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Tom Meltzer

March 10, 2021

There are few places better to immerse yourself in a quant-heavy discipline than Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business.

Given enough data, is it possible to calculate with certainty a "best" solution to an operations problem? Could a government conclusively ascertain the optimum number of lanes for a planned highway? Could a manufacturer determine which production process would both maximize return and minimize environmental impact? Finding such solutions involves a mathematical process called optimization, and it's the heart of operations research.

Mathematicians have been seeking optimal solutions to operations problems for centuries, but the advent of Big Data has pushed operations research to new levels. With essentially limitless data to mine, it's no longer a question of whether there's enough data to find the optimal solution, but rather one of how to tease the music out of the noise. Operations researchers need sophisticated skills not only in mathematics but also in business, computer science, _and engineering_ in order to aggregate, filter, and apply the data required to solve problems and formulate useful guidance.

Accordingly, if you’re looking for operations research jobs, a graduate degree is practically essential. You can pursue a master's of science in operations research—typically offered through a university's school of engineering—or an _MBA with a specialization_ in operations research concentration.

A master's degree will dive deeper into the mathematics and computer science, while an MBA will offer broader education in all facets of business. Either can be great, depending on your career plans. If, however, you're leaning toward online study—and the fact that you're reading this article suggests that you are—then you will find many more choices in the former category than in the latter. If you decide the MBA route is for you, you may need to reconsider your decision to study online.

Below are a number of solid online master's in operations research programs and one online MBA (which is, in fact, a hybrid program requiring significant in-person participation). Your options should improve in the future as more universities take their graduate programs online.

Here are the top online master's of operations research degrees

_Columbia University_

  • Degree: Master of Science in Operations Research
  • Conferring department/school: The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University
  • Tuition: $2,018 per credit hour; total cost (including fees) $90,391
  • Graduation requirements: 30 credits; four core courses, six electives
  • Core courses: Introduction to Probability and Statistics; Optimization Models and Methods OR Optimization Models and Methods (FE); Stochastic Models or Stochastic Models (FE); Simulation or Monte Carlo Simulation
  • Electives: Six, chosen in consultation with faculty advisor
  • Features: Program is delivered 100 percent online, asynchronously; three entry points (fall, spring, summer) per year; program-wide strength in finance and consulting; core/electives balance means greater-than-usual flexibility in shaping your degree

_Florida Institute of Technology_

  • Degree: Master of Science in Operations Research
  • Tuition: $777/credit hour
  • Graduation requirements: 30 credit hours; 12 credit hours core; nine credit hours restricted electives; 6 credit hours free electives/thesis option
  • Core courses: Mathematical Statistics 1; Deterministic Operations Research Models; Stochastic Operations Research Models; Operations Research Practice OR Mathematical Programming
  • Restricted electives: Choose three from: Applied Discrete Mathematics; Linear Algebra; Applied Statistical Analysis; Mathematical Statistics 2; Theory of Stochastic Processes
  • Unrestricted electives: Non-thesis option: three courses in student's area of interest, approved by advisor. Thesis option: one course plus up to six credit hours for thesis (in-depth study of topic approved by thesis committee)
  • Features: Program is delivered 100 percent online; opportunities for collaborative learning experiences; publishing opportunities

_Georgia Institute of Technology_

  • Degree: Master of Science in Operations Research
  • Conferring department/school: H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, GIT
  • Tuition: $1,100 per credit hour
  • Graduation requirements: 30 credit hours; 12 credit hours required core; three hours computing elective; 15 hours technical electives
  • Core courses: Deterministic Optimization; Probabilistic Models; Simulation; Statistics I
  • Computing elective: Choose one from: Computational Complexity; Design and Analysis-Algorithms; Computational Methods; Computer Science and Engineering Algorithms
  • Technical electives: Choose five, choices include: Engineering Economy; Economic Decision Analysis; Design and Analysis-Experiments; Production and Service System Engineering; Real-Time Interactive Simulations; Multivariate Data Analysis; Intro to Graph Theory; Numerical Analysis; Automation and Complexity; Computability and Algorithms
  • Features: Program can be completed in 12 to 16 months; concentrations available in optimization, statistics, stochastics, computational science, and similar disciplines

_Kansas State University_

  • Degree: Master of Science in Operations Research
  • Conferring department/school: College of Engineering, Kansas State University
  • Tuition: $857.60 ($567.90 tuition + $190.70 distance fee + $80 faculty salary surcharge +$19 special fees) per credit hour
  • Graduation requirements: 30 credit hours; nine credits core; six credits other operations research courses; 15 credits electives
  • Core courses: Linear Programming OR Nonlinear Programming; Network Flows and Graph Theory OR Integer Programming and Combinatorial Optimization; Simulation of Industrial Management Systems OR Applied Stochastic Processes and Theoretical Simulation
  • Additional Operations Research Courses: Choose two from: Normative Theory of Decisions and Games; Stochastic Calculus Financial Engineering; Methods of Operations Research; Industrial Logistics Engineering; Applied Fuzzy Set Theory; Reliability Theory; Scheduling Theory; Multiple Criteria Decision Making
  • Electives: Choose five from among: Quantitative Problem Solving Methods; Advanced Production and Inventory Control; Advanced Engineering Economy; Regression and Analysis of Variance; Nonparametric Statistics; Experimental Design for Product Development and Quality Improvement
  • Features: Course delivery typically includes streaming video, readings, teleconferences, listservs, message boards, and other collaborative apps; program concludes with a culminating experience presentation

_Southern Methodist University_

  • Degree: Master of Science in Operations Research
  • Conferring department/school: Lyle School of Engineering, Southern Methodist University
  • Tuition: $1,350 per credit hour
  • Graduation requirements: 30 credit hours; 12 hours required courses; 9 hours restricted electives; nine hours concentration electives
  • Core courses: Probability and Statistics for Scientists and Engineers OR Statistical Design and Analysis of Experiments; Analytics for Decision Support; Production Systems Engineering; Operations Research Models
  • Restricted electives: Data Mining; Computer Simulation Techniques; Supply Chain Operation and Control; Advanced Data Mining; Engineering Economics and Decision Analysis; Stochastic Models; Queuing Theory; Integer Programming; Network Flows; Optimization Models for Decision Support; Mathematics of Optimization; Nonlinear Programming; Advanced Logistics
  • Features: Lectures are recorded live in state-of-the-art tele-studio classrooms, then uploaded to the learning management system within 24 hours; curriculum emphasizes mathematical modeling, systems optimization, and predictive analytics; concentrations in optimization, systems engineering, engineering management, information engineering, computer science, mathematics, statistics, telecommunications or another engineering discipline; three entry points (fall, spring, summer)

_University of Southern California_

  • Degree: Master of Science in Operations Research Engineering
  • Conferring department/school: USC Viterbi School of Engineering
  • Tuition: $2,005 per credit hour
  • Graduation requirements: 30 credit hours; 15 required credits; two restricted electives; two unrestricted electives
  • Core courses: Analysis of Algorithms; Linear Programming and Extensions; Elements of Stochastic Processes; Performance Modeling and Simulation; Web Technology for Industrial Engineering OR Enterprise-Wide Information Systems
  • Restricted electives: Two of the following: Advanced Production Planning and Scheduling; Optimization Theory and Algorithms: Design of Experiments; Value and Decision Theory; Financial Engineering; Industrial Ecology: Technology-Environment Interaction; Systems Engineering Theory and Practice; PLUS one 400- or 500-level advisor-approved computer science course
  • Unrestricted electives: Two, approved by faculty advisor
  • Features: Online program available to professional engineers only; video lectures stream in real time, allowing distance learners to participate in class, and are also archived to be (re)viewed asynchronously

Best online operations research MBA programs

As more MBA programs go online in years to come, expect some to differentiate themselves by offering less-mainstream specializations online. At present, however, the online MBA market is still in its early stages, and most programs offer either no specializations at all or only a few extremely popular options, such as finance, strategy, marketing, and IT.

While a number of online MBAs offer concentrations in related areas such as operations management, computer science, and business analytics, we found only one program that offered one in operations research. That program—the Online Hybrid MBA at Carnegie-Mellon University's Tepper School of Business—is a hybrid program requiring multiple campus visits: six "access weekends" per year. In addition, the program requires two 70-minute live-class sessions per week per course, a commitment some may find challenging. That said, this is doubtless an excellent program: Carnegie-Mellon pioneered management science in the 1950s and continues to this day to lead in the field. There are few places better to immerse yourself in a quant-heavy discipline than this engineering and mathematics powerhouse.

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