Why Location Matters in an Online Data Science Master's Program (Yes, Really)

A sunset view of Boston Harbor.

What can you do with a master's in data science? The answer depends to some degree on where you study because access to opportunity is often based on how employers perceive your qualifications. When you're job hunting, university name recognition may matter almost as much as the concentration of available jobs in an area.

That doesn't mean you should write off the idea of pursuing an online master's degree in data science. Likewise, you shouldn't immediately commit to moving across the country to attend a program in one of the cities where the data science talent shortage is most acute. You can maximize the return on investment of a Master of Science in Data Science, or MSDS, by choosing an online program offered by a distinguished university based in a city or region where Big Data is big business.

Consider Tufts' 100 percent online data science master's program. It's available to applicants anywhere in the world who aspire to join the ranks of data science leaders. The curriculum is rigorous and includes core courses in Machine Learning and AI, Python, and the statistical methods underlying data analysis-driven problem-solving and decision-making—but the program is flexible, making it ideal for professionals who want to enroll in a highly ranked data science graduate program without taking time off work or relocating. Most importantly, students who study remotely benefit from the university's location in the greater Boston area where data science salaries are high and demand for data scientists is hot.

How much weight you give to geography as you compare online master's programs is up to you but don't discount it altogether. It pays to understand exactly why location matters when you're looking at graduate degree programs for distance learners. Below, you'll find more information about how geography can impact the value of an online MSDS and how remote students enrolled in Tufts School of Engineering’s online programs benefit from the university's proximity to and connections with Boston-based Big Data, tech, and healthcare firms

Why You Might Not Think About Location When Choosing an Online MSDS Program

The ROI of a master's in data science program that delivers classes entirely online might seem wholly divorced from geography, but that isn't the case. It's true that you'll take the same courses with the same professors and earn the same diploma as students who study on campus when you pursue Tufts' online master's degree in data science, and the entire design of the program ensures that location isn't an obstacle getting in the way of your success. That doesn't mean, however, that geography can't be a powerful positive force in your academic journey.

If you're not sure how a school's address can impact the value of a degree earned online, you're not alone. The major benefits of earning a master's degree online include the ability to continue working and earning income—none of which are affected by location. But think about it this way: if your goal is to excel in a specific field, it makes sense to focus your master's degree search on those programs offered by colleges and universities in locations associated with that field. Your return on investment will be greater because you'll have access (whether directly or indirectly) to more of the kinds of resources and opportunities students in traditional on-campus programs receive.

Tufts University's proximity to Boston, one of the top tech cities and innovation hubs in the country, can be an asset even if you choose the online MSDS program. Boston-area computer scientists and business people have spent years positioning the city as a major interdisciplinary data science hub, and Tufts MSDS faculty members have relationships with local data science leaders and high-profile firms in and out of technology. You may study remotely but with the help of your professors, you'll still be able to make the kind of regional connections that can help you land a valuable internship or job at a tough-to-break-into company.

More Reasons to Consider Location When Pursuing an Online Master's Degree in Data Science

As you research MSDS programs, you may notice that top online programs like Tufts' master's degree in data science are frequently offered by institutions in the same geographical areas as not only an abundance of information technology and computer science jobs but also highly desirable professional opportunities for data scientists. That's not a coincidence. Universities in cities with a strong data science job market gain valuable insights into the data science field that let them adapt the MSDS curriculum to employer demand. Businesses, meanwhile, have access to a steady stream of highly trained, ambitious data scientists.

Online master's degree students benefit from this symbiosis in myriad ways because the physical location of a school—and the strength of its reputation—can influence internship options, career opportunities, and the overall utility of an alumni network. Distance learners can often take advantage of the same internship and career support services as students studying on campus and participate in department networking activities from wherever they are. They also benefit from:

Remote Internships

Internships aren't always a part of the graduate student experience, but it's not unusual for master's-level students to seek out unofficial internships to gain hands-on experience in a new discipline. It was once less common for online learners to pursue career-boosting internships, but COVID-19 led to an increase in the availability of remote placements. Studying outside of Boston isn't necessarily a barrier to landing an internship with a company headquartered in the city—particularly for Tufts MSDS candidates who benefit from the university's relationships with area firms.

Name Recognition

Employers across the U.S. respect Tufts University, but the university's reputation among Big Data, technology, and tech-adjacent firms in the Boston area is outstanding. Online data science master's degree candidates don't need to be based in Boston to benefit from that local cachet. There are Tufts alumni all over the world and most high-profile firms headquartered in Boston have multiple offices around the country, so Tufts graduates exit the MSDS program with geographically expansive networks, regardless of whether they studied online or on campus.

Relationship Building

It's easier to make valuable professional connections in an MS in Data Science program based in a city with a strong data science job market. Online learners pursuing master's degrees in data science at Tufts can attend in-person events, workshops, recruiting evenings, and conferences. They forge relationships with professors, peers, and industry leaders local to the school through project work, the elite Tufts alumni network, and the Tufts Career Center. And they benefit from the university's proximity to and connections with top firms and startups in the Greater Boston region.

Ultimately, the top online MSDS programs do everything they can to replicate the academic and non-academic experiences of master's degree candidates who study on campus. Tufts University makes every effort to ensure online students can take full advantage of the university's proximity to Boston and the fact that it's one of the best cities for data science jobs.

The Benefits of Choosing an Online MSDS Program Based in Boston

The biggest benefit of choosing an online master's degree in data science program based in Boston is access to opportunity. According to LinkedIn's Emerging Jobs Report, Boston is one of the top five best places in the U.S. to look for data science jobs, which can include roles in data engineering, data warehousing, artificial intelligence, and even cybersecurity. Burning Glass Technologies reports that Boston-area employers posted more than 2,000 jobs for data science and data analytics professionals in the past year—and that number might have been higher had the company included titles like statistical programmer, quantitative analyst, business intelligence engineer, statistician, and analytics engineer in their surveys.

Tufts online students benefit from the school’s proximity to Big Data analytics, data visualization, data mining, and business analytics firms and startups across industries in the Greater Boston region, including:

  • DataRobot, which created an AI-powered platform that automates everything from data preparation to machine learning model validation.
  • InterSystems, which develops cloud-first data platforms for building machine learning-enabled applications in healthcare and other industries.
  • Kensho Technologies, which leverages AI and Machine Learning to build data pipelines that make it easier for companies to find insights in unstructured data.
  • Klaviyo, which helps businesses deliver better customer experiences via email and other channels using data.
  • Tamr, which manages data for enterprise firms so they can derive value from large volumes of variable information.

A KPMG survey found that Boston was one of the cities most likely to become the "leading technology innovation hub outside of Silicon Valley," which is good news for data scientists. Data science professionals are also in demand in numerous other fields known for hiring Big Data talent. For instance, Boston is also one of the largest healthcare hubs in the country. The city is home to large hospital and healthcare networks and major insurance companies; healthtech firms like Athenahealth and IBM Watson Health; pharmaceutical manufacturers like Biogen; and well-funded startups that support innovation in medicine—all of which rely on teams of professionals capable of harnessing the power of data to make a difference.

When you invest in Tufts' part-time 32-credit hour online Master of Science in Data Science program, you'll have the skills and knowledge to qualify for internships and jobs at companies in the Boston area and the professional and personal connections you need to get a foot in the door.

Is an Online Master's Degree in Data Science from Tufts Still Valuable If I Don't Want to Move to Boston?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. Tufts' reputation as a leader in engineering and tech education is strong across the country, and the university's partner and alumni networks are global. Just because you don't plan to live and work in Boston doesn't mean you can't take advantage of everything Tufts offers its students. Should you decide in the future that Boston is the place for you, you'll have a built-in, on-the-ground network waiting for you and the credentials you'll need to compete.

Boston is home to more than 150 Big Data firms, making it a great place to look for data science jobs. Keep in mind, however, that 18 percent of the workforce in Boston has master's degrees—nearly double the national average of 10.4 percent. There's plenty of opportunity for knowledgeable data scientists outside of Boston, too, but don't assume that the educational standards are lower outside of this city. A bachelor's degree can only take you so far in applied data science. Nearly half of all data science job postings across the U.S. require that applicants have an MSDS or similar in addition to work experience, and 90 percent of working data scientists have advanced degrees.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment in data science will grow by 31 percent nationwide in the coming decade. Many of the jobs employers create will be based in technology hubs like Boston, but if your goal is to look elsewhere, you will still be competing against highly educated peers with data science degrees like the MSDS. Earning a master's degree from a university with strong connections in Big Data and the technology industry like Tufts is crucial to succeeding in a data science career, wherever you are in the world.

Is Tufts’ part-time data science master's the right program for you? Review the program's admission requirements, information about tuition and financial aid, and faculty bios to find out. If you still have questions, sign up for an upcoming enrollment event. When you're ready, apply online.

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