Is a Master’s in Information Technology Worth it?
December 19, 2022
A information technology master's degree can position you for management and leadership roles across business sectors and other institutions. Learn what career paths an IT master's enables.
Career paths in information technology run the gamut when it comes to educational requirements, with some jobs calling for an associate degree only and others requiring completion of a master's degree program. How much education is required for a successful IT career? The answer, of course, depends on your career goals.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the computer and information technology job market should grow by 15 percent between 2021 and 2031, creating more than 682,000 new jobs. Earning a Master of Science in Information Technology builds skill sets in critical areas that include cloud computing, algorithms, big data, business intelligence, cybersecurity, data science, machine learning, and IT management, among others. With on-campus and online degree options available, it's never been easier to optimize your potential.
Is a master's in information technology worth it? We explore the topic and provide resources to help you make an informed decision. Other topics discussed include:
- What is information technology?
- Information technology careers
- Information technology degrees, certifications, and courses
- Is an information technology master's degree worth it?
What is information technology?
Information technology represents a vast, diverse field tasked with using varied computer systems to create, collect, maintain, store, manipulate, and access data. Information technology touches nearly every corner of the economy, with millions of large and small businesses, governments, and nonprofits relying on IT professionals each day. Without extensive information technology systems—and professionals— institutions and their employees would struggle to keep technology functioning and interact effectively with clients.
Information technology professionals are analytical, detail-oriented workers who enjoy solving problems, implementing newer, more effective systems, and ensuring the secure storage and transfer of data. Their professional duties can include:
- Designing and implementing new computer systems that meet company requirements and addressing any existing issues
- Regularly reviewing all networks, databases, and other IT devices to maintain security and identifying any breaches
- Overseeing IT departmental budgets and staying within annual guidelines
- Creating information technology best practice policies
- Educating staff on new information technology systems, either through one-to-one meetings or training programs
Information technology careers
Information technology careers run the gamut and offer countless opportunities for professionals to pursue their interests and passions. Whether you want to work as a computer network architect, computer systems analyst, database administrator or architect, information security analyst, or software developer, the BLS reports that each of these job markets should expand in the coming years, and offer above average pay.
Roles for computer and information research scientists are anticipated to grow by 21 percent between 2021 to 2031, creating an excellent pathway for IT professionals with master's degrees. These jobs offered median annual incomes of $131,490 in 2021.
Individuals interested in the healthcare industry can select from many IT roles, including those for health informatics specialists. Informatics professionals use data to improve patient care outcomes and medical practice efficiency; these jobs offer median salaries just shy of $100,000 per year. Payscale reports CIOs earn average salaries of $171,562 each year as of December 2022.
Information technology degrees, certifications, and courses
With so many educational pathways available to students interested in information technology, it's important for prospective learners to understand where each qualification can take them professionally.
A Bachelor of Science in Information Technology offers a sensible entrance to an IT career. These programs typically require four years of full-time study and comprise approximately 120 credits. Students can choose from in-person, hybrid, or online programs to maximize flexibility.
Given the vastness of the discipline, colleges regularly offer specializations to help learners focus their learning in a particular area of the field. Common options include information security and assurance, network administration, programming and software engineering, database administration, gaming design and development, and digital forensics.
While curricula vary across programs, courses commonly taught at this level include network and data communication, computer security, human-computer interaction, wireless network infrastructures, web services and systems, and fundamentals of computer programming. Most also include an internship that develops real-world skills development before graduating.
Learners can choose from numerous options at the master's degree level. Earning a master's in information technology typically requires about two years of study and, like undergraduate programs, can easily be found online or in-person. These degrees build on existing knowledge and focus on more in-depth skills development.
Typical classes can include system administration, computer programming with Java, information technology research methods, and database management with SQL servers. Depending on the program, learners can choose from a thesis or capstone route. As with the bachelor's degree, schools commonly offer concentrations in such areas as enterprise technology management, software application development, healthcare informatics, and data analytics.
Students looking to combine advanced IT knowledge with business acumen often pursue an MBA with an information technology concentration. In addition to covering IT-specific coursework, such programs delve into business topics such as teamwork and leadership, marketing management, economics, statistics, and management communication.
Students can choose from two terminal IT degrees: a Doctor of Information Technology (DIT) or a Ph.D. in Information Technology. The former is geared towards IT professionals who want to continue working in the industry; the Ph.D. supports those interested in research and/or academic positions. Both programs typically require between three and five years to complete and cover advanced topics that include applied research methods, quantitative decision-making for IT professionals, IT strategic analysis, and IT leadership.
Countless IT certification programs exist from professional associations, corporations, and universities. Finding the one that best aligns with your interests and career goals is critical, so take time to review offerings before selecting an option.
Certificate programs offer several benefits, including increased knowledge, an improved resume, and a demonstrable commitment to continued education—all of which hiring managers will notice.
Names to know when considering certification programs include the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, the International Information System Security Certification Consortium, the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals, and CompTIA.
Professionals can also find certifications offered through IT companies, including Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle, among others.
Over the last decade, massive open online courses (MOOCs) became popular among those seeking individual classes that build specific skills. MOOC providers such as Udemy, Coursera, edX, and Udacity offer single courses taken fully online with opportunities for gaining certifications upon completion.
At edX, for example, students can choose from courses that include information technology foundations, IT project management, and IT fundamentals for business professionals. Simply taking a class or two likely won't qualify you for a job, but single courses serve two purposes: helping first-time learners confirm whether IT is the right field for them and allowing IT graduates to continue building new skills.
Is an information technology master's degree worth it?
Earning a master's degree in information technology propels IT professionals to the next level of their careers, qualifying them for jobs not available to those with undergraduate credentials only. Whether aspiring to work as a chief technology officer, IT research scientist, or in another leadership position, earning a graduate degree can lead to higher salaries, better job opportunities, and optimized managerial positions.
Earning a master's degree costs money—there's no getting around that. CollegeBoard reports master's degrees cost an average of $9,150 per year at a public institution and $30,650 per year at a private university as of the 2022 to 2023 academic year. Still, taking on these costs can result in substantially higher salaries across time. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports computer systems analysts earned median pay of $99,270 in 2021, chief technology officers currently earn an average of $274,159 annually.
Many schools now provide online master's in information technology and master's in information systems degrees, making it easier than ever to juggle personal, professional, and academic responsibilities.
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