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Best Online Master’s Degrees in: Operations Research

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Editor's Picks: Online Schools for Operations Research

The best online master's degree in operations research for value is available through Columbia University, which offers a master's program for distance learners through the Columbia Video Network. The university had an annual return on investment of 9.4%, according to For students receiving financial aid, that went up to 13.1%. In addition, U.S. News & World Report ranked Columbia University sixth in the nation in its Best Value Schools listing, taking into consideration the school's quality in relation to the net cost of attendance.

Featured Online Programs

The award for best online master's degree in operations research goes to the University of Southern California, which offers a Master of Science in Operations Research Engineering through its Distance Education Network (DEN). Students have the option of watching their professors lecture in real-time, where they can participate more fully in the classroom experience, or they have the option of downloading recorded lectures after they take place, which allows working students to access the lectures at a time of day that works best for them, according to the DEN website. Added flexibility comes from the ability to download lectures via secure video download, podcast, or smartphone. Because of the program's flexibility, students from nearly every U.S. state, and even outside the country, have the ability to pursue this degree.

Career Support
Georgia Institute of Technology, better known as Georgia Tech, wins the award for best online master's degree in operations research for career support. The university's career services department offers career counseling, job search assistance, on-campus recruiting opportunities, and career seminars in areas such as resume writing, interviewing, and business etiquette. Online students in particular can benefit from industry podcasts on topics like career preparation, getting an internship, and careers in the engineering field. In addition, online students can take advantage of both traditional and virtual career fairs, as well as 24/7 access to CareerBuzz, where they can browse job and internship postings and upload their resume for potential employers to review.

Financial Support
The award for best online master's degree in operations research for financial support goes to Florida Institute of Technology, which offers an online Master of Science in Operations Research through its Virtual Campus. The institute's financial aid staff are dedicated to helping students find ways to pay for graduate school, whether through Federal Stafford Loans, Federal Graduate PLUS Loans, veterans benefits, grants, or scholarships. The university has a reputation for providing generous financial aid; 97% of full-time, beginning undergraduate students received some kind of financial aid, and 97% received institutional grants or scholarships. In addition, the Panther Payment Plan makes it possible for students to spread out their tuition costs over time, making paying for school more manageable.

Technology Support
The best online master's degree in operations research for technology support is offered by Kansas State University because of the extended hours tech support is available to distance education students. Tech support for K-State Online students is available by phone from 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, and from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday, according to the university website. Aside from phone support, students can also get technical assistance via live chat or email. K-State Online also provides a helpful readiness test where students can determine if their computer is equipped with the right software and settings to engage in online learning.

Student Engagement
The University of Southern California wins for best online master's degree in operations research for student engagement because of the way the program allows students to interact with professors and collaborate with fellow students in real-time. Students who watch the live lectures from home on their computers can actually phone in a question to their professor using a toll-free phone line, according to the university website. Also adding to the sense of engagement is the ability of an online student to deliver presentations to the rest of the class, perform virtual labs, and collaborate on team projects with online and on-campus students from home, according to the "How DEN Works" video demonstration.

Disability Support
The award for best online master's degree in operations research for disability support goes to Kansas State University, which provides Disability Support Services for all students who document a disability, regardless of whether they are studying on or off campus. Aside from being able to avail themselves of accommodations to mitigate their disability, such as alternative text, assistive listening devices, and note-taking services, students with disabilities also have access to services like adaptive technology assistance. In addition, Kansas State offers a significant amount of scholarships for students with various disabilities, as well as two student organizations dedicated exclusively to students with disabilities.

Library and Research Support
The winner of the award for best online master's degree in operations research for library and research support is Columbia University. The Columbia Video Network students have full access to Columbia University Libraries, which is ranked among the top five academic library systems in the country. These libraries (22 in all) contain more than 10 million volumes, more than 100,000 current journals and serials, significant digital resources, rare books, and other collections, according to the library website. Online students may be particularly interested in Columbia's vast e-resources, which include digital collections, full-text e-books, an e-image database, e-journals, e-music, mobile resources (for iPhone and Android), online exhibitions, and more. Online students can get in touch with Columbia librarians via live chat, email, phone, or text.

Learning Support
The award for best online master's degree in operations research for learning support goes to Colorado State University, which offers an online Master of Engineering specialization in mechanical engineering with a focus on industrial engineering and operations research. Student services and resources at CSU Online Plus include advising, library services, proctoring, career services, disability support, and more. In addition, CSU offers specialized support for adult learners and veterans, including resources for student parents, and scholarships for adult and nontraditional students.

Faculty Credentials
Columbia University wins the award for best online master's degree in operations research for faculty credentials. Columbia University's Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research comprises more than 50 distinguished faculty members from diverse backgrounds who bring a depth of academic and professional experience into the classroom. Research interests are varied, and include graph theory and combinatorial optimization, applied probability, computational finance, inventory theory, supply chain management, quantitative finance, and more.

Faculty Accessibility
Faculty accessibility can more difficult to achieve in online classes than in a traditional classroom because many programs do not allow for professors and students to meet face to face. The best programs, therefore, are ones that strive to reduce barriers between faculty and students. The University of Southern California wins the award for best online master's degree in operations research for faculty accessibility because its real-time delivery of online courses allows students to call in to a live class session and ask questions during class, helping to recreate the direct access students have in the traditional classroom. While students still have access to their professors via email, direct phone access during class allows students to get their questions answered immediately rather than having to wait for a response via email.

Alumni Engagement
The award for best online master's degree in operations research for alumni engagement goes to Columbia University because of the numerous ways students can get involved. Students can stay connected to their fellow alumni though the Columbia Alumni Association, which consists of a vast network of nearly 300,000 alumni who keep in touch through numerous regional clubs, affinity groups, online databases and discussion groups, and various events. Graduates also have access to distinctive alumni career resources, podcasts and online seminars from distinguished university speakers, participation in Cafes Columbia (a series of informal discussions by university faculty on various topics), travel study trips, and more.

Prior Learning Options
Kansas State University wins the award for best online master's degree in operations research for prior learning options because of its generous transfer credit policy. The university allows students to transfer in a maximum of 10 credit hours into its online MSOR program, provided the credits are applicable to the program and have been evaluated and approved by the student's advisory committee, according to the university website. This policy is helpful for students who have completed a significant amount of relevant graduate work at another accredited university and would like to transfer to Kansas State.

New Online Student Orientation
The award for best online master's degree in operations research for new online student orientation goes to the University of Southern California. Distance Education Network (DEN) students may attend orientation on the USC campus or view it live online if they are unable to attend in person, according to the university website. Students who opt for the online version will receive the same valuable information about student services, registering for classes, advising, USC email, and more, and will even be able to ask questions. In addition, students who cannot attend on campus or the live online orientation can watch an archived version of the orientation.

Explore a Master's Degree in Operations Research

A Master of Science (M.S.) in Operations Research provides professionals in the engineering, manufacturing, and other industries with the advanced mathematical and analytical skills necessary to find success in their careers. While receiving their education, students will learn to apply advanced mathematical models and techniques to solve efficiency problems in the field. A bachelor's degree is required for students who wish to pursue this M.S., and usually students will have completed their B.A. in operations management, engineering, statistics, business, or another related area of study.

A M.S. in Operations Research usually entails the completion of 30 credit hours, which means students can earn their degree in about two years if studying full time. Part-time students as well as those whose undergraduate degrees did not include computer programming, statistics, and other prerequisite courses, will take longer to get their degrees. Worth noting also is that curriculum varies from school to school, so some may require more than 30 hours of courses.

Class Curriculum

Course work will be highly focused on mathematics and statistics. Students begin their studies with core courses. One core course students usually take is advanced statistics, in which they learn the basics of probability theory and models, and statistics inference. After completing their core curriculum, students can choose electives that concentrate in operations research areas like finance and management. Examples of some of these courses are decision models and applications, and corporate finance. Typical core courses students take are:

  • Deterministic Models. This course introduces students to the basics of deterministic operations research methods. It includes the examination of theory, application of proofs, algorithm analysis and design, programming design, and model analysis.
  • Stochastic Models. Students will learn about stochastic processes; stochastic is an imperative subject in the sporadic and non-deterministic operations research field. Students will become familiar with the engineering applications for stochastic models, such inventory and finance, various stochastic processes, and techniques used to try to control projects in the face of uncertainty.
  • Simulation. In a simulation course, students will be introduced to the sampling technique of simulation. This statistical technique utilizes computers to examine stochastic systems. Students will learn to simulate discrete-events to gather various sample types and how to analyze those samples.

Course work will involve the use of statistics and computer programs to analyze and understand real-world operations research situations. Projects and assignments may involve creating an assortment of simulations or gathering data through various statistics formulations. Some students must fulfill a thesis requirement, while others do not. This depends on the educational institution the student attends. A thesis will require extensive research into an operations research topic, the findings of which a student must document in a research paper. Those who are not required to complete a thesis will find they must fulfill extra elective courses as an alternative.

Building a Career

Students develop highly advanced analytical, mathematical, and technical skills with this degree, all of which are vital in the operations research field. Those who possess these skills go into careers as operations research analysts and process improvement engineers. Operations research analysts use the analytical methods gained through their educational and on-the-job experiences to solve problems as well as maximize the positives or minimize the negatives of a business' operations. For example, an operations research analyst might work as a consultant for a manufacturing company looking to minimize its material costs and maximize its profits.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), although a bachelor's is the minimum educational requirement for a career in this field, employers generally seek those who hold a master's degree. Per BLS statistics, analysts in this field earn an annual income of $71,950, and the field itself will see a 15% increase in employment over the next eight years.

Process improvement engineering is a field some go into after earning their master's degree. Such a career requires an undergraduate degree in engineering and is a specialty area of industrial engineering. A process improvement engineer reviews manufacturing and service performances, the use of human and material resources, and financial planning. From that review, he or she works to create plans to make said processes more productive and less wasteful in terms of time and money.
BLS salary figures indicate that industrial engineers earn a median salary of $77,240, and that employment is expected to grow over the next decade by 6%. According to data, process improvement engineers can earn as much as $92,387 annually.

When considering these careers, however, note that salaries and career descriptions are generalized. They should not be considered guarantees. Each job and company is different, and salary depends on a variety of circumstances, such as work experience and past job performance.