Best Online Master's in Data Science Programs

Apr 06, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Data Science Degree?

Data science is a broad field that incorporates data management, analysis, programming, and design and applies the outputs to business solutions. Data scientists and other big data professionals help businesses, public, and private organizations make sense of their data. Online master's in data science programs can be completed entirely by distance learning and generally do not require in-person components. Students will typically graduate with a Master of Science (MS) after completing a data science program. Online master's in data science programs can give graduates a big return on their investment and lead to prestigious careers as developers, analysts, programmers, and more.

The Best Online Masters Degree Programs in Data Science

1. University of Illinois at Springfield

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11928 77% 54% 96% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

2. University of Washington

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$11465 52% 84% 57% Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Why Should I Get an Online Data Science Master's Degree?

Online data science master's degree programs can lead to lucrative and satisfying careers for graduates. Data science is a growing field with job security that is projected to only become stronger as businesses hire employees to create and manage databases, identify solutions for software, and draw conclusions for data that will lead to improved operations and revenue. Students interested in undertaking a degree in data science should have strong skills in analysis, mathematics, and programming.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Data Science?

Online master's in data science programs can usually be completed in 1.5 to 2 years. Accelerated options exist that can shorten study time to a year, but these programs require a substantial time commitment as they are concentrated and rigorous. Completion time includes all required foundational classes, electives or classes within a chosen specialization, and may culminate in a capstone project or thesis. Final paper or project option will depend on the student's program.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Data Science

Students studying an online master's in data science degree will take courses grounding them in the basics of data science. These required core classes prepare students for further study of more advanced topics, whether in the form of electives or classes within a specialization or concentration. Classes are generally delivered 100% online through an educational platform that allows students to access work, participate in discussion forums, and submit assignments. Typically the curricula for data science programs assume some knowledge of basic topics within programming and math.

Data Science Foundational Courses

Although some data science master's programs will require prior knowledge, others will allow students to gain skills in the major areas related to the field. Like many master's degrees, data science exposes students to research and analysis. Sound research skills are important in many careers, so programs seek to train students as competent researchers. Also common across numerous programs are the following classes:

  • Statistics for data science
  • Machine learning
  • Programming
  • Research and analytics
  • Data visualization

Online master's in data science programs may culminate in a capstone project, portfolio, or thesis. The general goal for all of these is for students to showcase their abilities, knowledge, and skills in a practical way.

Data Science Specialist and Elective Courses

Master's in data science programs may provide students the opportunity to pick their own concentration area or electives. While some have a set curriculum, others have a variety of classes covering a wide range of topics within data science. Specializations like business analytics or machine learning are made up of a set selection of courses outside of core requirements. When specializations aren't offered, students are given a choice of electives to individualize their study plan according to interest. Students may wish to take courses such as natural language processing or information and data security.

Licensure and Certification in Data Science

While neither licensure nor certification is compulsory to enter the data science field, some employers may prefer credentials outside of the master's degree. Professional certification in data science can showcase skills and prove expertise in an area within data science. There are several types of certifications, including:

  • Senior Data Scientist: Data Science Council of America (DASCA) offers certification for professionals working six or more years in data analytics. Candidates must be in possession of at least a bachelor's degree and pass an exam. There are two tracks for master's degree holders that allow for less professional work experience.
  • Certified Data Architect - Big Data: IBM provides a certification for data architects who work with big data in a business environment. Although there is no minimum education requirement, candidates must have an understanding of a wide range of topics as well as skills in several software packages such as Hadoop and BigSQL. To be certified, prospective applicants must pass an exam.

Admissions Requirements for Online Data Science Master's Programs

Admission requirements for online data science master's programs vary by university. Some programs have a more rigorous application process while others are more straightforward. As a general rule, universities generally require students to send official transcripts from their bachelor's degree proving either completion of certain classes and/or a minimum overall GPA. Many universities ask for at least a 3.0 GPA at the bachelor's level. Along with a completed online application, the following materials may be needed:

  • Resume or CV
  • Application fee that is typically under $100
  • Personal statement
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Prerequisite coursework in math and programming

GRE scores aren't typically required for online master's in data science programs.

Choosing an Online Data Science Master's Program

With a large selection of online data science master's programs available, choosing the perfect fit may feel like a sizable undertaking. While there are classes common across master's degree programs, each university has unique offerings. Students with a preexisting area of interest may wish to search for universities that offer a concentration or electives that revolve around relevant topics.

For some students, faculty areas of expertise are an important part to consider. Professors with connections to certain industries or areas within data science may open doors to networking or insider information for securing employment. Faculty can often act as mentors to students who seek guidance.

Price and scholarship opportunities are another consideration that may factor into a student's decision. Master's degrees in data science are an investment for the future, but graduate education is not cheap. Some universities offer funding for students who meet the requirements but not all will have access to financial aid in the form of scholarships or grants. Choosing to study at an accredited university will ensure students qualify for U.S. federal financial aid, also known as student loans.

What Can I Do with a Data Science Master's Degree?

People with sound computer skills are in high demand in the job market. Nearly every field can benefit from knowledge and expertise in data analytics, programming, and data management. Deep learning and machine learning are two hot topics in today's tech world; individuals trained to navigate them will likely have no shortage of career prospects. Some jobs available to those with a master's degree in data science are:

With some additional experience, graduates may wish to pursue upper-level positions such as data center manager where they will be responsible for a team of people and oversee day-to-day operations.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Data Science

Jobs within data science and technology are expected to grow rapidly in the future. As more businesses learn the value of data analytics and how it can benefit them and improve their operations, individuals with a master's in data science and the skills to perform these tasks will likely be more in demand than ever. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment in database administration, information security, and computer science will grow from 10%-30% (a very high average) over the ten year period between 2019-2029. This means more jobs in the field and potentially more job security for those working in these fields. On the other hand, job growth for programmers is projected to decrease by 9% due to companies outsourcing to other countries where they can pay lower wages.

How to Become a Data Architect

Data architects create databases for companies. They design unique systems of data management, storage, and retrieval depending on the needs of the organization. Data architects are also responsible for troubleshooting database issues and creating fixes for problems as they arise. When looking at the roles performed by a data architect vs. a solutions architect, data architects focus on a business' specific data needs and management while solutions architects target workflow and improving overall systems.

Like many roles within computer science, data architects do not necessarily need a college degree, as employers will be more open to those with self-taught skills and relevant work experience. However, some positions may require at least a bachelor's degree. An online master's degree could put applicants at an advantage for higher-level roles, promotions, or salary increases.

Salary data collected from estimates that data architects make a median yearly income of $119,400 as of early 2021.

How to Become a Data Scientist

Data scientists manage and analyze datasets for businesses and organizations. They generally must be fluent in several programming languages, be familiar with analysis software, and have the ability to design complex algorithms. Data scientists synthesize data contained in large databases into actionable information usable by upper management, relevant departments within an organization, and other stakeholders. Data scientists help piece together information to tell the larger story of the data.

Many data scientists have a master's in data science. This is because the degree teaches advanced skills in data analysis, programming, and mathematics. Data scientists should have a strong background in math, including statistics and calculus, and skills in programming and hacking. Many of these skills can be self-taught, but an advanced degree is likely to help candidates stand out in the applicant pool.

According to the BLS data scientists make an annual average salary of $100,560.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Data Science

Undergraduates who plan to go on to pursue an online master's in data science typically come from backgrounds such as computer science, computer engineering, or mathematics. However, it is possible for career changers or those from an unrelated major but with an interest in data science to enter graduate study. Some programs require prerequisite classes such as calculus and other upper-level math and programming classes in languages like Python. These can generally be completed at any accredited college or university prior to submitting an application, although universities may offer them as part of a bridge program to prepare students for study. Students should consult with their chosen university for further details.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Data Science

Beyond the master's in data science, students can pursue a doctorate. Doctoral level degrees in data science are awarded as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). PhD programs are appropriate for students who wish to go into research, teaching, or who simply want to broaden their knowledge and expertise in the field, possibly leading to roles in management. PhDs in data science generally take around three to four years to complete and include coursework and a dissertation, which is a piece of research and writing undertaken by the student.

If students are not interested in or unable to commit to a PhD, many online certificate courses are available for topics such as data analysis for management.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants for Online Master's in Data Science Programs

Initial financing for data science education may be a concern for some students. Online students pursuing a master's in data science can apply for U.S. federal financial aid. Borrowing student loan money allows enrolled students to pay for tuition, fees, and supplies associated with their studies. By completing an online Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) students can qualify for loans that will then be paid directly to the university. If students request more money to cover other expenses, a check will be issued to them.

Grants are designed to help students experiencing serious financial hardship. They are different from loans because they do not need to be repaid. These are available through private, public, and government entities. Scholarships are another type of 'free money' that students can apply for regardless of financial need. The Women in Data Science Scholarship awards $1,000 to women pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in data science. This is to encourage more women to enter the field, as women are largely underrepresented in data science careers. Students can be enrolled full-time or part-time and must submit one letter of recommendation to be considered.

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