How Quickly Can You Complete a Master's in Data Science? An 'A to G' (Application to Graduation) Guide.

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Data science is undeniably a field that values education as much as real-world experience. A staggering 90 percent of data scientists have advanced degrees, and nearly half of all related job postings list master's degrees as a requirement. Admissions teams reviewing applications for full-time and part-time master's in data science programs look for applicants with academic backgrounds that include refined mathematics, computer science, programming, and statistical modeling. And there are no true entry-level data science jobs.

There was a time when aspiring data scientists pursued degrees in computer science, applied mathematics, statistics, or analytics. Today, Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) programs are so common that choosing between them can be challenging. There is no best MSDS program because 'best' is subjective. Students have different needs regarding location, course content, flexibility, and finance.

What many don't consider before choosing a graduate-level data science degree program is the commitment involved. That's probably okay for recent bachelor's program graduates and early-career professionals who are still figuring out where their interests lie. Data science devotees and mid-career professionals who are highly motivated to launch careers in Big Data, on the other hand, do need to think about how long it takes to earn a master's in data science when assessing programs.

Part-time master's in data science programs like the Tufts Online School of Engineering Master of Science in Data Science offer students flexibility and a relatively fast route from application to graduation. Here's how long it takes to earn an MSDS and how choosing a part-time online program makes earning this must-have credential faster and easier—even for students who work full time.

Who typically earns a part-time master's degree in data science?

Most MSDS students are professionals who work in business, computer science, or technology. Successful candidates earned high GPAs in previous upper-level mathematics, statistics, or data science coursework. They have strong decision-making and analytical skills, and some already work in data analytics, data warehousing, information systems, or business intelligence. Others have titles like software engineer or information technology analyst but are interested in the many applications of data science. Some students dream of working for high-profile technology companies like Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, and Twitter—all of which hire Tufts MSDS graduates. Others study data science to become changemakers in their industries or transition into research by enrolling in a data science Ph.D. program.

"The MSDS journey begins not when classes start but when a student applies."

What part-time master's in data science candidates have in common is that they're full-time working professionals who want to hone their data science skills in an academically rigorous program but have no desire to become full-time students. In some ways, these students have an advantage over their peers in full-time programs. They can start using their developing data science skills right away in their working lives. They benefit from a diverse network of peers who have strong professional connections in different industries and can share a wide variety of perspectives. Most importantly, they earn their degrees in about the same time it takes full-time students to complete traditional on-campus programs (more on this below).

How long does it take to apply to a data science master's program?

The MSDS journey begins not when classes start but when a student applies. How long it takes prospective students to gather the required graduate school application materials is an important consideration. Most full-time and part-time MSDS programs ask applicants to submit the following materials:

  • A completed online application
  • Transcripts from all post-secondary programs attended
  • A personal statement or short essay
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A comprehensive résumé or CV

Some data science master's programs require applicants to submit GRE scores, but Tufts University waives this requirement for applicants with an undergraduate degree from an accredited U.S. or Canadian institution. However, students are welcome to submit their GRE results, which could make their overall application stronger if scores are exceptionally high.

Most Tufts applicants gather and submit the required application materials in two to three weeks. The letters of recommendation—Tufts asks for three from MSDS applicants—are often the application element that takes the longest to procure.

When should I start applying to MSDS programs?

Deadlines vary from university to university and may also vary from term to term at the same university, though it's common for schools to begin accepting applications about four months before the start of classes and stop accepting applications about two months later. Most institutions publish application deadlines on either the program website or the department website. Tufts School of Engineering, for example, has three deadlines for the fall semester start date: an Early Action Deadline in early June, an Early Decision Deadline in late June, and a Final Submit Deadline in mid-July.

How late is too late to apply for a master's?

Students need to submit their MSDS application materials by the final round deadline, but it's never a good idea to wait until the last minute to apply. Aiming for the first round deadline ensures there is plenty of time to gather the required materials. While technically it's never too late to apply to a master's degree program, students who miss the final round deadline have to wait to apply for admission until the next round of deadlines—which means they can't enroll until the following semester.

When are decisions usually announced?

Admissions committees can take between three weeks and two months or more to send applicants final decisions. Schools with rolling deadlines tend to send out decisions more frequently, while schools with regular deadlines often send out decisions in lots with less frequency. How quickly schools send out decisions can vary by round. Tufts online MSDS applicants who submit materials by the Early Decision Deadline typically find out whether they've made it into the program within two weeks.

How long does it take to finish a data science master's program if I want to continue working full-time?

Surprisingly, flexible part-time master's in data science programs typically don't take any longer to complete than full-time on-campus MSDS programs. That's because universities known for graduating leaders in data science build their programs around course content, not timelines. That's why students looking for the fastest data science master's programs are often disappointed by what they find. High-quality MSDS programs don't attempt to squeeze an academically rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum into 12 months or less.

Tufts’ 32-credit hour online MSDS program consists of 10 core courses (including a two-semester capstone project) representing 32-credit hours of real-time live instruction and self-paced course work focused on Python, statistics, machine learning with large-scale data sets, artificial intelligence, reinforcement learning algorithms, deep learning, and more. Flexibility is a key feature of the program. Students can work full time while earning a master's in data science at Tufts in under two years—or about how long it takes to earn a traditional MSDS in on-campus programs.

When is the right time to begin a part-time MSDS program?

Just as there are no true entry-level data science jobs, there are also no true entry-level data science master's programs. Some MSDS programs accept applicants straight out of bachelor's degree programs, but most top full-time and part-time master's in data science programs look for students with professional experience in business, mathematics, computer science, or tech for several reasons. Students with professional experience have the strong math and analytical skills admissions committees look for in applicants. They also have a better idea of where they want to take their careers and how an MSDS will help them achieve their goals, which means they tend to be more focused and engage more deeply with the course material.

"The flexibility of Tufts' 100 percent online MSDS program is ideal for professionals who want to enroll in a highly ranked data science graduate program without taking time off work."

Students who spend time accruing professional experience before applying to MSDS programs may have an easier time financing their degrees and advancing after graduation. More experienced students known for being dependable and delivering value at work may be eligible for corporate tuition reimbursement. And if they work in business analytics, business intelligence, data management, or in data-driven fields like finance or healthcare administration, they can apply what they learn in their classes at work.

What are the benefits of earning a part-time online MSDS?

The benefits of earning a part-time online MSDS are the same as the benefits of earning a data science master's degree on campus. Employers respect this degree, regardless of how students pursue it. A decade ago, some hiring managers were wary of online degrees. Today, the vast majority are aware that online programs are no easier than on-campus programs and may even be more difficult because distance learners need to be more diligent, more focused, more ambitious, and more organized to succeed. Students in Tufts School of Engineering’s online programs take the same courses with the same professors and earn the same degree as their peers who take classes on campus—but they do it while working and meeting other commitments.

That said, students in flexible part-time master's in data science programs may actually spend less time pursuing their degrees. Part-time online programs technically take as long as full-time on-campus programs, and students complete the same amount of work. However, online learners don't have to move across the country to enroll in a prestigious MSDS program—a process that can add months to the time it takes to earn a degree.

What are the benefits of earning an MSDS from Tufts?

The flexibility of Tufts' 100 percent online MSDS program is ideal for professionals who want to enroll in a highly ranked data science graduate program without taking time off work. Students who choose Tufts don't have to sacrifice income to earn a Master of Science in Data Science or settle for a lower quality program to get the flexibility they need.

Tufts purposefully keeps class sizes small—most have 15 students or less—to ensure students can engage in meaningful dialog in online courses and develop relationships with professors and peers. And Tufts makes every effort to make sure distance learners can take full advantage of the university's proximity to Boston, one of the top tech cities in the country. MSDS graduates can also tap into the power of the elite Tufts alumni network, which includes more than 100,000 graduates, and the Tufts Career Center, which coordinates all internship, recruiting, and career-related programs for the School of Engineering. What sets the Tufts data science master's apart from similar programs may be its extraordinary commitment to setting up students for success, regardless of how they study.

Is an MSDS worth the amount of time it takes to earn?

Given how common advanced degrees are in this field, the answer is an unequivocal yes. An MSDS can lead to a new career, more senior positions, higher salaries, and personal satisfaction. Most importantly, pursuing a master's degree in data science is a straightforward way to gain not just new skills, but leading-edge skills. One Kaggle survey of working data scientists found that about 70 percent of those with graduate degrees were motivated to enroll by a desire to learn more and update their skills.

The key to maximizing the value of this degree is understanding the commitment involved. Students should know how much it costs to earn an MSDS and what their financial aid options are. They also need to be aware of what it takes to succeed in a program, including how challenging the MSDS curriculum is, how much time students typically spend on course work each week, and the technology students use to access the program. Knowledge is power in data science—and in master's in data science programs. Knowing how long it takes to earn this degree is just one piece of a larger puzzle students have to solve before finding the MSDS program that's right for them.

Is Tufts’ online data science master's the right program for you? Review the program's admission requirements, information about the student experience, and faculty bios to find out. If you still have questions, sign up for an upcoming enrollment event.

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