5 Best Online Master’s in Data Science 2021

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A data science degree online qualifies learners for exciting careers helping organizations make informed decisions. Potential careers include data scientist, database administrator, statistician, and computer and information research scientist. Many of these professionals make high salaries. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer and information research scientists earn a median annual salary of $122,840.

This guide ranks the best online master’s in data science degree programs. We also explain what to expect when earning a master’s in data science, how to find the right school, and potential job opportunities for graduates.

2021’s Top 5 Online Data Science Grad Schools

What Is Data Science?

A relatively new and interdisciplinary field, data science refers to the theories, methods, and systems used to find meaning in data.

Data science professionals capture, maintain, process, analyze, and communicate data so organizations can use the practice to accomplish goals and understand their customers better. Online data science degree programs cover topics like data mining, big data, machine learning, and human-computer interaction.

Graduates with a master’s in data science can pursue roles like data scientist, computer and information research scientist, statistician, and computer and information systems manager. Popular industries for data scientists include computer systems design, research and development, and software publishing.

The BLS projects strong job growth rates from 2019-2029 for many occupations related to data science, including computer and information research scientists (15%), mathematicians and statisticians (33%), and database administrators (10%).

Why Get an Online Data Science Degree?

Earning an online master’s in data science helps graduates gain new skills, qualify for more job opportunities, and change careers. A data science bootcamp may work for those who can digest large amounts of information in short periods of time. However, master’s programs give students more time to hone their skills. Below, we describe several benefits of earning a data science master’s degree online.

  • Greater Career Opportunities: Because so many organizations need help managing and making sense of their data, an online data science degree can open the door to many career opportunities. Potential jobs include data scientist, computer and information research scientist, and database administrator.
  • Make a Career Change: Many students use a master’s in data science to advance their careers or change careers completely.
  • Develop New Skills: Students in master’s in data science programs cultivate technical skills in SQL, Java, Python, and JavaScript. They also hone project management, quality assurance, communication, and interpersonal skills.

Top Online Programs

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The Top Master’s in Data Science Online Programs for 2021

The list below covers the top computer science master’s programs for 2021. The schools ranked here hold either national or regional accreditation. Some of the programs listed here also boast accreditation from industry-specific agencies.

Accreditation is a critical factor verifying that a program or school meets previously established quality standards developed by expert certification bodies. Notable accrediting agencies endorsing the below-listed programs include:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU)

  1. Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore, MD

    Established in 1876, Johns Hopkins is a public university located in Baltimore. Its mission is to educate its students and cultivate their capacity for lifelong learning. The university enrolls more than 24,000 full and part-time students throughout nine academic divisions.

    Master of Science in Data Science

    Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering offers a master of science in data science with an option to earn a post-master's certification. The part-time program is ideal for working professionals and comprises 10 courses. Notable classes include large-scale database systems, introduction to machine learning, introduction to optimization, and data science.

    Students can select courses that fit their area of interest and map out their path towards degree completion using course search tools and advisors. Online courses at Johns Hopkins are as rigorous as their offline counterparts.

    All students get access to resources such as the student success center, library services, student organizations, and career coaching.

    Applying to Johns Hopkins

    The online application requires prospective students to attach their detailed resumes and transcripts from all postsecondary institutions attended. Applicants also require a minimum of 3.0 GPA to be eligible for admission.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: MSCHE
    Tuition: $5,872/course
    Required Credits: 30 credits
    Program Length: 5 years
    Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous and asynchronous)

  2. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Champaign, IL

    U of I is a public university located in Champaign, Illinois. The university has ranked among the best public universities and the best universities overall in the United States.

    Master of Computer Science in Data Science

    The online master of computer science in data science is a 32-credit program that includes eight graduate-level courses. Students receive lectures through Coursera's open course platform while being assisted by U of I faculty and teaching assistants. Featured courses include foundations of data curation, applied machine learning, introduction to data mining, and scientific visualization.

    Students without an undergraduate degree in a related field must complete prerequisite coursework or commensurate experience for successful degree completion. The curriculum includes a data mining and cloud computing capstone.

    Applying to U of I

    Admission requirements include a four-year bachelor's degree or equivalent with at least a 3.0 GPA. Applicants must also include letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, a resume, and unofficial transcripts in the online application package.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: HLC
    Tuition: $670/credit
    Required Credits: 32 credits
    Program Length: 5 years or less
    Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous and asynchronous)

  3. Pennsylvania State University-World Campus

    University Park, PA

    Penn State is a public university located in University Park, Pennsylvania. With students from all 50 states and 60 countries from all seven continents, Penn State boasts 125 years of experience in distance education.

    Master of Science in Spatial Data Science

    Master of science in spatial data science at Penn State is a 33-36 credit program where geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial analysis intersect with data science. The thesis option in this program leads to a future Ph.D. Students can complete the SDS program in as little as two years.

    Featured course topics include cartography and visualization, remote sensing image analysis and applications, and spatial data science for cyber and human social networks. Designed by experienced faculties and learning designers, every online class at Penn State provides optimal course delivery.

    Penn State students can also access various services such as tech support, library, orientation, and counseling.

    Applying to Penn State

    Admission to the program requires a four-year bachelor's degree or equivalent. Those seeking admission must also demonstrate prior experience in the fundamentals of GIS along with a background in geospatial science and technology, data science, statistics or mathematics, computer science, environmental science, and/or engineering. Applicants must also submit undergraduate transcripts, two references, a personal statement, and a resume in their application.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: MSCHE
    Tuition: $924/credit
    Required Credits: 33 credits
    Program Length: 2 years minimum
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  4. The University of West Florida

    Pensacola, FL

    Awarding more than 1000,000 degrees from over 70 degree programs at different academic levels since 1963, UWF is one of the leading higher education institutions in the country today.

    Master of Science in Data Science

    UWF's online master of science in data science offers three tracks: analytics and modeling, analytics of business decisions, and health analytics. The 30-credit program follows a synchronous model of study and facilitates one-on-one interaction with faculties. Notable courses include advanced statistical modeling, data mining, and modeling in regression.

    After meeting the prerequisite course requirements, all students must also complete nine credits on required courses and move towards specialized core courses of 21 credits from the selected track. Online students at UWF can access sample assignments, instructor notes, resources and technology guides, and UWF Library for academic integrity resources.

    Applying to UWF

    Applicants require an accredited bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. Required documents include official transcripts from all the undergraduate courses. Due to the COVID-19 situation, enrollees for the spring and summer 2021 terms no longer require GRE/GMAT scores.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: SACSCOC
    Tuition: $385/credit (in state); $479/credit (out of state)
    Required Credits: 30 credits
    Program Length: 2 years
    Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous)

  5. New Jersey Institute of Technology

    Newark, NJ

    A public university located in Newark, New Jersey, NJIT has more than 130 student clubs and organizations. It also houses six specialized schools where 98% of faculties hold the highest degree in their field.

    Master of Science in Data Science

    NJIT's master of science in data science program is for students with a background in mathematics, statistics, and software development. The curriculum features programming languages such as Python and R for statistical analysis and Tableau for data visualization. The 30-credit program comprises security and privacy in computer systems, cloud computing, system simulation, and artificial intelligence.

    Online students at NJIT work on assignments and projects comprising theory and applications on actual data, guided by professors and teaching assistants. NJIT uses instructor-led online learning tools such as Moodle to deliver course material, quizzes, as well as both synchronous and asynchronous communication.

    Applying to NJIT

    Applicants require a bachelor's degree with a background in computer science. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is a must to be eligible for this program.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: MSCHE
    Tuition: $1,050/credit
    Required Credits: 30 credits
    Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous or asynchronous)

Our Ranking Methodology

What To Expect From Master’s in Data Science Programs

Online master’s in data science students learn how to collect, clean, organize, and interpret data to help organizations make meaningful and informed decisions. They study topics like data analysis, data visualization, programming languages, and data mining.

A typical online master’s in data science takes two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time learners may take three years or longer to graduate. Costs vary by school, but private institutions typically charge higher tuition rates than public universities.

Most master’s in data science programs include courses on topics like algorithms for data science, statistical methods and data analysis, data visualization, and principles of database systems. Below, we explain what to expect while earning an online master’s in data science, including admission requirements, degree options, and typical courses.

Read More About Data Science Programs Explore Data Science Degree Levels

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements for online data science master’s degree programs vary by school. Most programs require a bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering, business, or a related field. Applicants without a related background may need to complete prerequisite courses before beginning the program. Most master’s in data science programs also require a minimum GPA, which varies by school.

Additional requirements may include letters of recommendation, GRE/GMAT scores, a statement of purpose, and a resume. Some online data science degree programs require an interview. Although not usually required, relevant professional experience may increase students’ chances of acceptance.

Degree Options

Students seeking an online data science degree program can pursue an MA, an MS, or a master of business administration (MBA) in data analytics. MA and MS programs focus exclusively on data science topics. An MBA in data analytics combines general business and data science courses. Some master’s programs offer concentrations similar to data science that go by other names, such as:

A financial analytics concentration combines finance and data science courses. Students learn to use financial data to make decisions and improve profits.

A cybersecurity concentration focuses on improving data security and preventing and responding to cyberattacks.

A business analytics concentration combines data science and business, teaching students how to use business data to make informed decisions.

Comparing Data Science and General Computer Science Degrees

A general computer science master’s program offers a broad overview of the theory of computing. Computer science students learn about operating systems, algorithms, and programming languages. Online master’s in data science students focus primarily on issues related to data collection, storage, and analysis.

In the table below, we compare key components of data science master’s programs and general computer science programs.

Master’s in Data Science Master’s in Computer Science
Focus Applied statistics, database systems and administration, machine learning, data analytics Computing theory, computer programming languages, algorithms, operating systems
Length 2 years full time 2 years full time
Types of Classes Artificial intelligence, marketing analytics, human-computer interaction, cybersecurity Advanced operating systems, advanced computer architectures, advanced algorithms, thesis
Potential Careers Data scientist, database administrator, computer and information research scientist, statistician Computer and information research scientist, computer and information systems manager, computer network architect, software developer
Admission Requirements Bachelor’s degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE/GMAT scores Bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE/GMAT scores
Top Computer Science Master's Programs

Popular Data Science Courses

Online data science degree programs typically include core, elective, and project or capstone courses. Courses vary by program, but the following list outlines courses commonly found in online master’s in data science programs.

  • Algorithms for Data Science

    This class covers topics like algorithm design and analysis, computational complexity, and design paradigms. Students also learn about data processing methods, linear programming, statistical learning methods, and computational geometry.

  • Statistical Methods and Data Analysis

    This foundational course introduces a variety of statistical methods and mathematical theories. Learners explore topics like probability, random variables, statistical inference, and hypothesis testing. They also learn how to use statistical software programs.

  • Data Visualization

    Students in this class learn about the theory and practice of creating visual representations of data. Topics include visualization toolkits, flow visualization, data representation, and volume rendering techniques. The class also looks at the use of advanced display devices and applied human perception.

  • Business Analytics

    This class explores topics like relational databases and SQL queries, dashboards, and advanced spreadsheets. Students also learn about statistical analysis in R, including interactions, multi-linear regression, and tests for regression assumptions.

  • Text Mining

    This class introduces theories and methods for analyzing large quantities of text data. Students learn to mine text for social behavior analysis, business intelligence, and the digital humanities.

How Much Will a Master’s in Data Science Cost?

The cost of a data science online degree varies by school. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reports an average annual graduate tuition rate of $19,314 for the 2018-19 academic year. Learners seeking the most affordable options should look for public universities where they can pay in-state tuition. The NCES found the average tuition rate for public institutions was significantly less during the same time period, at $12,171 a year.

Students pursuing an online master’s in data science should research financial aid opportunities to help offset the cost of their degree, like loans, scholarships, and grants. Unlike loans, scholarships and grants do not require repayment, making them ideal forms of financial aid.

Jobs for Master’s in Data Science Graduates

Graduates with a master’s in data science can pursue jobs like data scientist, database administrator, computer and information systems manager, and computer and information research scientist. All of these careers offer strong salaries. For instance, computer and information systems managers earn a median salary of $146,360 annually.

The following list outlines several potential careers for graduates with an online master’s in data science.

  • Data Scientist

    Data scientists collect, analyze, and present data to help organizations make data-informed decisions. Data scientists need skills in areas like big data analytics, Java, Python, and data mining. They work in industries including healthcare, education, and government.

    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
    Average Annual Salary: $96,500

  • Database Administrators

    Database administrators need at least a bachelor’s degree, but organizations often prefer employees with a master’s degree. Typical job duties include backing up data, ensuring data security and efficiency, maintaining databases, and testing database structures. Database administrators may work in industries like computer systems design, education, management, and insurance.

    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
    Median Annual Salary: $93,750

  • Computer and Information Systems Managers

    Computer and information systems managers oversee computer-related activity for their organizations. They need a bachelor’s degree at minimum, but many employers prefer applicants with a master’s degree. Computer and information systems managers also typically hold at least several years of IT experience.

    Required Education: Bachelor’s degree
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
    Median Annual Salary: $146,360

  • Mathematicians and Statisticians

    The BLS projects much faster-than-average job growth for mathematicians and statisticians from 2019-2029. Typical job duties include analyzing data and using math to solve problems. Statisticians work primarily for research and development companies, the federal government, and the healthcare industry.

    Required Education: Master’s degree
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +33%
    Median Annual Salary: $92,030

  • Computer and Information Research Scientist

    Computer and information research scientists develop computing technologies and use existing technologies to solve problems. Typical work tasks include developing new computing languages, publishing research results, and improving software systems.

    Required Education: Master’s degree
    Job Outlook (2019-29): +15%
    Median Annual Salary: $122,840

Explore Computer Science Careers

Choosing the Right Data Science Graduate Program

Our ranking of the top online data science degree programs provides an excellent starting point for research, but prospective students should consider a variety of factors before deciding on a school. Below, we describe some key considerations for prospective data science students.

Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to factors like faculty qualifications, student learning outcomes, and academic rigor. Attending an accredited school increases students’ financial aid, employment, and education opportunities.
University Resources
Prospective students should research the availability of student support resources like tutoring, career development services, library and research assistance, and student clubs and organizations.
Alumni Network
A robust alumni organization can give students professional networking opportunities that lead to internship and job offers.
Students should research the estimated cost of attendance for prospective programs. In addition to tuition, students should consider expenses like housing, textbooks, transportation, and technology upgrades. They should also look into financial aid opportunities, like scholarships, grants, and loans.
Program Length
A typical online master’s in data science takes two years of full-time study to complete, but some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to graduate in less time.

Why You Should Get Your Data Science Degree Online

Earning a data science degree online offers flexibility, accessibility, and convenience. Many distance learning programs let students log on to the virtual classroom and complete assignments on their own schedule within set deadlines. This flexibility allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.

Additionally, online students can attend top programs around the country without relocating. Plus, many schools allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of where they live.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What degree do you need to become a data scientist?

    Becoming a data scientist requires at least a bachelor’s degree in data science or a related field. However, many employers prefer candidates with a master’s in data science.

  • Can you learn data science online?

    Yes. Many universities offer excellent data science online degree programs.

  • What can I do with a master's degree in data science?

    Earning an online master’s in data science prepares graduates for a variety of careers, including data scientist, computer and information research scientist, and computer and information systems manager.

  • Is a data science master's worth it?

    Yes. PayScale reports that graduates with a master’s in data science earn an average annual salary of $78,500, with many data scientists earning much more. This makes the degree a worthwhile investment for many students.

Feature Image: SeventyFour / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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