Best Online Ph.D. Programs in Computer Science

November 4, 2021 • 6 Min Read

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Timelines, Programs, and Resources for Computer Science Students

Computer science is a burgeoning academic and career space. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of Ph.D. graduates in computer science more than doubled between 1995 and 2011. An online doctoral-level degree path is designed to afford graduates flexibility both in their academic and career pursuits. Learn more about the online Ph.D. in computer science, what to expect during the application process, how degree programs are structured.

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Best Online Ph.D.'s in Computer Science Degrees

OUR METHODOLOGY

To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

  • Accredited at the institutional level
  • Private nonprofit or public school
  • Minimum of 1 online bachelor's degree in subject area

Schools were then scored on factors such as:

  • Cost & Financial Aid
  • Number and variety of online program offerings
  • Student-teacher ratios
  • Graduation rates
  • Placement and support services offered
  • Academic/Career counseling services
  • Employment services
  • Loan default rates

These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or "bang for your buck" of a college or degree program.

Although computer science is one of the most popular degree areas, not every university and computer science department is created equal. It is important to understand what differentiates each online Ph.D. program in computer science. Our rankings are a helpful jumping-off point in the decision-making process.

Columbia University in the City of New York true View School Profile New York City, NY

Columbia University in the City of New York offers doctoral students a choice of a PhD in computer science or Doctor of Engineering Science (DES) degree. Graduate students begin as apprentices and junior colleagues and spend at least half of their studies as active participants in mentored research. During the first two years of the program, students are expected to perform community service within the department. Prerequisite requirements include completion of the foundation course, Analysis of Algorithms. The breadth requirements include coursework in areas of artificial intelligence and applications, systems, and theory.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide true View School Profile Daytona Beach, FL
Mississippi State University true View School Profile Mississippi State, MS

Graduate students interested in furthering their education may be interested in considering Mississippi State University’s online computational engineering doctoral program. The distance learning programs offered at MSU allow students with busy schedules to find time for academic advancement. Financial aid is available to MSU student in the form of scholarships, grants, and student loans. MSU offers a number of student services—including academic advising, tutoring, and career help—to ensure students are on track to achieve their life goals. MSU is an active community and is proud to host over 100 student-operated clubs and organizations.

Nova Southeastern University true View School Profile Fort Lauderdale, FL

Nova Southeastern University’s prestigious doctoral program in computer science allows students to receive their PhD through a minimum of 64 credit hours. NSU’s “cluster format” for courses gives students the opportunity to complete their program through online courses and four in-person sessions. Graduates of the program will learn the skills necessary to research, analyze, understand and advance their comprehensive knowledge in computer science. To help students achieve their academic goals, NSU provides updated computer labs and research facilities including laboratories and libraries. NSU also encourages doctoral students to participate in hands-on internships to apply their academics in a professional setting.

Pennsylvania State University true View School Profile University Park, PA

Students attending Pennsylvania State University may earn their doctoral degree in computer science and engineer. Like many of Penn State’s programs, this degree track allows for hybrid course scheduling, with both online and on-campus classes. Paying for college is made easy at Penn State with the thousands of dollars in scholarships, grants, and financial aid that is awarded to students every year. All of Penn State’s campuses feature modern and comfortable student housing and dining facilities. On-campus activities include intramural and club sports, arts performances, and participation in one of Penn State’s many student-run organizations.

Southern Methodist University View School Profile Dallas, TX

At Southern Methodist University, Lyle School, students are provided with an extensive doctoral degree program in computer science. This institution focuses on engineering and technology which gives students the most current and comprehensive PhD curricula to advance their research and professional application of the field. With small class sizes, faculty are able to give specialized attention to individuals. Virtual classrooms are also widely offered which allows students to partake in the program through interactive online platforms and digitally-recorded instruction. Scholarships and financial aid are also available for eligible students.

Syracuse University View School Profile Syracuse, NY

Syracuse University offered its first engineering courses in 1877. The university established the Center for Advanced Technology in Computer Applications and Software Engineering in 1984 and the Center for Information and Systems Assurance and Trust (CISAT) in 2010. The PhD degree in Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) requires completion of 52 credit hours beyond the BS degree. Students sit for the written qualifying exam at the end of the first year, with the oral exam scheduled in the second year. They must pass a proposal defense by the end of the fourth year and the defense of their dissertation within four more years.

University of North Texas View School Profile Denton, TX

University of North Texas is located in Denton, just over 30 miles from Dallas/Ft. Worth. It is home to more than 30 doctoral programs in the arts and sciences. Offered by the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, the PhD in Computer Science degree program requires completion of 72 credit hours beyond the bachelor degree or 42 credit hours beyond the master's. In addition to undertaking the credit hours of coursework, PhD students are required to pass an oral exam on their research topic and complete a scholarly research dissertation to complete the degree.

University of South Carolina-Columbia View School Profile Columbia, SC
University of Southern California View School Profile Los Angeles, CA

Once accepted into the University of Southern California PhD program, students will learn the necessary skills to pursue a career in advanced computer science. This prestigious program allows students to work and network alongside professors and scholars in this field. Students can earn funding towards their degree through USC-approved fellowships Resources for this program include scholarly writing assistance through their American Language Institute where peers edit scholarly writing specifically for the PhD students. With many award-winning alumni, USC seeks to prepare students to excel in their career paths through expert education, networking, fellowships and leadership.

For those considering a doctoral degree in computer science, it can be challenging to compare institutions. Use our search tool below to narrow down a list of potential target schools by Ph.D. degree level, tuition and fees, institution type, and student enrollment.

The Online Computer Science Ph.D. Timeline

A Ph.D. in computer science does not limit students to careers solely in academia. It is a credential that is in growing demand in both public and private spheres, which may be why more people are pursuing this doctoral-level degree. Find out more about what it takes to earn a Ph.D. in computer science.

Popular Programs
  1. Northcentral University
    PHD - Computer Science
  2. Walden University
    Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) - Information Systems Management
  3. University of the Southwest
    Doctorate of Business Administration - Self-Design

APPLICATION PROCESS

Generally speaking, there are limited openings in computer science Ph.D. programs each year, as more and more qualified applicants attempt to enter the field. It is a competitive space, which means prospective students should have a firm understanding of the admission requirements prior to applying to graduate programs for computer science.

Minimum GPA Requirements

Students must meet minimum GPA requirements for admission into a Ph.D. in computer science program, with many programs listing a 3.5 out of a 4.0 scale as a competitive GPA.

Bachelor's Degree

Students should have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university with preparatory coursework in computer science and related fields.

Graduate Record Examination Scores

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for the verbal, quantitative, and analytical sections are required for doctoral-level computer science programs. Most programs have a score threshold, such as 304 and 3.5 or higher on analytical writing.

TOEFL Scores (International Students)

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test is required for Ph.D. level computer science applicants who have either not studied in the United States for at least one school year or whose native language is not English.

Letters of Recommendation

Applications should include three letters of recommendation, including two from former professors familiar with the student's academic background.

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose expresses the student’s academic plans and interests in computer science and explains why the student is a strong Ph.D. candidate.

YEAR 1 MILESTONES

The first year of an online Ph.D. in computer science program establishes the student's program of study and sets the foundation for the next 3-4 years of doctoral study. During the first year, students are integrated into the research activities of the department and become oriented to being a doctoral student.

Select Ph.D. Advisor

During the first year, computer science Ph.D. students should identify research interest areas, such as data management and analysis, graphics and visualization or robotics, and find a research advisor from that study area.

Design and Submit a Plan of Study

Working with a graduate advisor, each doctoral-level computer science student will create a plan of study for coursework and future research by the end of the first term of study. Common areas of study include computing systems, theory of computation, and artificial intelligence.

Introduction to Graduate Study

Computer science Ph.D. students spend the first year engaged with core computer science coursework in topics such as computer systems, intelligent systems, and computer science theory.

YEAR 2 MILESTONES

Year two consists of accomplishing three major milestones: completing core course requirements for the computer science Ph.D., transitioning into formal Ph.D. candidacy and preparing for independent dissertation research. During this time, students learn the basics of becoming a researcher.

Form Advisory Committee

In the second year, each doctoral-level computer science student is required to assemble an advisory committee consisting of three faculty members, including one from another department. This committee administers the qualifying examination.

Complete Breadth and Depth of Study Coursework

Computer science Ph.D. students must complete the required coursework that demonstrates that they have the ability to analyze and understand the technical aspects of the field.

Take Qualifying Examination

After completing their core coursework, students take a qualifying computer science Ph.D. examination. This examination has an oral and written component that assesses the students' knowledge of their academic specializations.

YEAR 3 MILESTONES

The third year of a computer science Ph.D. program revolves around elective coursework on the student's academic track and starting the process for writing a formal dissertation. Students will also formally apply for Ph.D. candidacy.

Apply for Ph.D. Candidacy

Upon completion of coursework and a qualifying examination, computer science students have met the criteria to apply for Ph.D. candidacy. The application consists of a portfolio of work, such as exams, classwork, and research written under the supervision of the study's research advisor. Typically, these are technical papers or a research paper that can be submitted to a peer-review journal.

Form Research Committee

After being admitted to Ph.D. candidacy, computer science students may form a dissertation research committee of 3-4 faculty members. The dissertation committee guides the research and dissertation writing process.

Submit Thesis Proposal

After completing the qualifying examination and achieving candidacy, computer science Ph.D. students may write and submit a written research proposal for their dissertation. Students must defend their proposal through an oral examination with their research committee.

YEAR 4 MILESTONES

The fourth year of the online Ph.D. in computer science program is dedicated to scholarly research and work on the student’s dissertation. This year culminates in preparing to submit and defend the dissertation.

Start Dissertation Research

After completing coursework, examinations, and a thesis proposal, computer science Ph.D. students can start their dissertation research under the guidance of the research committee.

Scholarly Communication Activities

As they start work on their dissertation research, doctoral-level computer science students actively present their research to internal (departmental) and external audiences through doctoral research seminars and conferences.

Complete Computing Project

In some programs, computer science Ph.D. students must demonstrate their technical skills by writing a piece of software. This project requirement can be satisfied through independent research, a class project, or an internship.

YEAR 5 MILESTONES

The final year of an online Ph.D. in computer science program is dedicated to completing, submitting, and defending the dissertation.

Dissertation Defense

The Ph.D. student must present original research to the research committee and schedule an oral defense. Typically, the defense is open to the public and includes a thorough set of questions that ask the student to demonstrate the significance of the research.

Submit Dissertation

After being reviewed by the research committee, a doctoral level computer science student makes revisions to the dissertation and submits it for final approval. Once approved, the student may apply for graduation.

Apply for Graduation

The student receives a Ph.D. in computer science once the completed dissertation is filed with the university's graduate school. Typically, the application to graduate and final dissertation must be filed at least 30 days prior to graduation.

GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS

The goal of online doctoral programs in computer science is to produce well-rounded graduates who demonstrate a depth of understanding in their specialized area of study. Although these programs are flexible and allow for a great level of independence, students must complete several requirements to graduate.

Core Course Credits

Ph.D.-level computer science students must complete 30-36 credits from standard (non-seminar) graduate classes. Of that number, 15-18 must be courses in computer science. Topics of study include algorithms, computing systems, and artificial intelligence.

Seminar Class Credits

Between 3-5 credits must come from Ph.D.-level computer science research seminars (700 level courses and above). These courses include oral presentations on the student's in-depth research. Example topics of study include theoretical research, computing systems research, and applied computing research.

Research Credits

Approximately 24 of a computer science student's credits must be in doctoral research courses.

Residency Requirements

Some online Ph.D. programs in computer science have a residency requirement, where students have to complete on-campus coursework or attend on-campus program sessions.

Teaching Requirements

During their course of study, Ph.D.-level computer science students may also spend at least one semester as a teacher or teaching assistant. Students typically teach a 1-2 credit undergraduate computer science course.

Qualifying Examinations and Dissertation

Computer science Ph.D. students must successfully complete qualifying examinations and defend an original dissertation in a computer science research area to graduate.

Core Principles & Skills Learned in an Online Computer Science Ph.D. Program

The primary goal of online Ph.D. in computer science programs is to graduate students who are prepared for computation-based careers in the public and the private sector. Graduate students develop analytical skills, programming languages, and technical tools.

Ph.D. in Computer Science

Broad computer science research styles
Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the three different value systems of the three Ph.D. level computer science research styles that differ in how they evaluate and validate research results. The three different research styles are theory, systems, and applications.
Depth of computing competency
Computer science Ph.D. students gain an understanding of the core areas of computing science, including programming languages, computation theory, and computing systems and applications. They have an ability to craft critical solutions to challenging computing solutions and apply advanced mathematical concepts to computing application and software development.
Advanced mathematical foundations
Ph.D. students develop the ability to use a variety of mathematical concepts, such as discrete mathematics, to drive new thinking in computer science. By leveraging advanced mathematical tools, computer science Ph.D. graduates can develop original approaches to programming and build upon existing technical theories to create new solutions to problems in arenas ranging from automation to software development.

Master's in Computer Science

Bachelor's in Computer Science

What To Do With a Ph.D. in Computer Science

There is only one way to describe career prospects in computer science: growing. Ph.D. graduates can pursue career opportunities across academia, private industry, and government. Explore four potential employment avenues a Ph.D. in computer science could lead to in the table below.

Computer Scientist

Computer scientists use their programming and analytical skills to solve problems in nearly every field. They may write algorithms to mine financial data, design robots to tackle manufacturing issues, or write new software used by a navigation system in a vehicle.

Job Growth (2020-2030): 22 %
Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $126,830

Computer Systems Analysts

Using skills in data modeling and knowledge of computing systems, computer systems analysts design efficient and effective computing information systems for universities, K-12 schools, government organizations, and private organizations.

Job Growth (2020-2030): 7%
Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $93,730

Computer Science Professor

Computer science professors conduct original research into specialized fields, such as robotics or artificial intelligence. In this role, they also teach undergraduate and graduate courses to prepare the next generation of developers, programmers, and computer scientists.

Job Growth (2020-2030): 9 %
Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $85,540

Computer Network Architect

Network architects are the people who design, developer and build data communication networks. These might include the networks businesses use for internet and intranets, data connections between multiple companies and locations, or cloud infrastructures that serve a multitude of users.

Job Growth (2020-2030): 5%
Median Annual Salary (October 2021): $116,780

Additional Resources

Computer science is a dynamic field with numerous educational and career choices to consider. Prior to enrolling in a graduate program, students may want to use the resources below to learn more about the field, networking opportunities, or professional paths after graduation.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

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AccreditedSchoolsOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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