What to Look for in a Graduate Program When You Want a Career in Big Data

By Jason Williamson

You’ve made the decision to attend graduate school as the next step in your path to toward a career in big data, but where should you go? There are the obvious factors to consider, like the cost of the program, but what else should you consider? You probably have a lot of questions rolling around like:

Does the school brand matter? How will I get a job later? How long will this take?

Universities operate in an extremely competitive environment, just like commercial product companies. There are a limited number of students at the caliber they want, so they have as much in the game as you do in the selection process. So, look beyond the typical factors like cost, program, and location. You should also consider:

  • Time to completion: Most masters programs take two years, but many degrees with a focus on big data, like masters of analytics, can be completed in ten months. Programs like this typically are cohort-based and run through the summer.

    A cohort is a group of students that move together through a program. Executive and part-time programs allow students to keep their full-time jobs. Part-time programs are similar to full-time, but just not as many hours per semester. These take as long as you like until you complete your degree. Executive programs tend to also be in a cohort and usually do classes on the weekends. These usually run for one and a half to two years.

  • Real-world exposure: Almost every glossy brochure speaks of “real-world application,” but what does that really mean? Take a look beyond the sales pitch and read over the classes and descriptions. How do they apply what you’re learning to the real world? Does the school use a case-based approach or is it all textbook? Will you have projects that require you to engage with companies?

    Make sure there is a mix of faculty that maintains close connections to industries in which you’d like to work.

  • Alumni network: You’re going to graduate school to land a job in big data. Getting a job isn’t just about taking classes, applying for a job, and collecting a check. Consider the strength of the alumni network, which you’ll be able to leverage for a lifetime.

  • Corporate connections: As you consider the strength of the alumni network, you should also consider the corporate connections your school and, more specifically, your program have. How do you determine that? What companies consistently come to job fairs? Get the list of the companies where graduates are now employed. Schools with a strong corporate connection will publish this type of list.