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I am currently in my junior year of undergraduate work at Creighton University and have found out that my employer may possibly pay for me to work towards a Master's degree. I don't know all the specifics yet, but I have been browsing schools that offer Graduate programs in software engineering (or computer science with a focus in software engineering). It appears that the only school near me is the University of Nebraska-Omaha, so I have been checking out online programs as well, since I would have to stay in the Omaha area. It looks like USC has an excellent program in computer science, and I have also looked at Penn State and Drexel. So my questions are:

How difficult are these programs to get into?

Is it worth it to work towards a Master's Degree right after undergraduate?

What other programs should I be looking at?

I currently have a 4.0 GPA in my Computer Science Major, but I still have 4 classes left to take. I am also minoring in Business Administration and Interactive Web Development(basically Graphic Design classes).

Thanks ahead of time!

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    An important consideration is your goals. That will drive the answers to questions 2 and 3. – user4383 Apr 9 '13 at 16:49
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Kgvnova,

Congratulations on all of your success so far and your decision to consider furthering your education. I'm in a very similar position as you and I'm currently considering distance education for a Master's degree in Computer Science or Software Engineering. I'll do my best to answer your questions the best that I can.

1) The difficulty of getting into programs varies, but I would say it's probably easier to be admitted into an online program than the live/in-person program. I was accepted into all programs that I applied to. (I graduated with a science degree at the top of my class, have good test scores and work experience, so I'd say I'm a strong candidate for most programs.) Just be careful about some "diploma mills". Some schools are "for profit" and let everyone in. Just try to find an established school that has a distance education component and you should be in good shape.

2) Whether you go straight to a Master's degree or not depends on you and your life situation. You can consider your situation from a few angles.

Job Opportunities/ Return on Investment: I think that most computer related careers are available to people with a technically-oriented bachelor's degree so the return on your investment might be neglible since you already have a bachelor's. You mentioned that your employer may pay for it, so your investment might just be your time and energy.

Timing and Other Life Events: If you are willing and able to invest 20-40 hours per week for the next 2 years or so, then getting a Master's could be a good idea. If you're planning on having a family in the next few years, maybe it's a good time to get this done. If you're just starting a family or have other commitments, then maybe you should wait. Graduate schools aren't going anywhere.

Certainty: How certain are you that this is the career/industry for you? Do you have significant experience working in software engineering? I just ask because you may find that this is not what you actually want to do, especially if you've never done it before. I've changed my mind a lot in the past. Since I've graduated a few years ago, I've worked in sales, health services, teaching, insurance, and web development. I always thought I was going to enjoy those fields until I actually worked in them. Once I started doing web development and LOVING it, I decided it's worth pursuing an education to take me a step further.

3) There are a lot of programs to consider. I started by looking at US News to see a list of highly-regarded schools. I then visited their websites to see if they had distance programs in Computer Science. Another few schools that I've considered are:

  • Brandeis University - Master's in Software Engineering
  • University of Bridgeport (CT) - Master's in CS with Software Engineering Concentration (ranked in top 10 online CS programs nationally)
  • Harvard Univerisity - they have an Extension School where you can get a Master's in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Software Engineering

You should also consider the finances and "pacing" of programs. Some programs are really expensive. Also, some degrees are accelerated and take 18 months, while some programs take 3-4 years to complete.

Sorry for the long response. I just wanted to give you the information I've been researching this for several months. I wish you the best of luck with everything.

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  • Great Answer! I will have to look into those programs you mentioned. After thinking about it, I am not planning on starting a family or anything like that soon. I'm currently doing web development as well, and I'm in the same boat as you. I am confident this is what I want to do. Thanks again for your answer, it was very insightful. – redacted Apr 9 '13 at 18:44
  • One other thing I neglected to mention is that I really recommend you look at the curriculum and see what the actual classes are like. Some schools will post the syllabus for each course. I want a program that teaches theory AND applies that knowledge with projects. I'm surprised by how many software engineering courses rely on having students read PowerPoint slides and writing essays without actually reading and writing code. I think there's a big difference between the two. Also try searching Google and YouTube for student reviews of SE programs... their feedback could be helpful. – Java Jeff Apr 9 '13 at 18:50
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How difficult are these programs to get into?

It is going to be different with every school. Some will require you to take the GRE or GMAT, while some will admit you as long as you had a halfway-decent GPA in your undergraduate program. Some won't admit you unless you have a few years of experience working in the field.

Is it worth it to work towards a Master's Degree right after undergraduate?

Again, it depends. Is it going to advance your career? Perhaps. Having a Master's Degree as a software developer (assuming that is what you are aspiring to be) does open some doors that might otherwise be closed to you. Will you get a raise or better pay increases because of it? Probably not. And I don't know if I agree with going to graduate school immediately after finishing your bachelor's degree, but that is a decision you need to make for yourself.

For me, I needed 13 years before I was ready to go to school again...and it paid off. I found that I had an easier time with my classes, because I had already worked with most of the technologies that I studied in grad school. Not just because of familiarity either, but because I had worked with them enough that I already understood why they worked the way that they do.

What other programs should I be looking at?

Not all computer science/software engineering/IT-based graduate programs are created equally. Many are geared more towards IT management, and go little into the technical side. If a technical deep-dive is what you want, you need to look really hard to find it.

Also, many programs will be either practicum or thesis-based (or give you an option to choose). A thesis-based master's program may sound daunting, but again, it opens doors for you. If you are considering an academic career path at some point, you will want a program that requires a thesis.

Another thing to consider, is to work at least a year before going back to school, just to get used to your workload. You will probably find that your employer will want 45-50 hours per week out of you (maybe more). Going home on a Friday night to work on a paper is a lot tougher to do after you've already been writing code for 10 hours.

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You may want to check out Virginia Tech Online. They have Master's degrees in Computer Engineering and Information Technology (in which you can specialize in Software Development) and it doesn't look like their admissions process is too hellish. I actually spoke with the Director of Admissions for their IT program and he's a really cool guy. Spent time going over the whole admissions process with me and answered all of my questions.

Virginia Tech Online Master's Degrees

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I'm completing an online Masters in Software Engineering from Penn State. I have 17 years professional experience and started the program when I had 15 years experience.

Having the benefit of past experiences I would recommend spending a few years (<5) doing hard core software development and moving up the technical ranks to Senior Engineer before pursuing a masters.

The main reason why is you'll have the practical real-world knowledge that will help anchor the theory they will thrust at you in the Master's program. If you decide to pursue your Master's right after your undergrade, be forwarned that much of what they teach you in academia is theory which means it won't make much sense to you until you start to use it. Even then, you'll have a conflict since the real-world != academia and it's the real-world that is the truth and academia is just a nice cozy padded room.

One con to waiting to take on your Master's is the double workload you'll be carrying. It was extremely difficult for me to handle both a full work load (50-60hours a week since no engineer worth their salt only works 40hours a week.) and be full time student. Another con is the fact that companies typically advertise educational benefits, but they can be very hard to obtain. It took me three companies before I finally landed at one that would pony up the cash. The other three companies said they would, but never did so after a few years I told them to suck it and moved on.

That being said, looking down the long road and if I had it all to do over again, I'd of pusued my Master's ~5 years after completing my undergrad. After 15 years (17 when I finished my Masters) of experience, much of what I learned earning my Masters was nothing new. I think you'll get the best mental and career boost if you follow the timeline I mentioned.

That all being said, I am happy I pursued my Masters and obtained it. The company paid for all of it (minus books) which was just south of $36k.

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