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Getting an Online Master’s in Computer Science? Why Location Matters

May 31, 2021

There’s no question that location is a critical factor in choosing the right on-campus graduate school program. What’s less clear is what role geography should play when prospective students assess master’s programs delivered online. After all, the prime benefits of earning a master’s degree online include the ability to continue working and earning income, learn at one’s own pace, and attend a prestigious program without relocating. Very few guides to online degrees mention location at all except to point out that graduate programs for distance learners make location immaterial.

The problem with that approach is that location is anything but immaterial—particularly in technology and computation, where innovation hubs play an outsized role in employment trends. An online degree program’s home base can impact student success in myriad ways. Consider Tufts’ Online Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS). Savvy online MSCS enrollees know that even students who aren’t “on the ground” benefit from the university’s prime location in the greater Boston area.

How much weight you give to location as you compare online master’s in computer science programs is up to you, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that geography doesn’t matter. Below, you’ll find more information about how location can impact the value of an online MSCS and how distance learners enrolled in Tufts School of Engineering’s online programs benefit from the university’s proximity to top tech firms.

Is it counterintuitive to consider location when choosing an online MSCS?

The ROI of an MS in Computer Science program that delivers classes 100 percent online might seem wholly divorced from geography, but that’s no reason not to consider location in your decisions. Tufts’ online master’s in computer science ensures that location isn’t an obstacle getting in the way of success—but that doesn’t mean online MSCS students can’t leverage the power of geography.

If your goal is to work in technology or tech-adjacent fields like finance or healthcare, it makes sense to limit your search to programs offered by colleges and universities in or near technology hubs. These schools are more likely than other institutions to have strong ties with big-name technology companies, major research laboratories, and elite corporations known for hiring computer scientists. Professors and faculty may have relationships with local industry leaders who help place students in internships or serve as guest lecturers in online classes. Computer science master’s programs headquartered in or near technology hubs and innovation districts also have alumni networks populated by professionals employed by the kinds of high-profile companies for which MSCS graduates hope to work.

“Top master’s degree programs tend to be in the same geographical areas as desirable professional opportunities, which isn’t by chance.”

Given that, it’s logical to think about location when researching where to earn a master’s degree in computer science online. You can learn to create complex software in multiple programming languages and study computational theory in the core and elective coursework in most MSCS programs. You might, however, need a local connection to land an internship or job at a tough-to-break-into company.

Why you should consider location when choosing an online master’s in computer science

Top master’s degree programs like Tufts’ Master of Science in Computer Science tend to be in the same geographical areas as desirable professional opportunities, which isn’t by chance. Employers across industries prefer to put down roots in locales where they’ll have the easiest time attracting high-performing employees. Clustering around colleges and universities that produce top-tier tech talent is a strategic move that benefits both businesses and schools. Businesses have their pick of ambitious recent graduates and benefit from technological breakthroughs spearheaded by university research partners. Schools can monetize innovation through corporate partnerships and gain insights into the industry that let them adapt the MSCS curriculum to employer demand.

Students in computer science master’s programs also benefit from this symbiosis—even when they enroll in online programs. That’s because the physical location of a school delivering an online computer science degree program will influence internship, networking and career opportunities.

“Earning a master’s degree is crucial to succeeding in most major tech hubs, but that alone won’t cut it.”

Internship opportunities

Internships are often a part of the student experience, whether officially (when they are a required part of a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program) or unofficially (when students complete internships independently). It isn’t unusual for online programs to help distance learners find internship placements, but faculty advisors don’t always facilitate placements in online programs. Distance learners can usually take advantage of the same internship and career support services as students studying on campus. At colleges and universities in locations with a strong tech industry presence, advisors can help students in online programs land in-person summer internships or even remote internships at companies local to the school—an option that’s now much more common because of COVID-19.

Name recognition is also a factor that comes into play. When students in online programs apply for on-the-ground internships on their own, enrollment in a well-known school located in the same region as their target companies may boost their chances of acceptance. Employers across the U.S. respect Tufts University, but the name carries particular weight with technology and tech-adjacent firms in the Boston area.

Networking opportunities

The best computer science master’s programs help students build solid professional networks they can tap into throughout their careers, regardless of how they’re delivered. Online learners don’t build those relationships in a virtual vacuum. Distance learners are typically encouraged to attend in-person events, workshops, recruiting evenings, and conferences whenever possible so they can take advantage of the school’s real-world connections. When that’s not possible, they’re still able to forge relationships with professors, peers, and industry leaders who live and work near the school. At Tufts, online students benefit from the school’s proximity to and connections with tech firms and startups in the Greater Boston region throughout the program and graduate with robust local and global networks.

Career Opportunities

Enrolling in an online computer science master’s program offered by a college or university close to where you want to work is a smart move for all the reasons listed above. Your school will have links to companies in that area, and when well-known industry employers recognize and respect your alma mater, you’ll encounter more open doors. Plus, your network will include people with local connections.

However, regardless of whether they study online or on-campus, Tufts MSCS graduates benefit from the fact that Boston consistently ranks among the top tech cities globally. An increasing number of tech companies have headquarters in Boston, but that doesn’t mean you need to live in this tech hub to take advantage of its career opportunities. Most major tech firms have multiple offices across the country and even worldwide — meaning that, as a Tufts MSCS student, your network is inherently expansive.

What are the locational benefits of getting an online master’s degree in computer science at Tufts?

The simple answer is that it makes it easier to advance in a tech career. A 2019 KPMG survey found that Boston was one of the cities most likely to become the “leading technology innovation hub outside of Silicon Valley.” More than 2,000 tech companies are in and around Boston, plus high-profile financial services and healthcare firms known for hiring tech talent. Twelve of the top twenty-five highest paying jobs in Boston are closely related to computer science. Tufts MSCS graduates are well-positioned to succeed in a local job market that includes roles in artificial intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity, information systems, cloud computing, software engineering, robotics, operating system design, and related fields.

In some parts of the country, an MSCS and a few years of experience are all it takes to find a job. In Boston, it takes more—sometimes a lot more. Students who invest in Tufts’ part-time 33-credit hour online Master of Science in Computer Science program have the skills and knowledge to qualify for internships and jobs at companies in the Boston area and the professional and personal connections necessary to get a foot in the door.

Who is hiring near Tufts?

Boston hasn’t supplanted Silicon Valley yet, but per Burning Glass Technologies, it is the third-best city in the U.S. for computer science careers as measured by job postings. Over the past 12 months, area employers posted:

  • 4,962 jobs in software development and software engineering
  • 2,181 jobs in data analytics and related fields
  • 1,636 jobs for computer networks and systems engineers
  • 1,311 jobs for information technology project managers
  • 1,070 jobs for computer and information research scientists

There were also thousands of job postings for computing systems analysts, information security analysts, cybersecurity engineers, data scientists, machine learning engineers, and web developers.

At the time of this writing, there are jobs in and around Boston for MSCS graduates at communications and media companies like:

  • Bloomberg
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • ViaSat

Digital services companies like:

  • Charles River Analytics
  • Cisco
  • GE Digital
  • Google
  • HubSpot
  • Paytronix
  • Toast

EdTech companies like:

  • BetterLess
  • edX
  • Panorama Education
  • Skillsoft

Financial services companies like:

  • Capital One
  • Fidelity Investments
  • Goldman Sachs
  • J.P. Morgan
  • Northwestern Mutual
  • TD

Research and development companies like:

  • MIT Lincoln Laboratory
  • Toyota Research Institute

Robotics companies like:

  • AmazonRobotics
  • Boston Dynamics
  • iRobot
  • MassRobotics

Technology companies like:

  • Adobe
  • Amazon
  • Formlabs
  • IBM
  • Microsoft

Tufts University is also near one of the largest healthcare and biotech hubs in the country, and those sectors are known for hiring loads of tech talent. Boston is home to large hospital and healthcare networks and major insurance companies; healthtech firms like Athenahealth and IBM Watson Health; pharmaceutical manufacturers like Biogen; and startups that support innovation in medicine. The largest among them employ teams of cybersecurity, cloud computing, computer systems, networking, IT, computer engineering, and Big Data professionals.

How important is location when choosing an online MSCS?

The answer depends on whether your career goals include working in a specific geographical area or for a company headquartered in that area. Open positions for MSCS holders abound in Boston and beyond. Over the next 10 years, demand for MSCS-related skills in the city and surrounding suburbs like Cambridge and Medford will grow across computer science subfields like machine learning, software engineering, network security, visualization, and database systems. On a national scale, the job outlook for computer and information research scientists (the broad classification used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for computer science occupations) is expected to grow much faster than average, approximately 15 percent through 2029.

What you need to be aware of as you look at the prerequisite, admissionsapplication, and degree requirements of online master’s in computer science programs is that the competition for open positions is more intense here than in some other parts of the United States.

A staggering 18 percent of the workforce in Boston has master’s degrees—nearly double the national average of 10.4 percent. Earning a master’s degree is crucial to succeeding in Boston’s tech scene and most other major tech hubs, but a degree alone won’t cut it. That’s where relationships come into play. As an online master’s student at Tufts, you will build strong connections with alumni in the technology industry and local leaders in the field, and those connections will ultimately prove much more valuable than simply having an MSCS on your resume.