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If you have an interest in computer information systems, you may be considering if you should earn a master's in technology in information systems. If so, this guide can help you with some key decisions.

Information systems consist of a number of component parts--each of which may be complex in its own right--and those parts must be coordinated to work together effectively. In some ways, earning a master's in information systems is a similar process. There are a series of individual decisions to be made, and each issue must be examined in sequence so you can move through the process efficiently. This guide will examine the following sequence of steps:

  1. Deciding to pursue a master's in information systems. Graduate school isn't for everybody, but to many, it can be an effective way to better understand a certain field and become more valuable in the workplace. This guide outlines some of the benefits of earning a master's degree and lists some of the career paths you can pursue with an MS in information systems.
  2. Researching a master's in information systems. If you decide to pursue your master's in information systems, your next step should be to start researching graduate schools. This guide will point you toward some information sources that can help you identify suitable master's programs and also give you some tips on preparing for graduate school.
  3. Evaluating graduate information systems programs. Chances are that your research will show you have plenty of choices when it comes to schools offering an MS in information systems, especially these days with opportunities to earn a master's degree online having become so prevalent. To decide among all these choices, you'll need a list of criteria to use when evaluating graduate schools. This guide can help you narrow down your list.
  4. Applying to graduate schools in information systems. Applying to graduate school involves meeting a number of deadlines. This guide can give you a feel for what to expect so you can plan your work accordingly.
  5. Pursuing a career with an MS in information systems. Your graduate degree should give you knowledge to better prepare you for the workplace, but there are other things you can do to add to your competitive edge. This guide concludes with some career-enhancing tips.

Moving forward then, your first decision is whether you want to pursue a master's in information systems.

Deciding to Pursue a Master's in Information Systems

Pursuing a master's in information systems--which is typically an MS in information systems--can have a number of advantages. Here are some prominent examples:

  • It can deepen your understanding of information systems. This understanding involves both how information systems are structured and how they are applied in government, academia, and the private sector. Information systems range from relatively simple structures in small organizations to far-flung systems with thousands of users processing vast amounts of data. A graduate education in information systems should help you better understand the more complex aspects of the field.
  • It can update your knowledge about information systems. Computer science is a rapidly developing field. Not only is the technology itself changing all the time, but the way systems interact with the Internet and how databases are accessed and analyzed are also in a constant state of change. Even if you have some experience working with information systems, earning a master's degree now could be an ideal way of bringing your knowledge up to date.
  • It can make you more competitive in the job market. While there are many information systems jobs that do not require a master's degree, some employers prefer them, and having a master's could enhance your prospects for promotion. While job growth in information systems is expected to be strong, it never hurts to gain an added edge.
  • It can be a stepping stone to a doctorate degree. If you have your sights set on a career in academia, your eventual goal may be to earn a PhD. If so, earning an MS in information systems could be a necessary step toward that goal.

A master's in information systems is likely to teach you about topics such as systems design, IT project management, data-driven technologies, enterprise systems management, and advanced systems architecture. Given the breadth and depth of these topics, mastering them requires an education beyond a four-year bachelor's degree.

Armed with knowledge in the above areas, you could be able to apply for several types of jobs. Some examples include:

  • Systems analyst
  • Database administrator
  • Systems architect
  • Database programmer
  • Information engineer
  • Chief information officer
  • Web master
  • IT project manager

In short, earning a master's in information systems can not only deepen your knowledge of the field, but it can also give you a broad range of choices in the job market.

Researching a Master's in Information Systems

If the benefits of earning a master's in information systems are enough to make you decide to pursue this degree, then your next step should be to start gathering information on appropriate master's programs. Even if you already have some preferences about the size or location of the school you want to enroll in, or whether you want to attend classes on campus or earn a master's degree online, it can be useful in the early stages to stay open to all the possibilities, and then narrow down your choices later in the process.

The following are some information sources that can help you identify those possibilities:

  • Online college guides and directories. Don't make the mistake of assuming that online guides are just for people who plan to earn a master's degree online; for example, WorldWideLearn.com is an online resource that has information on both campus-based and online master's degree programs. In addition, WorldWideLearn.com offers a number of education resources, including information on financial aid.
  • Published college rankings. National publications like Kiplinger's and US News & World Report regularly run extensive articles on college degree programs, including rankings according to a variety of criteria.
  • The U.S. Department of Education. The Department of Education is a definitive source of information on applying for federal financial aid, and can also help you better understand how the college accreditation system works.
  • School Web sites. As you start to narrow down your search, visiting different college Web sites can help you find out details about topics from admissions requirements to job placement statistics. They can also give you a feel for what special areas of emphasis a program may have.

Once you have used these resources to generate a list of potential programs, you can turn your attention to finding the ones that suit your career goals and current lifestyle.

Evaluating Graduate Information Systems Programs

As someone who is interested in information systems, you probably recognize that managing information depends on having an orderly process for screening and analyzing data. Evaluating graduate programs can be viewed as just this sort of information management process. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by the facts or finding yourself considering different attributes out of context, you can decide in advance which factors are most important to you in choosing a graduate school and then apply those criteria systematically against the list of programs you've identified.

Some examples of criteria for evaluating graduate information systems programs are as follows:

  • Accreditation status. Accreditation is very important--your degree only has credibility if it comes from a program which has been approved by a widely-recognized accreditation agency. The issue of accreditation is confused by the fact that accreditation agencies vary by region and area of academic discipline, and not all accreditation organizations meet U.S. Department of Education standards. The Department of Education's Web site is a good source of information on specific accreditation agencies.
  • Admissions standards. Looking at a school's range and average of student test scores and undergraduate grades should give you a feel for how your credentials stack up. There's nothing wrong with aiming high to try to get into a more challenging and prestigious program, but if you do, just make sure you have a back-up plan as well.
  • Cost. The harsh reality is that cost may have to be a significant factor in your choice of graduate schools. However, don't make any final decisions based on cost until you've weighed your financial aid options. You may be able to save money on relocation or commuting costs if you earn a master's degree online.
  • Facilities and resources. Research facilities can be important in any course of study, but students earning a degree in information systems should pay special attention to the technological resources at the programs you are considering.
  • Course offerings and curricular emphasis. Information systems is a broad field of study comprising several highly-detailed topics. If there are topics that are especially important to you, then you'll want to make sure the programs you are considering offer coursework in those subjects or offer opportunities to specialize in those areas.
  • Location. This won't be an issue if you decide to earn a master's degree online, but if you opt for an on-campus program, location may be a major factor. Are you willing to relocate for your master's degree program or do you need to find a school close to home?
  • Scheduling flexibility. If you are trying to fit your master's studies around a work schedule or family obligations, you'll want to look for programs that offer evening or weekend hours to accommodate this. You should also consider online master's degree programs if you need more scheduling flexibility.
  • Faculty. Both the size of the program's faculty (relative to the number of students) and its quality may factor into your decision. Some indicators of quality include degrees earned, publishing histories, and professional experience.
  • Reputation. A well-regarded program could ultimately make you a more attractive job candidate. Read up on the reputations of different schools, and check out placement statistics to see how well a program's graduates are received in the job market.
  • Campus environment. If You choose an online master's degree program, you don' t need to worry about this, but if you decide to attend graduate school on campus, you should make sure that the campus environment is one you'll thrive in.

Once you have the list of possibilities narrowed down to two or three finalists, you can turn your attention to the application process.

Applying to Graduate Schools in Information Systems

There are multiple elements involved in applying to graduate school, and you should plan out your work well in advance to make sure everything gets done in time.

Here are some of the things you can expect to be required when applying for graduate school:

  • Application forms. Every school's forms might be a little different, so attention to detail is very important when completing your application forms.
  • Financial aid applications. Since financial aid might have a bearing on which school you choose to attend, you should try to research your financial aid options as early in the process as possible.
  • Standardized test scores. If the schools you are applying to require you to take a standardized test like the GRE or GMAT, be sure to look into the test schedule well in advance so you can complete the requirement by the school's deadline.
  • Undergraduate transcript. Allow plenty of lead time when requesting transcripts, and be sure you've checked your transcript for accuracy before you start making it available to graduate schools.
  • Letters of recommendation. Be considerate of the people writing letters on your behalf by giving them plenty of time to complete those letters and by helping them out with some suggestions of relevant points to touch on in those letters.

Many information systems jobs require good project management skills, and planning out the application process gives you an opportunity to exercise those skills.

Pursuing a Career with Your MS in Information Systems

Your MS in information systems may prepare you for a variety of jobs, but you can help your career prospects even more if you do the following:

  • Read technical and trade journals. Since "state-of-the-art" is a moving target, you could benefit from regular reading about new developments regarding information systems technology and applications.
  • Gain relevant experience. Education and experience are a potent combination. Even if it is just part-time work or an internship, getting some practical experience on your resume to go along with your degree should make you more attractive to prospective employers.
  • Join a professional society. Becoming a member of a local or national group dedicated to information systems can give you access to hands-on information about the profession, not to mention valuable networking contacts.

According to projections by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer technology should continue to be a strong growth field in the years ahead. Earning your MS in Information Systems could be a big step in helping you become part of that growth.

Sources

  • Purpose. Association for Information Systems
  • Graduate School Information Guide. Computing Research Association
  • Master of Science Information Systems. DePaul University
  • Master's in Information Systems. George Mason University
  • Computer and Information Systems. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • The Database of Accredited Post-Secondary Institutions and Programs. U.S. Department of Education

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