What Is a Master's in Information Systems Degree?
A master's degree in information systems is usually titled a Master in Information Systems (MIS) or a Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS). It may be part of a school's professional studies department or school of business, as well as qualify to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program. Information systems master's degrees cover topics related to managing computer information systems such as databases and developing and maintaining software. Information systems is similar to information technology, but the main difference between degrees in information systems and IT is that information systems programs cover the technology, processes, and people behind information as a whole, while information technology covers the design and implementation of information systems. MIS programs are suitable for computer science professionals to advance their careers towards IT management positions, or for people looking for a career change. Most programs can be completed in 1-2 years with full-time study and in some cases, an internship is required.
Common Undergraduate Degrees for Information Systems
While there are no specific undergraduate degree requirements to enter an MIS program, a relevant bachelor's degree can give you foundational knowledge and skills that may prove beneficial. There are many computer-related bachelor's degree programs, such as computer science, computer programming, information technology, etc. and while they may all be suitable undergraduate options, a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems is the most direct path. These programs cover the same topics as MIS degrees such as information technology, security, web development, and more. Several specializations are available, including cybersecurity, web/application development, database management, and software programming, among others. Students are also usually required to complete a senior project to demonstrate their skills.
Admissions Requirements for Information Systems Master's Programs
Information systems master's degree programs usually have a bit more admissions requirements than similar undergraduate programs. Most MIS programs require the following materials:
- A bachelor's degree
- Official academic transcripts
- Official GRE and/or GMAT test scores
- Personal essay or statement of purpose
- At least 2 letters of recommendation
While a bachelor's degree in a field related to computer science or information systems isn't strictly required, some programs prefer or require students to show strong academic achievement in a related discipline. So, if you don't have a relevant bachelor's degree and you're interested in an information systems graduate degree, it may be in your best interest to take a few relevant courses in the subject.
Why Should I Get an Information Systems Master's Degree?
An information systems master's degree may be suitable for you if you are looking at advancing your career into a management or supervisory position. There are several career options with varying salaries for MIS graduates. While a bachelor's degree is a common requirement to start out in the information technology (IT) field, many employers prefer or require computer and information systems managers to have a graduate degree. Additionally, the salary for MIS graduates tends to be higher than those with a bachelor's degree in a similar field. According to PayScale, the average annual salary for MIS graduates is $90,312 as of 2021. For comparison, the average annual salary for those with a bachelor's degree in information systems is $76,462 as of 2021.
How to Choose a Master's in Information Systems Program
There are many MIS programs out there and choosing the best one can be difficult. When making your decision, it's important to ask yourself some questions about your career interests, your ability to commit to a class schedule, your location, and any opportunities you want to pursue. It may help to consider the following questions:
- Am I able to attend a school out-of-state, closer by, or locally?
- Would my schedule fit better with an online program?
- What courses are offered to me, including electives and/or specializations?
- Are there opportunities to get involved or network with my peers, like student clubs or conferences?
- Is there an internship/experiential learning requirement and am I able to complete it?
Other information that may help you with your decision, such as student-faculty ratio, tuition, graduation rates, and acceptance rates, can be found using the College Navigator tool from the National Center for Education Statistics. If you have any additional questions, you can contact an academic or enrollment advisor from your school of choice; their information can usually be found on the school's website.
Information Systems Master's Degree Courses
Information systems master's degree courses introduce and build upon topics related to the design, development, and implementation of database systems. Students learn about web design, data modeling, artificial intelligence, and data science, among other topics. Management and other business courses are also usually implemented into the curriculum to prepare students for supervisory positions in the future. Students can also direct their education towards a particular field within information systems by choosing a specialization or taking elective courses. Many programs require a culminating project to demonstrate the skills learned in the program. In some cases, an internship/practical experience is required for graduation.
Information Systems Foundational Courses
Foundational courses in information systems master's degree programs cover broad, general topics that students can use as building blocks for more advanced courses later on. For example, a foundational course in database systems design can prepare students for advanced courses or a specialization in database and internet technologies, where they may build upon the knowledge gained previously. Many core courses explore the fundamentals of information systems, including how they're made, what they're used for, and how to maintain them. Foundational courses may also include topics such as project management, business decision making, or business intelligence, to prepare students to apply their technical skills in real-world business operations. Examples of common core courses in information systems include:
- Data Analytics
- Web/Data Systems Design
- Data Science
- Business Process Innovation
- Data Mining for Business Intelligence
Information Systems Specialist & Elective Courses
Information systems specialist and elective courses cover topics of a student's choosing that may be more niche than what the general curriculum covers. Areas such as information security, project management, network design/management, data science, data analytics, healthcare informatics, user experience design, and information systems management are explored. These courses can prepare students for specific careers related to their interests. The availability of specializations and/or electives depends on the school; some programs allow students to choose a specialization, which requires around 4-5 courses, or just electives, which requires around 2-3 courses. Examples of specialization and elective courses include:
- Network Security
- Practical Data Science
- Elements of Visual Design
- Data Communications
Licensure & Certification in Information Systems
There usually aren't any specific required licenses or certifications that information systems professionals need to have. In many cases, they just need to have skills in the type of software they use, or the type of software their company uses. However, if certification is available, it is beneficial to earn it because it demonstrates that you have exceptional knowledge and skills in a particular area, which can lead to career advancement.
One example of voluntary certification is the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Offered by The International Information System Security Certification Consortium, the CISSP credential is for experienced information security professionals, such as security managers, IT directors, or chief information officers, to prove their knowledge in various areas of information security. Candidates can take a voluntary training course before they take the official exam. To qualify, they must have 5 years of work experience in at least 2 areas of information security that the exam covers. Once they pass the exam, they must be officially endorsed and become members of the ISC2.
Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Information Systems
After completing an MIS program, students can pursue a Ph.D. in Information Systems or Information Systems Management. This program is designed to prepare students to become leading scholars in information systems research and contribute to the advancement of the field, as well as apply their research to real-world business applications. Students take core classes in subjects such as research methods, statistics, machine learning, and social sciences, as well as specialization courses in subjects such as information systems theories, technology, and related seminars. Students choose a research concentration that allows them to perform research and write a dissertation on a topic of their choosing, such as healthcare informatics, the economics of digitization, or information security, among others. Much of the program is structured around completing the dissertation, so the typical length of a program varies, but 4-5 years is common.
Information Systems Professional Organizations
Professional organizations exist to help individuals in certain fields connect and network with their peers, advance their careers, and stay up to date on industry news, as well as advocate for the industry. There are several professional organizations for individuals in information technology and related fields. The International Information System Security Certification Consortium, or ISC2, provides training and certification tools for aspiring professionals. As the largest global association for cybersecurity, members have access to professional development tools, the latest industry news and achievement, networking opportunities, and volunteer positions.
The Association for Information Systems promotes the advancement and excellence of information systems research and practice. Members have access to career services, 16 professional journals, exclusive access to premiere conferences across the world, and more. The Association for Women in Computing is open to female computer specialists of many types and is dedicated to the advancement of women in the industry. Members can join local chapters or as independents, and have access to networking, career growth opportunities, volunteer opportunities, and mentorships.
What Can I Do with an Information Systems Master's Degree?
There are plenty of career options for computer information systems specialists to choose from. Many jobs fall under the same category. For example, information systems managers comprise of chief information officers, IT directors, IT security managers, and chief technology officers. Many of these are advanced careers that require previous experience in lower-level management positions. Advancement to even higher positions, such as a top executive of a company, is also possible. Other possible careers include computer support specialist, information security analyst, and network and computer systems administrator.
Job Outlook for a Master's in Information Systems
Since there are many careers in the information technology and information systems fields, the job outlook for each one will vary. However, the job outlook for computer and information systems managers, which consists of several different jobs, is very positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information systems managers have a job outlook of 10% from 2019-2029. This is considerably higher than the occupation-wide average of 4%. This is because digital platforms are increasingly being used by companies and organizations, so the employment of professionals in these fields will grow in demand.
How to Become an IT Security Manager
An IT security manager is a type of information systems manager that oversees the security of a company's network and data systems. They often create and implement security policies to protect the organization's information, as well as promote information security among the employees. They usually collaborate with top executives to do this. They are also in charge of managing security threats and must teach the other employees at an organization how to avoid and spot security risks. If there is a security risk, threat, or violation, these professionals are usually put in charge of handling the investigation. Because technology is always changing, IT security managers must stay knowledgeable on the most up-to-date IT security measures.
IT security managers must have at least a bachelor's degree in computer or information science, or a related field, as well as years of relevant work experience in a lower-level position. However, many of these professionals also have graduate degrees. Courses in computer science, math, and software development must be taken along with business classes to gain managerial skills. Work experience in a related IT job is a key component; 5-10 years is common, however, smaller or newer companies may not require as much. Voluntary certification in information security can also help one advance. According to PayScale.com, information security managers have an average annual salary of $116,825 as of 2021.
How to Become a Chief Information Officer
A chief information officer (CIO) is another type of information systems manager and is among the highest positions within a company, right underneath top executives. These individuals are in charge of the technology and/or information goals of the entire company or organization. They then oversee the technology that is being used to meet the goals. It depends on the size of the company, but CIOs may be in charge of a specific area, such as information systems, or they may only focus on the long-term goals of a company. They may also be directly in charge of the company's IT department, but this is more common at smaller companies. At larger companies, they have smaller managers direct the IT department for them.
Chief information officers must also have a bachelor's and/or graduate degree in information systems, computer science, or another related field. But they additionally need more work experience; some companies require at least 15 years of experience in a relevant position. While this is more common in larger companies, CIOs typically start as entry-level employees and work their way up through lower- and upper-level IT management positions before becoming CIO. However, the exact number of years depends on the size of the company. CIOs can advance to become top executives of the company. PayScale states that CIOs have an average annual salary of $166,232 as of 2021.
Master's in Information Systems Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form is the go-to form for receiving financial aid for college. It uses you and/or your household's financial information, such as income and taxes paid, to determine how many federal loans and grants you qualify for, as well as how much. There are some criteria for receiving federal financial aid, which include a valid social security number, a positive academic record, citizenship or legal noncitizen status, among other criteria.
Federal aid is not the only type of way to pay for college. National, state, and local organizations, as well as universities themselves, offer scholarships, loans, grants, and fellowships to students. The criteria can differ with each one, ranging from no criteria at all to needing a certain GPA, major, or extracurriculars record, among other criteria.
ISC2 offers several graduate scholarships for students pursuing a degree with a focus in cybersecurity or information assurance. Awards range from $1,000-$5,000 and applicants must have a 3.5 GPA, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay.
The Center for Cyber Safety and Education offers the Raytheon Intelligence and Space Women's Cybersecurity Scholarship for female undergraduate and graduate students who are majoring in an area of cybersecurity or information assurance; one recipient will receive a $10,000 scholarship and an ISC2 certification package.
The Health Information & Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Foundation offers two scholarships, one for undergraduate and another for graduate students who are majoring in a field related to healthcare information and technology. This includes a degree in information systems, as long as there is a clear focus on health information. The award is for $5,000 and the winners receive a trip to the HIMSS global conference.