If you’ve been thinking about going back to school to get your masters degree in computer science, consider the questions below:
- What type of problems do you want to work on as a software engineer?
- Would you like to be in a managerial role at some point in your career?
- Do you have the willpower to teach yourself, and do so, at a moderate pace?
- How will you pay for graduate school?
- Do you have the time (or are willing to make the time) for graduate school?
Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash
I’m a self-taught developer, and after working in industry for three years, I decided to pursue a Masters in Computer Science. I started my masters program at the Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems (Pace University) in NYC on September 5th 2018. I asked myself all the questions listed below before applying to graduate school and highly suggest you do so too. Most master programs are two years long, assuming you attend full-time and don’t require any prerequisites. It’s a sizable financial and personal time investment, so you should make damn sure you know what you’re embarking on and why.
To keep this article a reasonable length I’m going to keep the content brief. In the coming weeks I will write separate blog posts for each section with more detailed information and resources to better help you on your search.
1. What type of problems do you want to work on as a software engineer?
If you’re interested in building purely static websites or websites powered by Wordpress or Squarespace, a masters degree is probably not worth the time and financial investment. There’s a lot of documentation available that provides adequate guidelines and support for this type of development work. If you’re interested in working on projects that require quick development times and knowledge of developing optimized code, or if want to work on big data or artificial intelligence projects, a masters degree is likely a good fit.
2. Would you like to be in a managerial role at some point in your career?
Based on conversations I’ve had with people in industry and academia, the general advice I received was that pursuing a masters degree would have a bigger impact on someone who comes from a non-traditional background (self-taught or bootcamper) than someone with a computer science undergraduate degree. However, if you’re interested in going into management, a postgraduate degree (Masters or PhD) may benefit all groups. So, if you’re interested in entering a managerial or C-level role in your career, a masters degree is likely a good fit.
3. Do you have the willpower to teach yourself, and do so, at a moderate pace?
Do you really need to enter a masters program to learn the things you want to learn? If you’re interested in learning Java or C/C++ there are online platforms like Exercism that you can use to learn these languages. There may be a free or budget-friendly online resource you could use to teach yourself the concepts you want to learn.
Have you already tried these online resources and not gotten very far? Do you not like the open-ended, self-driven, nature of online courses you’ve tried? Do you perform and learn better in an in-person environment? Cool, that’s me too! A master’s degree is likely a good fit for you.
4. How will you pay for graduate school?
If you don’t live in a country where school is paid for or don’t have money freely available to pay for a masters degree, this question may very well be the defining factor. Ways you can pay for a masters degree include: financial aid (in the U.S: FAFSA) which may come in the form of grants, work-study, and government loans, private loans (potentially high interest, not ideal), employer sponsorship, scholarships or a Graduate Assistantship through your university, and external scholarships.
As a woman in tech and Latinx person pursuing a STEM degree in the U.S, there are additional scholarships I qualify for, some available through school and some offered by external organizations. One example of an external scholarship is the Women Techmakers Scholars Program.
5. Do you have the time (or are willing to make the time) for graduate school?
To be considered a full-time student in the U.S you must take 9 credits per semester, which equates to 3 classes per semester. For every 3 credits you take, the average time spent on self-study is 6-9 hours per week. Depending on the program you’re enrolled in, you might be in class 3 days a week at varied times of the day, so if you’re working you’ll need to get employer buy-in. Enrolling in an online program may offer lecture-time flexibility but the time on self-study still applies.
I opted to work part-time so I could attend my program full-time and work as a Graduate Assistant. My time is divided amongst a few different projects and no lie, I’m constantly exhausted and constantly feeling like I’m falling behind on something. Bare in mind, I don’t have any children or elderly parents to look after. It’s very taxing at times and that’s okay with me. So take time to think about what life could be like for you if you were enrolled in school and see if it’d be a fit.
How are you feeling about pursuing a masters program? If the questions are a lot to process at once, answer one question a day for a week and see where that gets you. At the end of the day you’re completing this masters program for yourself and if you feel it’s the right path, go for it!
Reach out to me on twitter (@luisamariethm) if you have any questions about applying to programs, my course, or what it’s like to be in grad school.