How to select the right Masters / MS program and specialization?

How to select the right MS Masters degree

The United States of America is a popular destination for a lot of Indian students pursuing their Masters or PhD degrees. In fact, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Indians choose USA as their degree destination more than any other country in the world. 64% of the students traveling to the US, for an education, are Graduate (American speak for Post Graduate) students. Only 12% are there to get their undergraduate degree.

There is a clear preference to the US for its class of Universities, funding options, precedence from previous students and the variety of specialities offered by their MS programs.

Here, in this article, we have attempted to put together everything that you might need to consider to make an educated and informed decision – how to decide about your MS.

An MS degree is designed to make an expert out of you, concentrated in a specific area – a specialty. So its choice obviously entails an understanding of a level of your past proficiency, the current availability of institutions, and courses offered, and finally how that MS is going to help you in the future. Your motivation could be derived from either as a requirement to eventually become a researcher, in the field, or perhaps to enhance your career prospects. An interest in the field being the common driving force.
 

How to choose the best Masters MS program and specialization?

If you are decided on pursuing your Masters, the choice of your specialization needs to be an informed one. For instance, there are nearly 20 different specializations in the Computer Science (CS) department. There’s Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, Computer Graphics, Data Processing, Information Technology, Software Engineering and more. If you want to pursue a Management Masters, there are many branches you can study there too. Finance, Entrepreneurship, Logistics and more.

While you could be already aware of your interests, based on your undergraduate coursework or projects, you might also be undecided. The best course of action, in which case, would be to do an in-depth research for your field of interest. The details of what specializations are available are beyond the scope of this article as each field has many branches that are best left for readers to research on their own.

One way to decide your specialization is by assessing its usefulness. It requires research into job trends. What are companies looking for? Is there a particular “hot” field that may be hiring more than others?
 

Most popular MS specializations

While not all jobs require an MS, to be hired, there are many specializations that can help you get ahead of others in terms of career growth. Based on studies done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), certain STEM fields indicate a typical raise in salaries, for MS graduates, as compared to their Bachelor degree graduates.

According to the study, fields like Mathematics and Statistics have the highest jump of 33%, followed by Environmental Sciences (29%) and Computer Sciences (26%). The details of growth in fields like Healthcare, Business, Education and others can be found here.

 

Here is a list of the top (not in order) paying Masters specializations based on data compiled by Payscale, the salary compensation data site, and BLS, for the year 2016-17. The list is based on highest salary in mid-career, that is after having 10+ years of work experience, satisfaction with the quality of the job and relevance to the international student population.
 

Specialization Expected Job Growth
in 10 years
Median Salary
(after 10+ years experience)
Top Schools
Biomedical Engineering 23% $129,000 Johns Hopkins University
Georgia Institute of Technology
University of California – San Diego
University of Washington
Chemical Engineering 2% $125,000 Arizona State University
University of Florida in Gainesville
Florida State University
Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Statistics
– Statistical Analyst
– Environmental Statistician
– Biometrician, etc)
34% $110,000 Stanford University
University of California – Berkeley
Harvard
University of Washington
Operations Research Analyst 30% $130,000 University of California – Berkeley
MIT
Stanford University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Computer and Information Technology 12% Average ~ $100,000 MIT
Carnegie Mellon University
University of Texas Austin
University of Minnesota (Carlson)
Management Information Systems 15% $108,000 MIT
Carnegie Mellon University
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
University of Arizona
Environmental Engineering 8-12% ~$100,000 Stanford University
University of Michigan
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
California Polytechnic State University
Systems Engineering* Civil: 20%
Environmental: 15%
Computer Hardware: 7%
Industrial: 5%
Electrical: 4%
Materials: 1%
$115,000 Cornell University
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Southern California
California Institute of Technology
Computer Engineering Hardware: 3%
Software Developer: 17%
Average ~ $120,000 MIT
Carnegie Mellon University
University of California – Berkeley
University of Texas Austin
Mathematics 21% Applied Mathematics: $120,000
Mathematics: $100,000
New York University
University of California – Los Angeles
California Institute of Technology
MIT

*Systems Engineering: An interdisciplinary field that combines various engineering background to solve real world complex problems.
 
The other popular fields are Nursing, Structural Engineering, Telecommunications Engineering, Finance, Chemistry and Physician Assistant Studies.

For Non-Technical fields, the most popular Masters specialities are Occupational Therapy, Communication, Public Relations and Education.

There are also general MS programs available in the US. These are designed for students who are still undecided. As a part of the curriculum, programs like general MS in Computer Science, have courses that touch upon the various specializations. You can keep yourself free to choose a specialization once you start your career thus following the ever popular generalist approach. (Read Generalist vs Specialist Career)

It is always recommended to try out internship opportunities available either during your undergrad or during the first year of your core coursework, in graduate school.
 

What if you want to switch disciplines?

It’s possible that you are no longer interested to continue in your prior field. For example, if you are an undergrad in an Electrical or Mechanical Engineering degree and want to try obtaining an MS degree in CS, you can.

You can apply, following the application procedure and explain your change of heart, to the admission committee, in your SoP. The committee may suggest pre-requisite courses once you join. They may be even nice enough to transfer your credits from the courses you took in your undergrad.

You can also try another option by getting an admission in your own field and then transferring to your desired department once you are a part of the University. In this case, you will have to prove your academic good-standing, have approvals from your current department head and possibly from the head of the department you are transferring to.

US universities can be surprisingly flexible to your needs. It’s the Immigrations that you should be careful about though. It is advised that you check with the International Student’s Office to find out if this can be a simple switch or does it have the potential to turn into a paperwork circus.
 

What else should you consider while choosing the right MS degree?

It is always essential to consider the logistics. How long would this MS take? How much would it cost? And what all do you need to do to apply?And where should you apply? (Read MS in US. Eligibility and requirements)
 

Funding

Most MS programs, for international students, don’t come with a scholarship or a Teaching Assistantships, like PhD programs do. In those circumstances, you can apply for a student loan (Read How to choose a student loan?) with the grace period you shielding you from financial concerns until your first salary. You can even try the quite common path of going to the US and then negotiating a campus job/teaching assistantship/fellowship to pay for your two years of MS. Here are a few more links

How to reduce student loan burden?
Average cost of studying abroad.
Student loans without collateral.
 

Duration

That brings us to how long this could take. Your loan interest keeps adding to your principle amount even during your grace period. So, it is advisable that you are careful of the time spent in obtaining a degree. Typically MS programs, in the US, take between 1.5 to 2 years. While a long program can hurt you financially, a short one may probably lack in significantly important curriculum structure. Does it have the requisite number of courses? Does it have an independent thesis project? You should definitely verify the accreditation of the University and the degree that is being offered.
 

Location

It is not necessarily true that all famous Universities will have good programs, in your choice of degree. For instance, US News for Education ranks MIT on the top (in 2014) for Physics undergrad, Master’s and PhD while the same source ranks Michigan State University on the top for Nuclear Physics. Your MS program is specialized enough that it will depend on the current research, faculty quality, present student quality and facilities that make up the worth of the curriculum. A list of best schools for the most popular MS specializations, collected from various sources, are included in the table.

Maybe another important factor to consider is the usefulness of your degree if and when you return to India. Not all the specializations have similar job opportunities here like the U.S. does.
 
Choosing and getting enrolled, in the right MS program and specialization, will determine your success in the future. Therefore it deserves a well researched and a well thought out approach during your application. Set apart enough time to address all the concerns and don’t opt for an impulsive decision. And most of all make sure your choice is strongly weighed in towards your liking for the subject. If not, your efforts will not be met with a reciprocating feeling of satisfaction.

Let your MS take you a giant step towards your end goal – a happy and successful career.

Read these related posts:
Specializations with the highest salaries
Best Masters in Management Programs in the World
Masters in Big Data Analytics
Masters in Computer Science
Biomedical Sciences-Jobs and Career
MS in Mechanical Engineering in USA
Masters (MS) in Operations Research in USA
Masters (MS) in Electrical Engineering in USA
Masters (MS / MBA) in Logistics and Supply Chain Management
 
Sources:1,2,3,4,5,6, 7, 8, 9, 10


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4 Comments

  1. Pankaj doifode says:

    Sir , i am completed BE in ECE …so which is better option after BE because i am confused ….MS OR MBA

  2. mba or ms?? confused!!! :( says:

    Hi
    I’m about to complete my b.tech in electronics and communication engineering.. I want to go abroad for higher studies. I’m confused whether to take MBA or MS. Is it good to pursue MBA in USA right after btech without any work experience? And which is best for a high salary MBA or MS? And if I do MS I would like to pursue bio medical instrumentation. Is that a good course for better opportunities?

  3. Rahul says:

    Hey! I’m currently pursuing bachelors in engineering degree from Mumbai. I’m in my third year. So, now I aim at getting into a MBA college abroad like Harvard etc.

    Can you tell me routes of achieving the same?

    Also I have the following doubts aligned with my ultimate aim:
    Will job ex in India after bachelors help me get into these colleges?
    What do you think about MIM Programs in Europe?
    What do you think about MEM programs in the U.S? (Especially the Stanford one.. Is it worth a try, for my ultimate aim?)
    Or is it good to just go for MS in CS (as I’m from CS background)
    What do you suggest about the ISB and Harvard 2 plus 2?

    I’m pretty consistent in my studies with an avg. GPA above 9. Quite a few management and technical internships under my belt too.

  4. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Pankaj & mba or ms: Read this: http://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2015/06/01/mba-or-ms-after-btech-be-engineering/

    @Rahul: Here’s how to get into Harvard Business School: http://www.mbacrystalball.com/blog/2016/01/18/how-to-get-into-harvard-business-school/

    But looking at the rest of your queries, seems like you haven’t really made up your mind about what to do. Give yourself a few years and gain some work experience. Then decide whether you need a higher degree, and if so, which one.

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