“There is an assumption that you cannot get into a program without knowing the things you want to learn already,'' says Jack Murray, a current student in the Master of Science in Analytics (MScA) at the University of Chicago.
He discovered this contradiction—Murray calls it a “weird paradox”—when he set about applying to master’s programs in order to level up his consulting career with advanced data analytics skills. He had taken calculus in college a decade before and had acquired some light programming experience over the years, but his worry that he was underqualified persisted. When he found the MScA, he knew its rigorous data analytics courses, expert instructors, leading-edge technology, and unparalleled network of industry professionals would give his career the boost it needed, but he wondered if the program needed him.
“I originally was not sure if I would be a good fit for the MScA,” Murray says. “It was not clear to me if the MScA program was looking for applicants with experience in an analytic role or if they were looking for people seeking to pivot in their careers.”
When Murray reached out to the MScA admissions and program staff and attended information sessions, he was heartened to learn that the MScA program accepts those with general technical backgrounds and at least two years of work experience.
“Through my conversations with people affiliated with the program, I started realizing that I fit the general profile,” Murray says. “I might not have had the experience of turning raw data into insight, but I did have a lot of consulting and client-facing experience,” he says. Conversations with MScA program staff helped strengthen his application: “They encouraged me to be honest and talk about what I had done and what I had not done and why the difference between those two things is what I hoped to bridge.
“I was intimidated by applying to a place as prestigious as UChicago, but a lot of my concerns were eased through my conversations with MScA program staff. They were very warm and open to my questions, and they relieved me of any worries about it being a crazy stretch for me to apply.”
Through my conversations with people affiliated with the program, I started realizing that I fit the general [applicant] profile. They encouraged me to be honest and talk about what I had done and what I had not done and why the difference between those two things is what I hoped to bridge.Jack Murray, MScA student
Three truths about applying to UChicago’s Master's in Data Science Program
From his current perspective as a student in the program, Murray looked back and re-assessed what made him question his qualifications while applying to the MScA program.
You don’t need to be a computer science whiz. “Of course there are people in the program who have deep programming backgrounds, but the program does a really good job of getting you the resources you need ahead of time. The pre-quarter courses help level the playing field by giving you the programming skills you need up front.”
You don’t need years of analytic work experience. “It turns out that a lot of my peers have similar backgrounds and work experience: a little bit of experience with analysis.”
You don’t need an Ivy League background. “Once the program started, it did not take long for me to realize that this was UChicago—the work is hard, and the instructors are not going to hold your hand. At the same time, MScA students have great access to the instructors and the TAs, as well as to each other. The program has a lot of collaboration and helping each other. There is scaffolding to support us.”