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I'm interested in pursuing a Master's in Computer Science. I think I have quite a bit to gain - as well as something to offer - to a program, but I'm finding myself hindered by my academic past.

I've been programming since I was in elementary school. When it came time to choose a major in college, I chose another discipline, thinking that coding professionally would somehow take the pleasure out of it. Four years later I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, an unimpressive GPA, tons of debt, and no career path. I fell back on programming and found that, contrary to my supposition, programming professionally enhanced my enjoyment because I got much better at it.

Fifteen years into a career in programming, I'd like to go back and get my Master's. Most programs, however, require an undergraduate degree in a related field. I've applied twice to a program at a large, well-respected state university in the U.S. with what I felt were fairly strong Statements of Purpose. It seems I will have to try something different.

I'm considering an online program in Germany (where I currently live) targeted toward working professionals. The program is accredited, but I have no idea how rigorous it is.

Is this a terrible idea? In the U.S. startup scene where I've spent much of my career, a degree from Stanford or MIT or (...name twenty or a hundred more) is impressive, anything else is a neutral "has a degree, has a C.S. background, has a C.S. Master's etc." I suspect, however, that other sectors might take a more nuanced view. For example, is a Master's from a no-name school another potential millstone should I someday consider a PhD?

Is there another path forward I haven't thought of?

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    You may be wrong about the US requiring a BS "in a related field", actually. Changing fields when starting grad school is pretty common here. I think less so in Germany.
    – Buffy
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 15:26
  • What is you Bachelor of Arts degree in, exactly? Computational Social Science, Digital Humanities etc. are all the rage at the moment. Perhaps target one of those programs or emphasize your specific skill-mix as an asset when applying for a computer science program. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 15:58
  • You have applied to one program? I think the usual advice applies re: apply to 3 reach programs, 3 likely programs, and 3 safety programs…
    – Dawn
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 18:59
  • @henning My BA is in Theology. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 19:19
  • @Dawn That is good advice. I applied to what was then the local university not realising that the program was relatively selective. But it got me thinking maybe most programs are a reach, so I wanted to get some advice before trying somewhere else. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 19:19

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While there are many MS Computer Science programs in the US that require a related B.S. degree, there are many who are either geared to or accepting students with different backgrounds. (My department does that. Might it be that you have been looking only at "elite" institutions?) You also need to realize that while academic personal might be involved in the final decision, in most places some administrator will review applications so that your statement of purpose might not even have been read.

Regarding the German M.S.: US firms tend to be less knowledgeable about German degrees than vice versa. Also, even in post-Covid times, online degrees raise suspicions. Whether this is important depends on your career goals and where you see yourself working. Your colleagues in Germany might give you some feed-back on the perception of thi online degree keeping in mind that perception and reality often differ.

Your remark about the provenance of the degree is well taken, but you also should note that this applies only to recently graduated students. Since you seem to have a lot of experience, even with a M.S., you will be evaluated also on this experience, but now as someone who has regained freshness with an M.S.

Since you seem to worry about your marketability in the US, I would advise you to look at solid, but not spectacular M.S. programs in the US that accept people without previous education in Computer Science. You might want to look at related fields as well such as Information Technology or Software Engineering, since your Mathematical sophistication (e.g. capability to argue about correctness of abstract algorithms) is possibly not well developed.

Your biggest problem is not finding a program, but adjusting to school and being back in a classroom.

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  • Thank you for your answer, there's a lot to consider here. You make a good point about experience. Perhaps I'm placing too much importance on the program given where I am in my career. In a U.S.-style résumé where education is at the bottom, a hiring manager will have skimmed 15 years worth of work experience, and possibly made up their mind before seeing the education section. I have looked at Software Engineering programs, and this does match my interests. On the other hand, one of the reasons I'm interested in a Master's is to improve my mathematical sophistication. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 19:38
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    The main reason I'm looking at a program in Germany is that I'm currently in Germany. Even in an online program, an 8-hour offset can be challenging. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 19:39
  • @AlexanderClark That is probably useful to include in the original question.
    – GoodDeeds
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 20:26

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