Earning a Master's in Information Systems Online

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On average, highly educated and experienced computer science professionals earn some of the top salaries in the U.S. As a result, the number of computer science undergraduates has doubled over the last 25 years. Additionally, computer science careers, especially those related to information systems, continue to expand faster than the average for all occupations.

To open yourself to the most lucrative positions in this field, consider earning a master of science in information systems online. In this article, you can learn about topics relevant to your future degree and career: financial aid, courses, professional organizations, and career paths.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Information Systems?

Two main groups of prospective students explore online master's in information systems. The first group includes college students and recent college graduates who want to jump-start their careers by completing additional education. To them, a master's program presents a perfect opportunity: a way to gain specialized knowledge in an information systems subfield. The second group includes working professionals who want to advance their careers through additional education. These individuals may decide between a master's degree or professional certification.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Information Systems?

Pursuing Specialization

Most master's programs boast one or more specializations that allow you to personalize your education for the career path you desire. For example, an artificial intelligence specialization prepares you for careers at research universities and government institutes. Likewise, an information systems management specialization prepares you to work in a managerial role. Finally, information systems security prepares you to work in cybersecurity-related careers.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Your future boss may care more about your abilities than your education, but many corporations still prefer to promote employees who possess both experience and advanced degrees. With an advanced degree, you can expect to gain more responsibility at your job and demonstrate your skills faster than employees with just a bachelor's. An advanced degree can also impact your salary; new employees with advanced degrees often earn higher starting salaries.

Online Learning Technology

If you have no experience with online learning technology, you may question its effectiveness. You need not worry. Online learning software facilitates face-to-face interaction with professors and peers, provides a simple way to view lectures, and allows you to submit assignments easily. Research university websites to learn more about how they help distance learners with online learning technology; many include free tutorials that let you simulate the online learning experience.

Prerequisites for Online Information Systems Programs

Online master's degree in information systems programs require applicants to meet many prerequisites. The components below may not apply to every program you research, so pay close attention to each school's specific requirements.

    • Work Experience: Plenty of programs accept students who earn their master's degrees immediately after college. The programs that do require work experience often include specialized courses wherein students build upon not only their undergraduate education, but also what they learn at their jobs. These programs act as a bridge that experienced students can use to take on management-level positions.
    • Exams and Test Scores: The GRE or GMAT remains a requirement for many master of science in information systems online programs. For the GMAT, set a score goal for yourself of 660, which puts you above 75% of all test takers. You score above the same percentage of test takers if you earn a 157 on the GRE. Of course, higher scores make you more competitive. Each university sets its policy for how long GRE and GMAT scores remain valid. However, many institutions do not specify a minimum score, and some schools do not ask for standardized test scores at all.
    • Coursework: Most programs require that applicants possess a bachelor's degree in computer science, information systems, or a similar subject. Some programs accept students without the necessary technical knowledge if they first take some foundational courses. These classes could extend the program by up to one year.
    • Recommendations: You need recommendation letters for each application you submit. If you have no work experience, letters should come exclusively from former college professors, preferably those who taught you courses related to information systems. If you have relevant work experience, inquire if you can submit letters from work supervisors.
    • Essays: Most programs to which you apply will require one or more essays. Topics tend to focus on information systems, such as your academic or professional experience with the subject. When writing your essays, emphasize your personal and professional accomplishments.
    • Interviews: To judge whether you are a good candidate for online learning, some online programs may require that you complete a Skype or telephone interview with an admissions counselor, professor, or department chair.
    • International Students: The online classroom allows international students to earn their degrees online without expensive travel and student visas. If you live abroad, you should first determine whether the programs on your shortlist satisfy the degree requirements set by your home country's employers. Not all programs educate students living in other nations.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Information Systems?

After graduating, anticipate earning a median salary of $50,000-$100,000 at your first information systems job. Factors such as networking, internships, professional certifications, geographical location, and company size all influence your starting salary. However, with an online master's degree in information systems, you possess a highly versatile skill set that, as you gain experience, translates into promotion and a higher salary. In the following section, learn more about traditional careers and salary growth potential for information systems master's graduates.

Traditional Careers for Information Systems Graduates

Career Stats Description

Computer Programmer

Entry-Level Salary: $54,148

Late-Career Salary: $83,741

Computer programmers create the software that allows computer hardware to function. They collaborate with hardware engineers to ensure that hardware and software work together smoothly. Programmers share many job responsibilities with software developers.

Ideal for: Professionals who desire an office-based, full-time position that stresses technical and interpersonal skills.

Computer Systems Analyst

Entry-Level Salary: $58,845

Late-Career Salary: $81,972

As the name suggests, computer systems analysts analyze organizations' computer systems to find problems and propose solutions. Excellent computer systems analysts improve computer systems' efficiency without costly hardware or software upgrades.

Ideal for: Professionals who enjoy identifying challenges and finding creative solutions.

Database Administrator

Entry-Level Salary: $61,093

Late-Career Salary: $92,305

Database administrators grant database access to authorized users while blocking unauthorized users and hackers. Also, they ensure database integrity through backing up files and upgrading databases when necessary.

Ideal for: Highly organized and analytical information systems professionals who can process a large amount of information.

Network and Computer Systems

Entry-Level Salary: $61,926

Late-Career Salary: $81,100

Network and computer systems administrators ensure that their organizations' networks and computer systems run smoothly, allowing employees to work unimpeded by hacking attempts or network outages. They also train users on how to use the network responsibly.

Ideal for: Technically-minded information systems graduates interested in security.

Additional Careers for Information Systems Master's Graduates

Career Stats Description

Computer and Information Systems

Entry-Level Salary: $64,821

Late-Career Salary: $96,455

Computer and information systems managers often act as IT directors within their organizations. They delegate work to teams, research their organization's technology needs, and plan budgets for new hardware and software.

Ideal for: Professionals who possess strong management skills.

Information Security Analyst

Entry-Level Salary: $64,685

Late-Career Salary: $94,448

Information security analysts research, develop, and install security measures for their organizations' computer networks. After installation, they use their hacking skills to test the network resilience against outside attack.

Ideal for: Individuals interested in encryption, disaster recovery, and the latest trends in cybersecurity.

Software Developer

Entry-Level Salary: $65,270

Late-Career Salary: $94,906

Software developers create software to fit their employer's or client's needs. They also analyze organizations' existing software in order to make improvements. Software developers often work alongside other information systems professionals to accomplish their goals.

Ideal for: Team players with requisite technical knowledge who enjoy creating new programs.

Computer and Information

Entry-Level Salary: $69,719

Late-Career Salary: $119,189

Computer and information research scientists create the next generation of software by analyzing their employers' needs and trends in the computing field. Their work involves performing experiments and writing research articles.

Ideal for: Candidates who want to work in academia or at major research institutions alongside other researchers.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Information Systems

Tuition Timelines

When it comes to selecting a master's in information systems online, you can choose between part-time, full-time, and accelerated paths. You can learn more about each option by reviewing three real-life examples.

Part-Time Path

Part-time learners do not take a full course load. Consequently, they have more time to take care of other tasks, such as work and childcare. Part-time students should look for schools that charge per credit instead of per semester.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Boston University
Total Credits Required: 40
Summary: Students can earn their degrees in 18-24 months, depending on if they take courses during the summer term. Boston charges approximately $30,000 in tuition and fees. Part-time students do not benefit from locked-in pricing that full-time students receive, which allows full-time students to take additional courses at no extra cost.

Full-Time Path

Full-time graduate students take about three courses per semester, depending on the specific program. Online learners can earn their degree in two years or less. Some schools charge tuition per semester instead of per credit. Full-time learners can save thousands of dollars at these institutions.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Maryland
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: In-state students pay $17,460 for their degrees; out-of-state students pay $23,724. Additional fees may apply to both in-state and out-of-state students. At UMUC, the full-time, part-time, and accelerated paths charge the same tuition rate.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated programs allow learners to graduate in a short amount of time. Many schools offer dual-degree options that enable learners to earn a bachelor's and master's simultaneously.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Northwestern University
Total Credits Required: 9
Summary: This unique information systems program only accepts applicants who earned a bachelor's in information systems from Northwestern's online School of Professional Studies. The program resembles many four-plus-one programs that grant bachelor's and master's degrees after five years of intensive coursework. Students can earn their master's in just one semester for $49,434-$50,754. This figure does not include students' undergraduate tuition leading up to the graduate component.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Due to the need for trained information systems professionals, many scholarships, grants, and other forms of financial aid can help you finance your master's in information systems online. Each of the five scholarships below accepts applications from graduate students studying information systems and related computer topics.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Information Systems Program

In this section, you can learn more about the milestones, courses, and professional certifications associated with an online master's degree in information systems. A typical master's program requires 36 credits and takes two years to complete. Taking courses online, you may attend live lectures at a set time or view recorded lectures at your leisure. Your virtual classroom experience will also connect you to professors and peers through real-time conferencing and message boards facilitated by learning management software such as Blackboard.

Major Milestones

  1. Complete Core Curriculum - First year of program

    At the beginning of your information system master's online program, you must complete the core curriculum. These seven to nine courses convey the technical knowledge that all information systems professionals must possess. Once you have mastered these skills, you can select a concentration.

  2. Declare a Concentration - End of first year of program

    Depending on your program, you may have the opportunity to declare a concentration at the end of your first year. Declaring your concentration locks you in to taking specific electives over the next one to two years as you complete other milestones.

  3. Internship and Practicums - Second year of program

    Internships and practicums play a vital role in personalizing your educational experience. If you work full- or part-time while earning your degree, your university may let you complete these experiences at your job site. Practicums typically last a few weeks, while internships can last between six months and one year depending on the requirements.

  4. Thesis Preparation and Defense - Final year of program

    As you enter your program's final year, you begin crafting your thesis, an extended research paper that addresses an issue facing information systems in the 21st century. Start early, as performing research and writing the paper may take months or a year to complete. When you finish, you defend your thesis in front of professors and fellow peers.

  5. Apply to Doctoral Programs - Approximately six months before graduation

    If you plan to start a doctoral program immediately after your master's, you must submit your applications at least six months in advance. Preparing your applications can require up to two additional months, so give yourself plenty of time to submit all necessary materials. If you do not plan to further your education, use this time to start your job search.

  6. Certification Exams - Just before or after graduation

    Certification exams play an important role in obtaining your first job after graduation. For this reason, schedule exams just before or after you earn your degree. To raise your score, seek out official study guides and other test preparation materials well before your exam dates.

Coursework

Although each school offers unique courses, nearly all master's in information systems online programs share a standard core curriculum. Below, you can learn more about five courses you will likely take during your master's program.

Business Communicatio

Business communication courses involve essential communication skills such as how to write white papers and proposals. In class, students also practice their speaking and persuasive skills, which will come in handy during business meetings and other in-person events. Students typically take this course during their first semester.

Information Systems for Managers

This course teaches students how to use their information systems knowledge in a managerial role. Students analyze real-life examples to understand different ways organizations implement information systems strategies. Students take this course near the end of their program, after mastering other advanced information systems topics.

Systems Design and Analysis

Students learn primarily through hands-on interaction with the latest information systems software and computer languages. Learners work in groups and on their own to create unique and functional information systems architecture that solves a problem.

Cybersecurity

Although many universities offer specialized master's programs in cybersecurity, the topic remains a key pillar of information systems education. Through studying hacking techniques and the latest cybersecurity software, students gain skills necessary to protect their future employers' networks and work alongside cybersecurity team members.

Information Systems Strategy

This course evolves each semester so students can learn about the latest changes in the information systems profession. Course topics include new technologies and the field's latest developments. Students should take the course near the end of their master's program to gain the most current information.

Requirements to Practice

Near the end of your online master's in information systems, you may consider earning one or more professional certifications. Many high-paying careers require certifications to ensure that job applicants possess the skills necessary to succeed on the job. The four certificates below cover information systems concepts, and earning them could translate into a shorter job search and a higher starting salary. Keep in mind that some certifications require work experience, and even after earning the certificate, you may need to earn a certain number of continuing education (CE) hours each year to keep it valid.

    • Certified Information Systems Security Professional: Passing the CISSP exam signifies that information systems professionals can protect networks from outside attacks. As of 2018, the exam cost $699. CISSP requires five years of work experience, but the sponsoring organization offers an associate certification for recent graduates. Certification qualifies professionals to work as cybersecurity auditors or engineers.
    • Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control: Earning a CRISC certification can boost IT risk analysts' career prospects. The certification requires three years of experience and an exam. The four-hour exam costs $725; the sponsoring agency offers the exam during two three-month periods each year. Test takers who become sponsoring agency members receive a $185 discount.
    • Certified Information Systems Auditor: As the name suggests, CISA certification appeals to professionals working in IT auditing or controlling. Like CISSP, CISA requires five years of work experience and a passing exam score. Test takers have four hours to complete the $760 exam.
    • Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT: One of the most lucrative certifications, the CGEIT requires five years of experience. Applicants must work as managers for at least one of those years. The $595 exam covers enterprise IT, strategic management, and other governance topics. CGEIT holders often work as cybersecurity architects and security risk directors.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Whether you possess years of experience or just graduated college, joining a professional organization offers a host of benefits to help you succeed with your online master's in information systems. Professional organizations often slash membership fees for student members while providing the same resources -- CE courses, private job boards, and networking events -- that other members receive. In addition to these organizations, professional resources can help information systems graduate students complete their degrees and prepare for new careers. In this section, you can learn more about five organizations and five resources that can support you throughout your online information systems master's program.

  • Association for Information System: AIS promotes information systems education and research by connecting professionals throughout the world. Members receive access to AIS's extensive library, travel benefits, and career search resources.
  • Association for Women in Computing: For 40 years, AWC has connected women computer science professionals through its six national chapters. Members who cannot attend chapter meetings still benefit from AWC's mentoring and CE opportunities
  • Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility: CPSR educates the public and lawmakers on the latest advances in IT. CSPR members receive multiple benefits: healthcare coverage, conference invitations, networking forums, and free information systems publications.
  • Information Systems Audit and Control Association: ISACA acts as an independent regulatory agency that oversees and develops information systems tools. Student members gain access to ISACA's career center and receive discounts on information systems publications.
  • Society for Information Management: SIM attracts experienced information systems professionals, typically those who work in management-level positions. SIM offers its members in-person networking events, CE opportunities, and a plethora of online resources.
  • Free Application for Federal Student Aid: Once you know the graduate programs to which you plan to apply, fill out the FAFSA to discover if you qualify for federally backed grants, loans, and work-study opportunities. The FAFSA does not consider your age, degrees, or work experience when making financial aid determinations.
  • Information Systems: This research journal publishes the latest discoveries in information systems. Each article costs a small fee to read; consider each fee an investment into exploring potential career paths and staying informed about your field.
  • Department of Energy Computational Sciences Graduate Fellowship: This fellowship not only covers tuition, but also provides recipients an annual $37,000 stipend and an internship with the DOE. Fellows must perform research in a DOE-approved field of study.
  • Journal of Information Science: Another peer-reviewed academic journal, the Journal of Information Science publishes bi-monthly. Graduate students can submit original research for consideration; publishing academic research as a student can boost your reputation among prospective employers.
  • Dice: Dice helps IT job seekers find their perfect career by posting over 70,000 open positions. The website also hosts salary information for different careers, career path planning guides, and a blog that discusses information systems trends and news.