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Best Data Science Master’s Programs: 5 Things To Look For (And 5 To Avoid)

Data is one of the most essential business resources today. From qualitative customer input to product performance data and employee productivity statistics, every aspect of a business can be improved by effective data. Driving this speciality forward is a highly-skilled and educated workforce of data analytics professionals who collect, manage and analyze data to create actionable business intelligence.

An advanced degree is almost essential to advance—91% of data analytics professionals have an advanced degree according to Burtch Works, a premier executive recruiting firm. However, you don’t have to go to an Ivy League school or pause your career to pursue your degree full time. For working adults, it’s just not practical or affordable. 

Luckily, there are many online options for data science master’s programs. If you know what to look for, you can find the best online data science program for your career goals and life circumstances. easier.

5 Traits Of The Best Data Science Master’s Programs

We’ve collected 5 essential traits of a great data science or analytics master’s degree to make your search easier.

The Best Programs Provide a Dynamic and Comprehensive Curriculum

Specialized data science and analytics master’s programs are relatively new, many coming online within the last decade. Previously, most data science professionals came from a background in statistics, computer science or a similar field. While these programs prepared professionals with foundational knowledge, many specialized skills had to be learned on the job. 

Now, master's programs in data science, data analytics and business analytics give working professionals the ability to hone their skills and stay current with the latest technologies and emerging trends.

As you try to find the best data science master’s program, look for courses that focus on these topics:

  • Machine Learning: Learn the fundamentals of applied machine learning and how to create algorithms that aid in the processing, organizing and analyzing of data.
  • Database Management: Gain the fundamental skills to design, structure, maintain and secure databases that house your organization’s most important information. 
  • Data Mining: Discover how to establish association rules, clustering algorithms, tools for classification, and ensemble methods to mine integral data.
  • Predictive Analytics: Acquire the skills to create algorithms and use industry-standard software to predict business performance, user behavior, customer needs and more.
  • Big Data Analytics: Learn how to manage and analyze massive datasets, including unstructured data, as well as warehouse enterprise-level data.

Top Data Masters Programs Build Technical Skills Using Industry-Standard Tools

Data scientists use a wide range of tools and techniques to manipulate, extrapolate and visualize data so that it’s useful for their organization. This requires a strong set of technical skills in areas like math and computer science, as well as expertise in data analytics tools.

In the best data science master’s programs you will learn:

  • Python and R Programming: Python is one of the most flexible programming languages and is considered an essential general-purpose language for data scientists. It’s used heavily for data integration and machine learning in data analytics. R has become the largest repository of statistical knowledge with thousands of algorithms vetted by experts. R is great for doing exploratory analysis and converting that work into a dashboard or report. A master’s program in data science should help you gain skills in both of these languages to arm you to adapt to the dynamics of your current and future jobs.
  • Big Data Technologies: Data volumes that need to be processed in the cloud are growing faster than computer power. Data scientists need to be experienced in tools like Apache Hadoop—a software framework for distributed storage and Big Data processing. They also need to understand and use different databases, including SQL, NoSQL and in-memory databases. The best data science master’s programs will help you understand how to tackle Big Data and use it to your organization’s advantage. 
  • SAS Technologies: SAS is the leader in analytics software, providing an entire suite of tools that help access, manage, analyze and report on data. You should be well versed in their tools—including SAS® Enterprise Miner, SAS® Text Miner, and SAS® Visual Analytics—to stand out in the job market. Look for data science master’s programs that place a heavy emphasis on SAS software and integrate it thoroughly into their coursework.
  • Tableau: The industry-standard for data visualization, Tableau software helps you turn raw data into straightforward visuals that make information easy for other professionals to understand. Tableau is widely used in many industries for business intelligence, and is therefore a critical skill to gain during a master’s program in data science.

The Best Programs Teach You to Use Data to Drive Organizational Impact

Technical skills are the foundation of any successful data science career. But if you want to move up the ranks from analyst to management or executive positions, you will need more than hard skills.

To advance in the field of data analytics, you need to be able to apply data to solve pressing business challenges. To do so, you need strong business acumen, strategic problem solving abilities and effective communication skills. 

A master’s in data science program should help you:

  • Translate complex data into actionable business intelligence. 
  • Become a persuasive and data-driven decision maker.
  • Communicate with cross-functional teams to ensure proper data storage and usage across an organization.
  • Effectively manage a team of other data analysts and technical professionals

“While tools and technologies will change, professionals who have foundational technical skills and strong communication and leadership skills are poised to not only adapt to change, but drive it,” says Dr. Nimet Alpay, Program Chair of the Master’s in Data Analytics at Franklin University.

The Best Data Programs Engage a Robust Advisory Board to Stay Ahead of the Curve

A program advisory board is a group of industry experts who represent a wide variety of leading companies in a specific industry. In higher education, these discipline-specific boards provide guidance on hands-on learning ideas, global business perspectives, and emerging trends in the field.


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“Our Master’s in Data Analytics program advisory board not only informs the curriculum, they’re also actively involved in student learning,” says Dr. Alpay, “They act as guest speakers in classes, connect with students on LinkedIn, and provide valuable networking opportunities. Our advisory board is critical to maintaining a high standard of education and evolving curriculum to meet industry demands.”

The Most Ideal Data Masters Programs Allow You to Earn or Prepare for Professional Certifications

How do you set yourself apart from all of the other professionals with advanced degrees? In addition to practical experience, recognized data science and analytics credentials can distinguish you from other highly-educated candidates.

“Our partnership with SAS allows our students to be granted a SAS Joint Certificate in Data Analytics after completing their first four foundational courses,” says Dr. Alpay, “Before they even complete their degree they have earned one of the top professional certifications in the industry. They also have the skills needed to take the test for Tableau Certification. These certifications are extremely valuable as students apply for jobs or promotions.”

Avoid These 5 Things If You’re Looking Into a Data Science Master’s Program'

Sometimes knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to look for. If you’re a working professional, here’s what you don’t want in a data science master’s degree program.

  • Don’t get your degree from a university that isn’t regionally accredited.
  • Don’t attend a program that will admit you without any foundational statistics credits.
  • Don’t choose a program that only focuses on tools, not on larger problem solving skills.
  • Don’t pick a program that employs instructors without industry experience.
  • Don’t select programs without strong support systems and dedicated resources for online students.

Become a Data Scientist at Franklin University

The Franklin University Master’s in Data Analytics gives you the well-rounded skill set you need to be a leader in data science. Designed for the needs of working adults, Franklin provides flexible, 100% online courses that allow you to complete your master’s degree in as few as 19 months. Explore our Master’s in Data Analytics to see how it can help you succeed in the field of data science.

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