5 Reasons I chose the IAA Over Other Data Science Programs

Applying to graduate school programs is a stressful time. The initial stage of deciding where you want to apply can be a difficult decision to make, let alone deciding which to accept.

One of the first things I did when considering a master’s program in data science was to Google: “best data science master’s programs.” Many of the pages gave the usual, big-name private schools. While there is weight to the schools’ names, the cost of attending these programs is overwhelming.

I had to remember the rankings the articles gave were subjective, and that I had to really look at how each program was designed. This not only helped me narrow down where to apply but also where I finally committed after getting accepted to multiple programs.

In this post, I discuss the reasons I selected the Institute for Advanced Analytics (IAA) over others, which were actually ranked higher in many of these articles. I hope to convince prospective students that this is the best choice.

I do want to preface by saying that it all ultimately depends on what you, the individual, want in your stage of life. There’s definitely no “one size fits all” when it comes to graduate programs. However, here’s why this program comes pretty close to that perfect size.

  1. It’s only 10 months!

Think about it, by the time you’re in April or May (preparing yourself for the program), you’re only a year away from obtaining your degree! Many other programs are typically 3 or 4 semesters, which may make sense if that pace works for you. However, for those looking to quickly pivot their careers, like me, this is the best program.

  1. Integrated curriculum

Every single day at the Institute is different. It’s not like your undergraduate courses, where one class meets at a specific time MWF or TuTh. You don’t even sign up for classes! The classes are laid out as modules based on what most benefits the students. For example, in the fall, we covered logistic regression, time series, SQL, and Python as if they were different classes, but we didn’t have to separately sign up for these. This is part of every student’s curriculum!

Pictured below is an example schedule from the Fall 1 module, showing a wide variety of classes or workshops in a given week:

  1. Dedicated faculty and students

Many data science programs you see are really taking classes from the school’s computer science or statistics department, whereas the IAA has its own classes with all faculty and staff solely dedicated to this one program. You are not mixed in with students from other master’s programs; you are only with other Institute students. How the Institute is designed will not allow for any full-time or part-time jobs, so truly every student’s primary focus is this program.

  1. Practicum project with real companies

The Institute partners with companies on practicum projects that use real data for students to create meaningful insights. The fact that this is a project that is ongoing throughout most of the year shows the emphasis the program puts on the practical aspect of data science. In most cases, you will travel to these companies at the start AND end of the year, which will make for some great memories, like the one below!

  1. Cost

For any fellow North Carolinians reading this, you should consider how attending the IAA would be about a third of the cost of attending an Ivy League program. You might think the job opportunities from attending that level of a program would make the investment worth it. However, also consider that in last year’s class, the median base salary was $116,500, with an average ROI payback period of 20 months. Even for out-of-state students, NC State’s program is significantly cheaper than those of most private, big-name schools, and you get all of the above benefits as well!

I INSIST any prospective student bookmark and frequently visit this website like I did: https://analytics.ncsu.edu. It is one of the most informative websites of any of the other programs I looked at.

One of the toughest decisions in my life was to tell an Ivy League school, “No,” but it ended up being one of the best decisions I made. Do NOT let another website’s ranking determine where you apply. Do your research, ask admissions counselors questions, and then decide.

Columnist: Kush Patel