Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

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Data science is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after skills in the job market. Throughout your day-to-day life, whether you're scrolling on social media or navigating the roads using Google Maps, data science is working behind the scenes.

Earning an online master's in data science from an accredited college can position you to join the in-demand computer science field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information research scientists earned a median annual wage of $131,490 in 2021. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 22% job growth for these professionals — nearly triple the average projected growth rate for all careers (8%) during that period.

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Based on these numbers, a master's degree can be a smart investment. Read on to learn about admission requirements, common courses, and possible career options for data science grads.

What Is an Online Master's in Data Science?

An online master's in data science program teaches students to analyze and draw conclusions from large data sets. Graduates can work in virtually any field that requires these analytical skills.

Most data science programs consist primarily of theory-based coursework, such as classes covering statistics, data visualization, machine learning, and programming languages (e.g., SQL and Python).

Online programs vary in whether they deliver this coursework synchronously or asynchronously. Additionally, some online programs allow students to gain experience in the data science field through an internship requirement — distance learners can typically arrange to complete this experience in their local communities or remotely.

What Programs Are Similar to Data Science?

Our Top Pick

Northwestern University - Evanston, Illinois

Why It's #1: Northwestern University is the top-ranked school on our Best Master's in Data Science Programs list. This prestigious institution maintains a high graduation rate of 94%, so nearly all students who enroll ultimately finish their degrees. Approximately 52% of Northwestern's students receive financial aid. Entrance into Northwestern is highly competitive, and the university admits only 16% of all applicants. Around 10% of the university's students take advantage of online courses.

Read Our Rankings Methodology

Best Online Master's in Data Science Programs

Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team

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#1 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

Northwestern University

  • Evanston, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $4,664 per course
Out of State | $4,664 per course

Credits to Graduate
36

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

Northwestern's master's in data science program teaches learners how to make data-driven decisions. Students complete 12 courses entirely online. They can choose a general track or one of five specializations. Core topics include decision analytics and practical machine learning.

Specializations include analytics management and artificial intelligence. One specialization teaches enrollees how to build an innovation-driven startup. Students choose a capstone or thesis to culminate the program. Admission requires an accredited bachelor's degree.

Average Tuition
In-state
$56,232
Out-of-state
$56,232
Retention Rate
98%
Admission Rate
9%
Students Enrolled
22,448
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
2% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#2 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

Johns Hopkins University

  • Baltimore, MD
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online or Hybrid | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $5,872 per course
Out of State | $5,872 per course

Credits to Graduate
30 credits

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

Learners can enroll part time in Johns Hopkins' master's in data science program. Enrollees learn from senior-level data scientists and engineers. They study concepts such as data visualization and computational statistics. 

Students receive an introduction to machine learning. Elective courses include game theory and data mining. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and prerequisite courses such as calculus and Java or Python. 

Average Tuition
In-state
$55,350
Out-of-state
$55,350
Retention Rate
97%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
27,079
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
46% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#3 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

University of Southern California

  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $2,035
Out of State | $2,035

Credits to Graduate
32

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

USC's master's in computer science (CS) in data science runs fully online. The 32-unit degree requires core courses in artificial intelligence and analysis of algorithms. A machine learning course teaches students how to build intelligent and adaptive systems. Enrollees develop data management skills. 

Degree-seekers learn advanced big data analytics techniques. Students can complete this degree in 2-3 years. Full- and part-time enrollment provides flexibility. All students pay the same tuition. Admission requires a bachelor's degree in CS. Non-CS majors must complete prerequisite coursework.

Average Tuition
In-state
$57,256
Out-of-state
$57,256
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
11%
Students Enrolled
48,321
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
17% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
#4 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

Tufts University

  • Medford, MA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,697
Out of State | $1,697

Credits to Graduate
30

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

Tufts offers a master's in data science for students with no experience. Enrollees take weekly online classes with a small group of peers. They can supplement classes by completing modules on their own schedule. The degree requires nine courses. Students explore topics such as big data and probabilistic systems analysis. 

A course gives an introduction to machine learning and data mining. Students culminate the program with a capstone project. Applicants with an accredited bachelor's degree do not need to submit GRE scores.

Average Tuition
In-state
$57,324
Out-of-state
$57,324
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
15%
Students Enrolled
11,878
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
3% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
#5 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

University of Virginia

  • Charlottesville, VA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,337
Out of State | $1,337

Credits to Graduate
32

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

UVA operates the nation's first school dedicated to data science. The school's 32-credit master's in data science emphasizes hands-on learning. Students learn how to solve complex data science challenges. Enrollees attend live synchronous classes. The program uses a cohort model to promote collaboration and network-building. 

Learners complete a project that solves a challenge facing UVA's corporate and government partners. Students can earn the degree in five semesters. Admission requires a bachelor's degree, prerequisite coursework, and proficiency in Python or R language programming. 

Average Tuition
In-state
$14,970
Out-of-state
$47,833
Retention Rate
97%
Admission Rate
24%
Students Enrolled
25,012
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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#6 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

The University of Texas at Austin

  • Austin, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Self-Paced Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,000 per course
Out of State | $1,000 per course

Credits to Graduate
30 credits

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

UT's master's in data science teaches data science from a computer science and statistical perspective. Students can take up to six years to finish the self-paced degree. Enrollees explore topics such as machine learning and optimization. A course explores advanced predictive models for complex data. 

All students pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Applicants need a bachelor's degree in statistics, computer science, or a related field. They also need a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Average Tuition
In-state
$10,824
Out-of-state
$38,326
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
32%
Students Enrolled
51,090
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
25% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
#7 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • Champaign, IL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $670
Out of State | $670

Credits to Graduate
32 credits

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A

Illinois partners with Coursera to deliver the master of computer science in data science. Enrollees explore statistical and computational methods. Coursework covers systems and networking. Learners also study artificial intelligence and machine learning. Enrollees can choose a specialization such as data mining or data visualization. 

Students complete 32 credits entirely online in 1-3 years. The master's in data science blends live sessions and asynchronous activities. Applicants do not need a computer science degree. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and prerequisite coursework such as object-oriented programming.

Average Tuition
In-state
$14,188
Out-of-state
$33,127
Retention Rate
93%
Admission Rate
59%
Students Enrolled
51,605
Institution Type
Public
Percent Online Enrollment
39% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Higher Learning Commission
#8 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

Villanova University

  • Villanova, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit In State | $1,428 Out of State | $1,428

Credits to Graduate 36

Program Information Program Accreditation | Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business 

A renowned Catholic college, Villanova offers a master's in analytics degree to cultivate data scientists. Students can complete the degree online in 24 months. The part-time curriculum meets the needs of working professionals. Core courses explore topics such as business intelligence and analytics for data mining. Students develop enterprise data management skills.

An analytics practicum provides hands-on experience. Small classes promote personalized learning. Admission requires a bachelor's degree and a statistics course with a minimum B grade.

Average Tuition
In-state
$54,550
Out-of-state
$54,550
Retention Rate
96%
Admission Rate
28%
Students Enrolled
10,848
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
23% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#9 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

Syracuse University

  • Syracuse, NY
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,782
Out of State | $1,782

Credits to Graduate
34 

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

Syracuse's iSchool specializes in information studies. Students can complete the iSchool's 34-credit master's in applied data science in 18 months. Enrollees explore issues such as big data and business analytics. Students learn data administration and database management techniques.

Learners can tailor the degree with one of three specializations. These include language analytics, data and business analytics, and data pipelines and platforms. Students showcase their talents with a portfolio of completed projects. Applicants need a bachelor's degree.

Average Tuition
In-state
$50,616
Out-of-state
$50,616
Retention Rate
92%
Admission Rate
44%
Students Enrolled
22,850
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education
#10 Best Online Master’s in Data Science Programs

Southern Methodist University

  • Dallas, TX
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

100% Online | Scheduled Classes

Avg. Cost per Credit
In State | $1,704
Out of State | $1,704

Credits to Graduate
33.5

Program Information
Program Accreditation | N/A 

Based in Dallas, Texas, SMU offers an online master's in data science. The program blends interactive coursework, online classes, and group activities. Students can complete 33.5 credits in 20-28 months. The curriculum offers two specializations: machine learning and business analytics.

Students benefit from access to employers in Dallas' strong tech and healthcare sectors. Enrollees pay the same tuition regardless of residency. Applicants need a bachelor's degree.

Average Tuition
In-state
$50,200
Out-of-state
$50,200
Retention Rate
91%
Admission Rate
47%
Students Enrolled
11,824
Institution Type
Private
Percent Online Enrollment
10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Accreditation
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

Popular Online Master's Data Science Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

How We Rank Schools

In order to create the Best Online Master's in Data Science ranking, the BestColleges Rankings Team sourced the most recent data available from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Navigator, both of which are hosted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

We identified 149 schools that qualify for our ranking list, and then applied our proprietary ranking methodology to identify the best schools offering this program in the nation. Each school is ranked based on a formula measuring academic factors (50%), affordability (25%), and the availability and popularity of online programs (25%).

How Do I Pay for a Master's Degree in Data Science?

Data Science Curriculum

Most online master's in data science programs require 36-45 credits. Many programs also include an internship requirement, and most courses feature projects and other hands-on components.

Many programs culminate in a capstone project, asking students to apply their theoretical data science knowledge to create a model, make a decision, or solve a problem.

Completion times for data science programs vary. Depending on whether they enroll full or part time, most learners can earn a master's degree in 1-3 years.

Courses

  • Math for Data Scientists
  • Applied Statistics
  • Practical Machine Learning
  • Database Systems and Data Preparation
  • Decision Analytics

Specializations

In addition to completing core coursework, students can often pursue a specialization or concentration. Options may include the following focus areas:

  • Business Analytics: This specialization teaches learners to use and synthesize qualitative and quantitative data to help businesses make strategic and optimal decisions.
  • Data Engineering: In this specialization, degree-seekers learn to build systems that collect, manage, and convert raw data into usable information for data scientists and business analysts to interpret. Data engineers may learn about both hardware and software.
  • Machine Learning: In this specialization, students learn several techniques to create self-optimizing systems that can improve themselves and solve problems or improve processes in business.

Admission Requirements

The specific admission requirements for master's in data science programs vary by school, although most programs ask for many of the same materials.

Most programs require a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, like math or computer science. However, some programs accept candidates with a bachelor's degree in any discipline. In these cases, prospective students must usually have completed some relevant computer science coursework, or they may be asked to take additional introductory courses during their first few terms.

Additional requirements commonly include official transcripts, a resume, 1-3 letters of recommendation, a short essay or statement of purpose, and GRE scores.

Online vs. On-Campus Data Science Master's Programs

There are several factors that prospective data science students should consider when deciding between online and on-campus enrollment. Data science translates fairly well to distance learning, and there usually aren't significant differences in completion times, quality, or costs between online and on-campus options.

Nevertheless, think about whether you might prefer the support and structure of an in-person cohort. While you can replicate some of this feeling through synchronous, cohort-based online learning, in-person coursework still likely provides the most structure.

If you need additional flexibility, asynchronous online learning without scheduled class times is likely the best choice. You may also be able to choose between full-time and part-time learning options.

Accreditation

In general, accreditation is an important factor to consider when choosing a graduate program.

While there isn't a specific programmatic accrediting agency for data science programs, some degrees that focus on business analytics may be accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the International Accreditation Council for Business Education, or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Students should also be sure to attend a school that holds institutional accreditation from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Master's in Data Science Alternatives

A full master's program in data science isn't the right fit for every student. Based on your individual goals and circumstances, a professional certification, bootcamp, or massive open online course (MOOC) might provide a better fit. Read on to learn more about these alternative options.

Certifications

The purpose of earning a professional certification in data science is to demonstrate a specialized skill or skill set without having to pay for an entire master's degree. Data science professionals can pursue many certifications to stand out in specific areas of their field, including:

  • Certified Analytics Professional
  • IBM Data Science Professional
  • SAS Certified Data Scientist
  • Microsoft Certified: Azure AI Fundamentals
  • Cloudera Data Platform Generalist
  • Google Data Analytics Professional Certificate

Bootcamps

Bootcamps are intensive learning experiences provided over a short timeline — usually lasting a few weeks or months — that teach students comprehensive skills in fields like software development and data science.

Bootcamps often provide a solid middle ground between professional certification and a full master's program. Bootcamps can provide students with many important data science skills without the time commitment of a full master's program.

Massive Open Online Courses

In addition to bootcamps and professional certifications, students can enroll in MOOCs to learn more about data science. These courses, provided through companies like edX and Coursera and universities like Harvard, are often free. However, if you're interested in receiving a certificate of completion, you'll likely need to pay a small fee.

These programs often provide basic knowledge in the field. Some data science professionals also complete MOOCs as a form of continuing education.

What Can I Do With a Master's In Data Science?

Career Outlook

Many students ultimately decide to pursue an online master's in data science because it can lead to promising and in-demand careers. For example, between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 22% job growth for computer and information research scientists. As of May 2021, these professionals earned a median annual wage of $131,490.

Additionally, according to Payscale, careers like data scientists and machine learning engineers pay average salaries near or in the six figures. Data science degree-holders can also find work in related information technology fields, serving as database administrators or database architects.

See where a master's in data science can take you. Learn more about data science careers.

Career Paths

Database Administrator or Architect

These professionals create and manage databases to store and protect an organization's data. They often work for firms that store a lot of data, typically working regular hours in an office setting. They usually need a bachelor's degree or higher in a computer-related field. A master's in data science can provide an advantage when competing for jobs.

Median Annual Salary: $98,860 (May 2020)

Computer and Information Research Scientist

Computer and information research scientists figure out new uses for computer-related technologies. They often work full time in office settings at information technology companies. They usually need a master's degree in a relevant field, although job candidates can apply for some federal government jobs with only a bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $131,490 (May 2021)

Data Scientist

Data scientists use their analytical and programming skills to collect large data sets and then use data to solve real-world problems, often in the business world. These professionals usually need a bachelor's degree or higher, and a master's in data science can qualify you for many of the top jobs in this field.

Average Annual Salary: $97,580 (July 2022)

Machine Learning Engineer

Machine learning engineers design and build machine learning systems to solve practical problems for businesses and organizations. These professionals usually need a relevant master's degree, as well as significant professional experience with machine learning.

Average Annual Salary: $113,210 (July 2022)

Data Engineer

Data engineers work in a variety of settings to build systems that collect, manage, and convert raw data into usable information. Their goal is to make data more accessible and understandable. Job candidates usually need a relevant master's degree to qualify for positions.

Average Annual Salary: $93,520 (July 2022)

Data Science Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

What Are the Benefits of a Master's In Data Science Degree?


Earn an Advanced Degree

An advanced degree in any field can open the door to additional job opportunities with more responsibilities.


Enter an In-Demand Field

Data science is among the most sought-after skills in the current job market. For example, between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects 22% job growth for computer and information research scientists.


Gain a Comprehensive Skill Set

The main advantage of a master's program over a bootcamp, professional certificate, or MOOC is the depth of study. Master's in data science programs provide you with a complete skill set, helping you thrive in the field.


Increase Your Earning Potential

According to Payscale and the BLS, most data science careers pay average salaries above $90,000. While no degree guarantees a job, a master's degree in data science is an excellent investment in your future earning potential.


Gain Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

A master's program in data science isn't easy. However, if you work hard to get through coursework, you can gain invaluable critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied to many areas of your life.

Frequently Asked Questions About Data Science Programs

Is an online MS in data science worth it?

The overall value of any online degree depends on the individual student and their goals, means, and circumstances. Nevertheless, for many students, an online master's in data science is ultimately worth it.

Data science is among the most in-demand skills in the modern job marketplace. A master's in data science can give you access to high-paying and in-demand careers. The BLS projects significant demand for many computer- and data-related careers between 2020 and 2030. According to the BLS and Payscale, many data science careers come with six-figure salaries.

Is a master's in data science hard?

The curriculum of a master's in data science program is challenging for many learners. These programs require significant critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as a strong foundation in mathematics and computer science.

Data science students must be willing to work through difficult problems and simulations. However, while these programs can be difficult, the rewards are often great. Graduates can pursue high-paying careers with ample potential for advancement.

What degree is best for data science?

A master's in data science is a fitting degree for students who want to pursue careers in the field. While a bachelor's degree in computer science or math can lead to entry-level careers, a master's in data science can lead to more lucrative positions with additional responsibilities.

While you can pursue a doctoral degree in data or computer science, this option is fairly rare. Terminal degrees are an excellent fit for students who aspire to academic and research roles, but data science professionals who want to work in machine learning, artificial intelligence, or business analytics generally only need a master's degree.

What is the best online institute for data science?

The best online institute for data science depends on your individual goals and circumstances. It also likely depends on your undergraduate grades and transcript. You should look for a program that provides coursework relevant to your goals at a tuition price you can afford.

Based on data collected by the BestColleges team, we ranked Northwestern University as the top school for online data science programs. Check out our rankings page to learn more about why.

Feature Image: Tom Werner / DigitalVision / Getty Images

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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