Arizona State University’s Online Master’s of Computer Science Program

Arizona State University is a great school for computer science; ASU has been known as a pioneer in online education. Arizona State University offers over 200 online degree programs. The Master’s of Computer Science (MCS) degree is another feather in their cap. With so many feathers, they begin to look like Bartholomew Cubbins.

Illustration by Theodor Geisel

What makes this program special — and why I chose to attend it — is that you can earn your way into the program even if you don’t have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, like me. So, how do you earn your way in? Well, there are two pathways, though they seemingly converge.

Pathway 1:

If you do not have a GPA that is greater than 3.0, you can choose to enroll as a non-degree seeking student in order to take 3 classes. If you can pass all 3 classes within a year with at least a B in each one, then you are granted admittance to the program and you get to apply those three classes of credit towards your degree. If, for some reason, you do not have the prerequisite courses completed upon admittance, you are required to take them either through ASU, from another university, or, if you believe you already know the material, as mini-courses that essentially amount to you challenging the final exam. There are four courses: Data Structures and Algorithms, Computer Organization and Assembly Language Programming, Operating Systems, and Principles of Programming Languages. This leads me to Pathway 2.

Pathway 2:

This pathway is for people without a CS undergrad who would like to enroll in the Master’s program. In order to earn your way in, you must complete two of the previously mentioned mini-courses before being granted admittance; however, you must complete the other two before the end of your first year in the program.

The Rules:

With the four CPE courses, you are granted two attempts per course, after which, if you fail, you must take the full course offered by a university. Two of the four courses are not difficult, those being Data Structures and Algorithms as well as Organization and Assembly Language Programming, as they essentially give you the final exam as a practice exam, first. The other two courses are quite a bit rougher. The majority of students to whom I have spoken have said that they struggled with the Principles of Programming Languages course. I would recommend you watch the course lectures associated with the final on YouTube before trying your hand at it.

The Cost:

This program is relatively affordable, costing only $1500 per course for ten courses, which amounts to $15000 in total. The affordability of this program is what attracts many students. This program can provide financial aid, though it is not guaranteed. On the other hand, loans are an option, which allows students to attend the program without sufficient funds to do so.

The Pros:

This program has five sessions a year: Fall Session A, Fall Session B, Spring Session A, Spring Session B, and Summer Session; because of this, it is feasible to complete the program in one year by taking two courses per session. This can be greatly beneficial to those who want a degree to increase their earning potential or to get a promotion.

Another positive is that this program has two separate specializations: Big Data and Cybersecurity. These specializations cause you to concentrate your courses on a particular set of courses. In addition to the three required courses, one in each of Systems, Foundations, and Applications, the Big Data track has five required courses; the Cybersecurity track has three required courses.

The final pro, which may very well be a con to some people, is that the courses take 7.5 weeks to complete. These courses move at a fast pace, but they cover the material in an appropriate amount of time in order to not overwhelm the students.


This program rarely has access to a professor or a lecturer. Instead, they have a professor or lecturer record lectures that they post onto Coursera and place a graduate student in charge of monitoring the course. This helps to keep costs to the program down but can become frustrating if the GSI (Graduate Student Instructor) is not as proficient with the course material as the professor. Because of this, the quality of the course ranges from bad to great depending entirely on the GSI.

The second con is that this program is designed more for students without a CS background than for students with a CS background. Whilst this was good for me, it caused other students enormous frustration as they felt much of the information was a repeat from their undergraduate education.

Final Assessment:

This program is better for those who went to a weaker undergraduate school or for those who just want the Master’s degree without concern for the knowledge associated. This program is affordable and has relaxed admission standards. While there are other schools that are cheaper and of higher quality, like Georgia Tech’s OMSCS, those schools may be too difficult for someone who is self-taught. I think this program provides a good balance of light-weight courses and affordability.

I write about programming and computer science as well as review Coursera courses I have taken related to the aforementioned topics.

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