The Align Master’s Program: a direct path to a master’s in computer science for non-computer science majors
By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be more than one million job openings in technology fields that won’t be filled by the current pipeline of students.
America faces a serious shortage of high-tech workers, in part because today’s universities are not attracting enough women and underrepresented minority students into tech—or those undergraduates are self-selecting out of trying computer science. That’s where Northeastern University’s Align Master’s Program comes in.
Align focuses on closing the diversity gap in tech by providing students from any academic background a direct path to a master’s degree in computer science (CS). And now Northeastern has received philanthropic and corporate funding to expand the Align program. The funding will pay for the first semester of study for women and underrepresented minorities—a critical step toward removing economic barriers and ensuring degree completion.
“First-semester scholarships are an incredibly effective way to recruit people who might not otherwise try computer science,” said Carla Brodley, dean of Northeastern’s College of Computer and Information Science. “For students who choose to go on to the second semester, the completion rate is 95 percent to date.”
Align is designed for non-CS majors and people without programming experience, and it has a unique structure that is more similar to a medical or law degree than a traditional CS master’s program. The program starts with rigorous academic bridge courses to prepare students for graduate-level study in computer science. Students also gain real world work experience through a paid co-op or internship that lasts six to eight months. Northeastern has a global network of more than 3,000 employer partners, including more than 500 technology companies.
Piloted at Northeastern’s Seattle campus, Align is also available at the university’s Boston, Charlotte, and Silicon Valley campuses. The program is typically completed in two and a half years, with classes offered in the evenings year-round. This flexibility is key for many Align students who are working professionals.
“I work full time, and my job is really more than 40 hours per week. I also have a child and commute to Boston every day—yet Align is still possible,” says current student to get a second bachelor’s degree, but now I can get a master’s-level education.”
By 2022, Northeastern’s goal is to graduate 1,000 students annually from the Align program—50 percent women and 25 percent underrepresented minority students. Recent program graduates include a student who studied chemistry as an undergrad, and after earning her master’s in computer science, now works for a major pharmaceutical company. Another majored in English and was offered a technical writing job at a top technology firm upon program completion. Another studied philosophy before enrolling in Align—she now works at a nonprofit institute conducting research on artificial intelligence.
“We’ve proven that the model makes sense, that it works, and now we’re ready to scale it to solve a workforce development problem—but more importantly, a problem of social equity and inclusion,” explains Brodley.
The Align Master’s Program is built for people with diverse perspectives and experience who are looking to break into technology, equipping those students with the knowledge and practical skills needed to succeed. Students like Andrew Dickens, who earned both a bachelor’s and an MBA degree in business, spent several years in the U.S. Air Force, and graduated with his master’s in computer science in 2017. Dickens now works at Amazon as a Software Development Engineer and also teaches one of the program’s introductory courses at the Seattle campus.
“When I started, I couldn’t write a line of code. I’d never heard of Python, seen Java, or even opened a terminal on my laptop,” he says. “Align allowed me to bridge that gap in knowledge—to learn and grow at my pace—and come out with a master’s in computer science.”
Learn more about Northeastern University’s Align Master’s Program: align.ccis.northeastern.edu