I am a working student (working in software engineering) and this year I'll be completing my CS Bachelor's degree in Italy. I am doing the online degree as I can't attend lectures, due to my job.

I would like to continue my studies with a Master's Degree in CS so I googled a bit and found out that GaTech is offering an online master's degree I am interested in.

Here in Italy the online degree has the same value as the on-campus degree: we take exams on campus, study online with videos and materials provided by the professor, we have conference sessions with the professors for any questions or we can go visit them in their office. The exams are exactly the same as the on-campus degree, so are the professors.

I was wondering if this is the case in the USA and if doing an online degree will be a limit for me to pursue, in a remote future, a PhD. Should I move to the USA to study (I can work remotely) or I can study here, in Italy, and just go to the USA to take exams?

  • 2
    Orthogonal to the issue of remote degrees, it is worth explicit mention that the masters/PhD paradigm in the US is very different from Europe. In many fields in the US one jumps from a bachelors to a PhD program, because the masters is included in the PhD as the first 2 out of 5 years or so. While it's not impossible in the US to just sign up for a masters and figure out the PhD later, this is a less common path.
    – user4512
    Mar 6 '16 at 22:51
  • I contacted OMSCS advising, this is their answer: "Earning a Master of Science in Computer Science is not terminal. Students can proceed to apply to a PhD program in Computer Science after completing their masters degree. I would strongly recommend that you contact the PhD program that you are interested in and speak with the academic advisor for that PhD program for more information" Oct 28 '19 at 14:28

In my opinion, Georgia Tech's Online Master of Computer Science will not help you get a computer science PhD in the US. Not because it's online, but because it's a professional master's program.

There are two types of master's degrees in computer science in the US:

  • Thesis (aka research) masters degrees have a significant research component, in close collaboration with an advisor, leading up to a thesis. These are generally seen as useful stepping stones to a PhD.

  • Professional (aka class-based, aka "taught", aka terminal) masters degrees consist entirely of classes. These are generally not seen as stepping stones to a PhD, because there is no expectation of (and therefore no resources for) research.

Moreover, because of the huge scale (>3000 students) of the OMCS program, having any kind of sustained on-on-one interaction with faculty—which you would need to get strong recommendation letters—is almost impossible.

(I regularly serve on the graduate admissions committee in a top-10 American CS department.)

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    I've heard in the USA it's possible to get a PhD without a master's degree. I'm not saying I'll be able to get in the top PhD programs, but an online Msc degree is still better than not having an Msc. Did you mean all the doors will be closed or just the top unis won't consider me?
    – Umar Jamil
    Mar 6 '16 at 15:56
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    @UmarJamil I don't think there is one answer here. I have what this answer considers a "professional" M.S. in CS, and my professors told me that a Ph.D. would be a realistic goal later on. My M.S. would satisfy a big chunk of the classroom instruction, and I would focus more of my time on research. However, I know some universities have different expectations. Some are more research-oriented than others. Also, in general you can get a M.S. or go straight for the Ph.D. in the CS field. Again, each university is different and may have residency requirements that result in extra work.
    – user21025
    Mar 6 '16 at 18:27
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    an online Msc degree is still better than not having an Msc — Not necessarily, and in particular, not in my department. If you're applying to a strong CS PhD program in the US with a master's degree, you'll generally be held to higher standards—especially with respect to research experience—than if you apply with only a bachelor's degree.
    – JeffE
    Mar 6 '16 at 19:00
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    @Umar What you have to understand is that the US works totally different to Europe there. While it's pretty much unheard of in Europe to get into a PhD program without a master, the same is not true in the US at all. Actually - at least in my limited experience there - it's more that you either do a PhD or your masters with one being more focused on research and the other more for going into the private sector afterwards.
    – Voo
    Mar 6 '16 at 19:59
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    This is the definition of "Terminal Degree" according to OMSCS at GeorgiaTech advising: A terminal degree is the term used to describe the highest degree available in any given academic discipline. When a student graduates from their chosen academic program with a terminal degree, it means that they have reached the highest level of education available in their chosen field. Oct 28 '19 at 14:34

Perhaps the best course of action is to ask the faculty/graduate admissions at GaTech (or other school you are interested in) if if would make a difference to get into their PhD program, given your background.

A group of random gals and dudes on the ńet can't answer this with any certainty. If by chance somebody here can answer (by personal experience, ...) you won't be able to distinguish that from somebody posting compulsively with little or no knowledge of the matter.

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