiums, or dissertation defense. With online doctorates, it’s crucial to research each potential program thoroughly, particularly those with campuses that are further away than a few hour’s drive. Even programs advertised as 100% online can have in-person requirements. Here’s what to look for when vetting online computer science programs at the doctorate level.
Timeline: Online Computer Science PhD
Online doctorates in computer science can run anywhere between three years (accelerated) and seven years (maximum flexibility). This depends on both the type of doctorate and whether the program allows for part-time study. Most students aim to complete their candidacy examinations after year two or three and their dissertation defense or project presentation by the end of year five or six. With this variation in mind, let’s examine a standard timeline for the most popular online computer science doctorate: the PhD.
Each online doctorate in computer science has different options and requirements. Make sure you examine your academic and professional wants and needs carefully, and then see if they mesh with potential programs. If you’re ever uncertain, talk to an admissions advisor or program representative.
Online PhD vs. Doctor of Computer Science (DSci) and Doctor of Computer Engineering (DEng)
Advanced students in computer science have a number of doctorate-level degrees from which to choose. Each has guiding philosophies, qualifications, and academic and professional goals slightly different from the others. While the PhD is the most common, the DSci, DEng, and similar variations attract thousands of students each year. Here’s how the three main online doctorate options in computer science stack up.
Online CS Doctorate Program Learning Outcomes
Whether pursuing a PhD or one of the practical doctorates, nearly every program starts with a set of learning outcomes. These outcomes serve as a common denominator, with all courses, materials, and projects leading to the achievement of these learning goals. Do these learning outcomes really matter for future PhD students? Absolutely. They tell you what the program is all about, what it emphasizes, where it prepares graduates to work, and more. In essence, they’re the first and most clear-cut way to see if a program makes sense for your career path.
Students may see overlap in the stated learning outcomes for computer science PhDs. For example, most programs will have a combination of the following:
Advanced understanding of computer science fundamentals
Students may see similar core areas noted across programs, including data science, artificial intelligence, software, networking theory, and systems. If two programs have variation in their core areas, it could indicate a different focus or faculty expertise. Make sure you read through these carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask an advisor for details.
Significant expertise in a research area of choice
Although a general degree is possible in some programs, some degree of specialization is necessary when in a dissertation-dependent program.
Produce original research
This comes in the form of primary research unique to the student and the computer science field, ideally in a manner that advances scholarship in their chosen specialty. In practical degree programs, this could be a specific project or portfolio of work that breaks new ground in the field.
Effective communication of research and findings orally and in writing.
In addition to these four outcomes, students may see others that indicate program emphasis on a certain aspect of computer science or advanced study in general. These can include (but are not limited to) the following:
Students gain experience teaching less-experienced students or peers in their area of interest.
Conducting, presenting, and publishing research in academic journals.
Regular participation at professional conferences or other gatherings to discuss large-scale issues in the field.
To understand and be able to describe the ethical issues related to computer science issues that involve humans and human interaction.
Specialization in Computer Science: What Focus Should I Target?
A specialization is an area of interest that guides academic research and coursework. While studies at the bachelor’s and master’s levels can be relatively broad — with more emphasis on understanding core concepts — specialization is critical when pursuing a PhD. It drives research, mentorship, and, most importantly, the selection and production of a capstone project or dissertation. It’s also a key step in charting a career path after graduation. Let’s view some of the most popular and up-and-coming areas in which advanced CS students can specialize.
If you have a master’s in computer science or you’ve been working in the field for a while, you likely have some sort of a specialty already. At the very least, you know what areas of computer science you enjoy and which ones you’d rather avoid. Pursuing a doctorate in CS gives you a great opportunity to hone these interests into a formal academic or professional next step, either to a professorship or to an advanced leadership position in the field. Before you make the leap, answer these two questions:
When choosing an online doctorate computer science program, it’s vital that you pick one that has the proper accreditation. There are two types of accreditation to look out for. The most important one you should look for is the institutional accreditation of the school you choose. Proper institutional accreditation helps ensure that the school you’ve chosen has been properly reviewed to meet curriculum requirements. The U.S. Department of Education oversees the institutional accrediting bodies to ensure they adhere to rigorous standards and offers a public database you can use to check if the schools you’re interested in are accredited.
A computer science program may also be accredited by ABET. ABET accredits postsecondary programs in applied and natural sciences, computing, and engineering. While there are no accrediting bodies for computer science PhD programs in the U.S., ABET accredits associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels. If you’re pursuing a PhD in a computer science program with ABET accreditation at other levels, you’re attending a school with a rigorous computer science program in general. The accrediting commissions within ABET include the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission, the Computing Accreditation Commission, the Engineering Accreditation Commission, and the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission.
Applying to a Computer Science Doctorate Online
Admissions requirements can be fairly standard across computer science doctorates. Applicants to PhD or DSci programs often need a bachelor’s or master’s from a regionally accredited institution, a GPA of 3.0 or higher in that degree program, three letters of recommendation, and a written statement about their interest in the program. Variation exists across programs, with some emphasizing standardize test scores and others looking more to a candidate’s professional experience. Here are the admissions requirements you should examine more closely when vetting potential schools and programs.
Tuition & Fees
Students considering a PhD in computer science should always ask themselves: can I afford it? Or, even more important, will the degree and salary boost warrant the cost? As with school and program selection, the answers will be unique to the student. However, a deeper understanding of tuition, fees, and salaries for PhD holders can help get you started. Here’s a quick look at in-state tuition for four online computer science doctorates today. They do not factor in additional fees such as registration fees, per-course fees, or technology fees that may occur.
NOTE: Some colleges and programs have tuition assistance, grants, and other payment help specifically for PhD students. This can drive down the cost of a program significantly. While it’s good to know the base tuition rate for a program before you apply, keep in mind that you might pay far less than advertised. Never hesitate to contact a financial aid representative or advisor at a college to see what options you have available. Read through our guide to scholarships and grants to see what’s available and how to apply.
Salaries for Computer Science Doctorates
Does a PhD pay? In computer science it can. According to data from PayScale.com, those with a PhD in computer science earn a mean annual salary of $127,000. This includes professionals with job titles such as senior software engineer, research scientist, computer scientist, and lead data scientist.
Payscale reports earnings for the following job titles that typically require a PhD in computer science:
PayScale.com data indicates that professionals who hold an M.S. in computer science earn $10,000 per year, a full $27,000 less than their doctorate-holding counterparts.