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How to Earn an Artificial Intelligence Degree While Working Full-Time

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Today, artificial intelligence powers innovation across industries. It also fuels growth. McKinsey & Company estimates that AI will add $13 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. Investment in intelligent systems and automation is growing, as is artificial intelligence implementation in business, finance, healthcare, education and beyond. That makes right now the optimal time to learn about machine learning, deep learning, data mining, neural networks and other areas of AI.

Enrolling in an artificial intelligence master’s program such as the Online Masters in Computer Science with Artificial Intelligence Specialization (MSCS-AI) offered by SMU's Lyle School of Engineering now is a straightforward way to prepare for a future in which AI is part of everything. You can complete the program from anywhere while working full-time and meeting your personal commitments. More importantly, you can apply what you're learning in the classroom right away in your current role or transition into various computer science jobs. As soon as you graduate, you will be workplace-ready, able to competently tackle real-world projects that deliver quantifiable value. For instance, you might integrate machine learning systems into your organization’s data infrastructure or head up automation software development projects.

The key to succeeding in a part-time AI-focused computer science master's program while working full-time is to know what to expect and choose a program where you can learn from world-class faculty at a pace that works for you. 

The Benefits of Pursuing a Part-time Artificial Intelligence Master's Online

Online master’s programs let you study whenever and wherever it's most convenient. You don't have to relocate to enroll in a program offered by a leading engineering school. If you meet the prerequisite requirements for admission, all you'll need is an internet connection and time. While online master's programs don't cost less than comparable on-campus programs, they offer some financial advantages given the lofty ROI of a computer science master’s degree. You may pay the same tuition rate as your peers who study on campus, but you won't pay extra for gas, vehicle wear and tear, parking and incidentals – or to relocate.

Perhaps you're wondering whether these pros have corresponding cons. The answer is no. Online degree programs have come a long way in a short time, and the best online master's programs give students similar or even identical hands-on experiences, networking opportunities, research opportunities and post-graduation support as traditional programs. At SMU, you can work with the latest artificial intelligence technologies, interface with professors in weekly synch sessions and collaborate with classmates on project work. You can even participate in the cutting-edge research taking place in the SMU AI Lab.

What to Expect When Pursuing an Artificial Intelligence Degree Online

If you earned your bachelor’s degree in a traditional residential program before looking into online master's degree programs, you might feel out of your depth. Here are three facts about SMU's MSCS-AI that may make the prospect of enrolling in a part-time, online master's program less daunting.

1. The Curriculum Is Customizable

The online artificial intelligence master's curriculum at SMU consists primarily of electives so you can develop your own computer science specialization. Two core courses in the artificial intelligence program cover the basics of AI and machine learning in Python, analytics-focused machine learning techniques including visualization, classification and regression, neural networks and deep learning methods. From there, you can build a program that aligns with your interests and goals by choosing from among a selection of electives that cover data mining principles and more. However, skill-building is only one aspect of the program. In addition to honing your artificial intelligence skills, you will also learn about the ethics of artificial intelligence, so you can use AI to empower positive change.

2. The Format Is Flexible

It's easier to pursue a graduate degree while working full-time when you can access course materials when it's convenient for you. SMU delivers the coursework in the 100 percent online MSCS-AI using the Canvas Learning Management System. Lectures are accessible via Canvas. Assignments, links to readings and quizzes are also accessible any time in the Canvas platform. However, 100 percent online does not mean 100 percent asynchronous. Pursuing an artificial intelligence degree online at SMU involves synchronous meetups with instructors and your classmates. Live facetime is how you make industry contacts and build your professional network. 

3. The Timing Is Flexible

You've probably wondered how long it takes to complete a part-time computer science master's program. Choose a part-time graduate program delivered online, and the answer is up to you. The online MSCS-AI program at SMU Lyle comprises 10 classes representing 30 credit hours. You can fulfill the graduation requirements in about two years by taking one or two courses per semester or over five years if you need more flexibility.

What Challenges Do Students in Part-Time Online Master's Programs Encounter?

Knowing what to expect in a part-time master's in computer science program is step one. You'll probably spend about 18 to 20 hours per week attending classes, completing assignments, meeting with classmates and instructors and keeping pace with the course content while pursuing SMU's online MSCS-AI.

Preparing for the challenges you may encounter should be step two. Juggling multiple and varied commitments can be difficult. Working full-time and meeting a 20-hour academic commitment while also attending to personal matters takes organization, time management and prioritization. 

Tips for Students Pursuing an Artificial Intelligence Degree Online While Working Full-Time

Make a Weekly Schedule with Concrete Deadlines

Think ahead. Even if a reading assignment doesn’t have a specific deadline, set one in advance and commit to meeting it. Take advantage of calendar apps, to-do lists, sticky notes – whatever will help you stay on track. Consider everything you need to accomplish in a given week, including personal commitments and work priorities, and schedule your coursework around those obligations.

Give Yourself Time to Get Up to Speed

Keep in mind that getting into the swing of things will take time, and be kind to yourself. If the last time you took a class was years ago, it might be a few weeks before you find out which study approaches work best for you. If you're new to online learning, it may take longer to figure out what works and what doesn't. Leave room in your schedule for this learning curve.

Use University Resources 

You can access many of the same student resources as on-campus learners when you're enrolled in the online computer science master's degree program, so use them. Drop in to the virtual office hours and get to know the industry-leading faculty. Look into opportunities to participate in research. Attend SMU Lyle's guest lectures virtually or, if you are in the Dallas Fort Worth area, in-person. And tap into an active alumni network of professionals who work for elite organizations around the U.S. and at Big Tech companies in Texas.

Connect With Your Classmates

Peer support is an asset when you are pursuing an artificial intelligence degree online while working full-time. Students in the MSCS-AI program include successful computer science, information technology and engineering professionals. You'll also meet business analysts, data engineers, programmers and AI and machine learning professionals. Your peers can offer valuable advice and insight specific to their fields. And when the artificial intelligence coursework gets challenging, you can tackle it together.

Don't Be Shy About Asking for Help

Your family, friends and colleagues want to see you succeed. If juggling the demands of your job, the demands of home and your coursework becomes overwhelming, tap into your support network. Maybe friends can take your kids off your hands for a few hours each week so you can focus on your studies with fewer distractions. When the timing of online courses overlaps with a regular weekly meeting, be upfront about the conflict and ask your coworkers to adjust the day or time. 

Tap Your Employer for Financial Support

If you plan to stay at your workplace after earning your computer science master's, ask your employer if the company has an official tuition reimbursement policy. If the answer is no, ask whether your company might cover a portion of your tuition under the guise of professional development. This isn't an unreasonable request. Being up to date on machine learning algorithms, natural language processing, computer vision, Big Data analysis and other technical topics benefits your organization. 

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

There may be moments when you feel like quitting. Completing a master’s program while working full-time is no easy feat. Remind yourself often why you're pursuing an artificial intelligence master's online. If money is a motivating factor, consider that computer science degrees and artificial intelligence skills have some of the highest wage premiums. Machine learning engineers earn nearly $150,000 per year. The ROI of the MSCS-AI is substantial. If you're hoping your master's will open doors, remember that 26 percent of artificial intelligence job listings require a master's degree, and that number is likely to grow. Earning a master's in artificial intelligence will help you differentiate yourself from the competition in a changing technology job market.

Is the Part-Time Online MSCS-AI at SMU Lyle Right for Me?

To answer this question, think about why you are interested in specializing in artificial intelligence. Do you want to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to lead your workplace into the future? Do you want to shift careers and move into the growing field of artificial intelligence? Are you interested in AI's potential to make the world a better place? Do you want to future-proof your career? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then SMU's online master of science in computer science with an artificial intelligence specialization can help you get where you want to go. 

Lyle School of Engineering's part-time MSCS-AI option is a practical choice. You can keep earning income and accruing professional experience as you study, making it easier to pay for a master's degree and to advance in your career after graduation. Plus, you will be able to apply what you’re learning in real-time at your job, so you will immediately see the benefits of pursuing this advanced degree. 

If you're concerned you won't fit in, keep in mind there is no 'typical' student at SMU Lyle. Many MSCS-AI candidates are mid-career professionals seeking new skills, or recent graduates with backgrounds in computer science, mathematics and information technology. What students in this program have in common is that they are invested in the applicability of AI to solve real-world problems and power business decision-making now and in the future. They are committed to entering the growing field of artificial intelligence to apply this technology in sectors as diverse as cyber security, healthcare and manufacturing. If that resonates, you will fit right in.


If you still have questions about what it's like to earn a part-time master's in computer science with an artificial intelligence specialization in SMU Lyle's online program, you can get those questions answered by connecting with an enrollment advisor. When you're ready, start your application online.