How to get into Syracuse University’s online data science program

BY Dawn RzeznikiewiczJanuary 19, 2022, 8:05 AM
Syracuse Orange students cheer from the stands during the second half of the College Football game between the Liberty Flames and the Syracuse Orange, as seen in September 2021. (Photo by Gregory Fisher—Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Syracuse University has become a trailblazer for its master’s degree program in applied data science. The School of Information Studies at Syracuse University is the first iSchool in the U.S. and the first to offer a data science certificate program in New York before establishing a master’s program in Applied Data Science (ADS) in 2017. 

And yet, at only five years old, Syracuse actually has one of the more seasoned data science graduate programs in the country. Despite its history, the school doesn’t cater only to those applicants who are data-experienced; it doesn’t expect you to have a background or undergraduate degree in data analytics in order to be accepted.

“We do bring in students from computer science and data backgrounds, but there are an equal number of students who are from a liberal arts background,” says Jay Dietz, the assistant director of graduate recruiting at Syracuse’s iSchool. “It is much more common for a student to not come from a tech background than to come from one.”

The iSchool houses all the information technology degrees at Syracuse University, and defines its mission as examining the role data, technology, and information play in business and society. The Master’s in Applied Data Science is part of four offered graduate programs. And the program ranked No. 10 on Fortune’s first-ever ranking of the best online data science master’s programs.

During the 2021 application cycle, 257 students enrolled. The iSchool keeps all acceptance rates private, but prides itself on its commitment to maintaining a diverse graduate class, citing both a wide range of non-traditional backgrounds of study, and a student body made up of 46% women and 35% underrepresented populations. Here’s what you need to about applying to the program, and how to boost your chances for a successful application.

1. Crafting your personal statement 

Applicants hoping to gain admittance should give deep thought when crafting their personal statement. “It’s an opportunity [for students] to say what they’re looking for in their degree, why they are choosing Syracuse, and what their goals are for the program and afterwards,” Dietz says.  

Capped at 500 words, the allotted space for the personal statement is shorter than what most graduate programs ask for, according to Mahesh Kumar Badam Venkata, a 2021 graduate. He applied to a total of 10 U.S. colleges when deciding between schools. 

The personal statement gives applicants an opportunity to tell their story, Dietz says.  “Going to graduate school is such a big decision and they have so many choices in terms of schools to apply to.” Applicants also have the option of submitting a video essay, and about one in five applicants take advantage.

Prospective students should aim to illustrate what led them to Syracuse, specifically. “The [statements] that stand out point to a couple of specific areas they’re looking to take advantage of at the iSchool, whether it’s a research project, a faculty member, or one of our labs,” says Dietz. “It shows they’ve done their research.”

While the admissions panel definitely wants to hear about any internships, undergraduate courses, or work experience that show knowledge of data analytics, Dietz cautions against stretching the truth merely for the sake of including a connection to the coursework. 

“There’s no need to fabricate or twist the narrative because that knowledge truly isn’t required,” Dietz says. The iSchool is serious about leveling the playing field, starting all students from “the ground up,” assuming no prior knowledge and focusing the first few courses on the basics of data, he adds.

2. Decide between the online and on-campus application

Syracuse University offers this Master’s degree both online and on-campus. Students in either program take the exact same classes. The big difference between the two is campus life: students working online won’t have access to hands-on campus projects or the opportunity to conduct research with professors. But, as Dietz notes, generally online students are working professionals who wouldn’t have the time to fully immerse themselves in campus life as an on-campus, full-time student might. 

The application process is the same for the online and on-campus program. In addition to the personal statement, other requirements of your application include a resume, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores, should you choose to include them. For the second year, the school is not requiring GRE test scores from applicants—although about half still submit them, according to Dietz. 

For on-campus applicants, Dietz notes that the program’s expectation of work experience is 0-5 years, but admissions officers know that many people will be coming straight out of an undergraduate program. Therefore, undergraduate GPA will hold more weight. For online applicants, assuming they’ve been in the workforce for a number of years, work experience will be of more interest, with undergraduate grades taking a backseat. 

All submitted applications are reviewed internally by a panel of iSchool staff and faculty. No matter which program you’re applying to (on-campus or online), the iSchool is looking for a professional tone throughout the entire application. “[Successful candidates] have a really crisp resume that’s not more than two pages, and letters of recommendation from a faculty member or supervisor at an internship or a job,” notes Dietz.

3. Prepare for an emphasis on the real-life application of data science

The field of data science is fast-growing; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 28% growth in the data science job field through 2026. The iSchool is focusing on real-life application of data science in order to prepare its students for a career in this field—and iConsult is a program in which students can build real world experience through client projects. In 2021, ADS graduate students worked on a smart transportation project with a local, commuter bus line in Syracuse.

The students at Syracuse’s iSchool are driven, creative and inquisitive, according to Dietz. “Our students are looking to discover, and work with data in ways that are unique. We’re continually uncovering things with data that we didn’t know a year or two ago.” 

Badam Venkata, a 2021 graduate of the ADS program, agrees that the program is agile and evolving alongside a fast-growing field. “In the span of two years, they added five classes to the program. That gives us confidence that this program is very unique and we have a competitive edge when applying to jobs.”

4. How to decide if you should apply

According to the school’s website, iSchool 2019 graduates had a 94% job placement rate, and the average starting salary of MS Applied Data Science graduates was $81,735.

It’s also worth mentioning that Syracuse offers a 15 credit Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) program which acts like a condensed curriculum of the masters program (the masters program is 34 credits). The credits gained through the certificate program can be transferred to the masters program if a student chooses to continue their studies. 

“Syracuse has a new approach to data science: how they teach, and how students can excel in it. I found that there is a big learning curve, and they do it perfectly,” says Badam Venkata. “The data science program teaches in a fashion where people coming from all sorts and fields and backgrounds can understand.”

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.