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The Attributes Top Computer Science Grad Students Share

August 26, 2021

Applying to Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) programs can be an intimidating experience. Even if you meet the computer science master’s degree requirements, you may still have doubts about whether you belong in a world-class graduate program like the one offered online by Tufts University’s School of Engineering. Quieting those and other doubts you might have won’t necessarily be easy, but it is possible. The key is understanding what admissions teams seek in top computer science master’s degree candidates—and what successful MSCS graduate students have in common.

You probably know that getting into a highly ranked graduate degree program is about more than meeting the basic prerequisites. What you might not know is how important it is that an applicant is a good fit. The Tufts School of Engineering admissions committee, for example, looks for prospective graduate students who have hard skills and professional backgrounds that will help them do well in master’s-level courses plus goals that align with the MSCS program’s focus. They also look at applicants’ soft skills, drive, and a whole host of other qualities that are hard to summarize in a short list of admissions requirements.

What top computer science graduate students have in common is not preternatural talent, but rather a burning curiosity, drive, and an aptitude for mathematics and technology.

Keep reading to find out more about the attributes top computer science graduate students share, what the Tufts School of Engineering admissions committee looks for in applicants, and how you can make your MSCS application as strong as possible.

Who typically earns an MSCS from Tufts?

Tufts’ online MSCS program attracts futuristic thinkers with a passion for technology. They want to evolve in their careers, though what that looks like may differ from student to student. Some want to gain the advanced skills and knowledge they need to qualify for jobs at high-profile companies or get promoted within their organizations. Others are new to computer science and looking for the professional and personal connections necessary to get a foot in the door. Still others want to earn more money or satisfy their own curiosity through research.

What they have in common is not preternatural talent, but rather a burning curiosity, drive, and an aptitude for mathematics and technology. People mistakenly assume that top computer science students must already be highly accomplished software engineers, machine learning engineers, data scientists, systems architects, or cybersecurity specialists, but the prerequisites of highly ranked MSCS programs aren’t designed to keep all but the best-of-the-best out. While Tufts University is among the most selective universities in the nation—with an overall acceptance rate of only 15 percent—the School of Engineering looks for the candidates most likely to grow in its rigorous and highly technical program.

Students in Tufts’ online computer science master’s program also understand that there are benefits to studying at a top-rated Boston-based university—even for distance learners. Boston consistently ranks among the top tech cities globally, and many major tech companies have headquarters in Boston as well as around the world. MSCS graduates can tap into the fact that well-known industry employers in the city and beyond recognize and respect the university and its programs.

What technical skills do top computer science grad students have?

Hard skills related to software engineering and software systems design, computer systems design, information security and cybersecurity, algorithm design, and operating systems design are important elements of computer science. That doesn’t mean that top computer science graduate students enter highly ranked MSCS programs with all the leading-edge skills they’ll need to develop innovative solutions for today’s most pressing technological and business challenges.

Computer science graduate students at Tufts tend to have strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and to be hard workers. They’re comfortable tackling unstructured and open-ended problems, and they’re not easily frustrated by uncertainty.

Master’s degree candidates have programming and IT experience and enroll in the Tufts online MS in Computer Science program to gain a firmer foundation in both computer science theory and programming practice. They learn to:

  • Analyze and predict the complexity of algorithms, including algorithms for trees and graphs, and algorithms including dynamic programming.
  • Craft realistic programs in a variety of programming languages.
  • Identify the computability class of a language, including regular, pushdown, and Turing-equivalent languages.
  • Prove the properties of algorithms mathematically.
  • Reason and discuss the semantics of programming languages.

In a mix of 10 courses completed entirely online, computer science graduate students at Tufts design new kinds of computer software and develop next-level implementation skills. Hard skills aren’t all they’ll learn while in the 33-credit program, however. Soft skills are also part of the MSCS curriculum.

What soft skills do top computer science grad students typically have?

There’s a growing skills gap in technology that can’t be solved by teaching students additional programming languages or ensuring that work done in graduate programs relates to real-world needs. Soft skills matter in technology more than most people realize, but evidence suggests that today’s technology professionals lack many of the uniquely human skills employers look for in new hires. One study found that executives across industries had trouble filling computer science and IT positions because candidates lacked people skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills, flexibility, and other human capabilities.

Newly enrolled computer science graduate students at Tufts tend to have strong critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and to be hard workers. They’re comfortable tackling unstructured and open-ended problems, and they’re not easily frustrated by uncertainty. This is important because, as Associate Professor Norman Ramsey notes in the COMP 105 Programming Languages syllabus, “it is normal to feel lost… feeling lost is a consequence of the situation: where you’re coming from and where you’re going.”

Throughout the online computer science master’s program, students learn to communicate more effectively with individuals and groups and to present their ideas compellingly. They also learn how to be more receptive listeners and to take constructive criticism. Courses like COMP 111 Operating Systems, which explores fundamental issues in operating system design, teach not only technical skills but also patience, perseverance, organization, and thoroughness. And teamwork and collaboration—encouraged in hands-on project work and classroom participation—are core elements of the Tufts online MSCS curriculum.

What are the basic requirements for admission into the Tufts MSCS program?

The Tufts admission committee reviews applications holistically and considers each applicant’s academic history, professional experience, career goals, and aptitudes. Successful applicants typically have a strong background in mathematics and computer science or a related STEM field plus a bachelor’s degree in computer science or another computational discipline. Even if they don’t have professional experience in the computer science field, they have studied computer architecture, data structures, functional programming, and object-oriented programming languages.

Beyond that, the attributes computer science graduate students at Tufts have in common are harder to quantify. They have inquiring minds and a strong desire to learn the direct skills and applications of computer science. They also have a concrete idea of how investing in Tufts’ online Master of Science in Computer Science program will help them meet their professional and personal goals.

The online MSCS application requirements are relatively simple. All applicants submit unofficial transcripts from all post-secondary institutions attended, three letters of recommendation written by colleagues or professors, a personal statement detailing why they want to pursue a computer science master’s online at Tufts, and a thorough résumé or CV. Ideally, each element of the application speaks to the applicant’s drive, passion for computer science, and desire to study at Tufts School of Engineering.

What makes an MSCS application especially strong?

Crafting a strong application involves more than just gathering the right materials, but there’s no one-size-fits-all template successful applicants follow. The strongest applications stand out while also illustrating how applicants will be a good fit for the program. For instance, the average undergraduate GPA of successful MSCS applicants is 3.6 and the average quantitative GRE score is 162. If your grades and GRE score are near perfect, your application will stand out. Below-average grades and scores can be offset by past academic or professional experiences that reflect a deep interest in computer systems, programming, and computational theory.

The most important elements of the MSCS application are the letters of recommendation and your personal statement. These shouldn’t rehash your résumé but rather provide insights into the kind of qualitative strengths that aren’t reflected in test scores and transcripts. Your letters of recommendation and your personal statement should summarize your abilities and strengths, accomplishments, relevant experiences, and any contributions you’ve made to the computer science field. They should also speak to your character and why you’re a good candidate for Tufts’ program in particular.

You can ensure all of your application materials are as strong as they can be by starting your application as early as possible. Gathering transcripts and letters of recommendation can take much longer than you think, and you should give yourself plenty of time to revise your personal statement and résumé multiple times. If possible, have a colleague or trusted friend review each draft before you make your revisions. They’ll catch typos and other errors you might miss and may have insight into your academic accomplishments or computer science career you can add to make your materials more compelling.

What happens if I’m accepted into the Tufts MSCS program?

When you’re accepted, you’ll join a community of students interested in using technology to transform society and pushing the limits of computer science theory. Together, you’ll take 10 core courses focused on programming, operating systems, database systems, cybersecurity, machine learning, algorithms, software engineering, and computational theory. The same notable faculty members who teach on Tufts’ campus lead the real-time virtual MSCS classes, and small class sizes ensure that you can collaborate and connect with peers. You and your fellow students will also complete a two-course, hands-on, culminating project that involves project planning, design, implementation, and testing. At the end of the second course, you’ll present your project to your cohort and professors.

In less than two years of flexible self-study and interactive synchronous coursework, you will be eligible for graduation. At that point, you will have the skills, the knowledge, and most importantly, the credentials necessary to take advantage of the booming demand for computer science professionals both in and out of tech.

LaborInsight predicts the computer science job market will grow by 19 percent over the next decade but also reports that even now, nearly four in ten computer science jobs require a minimum of a master’s degree. Chances are good that the demand for computer science professionals with graduate degrees will grow over time—and with an MSCS from Tufts, you’ll be ready.

Apply now, or if you still have questions, attend a webinar or knowledge session. You can also schedule an appointment to go over the computer science master’s degree prerequisites or costs with an enrollment adviser by calling 617-627-5760 or via email at