10 Best Online Master of Data Science Programs

In the Information Age where analytical skills are becoming increasingly important, data science is fast becoming one of the most sought-after degree programs in any educational arsenal. For those interested in working with “big data” and the various skillsets, a data science education holds higher regards among those with simply a computer science or information systems background. To fit the growing need of data science professionals, universities across the globe are offering programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level to prepare students for a career in the field.

A reputable master’s in data science online program should implement a thorough curriculum, integrating various learning methods by teaching the student relevant statistical, technical, mathematical, and more applicably, business-oriented skills that promote the ability to communicate effectively with non-technical staff and senior management, and interpret business needs into actionable insight. During the previous five years, reputable universities – both public and private – have begun to offer comprehensive programs. Having access to world class faculty and those with experience in the field is pivotal to entering a field that constantly requests industry experience instead of programming and computer-related skills.

Below are the top ten ranked Online Master of Data Science degree programs based on the following methodology: reputation of university, strength of curriculum, tuition and length of completion, and opportunities to connect to the industry for graduating students. Existence of the program has also been considered, thereby omitting universities that have recently released an online option, due to the lack of information pertaining to the methodology.

1. University of California, Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, is consistently rated as the top public university in the United States, many times considered a top ten overall university despite the competition from the Ivy League and well-respected technology schools. Berkeley provides one of the oldest and most comprehensive data science programs, with its affiliation to the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley playing an important aspect in its number one ranking. Graduates from this program are often recruited immediately into start-ups and established companies, where the data science cluster is most prominent worldwide. The classes are taught by faculty with industry experience in data science companies in the region, fully immersing graduate students in the expectations of their role in the field. The multidisciplinary curriculum is promoted as “holistic,” incorporating uncommon coursework in social sciences, management, and law, in addition the to expected classes in computer science and statistics. Students are provided three different paths based on their level of expertise in the prerequisites, and their available time for the course. This includes an accelerated path that can be completed in just 12 months, with the standard path taking 20 months, and the decelerated path taking 32 months. These paths are also designed to accommodate students who are working full-time, especially those who are transitioning, or wish to transition to a data science related position. The culmination of this program lies in the Capstone Course, testing the concepts and core skills learned during the duration of the program. The online classes are limited to 18 students each, providing opportunities to communicate with the professor and assistants, many of whom are post-doctoral scholars. The program includes a 3-4 day in-person immersion at an on-site location, potentially at the Berkeley campus. Berkeley also offers important networking opportunities exclusively for graduate students and alumni, connecting students with potential employers.

2. University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois’ flagship campus (UIUC) constantly ranks as a top five computer science program, ranking higher than most of the Ivy League, private technology institutes, and more. The university’s data science online program is over three years old, with much of their program integrated into Coursera. Out of the list of top DS programs, their price tag is the lowest at under $20k. Besides reputation, rank, and value of the program, the curriculum is challenging and prepares students for a fulfilling career in data science, another fact proven by alumni who work in various companies across the United States. The degree requirements do not involve a capstone or final project, but most of their classes require group projects and collaboration. A prerequisite for success in this program is understanding of C++ and/or Java, and students have reported high regards for the statistical modeling course that is part of the core curriculum, and that it is entirely possible to complete the degree with a full-time job, with an expected duration of 1.5 to 2 years to graduate from the program.

3. University of South California

Although it comes with a hefty price tag, graduates from the University of Southern California (USC) become immediate candidates for jobs in one of the largest data science recruitment regions in the world – southern California. Alumni of this program are found across companies located in San Diego and Los Angeles, among other parts of the country. Only 12 units, or three courses, are required as part of the core curriculum, with the remaining 20 units separated into two distinct groups – Data Systems and Data Analysis. This provides students with a specific pathway to learning the right skills for their desired job or industry, instead of taking unnecessary courses. Besides being an important source of filling open positioning in the two largest cities in California, USC is constantly ranked as one of the top five universities to send graduates to Silicon Valley. The program requires an undergraduate degree in computer science, with exceptions to those who have completed an engineering or statistics degree fulfilling a list of core computer science and mathematics courses. The program is designed for professional engineers with industry experience.

4. University of Wisconsin- Madison

An incredible value at a highly regarded public university, Wisconsin has been offering their online program for years and differently from some of the higher ranked universities – they require a capstone course. The curriculum is multidisciplinary, merging subject matter from management, communication, statistics, math, and computer science. Their faculty is highly decorated, having doctorates in various disciplines, including artificial intelligence, computer science, and statistics, with their marketing component having significant industry and academic experience. Prerequisites are generally relaxed, only requiring relevant coursework in statistics, introductory programming, and introduction to databases, with an option to waive a requirement based on work experience. To complete the program, students are required to pass the capstone course, allowing one to explore any problem space that they are interested in.  Alumni find themselves across major cities in the United States, and with the relatively low-price tag, this online master’s option is an incredible value.

5. John Hopkins University

John Hopkins is one of the highest value online master’s in data science programs for multiple reasons. First, they allow students to have up to five years to complete the program, which is highly lucrative for those who are parenting and work full-time. This exception does not mean the program is slow by any means and can be completed in less than two years. The university is highly reputable and known to send graduates to multiple cities in the northeast, including Boston and New York City. Seven out of 10 courses are required for graduation, with an addition course in applied and computational mathematics, making the curriculum highly structured and less flexible than multidisciplinary programs. If you are looking for structure and have a clear vision of your preferred future role in data science, this program is likely a strong fit. John Hopkins has offered data science courses for years and has long been involved in offering free online courses, increasing the reputation of the program, their preparedness for teaching up-to-date data science, and graduate potential for gainful employment. The program is essential for students seeking specialized jobs in data science, such as data storage, data pipeline, and more popularly, statistical analysis.

6. Northwestern University

Besides being a top-ranked private institution whose graduates are highly sought after in the mid-west data science markets; Northwestern provides a unique learning experience by allowing students to choose one of four specializations. These include Analytics Management, Data Engineering, Artificial Intelligence, and Analytics and Modeling. This unique approach also encourages interaction with the admissions and counseling team who help matriculated students decide on a specialization based on their interests and career goals. Northwestern’s attention to student needs goes beyond pre-enrollment counseling, with a variety of information on their websites to determine if the program is a good fit, including advice on data science careers and their curriculum. The program curriculum is heavy on predictive analytics and the statistics aspect of data science, although it still maintains a well-rounded education based on the degree requirements. Alumni can be found in all over the world, working at prominent companies like Adobe, in various settings – data engineer, analytics manager, computer network analyst, and more. Culmination of this degree program lies in the capstone course or master’s thesis, both which are contingent on your chosen specialization. For example, students in the Artificial Intelligence specialization are required to pursue an individual project focused on AI, or group project based on the program learning objectives, or pursue the master’s thesis. The learning objectives for this program are the disciplines of “business, modeling, and information technology,” ensuring that students leave the program with a strong foundation in data science regardless of their specialization.

7. Southern Methodist University

Situated in Dallas, Texas, the highly regarded Southern Methodist University (SMU) has provided an online master’s in data science program for several years, growing as a leader in producing top-notch graduates in the fastest growing part of the United States. The Dallas-Fort Worth area, and nearby metropolises have all seen the highest rate of population growth over the past decade, which includes its burgeoning technology sector. Degree candidates choose from two specializations – Machine Learning or Business Analytics – with a highly structured curriculum consisting of nine core requirements, one elective course, and the two-term capstone course. The university plays a strong role in career support for all of its alumni, including career coaching and a virtual career hub with employment opportunities exclusively for SMU affiliates. Graduates can enjoy networking opportunities and connections to work at top companies in Texas. Additionally, SMU promotes the opportunity to develop industry relationships for degree candidates through the required Conference Immersion Experience. This 3-4 day program that takes place at SMU’s campus just north of Downtown Dallas is a mixture of group projects among students, networking opportunities with professionals, information sessions, and the chance to mingle with faculty and professors. This includes employer engagements where industry leaders and company representatives provide insight on resumes and exercise mock interviews. With Dallas becoming an emerging hub of data science and home to prominent companies such as Lockheed Martin, AT&T, and the Toyota US headquarters, SMU’s program gives degree candidates a chance at a long, fulfilling career. The curriculum also includes completion of a two-term capstone course, which is based on collaboration with peers and a presentation of the final product in front of faculty and industry leaders during the Conference Immersion Experience.

8. Indiana University Bloomington

An incredible value offered from a top public institution in the Midwest, Indiana’s Master of Science in Data Science online program is perfect for those in midcareer or looking to transition into a specific track of data science. The degree requirements are flexible, with half of the 30 required credits being electives. Six of the thirty credits depend on the domain area you choose for the degree, which includes the following options: Cybersecurity, Precision health, Intelligent systems engineering, and Data analytics and visualization. Indiana provides strong support to its online student body, requiring the same faculty that is present at their flagship campus and multiple avenues of career preparation. Employer-related events are constantly posted at the Luddy Careers digital portal for degree candidates, with access to a specialized job database and the ability to request interviews with employers who are looking for Indiana graduates. Alumni from the program have worked with prominent companies, including IBM, the Mayo Clinic, Adobe, and the Institute for Molecular Engineering, proving to have a large alumni network that will boast any graduate’s recruitment efforts. Furthermore, Indiana promotes an optional, non-credit networking opportunity for their online student body at their flagship campus. During the annual 3-day Online Immersion Weekend, students are connected industry leaders and experts to network and build relationships before graduating.

9. University of Notre Dame

The world renown University of Notre Dame offers an incredibly balanced data science program suitable for beginner levels. Notre Dame’s admission requirements do not expect applicants to have a computer science or mathematics undergraduate, although they provide a list of recommended courses to attain proficiency beforehand. Only minor computational skills are required in Python, Java, and C++, with some familiarity in data structures. Notre Dame promotes the education of a “three-dimensional data scientist” with proper training in ethics and communication. Thus, unique courses not found in other programs, such as “Storytelling & Communications for Data Scientists,” “Ethics and Policy in Data Science,” and “Behavioral Data Science” are part of the course offerings. The program must be completed within 21 months based on half-time enrollment, with opportunities for in-person immersions for networking, career preparation, and more. Notre Dame also has an exclusive relationship with AT&T with many of their student-employer collaborations and alumni involved with the Fortune 500 company. With one of the most notable name recognitions globally and relaxed requirements, this program is perfect those with a newfound interest in data science.

10. Rochester Institute of Technology

The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) is known to send its graduates to both the Midwest and northeastern United States. Situated in western New York, the online program promotes a versatile education that connects to the growing needs of the data science industry. The program can be completed in 24 months and admission requirements are relatively flexible, with expectation of a hard sciences background but no need for any standardized exams. About 1/3 of the credits can be made of electives, including additional research in predictive and visual analytics, and data mining. A capstone course is required for graduation, requiring a self-guided and approved project, in addition to a literature review. RIT has had an impactful history on training students to become industry leaders and is a solid choice for those who want to experience a data science education in an educational setting that focuses primarily on technology.