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Can You Afford a Computer Science Master’s Degree? A Comprehensive Guide to MSCS Costs

June 17, 2021

There are many great reasons to invest in a Master of Science in Computer Science, or MSCS. For example, the salary-boosting impact of a master’s-level computer science degree. When Forbes ranked master’s degrees by the average post-graduation salary increase, graduate degrees in computer science offered the second-biggest bump in pay. Bachelor’s degree holders earn about $86,000 while Master of Science in Computer Science holders typically earn over $100,000 (nearly twice the national median household income). An online MSCS from an institution like Tufts University School of Engineering can also give you the leading edge skills, prestigious credentials, and connections you need to launch a career in computer science or advance in an established computer science career more quickly.

Tufts is one of the Best Engineering Schools in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The main campus is located next to the third fastest-growing tech hub in the United States, and the online MSCS course content (delivered in a blend of self-paced classwork and live virtual classes) is frequently revised and updated to align with industry demands. Class sizes are small, so distance learners can develop relationships with professors and peers, and the elite Tufts alumni network is 100,000 graduates strong.

The value of a computer science master’s degree is clear. The value of a graduate degree from Tufts is clear. What’s less clear is how to pay for this degree. The master’s in computer science cost often gives many qualified applicants pause. Understanding your options regarding financial aid, grants, scholarships, and employer tuition reimbursement is the key to determining whether you can afford a Master of Science in Computer Science—and whether the ROI of this degree makes that a moot point. Here’s what you need to know.

Online programs are rarely cheaper than those delivered on-campus—particularly at top-ranked institutions that create hands-on, high-engagement online courses.

How much does a master’s in computer science cost?

How much a master’s in computer science costs varies significantly from institution to institution, so the average cost of an MSCS isn’t particularly illuminating. According to U.S. News and World Report, per-credit tuition for a typical 30-credit online master’s in computer science can range from $500 to $2,000 for a total cost of between $15,000 and $72,000. Tufts’ 33-credit online Master of Science in Computer Science costs $1,697 per credit hour or $56,001 in total tuition. Keep in mind, however, that very few graduate students in the United States pay the full sticker price for a degree. Like undergraduates, master’s degree candidates fund their degrees and cover non-tuition expenses with many forms of financial aid like loans, scholarships, grants, and fellowships.

Calculating non-tuition expenses

You can pay for some non-tuition expenses using financial aid. Other costs—like application fees, enrollment fees, and transcript fees—are typically paid out of pocket. The cost of non-tuition expenses can add up quickly, and you should include them in cost calculations. Some are easy to overlook. For instance, Tufts School of Engineering no longer requires students with undergraduate degrees from accredited U.S. or Canadian institutions to submit GRE scores as part of its MSCS admission requirements. Some students still opt to take the test. Additionally, students with degrees granted by institutions outside the United States and Canada must submit scores. The cost to take the GRE for students in most countries is $220, and GRE prep materials and courses can cost anywhere from $20 to thousands of dollars.

There’s also the cost of prerequisite courses to consider. The ideal MSCS applicant has a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science or an undergraduate degree in a related computational discipline. Some schools require that applicants pass specific prerequisite courses in computer science, programming, and advanced mathematics. Meeting those prerequisites is often a matter of completing the required courses independently or in a bridge program. Tufts, for example, has a five-course, 100 percent online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Computer Science to MS in Computer Science Program. The course, which costs $1,980, helps non-CS majors prepare to apply for the MSCS program.

Finally, there is the cost of books and other course materials, which vary from year to year as syllabi change. Recently, Tufts MSCS professors have asked students to purchase books such as:

Books alone aren’t a significant non-tuition expense, but the cost of prerequisite classes, fees, and course materials can add up.

Are online degrees less expensive than on-campus programs?

Online programs are rarely cheaper than those delivered on-campus—particularly at top-ranked institutions that create hands-on, high-engagement online courses based on or identical to those in the on-campus MSCS curriculum. Providing that level of quality course content online can cost more because online programs require large, capable support staff to ensure everything runs smoothly and that troubleshooting, when necessary, is quick and effective.

The myth of the inexpensive online master’s programs is so widespread because, in theory, the size of programs for distance learners is limited only by what the technology can support. People assume colleges and universities enroll huge numbers of students in their online degree programs. In reality, reputable institutions deliberately keep online class sizes small, ensuring online students have the same access to professors and opportunities to build meaningful relationships with a diverse group of peers.

Tufts University doesn’t draw a hard line between its online and in-person graduate programs. Online MSCS students at Tufts enjoy the same student-centered experience and receive the same dedicated support and service from enrollment through graduation. Distance learners might not use on-campus facilities, but they do use the university’s robust technological infrastructure. They also benefit from one-on-one guidance provided by the enrollment team, purposeful faculty mentorship, expert career counseling, and membership in an active alumni network. The only difference between the on-campus MSCS program and the online MSCS program is location.

There are some cost savings associated with online degrees, however

The online Master of Science in Computer Science offered by the Tufts Online School of Engineering covers the same content and confers the same degree as the computer science master’s program offered on campus, which is why the online MSCS and on-campus MSCS cost roughly the same amount. That doesn’t mean distance learners don’t pay less. The flexibility of Tufts’ online program lets professionals keep their full-time jobs as they pursue degrees. They don’t spend time out of the workforce (which can lower lifetime income potential), and they continue earning wages. They also don’t need to factor in commuting costs (e.g., gas, tolls, parking, and vehicle wear and tear) when answering the question ‘How much does a master’s in computer science cost?’ Neither do they spend thousands of dollars moving across the country to attend a leading MSCS program. An online degree from the Department of Computer Science at Tufts may have the exact per-credit cost as an equally prestigious program but be less expensive overall.

Calculating the true cost of a master’s in computer science

To calculate the actual price of an MSCS, you need to know the opportunity costs associated with earning this degree and how it will affect your earning potential.

Opportunity costs are what you forfeit when you choose one alternative over another. Suppose you select a two-year, full-time computer science master’s degree program over Tufts’ part-time MSCS. In that case, lost income is one of the opportunity costs you must factor into your calculations. If you would have earned $60,000 per year, a $55,000 degree actually costs $175,000.

Another way to think about opportunity costs is to ask yourself how much income you’ll miss out on without a graduate degree in computer science. If you earn $60,000 now but can’t qualify for significant promotions or higher-paying positions without a master’s degree, your total lifetime earnings could be about half of what they could have been with an MSCS.

How to pay for your MSCS degree

Calculating the cost of a computer science master’s degree is also a matter of looking into all possible funding options. Students enrolled in the Tufts online MSCS program fund their degrees in several ways. Some take out Federal or private student loans. Some are eligible for tuition waivers and scholarships. Others receive tuition assistance or reimbursement through an employer, work in research assistantships, or receive employer funding. And still others pay out of pocket after receiving tuition discounts.

Tufts Scholarships

There are multiple scholarships open to online MSCS students at Tufts, including:

  • Alumni scholarships for students who enroll in a School of Engineering master’s program after earning a bachelor’s degree at Tufts. Alumni are eligible for graduate application fee waivers and discounted tuition rates as part of Double Jumbo Scholarships.
  • Scholarships for STEM majors from select Bridge Universities: Incoming MSDS students who earned bachelor’s degrees at Lafayette College, Olin College, Smith College, Union College, and Wellesley College receive 20 percent tuition scholarships.
  • Yellow Ribbon Scholarships of $5,000 annually for veterans enrolled in the School of Engineering.

Student loans

There are different types of federal student loans:

  • Graduate students taking six credits worth of classes or more can take out relatively low-interest Direct Unsubsidized Loans to pay for a master’s degree program even if they don’t qualify for need-based financial aid. These loans aren’t credit-based, which means they’re accessible to students with adverse credit histories.
  • The Graduate PLUS Loan (also known as a Direct PLUS Loan) has higher interest rates but doesn’t have a borrowing limit, and students can use these loans to cover the entire cost of a computer science master’s degree. Students fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) when applying to university programs to determine their eligibility for both loans.
  • Some students take out private loans issued by banks, credit unions, or loan organizations like Sallie Mae—all of which have distinct application processes and deadlines. These loans are typically issued based on creditworthiness, not need, and have higher interest rates than federal loans. Repayment options, fees, and grace periods vary from lender to lender.

Employer tuition reimbursement

Some students finance part or all of their degrees through corporate tuition reimbursement plans. Reimbursement policies vary widely by company, and many organizations place limits on how much funding students can access in a set period. Some make benefits available to all full-time employees, while others require that employees work in their positions for a set period before signing up for funding. Some fund any coursework, while others only fund education directly related to a student’s job. Companies may require employees paying for degrees with reimbursement funding to agree to stay at the company for a certain number of years. If they leave, they are responsible for paying back the reimbursement amount. Applying for corporate tuition reimbursement at companies with established policies often involves getting written approval from a supervisor and then filing a request with HR.

Frequently asked questions about financial aid

1. When should I apply for student loans, grants, or scholarships? You should submit your applications as early as possible. Fill out the FAFSA, which will determine your eligibility for federal aid, and submit scholarship applications by the first deadline.

2. Are there additional scholarships available other than those listed in this article? You can find out more about additional Tufts School of Engineering scholarship opportunities here. There are also hundreds of external scholarships open to master’s degree candidates. FastWeb is a scholarship search site that can help you find them.

3. Can I get loans for graduate school if I’m still paying off undergraduate student debt? Yes, with one caveat. The Federal Direct loan program has a lifetime borrowing limit of $138,500. If the amount you borrowed to pay for your bachelor’s degree was close to that cap, you might not be able to borrow enough to cover the cost of graduate school without Grad PLUS or private loans.

4. When will I know if I’ve received loans/grants/scholarships? Tufts will notify you of your financial aid package within a week after accepting your application into the online MSCS program. Information about your financial aid package will appear on your Tufts application status page.

5. What if I don’t qualify for any types of financial aid? You can pay out of pocket if your financial situation allows or finance your degree with private loans. Private loans typically have no application deadlines, so you can wait until you’re certain you don’t qualify for aid before applying.

6. Where can I go if I still have questions? For more information about graduate student loans, scholarships, or how to apply for financial aid and services, visit the Tufts main Financial Aid site, email, or call 617-627-3987.

How and when is tuition due?

Tufts bills for tuition on a per-credit basis. If you take two courses per semester while enrolled in the online MSCS program, and each course is three credit hours, your bill will be $10,182 per semester. You don’t have to pay that amount upfront at the start of each semester, however. Tufts offers a monthly payment plan for master’s and doctoral candidates. Students have the option of paying the annual cost of tuition and expenses in 10 monthly installments or one semester’s tuition and expenses in five monthly installments. Payments are due starting on July 15 for the fall semester and December 15 for the spring semester, and students can use any one of several payment options.

You get what you pay for

Some students are intimidated by the price tag of this degree. Tufts’ MSCS isn’t inexpensive, though it’s worth noting that it is one of the more affordable computer science master’s programs offered by a highly selective elite school. Graduate programs that cost more tend to invest more in their students and produce better student outcomes.

Tufts School of Engineering has a reputation for educating leaders and for research excellence. Students graduate from the online Master of Science in Computer Science program with the hard skills they’ll need to excel in software engineering and software development, DevOps, cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and other specialization areas of tech—plus the soft skills that will help them take advantage of skills gaps in their fields. Tufts University alumni work for Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Microsoft, and other notable technology, healthcare, and finance firms.

Perhaps the question you should ask yourself isn’t whether you can afford to pursue a computer science master’s degree at a prestigious institution like Tufts but whether you can afford not to—particularly if your goals include launching a career in research, working for one of the FAANG firms, or earning more money. An MSCS from Tufts University can help you master your niche, maximize your value to employers, and become an innovator in your field—for only slightly more than the average cost of a master’s degree, making the ROI of this degree as exceptional as the students who earn it.

Still have questions? You can learn more about the online student experience or Tufts School of Engineering’s graduate admission requirements at one of the school’s admission events. When you’re ready to invest in yourself, apply here.