How To Pick a Data Science Master’s Program in 5 Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many professionals who work in computer science, analytics and programming decide to pursue careers in data science. One way to begin this career journey is to obtain a master's degree. If you're considering enrolling in a data science master's program, you might be wondering what factors you should focus on to choose the right one. In this article, we explain what data science is, discuss who can benefit from pursuing a master's degree in this area of study and explore eight schools that offer data science master's programs.

What is data science?

Data science involves gathering and analyzing large quantities of information. Data scientists work with companies to help them interpret this information, predict possible outcomes and make informed business decisions. Several industries can benefit from using data science. For example, in business, companies analyze data to develop a better understanding of market and consumer trends. Conversely, government agencies may use data science to gather and organize census data to provide public policy professionals and politicians with the information they need to develop new laws and regulations that benefit their communities.

Some of the topics you may learn about by pursuing a master's degree in data science include:

  • Database management

  • Machine learning

  • Predictive analytics

  • Data mining

  • Big data analytics

Related: Data Science Specialization: Benefits, Types and Tips

Who should pursue a master's degree in data science?

Often, students pursue master's degrees soon after obtaining their undergraduate degrees. While it's common for students to earn a bachelor's degree in a STEM field that involves computer programming before applying for a master's degree in data science program, students with undergraduate degrees in other areas of studies may also enroll.

Typically, candidates complete relevant coursework outside of their undergraduate program that prepares them for a data science graduate degree, such as working in a role where they used programming languages like Python, Java or SQL. Professionals who are seeking a career change or professional advancement opportunities may also pursue master's degrees in data science.

Related: Graduate Certificate vs. Master's Degree: Which Is Right for You?

How to pick a data science master's program

Here are some tips to help you choose the right data science master's program:

1. Identify your career goals

Before you choose a data science master's program, consider why you want to obtain an advanced degree. Perhaps you want to apply for a certain job role, increase your earning potential or become an expert in your field. Understanding what your career goals are can help you choose a program that provides the necessary tools and resources to reach them. It can also help you identify what types of classes you're the most interested in and whether it makes sense to focus on a specific concentration.

2. Conduct research

Take the time to research each academic institution you're interested in attending thoroughly. Review their course curriculum, student testimonials and overall reputation. Identify whether they offer specializations for data science majors and what types of perks they provide students, such as career counseling or alumni networking events. Take notes as you conduct your research or create a spreadsheet to track important information. This can make it easier to compare academic institutions in the future.

3. Assess your schedule

Consider how much time you have to dedicate to coursework each week. Assess your other responsibilities, such as work and personal obligations, to develop an accurate estimate. As you compare data science master's programs, pay attention to how many credits each one requires to graduate, what the weekly time commitment is and how long it takes the average student to complete it. Some colleges may offer accelerated and decelerated programs to allow students to work at their own pace. You may also find schools that offer classes during evenings or on weekends to accommodate students with busy schedules.

4. Compare tuition costs

Once you've narrowed down your list of potential schools, take the time to compare tuition costs carefully. Factor in any grants, scholarships or tuition assistance you plan to use to pay for your master's degree. Then consider what the overall return on investment is by researching the average salaries for your desired data science positions. This can help you determine how long it may take to pay off your student loans and decide how much you're realistically capable of spending on your degree.

5. Consider your ideal learning environment

Today, you can find master's programs that are available in-person and online. Some programs even offer a hybrid environment where students spend some of their time in a traditional classroom setting and some of their time working remotely. Consider what type of environment best suits your learning needs.

For example, you might prefer attending lectures in person and having a small class size so you can ask your professors questions and collaborate with other students. Conversely, you might enjoy working at your own pace in an environment of your own choosing where you can limit distractions. Understanding what your preferences are can help you select a program that makes it easier to excel academically.

8 schools with data science master's programs

Learning about some of the schools that offer data science master's programs can help you compare the different courses, specializations and additional services they offer. For example, some academic institutions may help you earn additional certifications, provide career services or host networking events. Here are eight schools you can research that offer data science master's programs:

1. University of Denver

The University of Denver offers a master's in data science program that students can enroll in online. This program may be a good choice for professionals who want to change careers because it offers three bridge courses to help students improve their basic knowledge of computer science and programming. These bridge courses make it easier for students to excel in more advanced data science classes. The University of Denver also doesn't require applicants to take the GRE, which can save you time and money.

To earn your master's degree in data science from the University of Denver, complete 48 to 60 credits. This typically takes students 18 to 24 months to finish. Some of the courses you may take during your master's of data science program include:

  • Algorithms for data science

  • Parallel and distributed computing

  • Machine learning

  • Data visualization

  • Python software development

Related: How To Learn Data Science (Plus 5 Jobs to Consider)

2. Syracuse University

Syracuse University has a master's in applied data science program that's available online. This program focuses on helping students improve their programming skills and gain hands-on managerial experience in data science. Candidates don't need to take the GRE to apply, which makes enrolling in this program from Syracuse University easier. Students can complete this program from Syracuse University in as few as 18 months. You can also earn your Certificate of Advanced Study in enterprise technology management or information security management through this master's program. Some of the courses you may take during your graduate program include:

  • Data pipelines and platforms

  • Technical analysis techniques

  • Data mining

  • Machine learning

  • Data and business analytics

3. University of California, Berkeley School

The University of California Berkeley School has an online master's degree in information and data science available. Candidates don't need to take the GRE to enroll, which can speed up the application process. This program pairs live virtual classes with self-paced coursework to accommodate professionals with busy schedules. Students can also choose to participate in on-campus immersion experiences.

The University of California Berkeley School focuses on providing students with a multidisciplinary and holistic approach to data science that involves studying statistics, social sciences, management, computer science and law. The program consists of 27 units, which typically takes students 20 months to complete. However, students may choose to enroll in an accelerated path to graduate in as few as 12 months or a decelerated path to extend their enrollment to 32 months. Some of the courses you may take through this graduate program include:

  • Data cleansing

  • Information ethics and privacy

  • Data mining and exploring

  • Statistical analysis

  • Research design

  • Machine learning

Related: 11 Essential Data Science Statistics Concepts

4. University of Michigan-Dearborn

The University of Michigan-Dearborn has a master's in data science program available that focuses on teaching students a wide variety of interdisciplinary theories and techniques. Some of the topics included in this program are statistics, mathematics, domain knowledge, computer science and information science.

Students may also choose to pursue one of four specializations, including an applications specialization, a big data informatics specialization, a computational intelligence specialization and a business analytics specialization. To earn a master's degree in data science from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, students must complete 30 credits. Some courses you may take at the University of Michigan-Dearborn include:

  • Big data analytics and visualization

  • Data mining for business applications

  • Multivariate statistics

  • Models of operational research

  • Multimedia security and forensics

5. Elmhurst University

Elmhurst University offers a master's degree in data science and analytics that students can complete online. This STEM-focused program teaches students how to apply data science fundamentals to gather and analyze information to uncover useful trends for businesses. Students with any bachelor's degree can apply without taking the GRE or GMAT. It typically takes students two years to earn their master's degree in data science and analytics from Elmhurst University. Some courses you may take through this program include:

  • Data warehousing

  • Advanced machine learning applications

  • Data mining and predictive modeling

  • Project management for enterprise value

  • Data science for business transformation

Related: 7 Important Reasons To Study Data Science (With Tips)

6. Utica College

Utica College offers a Master of Science in data science program that students can enroll in online. This program focuses on teaching students how to gather useful information and leverage social data to help businesses solve complex challenges. Students can choose from several data science specializations, including business analytics, social science analytics, financial crime and cybersecurity. To earn your master's degree in data science through Utica College, complete a total of 30 credits. This typically takes students two years to accomplish. Some of the classes you may take during your graduate program include:

  • Data visualization

  • Statistical methods

  • Data mining

  • Machine learning

Related: Tips for Choosing the Right Master's Degree Program

7. Northern Illinois University

Northern Illinois University has an online master's in data analytics program that helps students develop strategies to gather and interpret information. The Association to Advance Collegiate School of Business accredits this program, which students can enroll in on a full-time or a part-time basis. To earn your master's degree in data analytics from Northern Illinois University, complete 10 courses and obtain the Data Analytics Using SAS Software-SAS joint certification credential. This typically takes full-time students 12 months to complete. A few of the courses you may take throughout your graduate program at Northern Illinois University include:

  • Business information systems

  • Data analytics project management

  • Business statistics

  • Advanced predictive data analytics

  • Business applications of text mining

Related: Statistical Data Science: Definition, Roles and Degree

8. Georgetown University

Georgetown University offers a master's in business analytics program that combines critical business skills with advanced analytics to prepare students for careers in data science. Students can enroll in this program online to join weekly sessions in virtual classrooms. Georgetown University also places a heavy emphasis on helping students find relevant job opportunities when they graduate by providing career support, networking opportunities and additional resources.

This master's in business analytics program consists of 30 credits, which students typically complete in 16 months. Some of the courses you may take during your graduate studies at Georgetown University include:

  • Machine learning and predictive analytics

  • Data infrastructure

  • Strategic marketing and customer analytics

  • Applied economics and modeling

  • Psychology of big data

Please note that none of the companies or certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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