M.S. Program | College of Information Sciences and Technology
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M.S. Program

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M.S. Program

In Penn State’s College of IST, you will receive multidisciplinary training that prepares you to address complex issues related to technology and society. We welcome applicants from diverse academic backgrounds including computer science, behavioral sciences, cognitive and brain sciences, engineering, environmental sciences, information sciences, law, life sciences, health sciences, management, philosophy, physical sciences, policy, mathematics, statistics, and social sciences such as sociology and economics.

In our M.S. program, you will engage more deeply in an intellectual conversation with research and science. An M.S. degree typically opens up advanced career opportunities; both in industry and as preparation for a Ph.D.

M.S. Course Requirements

The M.S. in IST is a 30-credit degree program, which takes two years to complete on a full-time basis. A complete discussion of degree requirements can be found in our IST Graduate Degree Roadmap.

Core Courses

As an M.S. in IST student, you are required to complete two core courses that provide a broad understanding of the core constructs of people, information, technology, and the significant interactions among these elements. These courses include:

  • IST 504: Foundations of Theories and Methods of Information Sciences (3 credits)
  • IST 505: Foundations of Research Design in Information Sciences and Technology (3 credits)
Research Credits

Under the direction of your adviser, you will complete a minimum of six research credits.

Research Methodology

You will complete a minimum of six credits of research methodology coursework. The goal is for you to develop a basic understanding of the research methods utilized in the information sciences. A research methodology course can be in IST, communications, computer science, political science, statistics or any area that is linked to the information sciences. View the course list to see available options.

Specialty Courses

You will complete a minimum of 12 credits of specialty area coursework. A specialty area course could be in IST, law, business, education, engineering, the liberal arts or any area that is linked to the information sciences.

You can take courses from a variety of these subjects, or you can enroll in a series of courses concentrated on one discipline. The College of IST currently offers concentrations in cybersecurity, data sciences, and HCD (human-centered design), but note that not all courses are offered every semester.

Cybersecurity Concentration
It's a constant challenge for individuals, businesses, and governments. There is no shortage of publicity surrounding security failures, breaches, and cyberattacks. The increasing dependence on technology to power critical infrastructures across the globe exposes vulnerabilities, and the consequences of a successful cyberattack can be far-reaching. In fact, it is estimated that hackers are stealing $250 billion a year in intellectual property, including weapons designs and source code, as well as trade secrets from consumer industries.

Sample Courses*
IST 543       Foundations of Software Security               
IST 554       Network Management and Security               
IST 564       Crisis, Disaster, and Risk Management
IST 815       Foundations of Information Security and Assurance  
IST 820       Cybersecurity Analytics
*Course offerings are dependent on minimum enrollment numbers and faculty availability

Data Sciences Concentration
In today’s information society, professionals who can make sense of big data are in high demand. The Data Sciences concentration is part of an intercollege initiative between the College of Information Sciences and Technology, College of Engineering, and Eberly College of Science to meet that need. The program will educate students on the technical fundamentals of data sciences, with a focus on developing the knowledge and skills needed to manage and analyze large-scale, unstructured data to address an expanding range of problems in industry, government, and academia. As a result, data sciences graduates will possess the core skills and problem-solving approaches to compete for leading-edge analytics positions across many different industry sectors.

Sample Courses*
IST 557       Data Mining: Techniques and Applications         
IST 558       Data Mining II                           
IST 597       Special Topics: Machine Learning
STAT 500    Applied Statistics
*Course offerings are dependent on minimum enrollment numbers and faculty availability

Human-Centered Design Concentration
Human-centered design integrates, applies, and develops human and computational sciences through creating and evaluating interactive systems. HCD researchers study specific fields of human practice and work domains, using ethnography, survey and interview methods, laboratory experiments, field deployments, and session logging and data mining. They create advanced user interfaces and applications incorporating mobile and collaborative technologies, interactive visualizations, and a wide range of interactions. They study the social, cognitive, and affective aspects of the user experience, as well as consequences for communities, organizations, and society. HCD research increases the chance that new information technologies can be used and enjoyed by people for real purposes. HCD researchers are user advocates first and technology advocates second.

Sample Courses*
IST 520       Foundations in Human-Centered Design         
IST 521       Human-Computer Interaction: The User and Technology                          
IST 525       Computer-Supported Cooperative Work
IST 526       Development Tools and Visualizations for Human-Computer Interaction
*Course offerings are dependent on minimum enrollment numbers and faculty availability


Program Milestones

In addition to coursework, the M.S. program includes several milestones:

  • You will select a graduate faculty member as your adviser and begin working with your adviser by mid-September of your first year.
  • In conjunction with your adviser, you will determine by the end of your first semester if you will complete a thesis or scholarly paper. 
  • You will formally select your M.S. degree committee no later than the completion of your first year of study.
  • You will defend your thesis or submit your scholarly paper for approval.

Funding Opportunities

Financial support for M.S. students is not guaranteed. In special circumstances where there is research or teaching support needs, however, an M.S. student may receive funding in the form of a part-time wage payroll position for up to 20 hours a week. Positions terminate at the conclusion of each semester and carry no guarantee of renewal.

The College of IST provides funding to support students for professional travel. These funds are intended to assist graduate student travel to present results from their research at professional meetings or to present their creative work in a professional venue. 

For other financial aid, contact the Office of Student Aid for information on loans and grants or the Office of Graduate Fellowships and Awards for information on internal and external fellowships.

Our Research

Our faculty are engaged in cutting-edge research in areas such as artificial intelligence and cognition, big data analytics, human-computer interaction, informatics and data sciences (including health informatics, bioinformatics, social informatics, security informatics), data privacy and security, and socio-technical systems. They collaborate extensively with faculty within and outside the college on cutting edge interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary research.


We solve society's most challenging problems

Our students are solving society’s most challenging problems that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries from responding to natural disasters to improving human health and well-being, from protecting national security to making sense of big data, from exploring the connections between gender and technology to utilizing GIS for humanitarian efforts. Precise computational models are needed to learn from the vast data sets available. Scientific theory needs to describe the complex relationships we encounter in the ecosystem we live in, networked with an increasing number of virtual friends, collaborators, and customers.

Research Centers and Labs

The College's research centers and labs include national and international scholars which cover a broad spectrum of research areas. In addition to our own facilities, we have an affiliated research center and relationships with related centers and labs across the Penn State campus.

Research Areas

  • Artificial Intelligence: Knowledge Representation, Machine Learning, Data Mining, and Casual Discovery
  • Big Data: Search, Retrieval, Analytics, Modeling and Informatics
  • Health Informatics and Bioinformatics
  • Cognitive Science
  • Community and Social Informatics
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Human-Centered Design (HCD)
  • Information Economics and Policy
  • Information Fusion and Visualization
  • Network Science
  • Security and Privacy


Past Dissertations

  • Siqiong He, Modeling Photographic Composition via Triangles, adviser James Wang 
  • Yuxuan Liu, Detection and Dynamics of Cyber Bullying in Online Social Networks, adviser Anna Squicciarini
  • William Murphy, Using Supervised Learning to Identify Descriptions of Personal Experiences Related to Chronic Disease on Social Media, adviser John Yen
  • Bryan Ollendyke, Information Altruism, adviser Andrea Tapia
  • Aishwarya Tadikonda, Qualitative Performance Evaluation of Workers Across Different Crowd Sourcing Platforms, adviser Dongwon Lee 
  • Nan Yu, Building a Bridge Between BIM Authoring Tools and Simulation Tools for Energy Efficient Buildings, adviser Dinghao Wu

Career Placement

M.S. Career Placement

Our M.S. graduates go on to careers in industry, academia and government agencies. Today you will find them contributing their expertise to companies like Google, teaching at leading universities or continuing on for a Ph.D.

INDUSTRY = 64%       PH.D. = 15%      TEACHING = 4%      GOVERNMENT = 1%

What You Can Do With a M.S. Degree in IST

  • Blackrock
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • C9 Inc.
  • Ernst & Young
  • Esri
  • Microsoft
  • SRA International ​
  • US Census Bureau
Research Assistant:
  • Army Research Lab
  • BBN Technologies
  • Google
  • Palo Alto Research Center 
  • Penn State Applied Research Lab
  • Yahoo! Labs
Software Engineer:
  • Amazon
  • Barefoot Books Inc.
  • Cisco Systems
  • Comcast
  • IBM
  • Illumina
  • Microsoft
  • Raytheon Co.
  • California State University
  • Penn State University
  • Southern Illinois University
  • Texas State University
  • University of Balitmore
  • University of Iowa 
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Western Ontario 

How to Apply

Apply for Graduate Studies in IST

The Fall 2020 application cycle is now OPEN! Start your application here.

Application Timeline

  • December 15, 2019: Final deadline for applications, including test scores, recommendation letters and supplemental application materials. 
  • January 2020: The Graduate Recruiting Committee begins reviewing applications.
  • February, March and April 2020: Admission offers will be sent via email. Only those applicants with a complete application will be sent an offer.
  • April 15, 2020: Reply deadline for admitted applicants.
  • April 30, 2020: Admission non-acceptance will be sent via email.

How to Apply

  1. Complete the online application to The Graduate School of Penn State University. All applicants must satisfy the graduate admissions requirements of the Penn State Graduate School. 
  2. Upload a one to three page Statement of Research Background and Goals. The statement should detail your personal motivation for obtaining an advanced degree in Information Sciences and Technology. 
  3. Arrange for three letters of recommendation to be submitted. Using the electronic application, applicants will enter referee contact information. The Graduate School will contact the referee with instructions on how to upload a letter of recommendation. 
  4. Upload a complete resume or curriculum vitae to include current position and publications. 
  5. Upload an applicant writing sample. Examples of acceptable documents include a journal article, conference paper, or final paper for a course.
  6. Upload official transcripts from each institution attended. Upon an acceptance of an offer of admission, hard copies of official transcripts must be sent directly from the institution(s) attended to The Graduate School for verification. International applicants should submit transcripts in English and their native language.
  7. Record your self-reported GRE test scores, taken within the last 5 years, to be submitted for application evaluation. GRE test scores must be sent electronically from ETS to the Penn State Graduate School (institution code 2660).
  8. International applicants must arrange for TOEFL iBT scores to be sent electronically from ETS to the Penn State Graduate School (institution code 2660). Please visit the Graduate School for English proficiency exceptions. The College of IST will accept IELTS scores, but we prefer applicants to submit TOEFL iBT scores.