Master’s in Information Systems
If you have a keen interest in the internal systems (e.g., hardware and software) and processes used to collect and deliver information within an organization, then pursuing a master’s in information systems degree might be the perfect fit for you. With the continual technological innovations occurring at a rapid pace, and the ever-increasing amount of data flooding enterprises from a myriad of data sources, information systems must also evolve. Thus, the demand for high-quality information systems managers will persist over the next 8 years.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the job outlook for Computer and Information Systems Managers (CISM) is expected to grow faster than average (12%) through the year 2026. As of May 2017, the median yearly pay for CISMs is $139,220, with a majority holding a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in information systems, computer science, and/or mathematics.
For comparison, the outlook for computer scientists is higher (19%) than for CISMs, but the median yearly compensation is $114,520 — roughly $25,000 less per annum. Data scientist median salaries have a broader range, landing somewhere between $95,000 and $165,000. While data scientists definitely top the list in terms of potential earning power, their educational requirements are heavily focused on graduate level math with varying doses of computer programming. Ph.D.s tend to be the priority for employers seeking data scientists (this may change — but, still stands true for now).
Frequently, a background in business via several years of experience in a given industry or completing a Master’s in Business Administration is an additional requirement for many employers advertising for an information systems expert. So, the information systems discipline combines knowledge of internal and external business logic with designing and implementing information architecture; this often includes database design. As a result, many (but not all) Master’s in Information Systems degree programs are housed within a university’s business school for the reasons stated above.
Why Information Systems?
The significant difference between an IS degree and, say, a computer science or data science degree is the amount of math and programming required. Granted, each university or college will have a different minimum math requirement, and a majority of MIS programs (in the U.S.) expect students to have experience with an object-oriented programming language (notably Java or Python) either before enrolling or during the completion of the Master’s level degree.
For the most part, careers involving information systems will place you as the intermediary between all of the stakeholders within an enterprise: programmers, end users, other management and departments, and C-level executives. Consequently, you’ll need to be comfortable communicating with each participant (whether on a group or at an individual level) and understand how IS decisions impact their interaction with the enterprise.
While you may never be tasked with sitting down and programming software or building a predictive model, it’s highly likely that you’ll need to understand — to some extent — how such projects are carried out. As a matter of fact, if your objective is to enter Management of Information Systems, or you perform your job so well that you’re quickly elevated to a management position, you’ll be involved in project management in some capacity.
Depending on your Master’s program of choice — several universities offer “tracks” that combine information systems with cybersecurity, data analytics, data science or software engineering — a Master’s in Information Systems is perfect for those techies who either don’t have the time to sit through hours of advanced math and engineering courses or for those who want to stay in the tech field but don’t wish to move beyond an undergraduate Calculus course.
Indeed, there are programs where only college-level algebra is the minimum standard for entry. Such Master’s degrees are designed to give a high-level entry into a more tech-intensive role and tend to focus on students who are entering the field from other disciplines (e.g., healthcare, education, government, etc.). There is a caveat with regard to essential background knowledge: admission requirements often include achieving a baseline score on the GMAT or GRE — both exams have quantitative sections which consist of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis (or some form of applied problem solving using math).
Which Master’s in Information Systems Program is Right for Me?
To be forthright, only you can decide which IS Master’s program fits your personal and professional goals. And the “right fit” is further dependent upon the amount of time and money you are able to dedicate to completing the coursework. Fortunately, there are plenty of options to choose from, both online and in-person. The list below is a snapshot of the available online programs for a Master’s in Information Systems or a Master’s in Information Technology. There is an additional caveat that bears explaining.
Many schools list Information Technology or Management of Information Systems as opposed to MIS. The central differential between information technology (IT) and information systems is that IT focuses explicitly on the hardware and software — it can be considered a subsector of IS.
On the other hand, while IS incorporates hardware and software, it can include any type of information system (e.g., when speaking with someone in person, you become the information system); in our age of all things digital, we tend to automatically assume that an information system is always computerized. Moreover, a Master’s in Management of Information Systems provides specific business-oriented managerial processes and leans much more towards an MBA-type of learning trajectory.
Almost every U.S. university offers on-campus Master’s in Information Systems or Master’s in Information Technology options. Thus, if you’re residing in the U.S. check with your local university to determine admission requirements and tuition rates. Other online MIS or MIT programs do exist, and several additional Ivy League schools have finally embraced the reality that online degrees don’t necessarily devalue their Ivy League status.
If you’re not entirely sure that a Master’s degree is something you want to commit to — the maximum commitment is 24 months with several programs having fast-track options for completing the degree in 12 months — then earning a certification might be the best decision; it will give you the opportunity to “dip your toe” into the subject matter. Coursera and edX have certification tracks in IT Fundamentals, Database Fundamentals, Health Care It, Cybersecurity and other short courses (4 to 6 weeks) that are related to individual courses you would take within a Master’s degree program.
Whichever approach you choose, the job outlook for information systems and information technology experts is currently increasing and isn’t expected to level off any time soon. Compared to the other more time and math-intensive degrees in technology and their expected median salaries, an MIS or MIT degree (along with industry experience) is an equally worthwhile investment of time and money – one that could lead to a higher paying role as a CTO, CIO, or other C-level position.