Computer Science

The 16 Best Master’s Degrees for Career Changers

The 16 Best Master’s Degrees for Career Changers
A change of professions may require a skills upgrade, which a master's program can provide. Image from Pexels
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly May 30, 2021

Looking to switch to a high-paying, high-demand field? The best graduate degrees for career changers include those focused on healthcare, computer science, and finance.

Computer Science and Data Science Programs You Should Consider

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Whether you aren’t getting paid enough, don’t feel satisfied enough, or simply pop out of bed most Monday mornings ready for something new, it’s natural to consider changing careers. It’s also natural to seek a master’s degree to drive that transition.

After all, sometimes the best way to switch gears and find new career opportunities is to upgrade your credentials. Other times, the only way to get into your desired occupation is through graduate school.

The list below highlights master’s degree programs that don’t necessarily require an undergraduate qualification in the same field—and can help deliver significant job prospects in your intended career down the road.

Our guide to the best master’s degrees for career changers covers:

  • 16 best master’s degrees for career changers
  • Advice for career changers

16 Best Master’s Degrees for Career Changers

The best graduate degrees for career changers include those that focus on healthcare, technology, and finance.

Master’s in Computer Science

Some master’s programs in computer science are open prospective students who have little to no work experience in the field. These programs enable students to build technological skills valuable to practically any industry. While some programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in computer science, engineering, or other quantitative areas, others provide applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field with a direct path to a master’s degree. Students in the latter group typically must complete pre-graduate-level foundation courses before starting master’s-level work.

Students can attend on a full-time or part-time basis. Curricula typically cover program design, computer systems, and software development. Electives allow students to tailor the studies to their personal and professional goals in areas like artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, game design, and information security.

Master’s in Data Science

While alternatives to upskilling like massive open online courses (MOOCS) and boot camps can offer a shorter, more economical means of addressing a data science knowledge gap, research indicates an increasing demand for advanced training. According to a report from Stitch Data, 80 percent of data scientists reported holding an advanced degree in 2015, with 38 percent reporting a PhD as their highest level of education and 42 percent listing a master’s.

As a result, many career changers in related fields choose to pursue a master’s degree in data science. They seek employment at every stage of the analytics life cycle across IT and software in finance, energy, healthcare, retail, and just about every other domain you can think of. Programs typically last anywhere between 18 months to three years, covering a foundation in programming languages, computation, and linear modeling before diving into more specialized and advanced practice and theory.

Master’s in Information Technology

It’s possible to gain entry to information technology (IT) jobs with limited relevant experience and a bachelor’s degree or less. However, the IT employment market is competitive, so differentiating yourself is important, even in your quest for entry-level IT work. Having an advanced degree lets employers know you’re well-qualified and prepared to translate their organizational problems into technology solutions.

Graduate-level education in the field generally combines communications and business management topics with courses in how to leverage existing and emerging IT and information systems tools to manage customer relationships, data collection and analysis, supply chains, workflows, and security concerns. Graduates are prepared to pursue analyst roles across business systems and databases, IT security, and a range of positions in the IT auditing and consulting realm.

Master’s in Cybersecurity

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the information security analyst job market is projected to grow 31 percent by 2029, making it one of the fastest-growing professions in the country. Combine the occupation’s strong job growth with a median salary of $103,590, and it’s no wonder that anyone interested in targeting cyber-criminals would be eager to break into the field.

Some schools offer cybersecurity master’s degree programs that do not require a specific undergraduate degree. However, most require applicants to demonstrate proficiency in certain programming languages and prefer candidates with an understanding of discrete mathematics, operating systems, and computer architecture.

Master’s in Network Engineering

Graduate programs in network engineering prepare students for careers in computer network development and design through coursework that explores advanced topics in computer architecture, network architecture, information systems analysis and modeling, and IT-based software development. Common specializations include network and IT security, data mining, and data warehousing.

Some graduates also opt to pursue specific types of certification to further deepen their expertise and broaden the number of IT infrastructure roles in which they can contribute. Certification is industry-recognized and usually offered by particular network systems vendors, such as Cisco and Microsoft. Some of the most highly regarded credentials include Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), and CompTIA Network+.

Master’s in Marketing

Marketing programs typically explore demand, supply, global trade, marketing theory and practice, brand management, and consumer behavior. Some programs may provide graduate students the opportunity to complete a master’s thesis while working directly with a company in their desired industry.

Switching careers to work in marketing opens doors to a range of opportunities for entrepreneurial work, freelance or consulting work, or in-house employment in organizations of all sizes, and roles that span from marketing directo to media planner to account coordinator, consumer insight analyst, or social media content strategist.

Master of Data Analytics

Like the broader field of data science, career changers may pursue data analytics roles through a range of upskilling options. The field is highly competitive, which can make a graduate degree a must-have even for entry-level roles—and a crucial component of holding your own in the applicant pool. In a 2020 Burtch Works study, 89 percent of data analytics professionals with less than three years of experience reported having a master’s degree.

A master’s in data analytics will allow you to build portfolios of real-world projects demonstrating competency with key technologies, visualization, and communication techniques. It will also help you develop the ability to translate information into recommended actions. Applicants don’t need a specific undergraduate degree to pursue a master’s in this field, but since advanced math and computer programming are both crucial aspects of coursework, a STEM background can be a significant plus.

Master of Business Administration

Business school opens doors to management roles in just about every industry. For career changers, an MBA provides the skills and professional know-how to enable a career shift. According to a Prospective Students Survey from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 36 percent of candidates pursued a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2019 to switch job functions. Another 27 percent of candidates reported they enrolled in an MBA program to switch industries.

For candidates looking to explore their options across a range of sectors or home in on a specific niche, MBA programs provide the professional development and networking opportunities they need. During business school, they also have the chance to participate in group projects, internships, and practice-based modules that can help build experience outside their current fields. What’s more, MBAs now offer a broader ​variety of specialization options—like operations research, project management, and healthcare—that can help students build the specific knowledge and skills required for new career paths.

Master’s in Business Analytics

Business analytics focuses on analyzing data to make practical business decisions. Master’s programs in business analytics generally include courses in business data analytics, operations research, project management, database analytics, and predictive analytics.

Many on-campus and hybrid programs facilitate experiential learning through internships or co-ops, which can be especially beneficial for career changers looking to gain industry experience. Full and part-time programs can typically be completed in nine months to two years.

Master of Accounting

For those aiming to make the jump to a new career in accounting, finance, or business at large, a master’s degree provides the deep technical knowledge you need. Many accounting master’s programs are open to candidates who hold undergraduate degrees in a wide variety of majors. Coursework covers financial accounting and reporting, assurance services, strategic cost management, and taxation. Students also strengthen their communication and leadership skills.

Beyond developing advanced accounting skills, students may also have the option to tailor their studies to specializations like bookkeeping, forensic accounting, manufacturing cost accounting, and economics and finance. They’ll also prepare to sit for the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensing exam and other certification exams that lead to in-demand positions across industries.

Master’s in Human Resource Management

Professionals come to HR careers from diverse professional backgrounds. Undergraduate studies in sociology, business, and psychology, for instance, traditionally transition very well. What’s more, employers will sometimes hire professionals with experience in business or corporate operations who are willing to start in administration and then focus on HR tasks.

A master’s in human resource management can also be helpful, not only for transitioning into HR from an outside field but also advancing more quickly from entry-level positions to roles that include more authority and responsibility. An MHRM program prepares students to become HR leaders through coursework focused on employee and labor relations, legal and ethical issues, recruiter strategies, the changing workforce, and the impact of technology on the field.

Since HR is a broad field, graduates can pursue career options across a spectrum of specialized areas, such as organizational development, performance management, and workplace safety.

Master’s in Finance

Master’s programs in finance are ideal for professionals with some level of previous quantitative experience in fields like engineering or business analytics. The advantages of master’s in finance programs lie in their exploration of contemporary financial and risk management and in-depth training on financial theory and practice. Finance master’s degrees lead to career opportunities in commercial banking, corporate finance, financial planning, risk management and insurance, real estate, and other industries.

Programs typically total at least 30 credits, which students can finish in one to two years, depending on their enrollment status. After completing their degree, many graduates also pursue a range of certifications in their field. The most popular include Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), and Financial Risk Manager (FRM).

Master of Science in Nursing

A variety of Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs exist for professionals who have a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field and are ready to shift into nursing. Often referred to as direct entry, they combine nursing studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels and require significant ambition, commitment, and effort.

Completing a direct-entry MSN program can take from 15 months to three years, with many schools requiring students to complete prerequisite courses in microbiology, psychology, statistics, human anatomy, and physiology before enrolling. Students typically complete a pre-licensure nursing curriculum and, after passing the registered nurse licensure (NCLEX) exam, move into the advanced portion of the program, which often consists of foundational courses, clinical practice hours, and research.

Overall, programs prepare students for roles as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and the high-demand specializations that can be pursued with this credential, which include nurse practitioner (NP), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified nurse anesthetist (CNA), and certified nurse-midwife (CNM). Many also concentrate their careers on a particular patient demographic, such as pediatrics, psychiatric-mental health, or family care.

Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies

As the doctor shortage worsens, physician assistants (PAs) are increasingly becoming sought-after healthcare providers. As a result, an increasing number of candidates are pursuing master’s programs in physician assistant studies to gain the extensive training necessary for a career in the field.

Admission requirements vary depending on the specific program, but applicants can expect to need two to four years of undergraduate coursework in a science or healthcare discipline. Many master’s programs also require applicants to demonstrate previous healthcare experience, often in the patient care realm.

Once enrolled, students complete a mix of coursework exploring areas of clinical care, medical science, ethics, and the healthcare industry and, later, clinical rotations in areas such as family medicine, pediatrics, behavioral and mental health, and general surgery. After graduating, aspiring PAs have up to six years to take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to gain status as a certified physician assistant.

Master of Health Administration

Many prospective career changers interested in shifting into the non-clinical side of healthcare enroll in Master of Health Administration (MHA) programs because of the varied opportunities available with the degree. Many experienced professionals find that their business experience—whether in finance, technology, or process improvement—prepares them well for this degree.

MHA curricula focus on business as it relates to healthcare, with coursework in leadership and ethics, innovation, data analytics, operations, and financial and strategic management.

Some MHA programs offer a generalized track, while others provide specialization options in healthcare policy development, information technology and informatics, and outpatient services. After completing their degree, graduates pursue job opportunities in healthcare networks, hospitals, private practices, and insurance companies.

Master of Engineering

If you’re thinking of transitioning to the field of engineering, you’re most likely interested in math, science, technology, and are a logical thinker with exceptional numerical and problem-solving skills. These attributes will all be beneficial in the engineering field you choose. Getting started will likely require the credentials you can only gain through a graduate program.

Master’s degrees in engineering are typically available through Master of Science (MS), Master of Engineering (ME or MEng), and Master of Technology (MTech) programs that focus on a specific engineering discipline, including tech-based computer engineering and software engineering and fields that impact people and communities, like environmental or civil engineering.

Depending on the program, coursework may take either a research-focused or practical approach, with both offering opportunities for hands-on projects and real-world experiences.

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Advice for career changers

Grad school is a significant investment, both in terms of time and money, which makes it crucial for prospective applicants to understand the commitment. Add to that the prospect of a career change, which is daunting—and like any major life change, can’t be taken lightly.

No matter your circumstances, there are strategies to ensure you take full advantage of all the resources around you as you move into a new career. Consider these before taking the plunge:

  • Take stock of your interests and values: The activities and subjects you enjoy and the things you prioritize in life can determine what kind of job and workplace would generate maximum career satisfaction.
  • Make use of your network: Get help from LinkedIn, your college alumni career network, and that friend-of-a-friend to organize an informational interview with someone in your desired field or job type. They’re a great way to get a snapshot of their work—and learn more than you would typically get from a job posting or company website.
  • Get experience: Find ways to gain experiences in your new field, such as through internships or exploratory programs. Volunteering may also be a viable option and comes with the benefit of helping you make connections.
  • Look for immediate ways to upskill: Identify opportunities that could help to bridge the gap between your existing skills and the career or industry you’re interested in, such as through short online courses, webinars, or evening or weekend classes at your local community college.
  • Consider pursuing your graduate degree online: Online degrees broaden your choices beyond what’s available locally. Since most online programs offer part-time study options, you’ll be able to continue working while you study, reducing the cost of earning your degree. Plus, you’ll avoid the hassle of commuting to, and parking on, campus.

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