Database Systems Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a database systems degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctoral degree and potential careers.
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Studying Database Systems: Degrees at a Glance

A database is an organizational tool that allows for inputting and easy retrieval of information, such as numbers. Database systems incorporate all the tools used to contains the database and allow them to operate. Usually, database administrators oversee the management and operation of a database system. Most database administrators have a bachelor's degree in a computer science-related field. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that larger firms may look for applicants with a master's degree. Pursuing a doctoral degree can prepare you for an advanced computer career, such as a computer and information research scientist.

Master's Ph.D.
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals interested in working as a database administrator Individuals interested in an academic or a research career
Common Career Path (with approximate mean salary) Database administrator ($77,000)* - Post-secondary computer science teacher ($80,000)*
- Computer and information research scientist ($103,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years after a bachelor's degree
Common Graduation Requirements Roughly 30-40 hours of graduate coursework
- Thesis or capstone project
Roughly 40-50 hours of graduate coursework
- Qualifying exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in a computer science-related field Bachelor's or master's degree in a computer science-related field
Online Availability Yes Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 report).

Master's Degree in Database Systems

There are a variety of master's degree programs that cover database systems, such as the Master of Science (M.S.) in Computer Science with a concentration in database systems or M.S. in Computer Information Systems with a concentration in database management and business intelligence. Studying database systems at the master's level can teach you how to modify complex software systems, design operational databases and program databases. Some programs in database systems will also cover business topics as a core requirement.

Pros and Cons


  • Online programs are available, which may make it easier to earn your degree while working
  • You can find a variety of master's degree programs that cover database systems
  • You will be prepared for a career with a predicted faster-than-average growth in employment; 17% for database administrators from 2010 to 2020*


  • A bachelor's degree is the common requirement for database administrators, so you may be competing against applicants with a lower degree and more experience
  • Degree programs specifically in database systems are not available, so you will study topics other than databases to earn your degree
  • Database administrators typically work more than 40 hours per week*

Sources: *U.S. News and World Report

Courses and Requirements

Most programs require completion of a capstone project or thesis prior to graduation. Your core courses may vary based on your major. For example, M.S. in Computer Science programs can cover topics like computer networking or systems engineering. When you specialize in database systems, you will be able to study in advanced courses similar to the following:

  • Database design
  • Data mining
  • Database administration
  • Database security
  • Database systems management

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs that cover database systems exist. Online curricula and requirements are usually very similar to campus-based ones, and you will find that most programs offer database systems as a concentration. These programs are primarily designed for working professionals who are interested in advancing their career, so you may need some experience when applying to an online program.

Stand Out with This Degree

According to the BLS, database administrators with professional certification will stand out amongst other applicants. You can find a variety of credentials related to this profession. For example, Microsoft offers the Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) credential, which requires at least one year of experience with Microsoft SQL Server. IBM also offers a certification for database administers that requires passing two tests. The BLS also notes that employers at larger firms may look for applicants with a Master of Business Administration.

Doctoral Degree in Database Systems

Doctoral degree programs in database systems are unavailable. However, some programs, such as the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Computer Science, may allow you to concentrate or engage in research in database systems. Some programs also require that students pass database system-related comprehensive exams before writing their dissertation. You can study database systems in these doctoral programs to prepare for advanced research or academic careers in computer science.

Pros and Cons


  • You should have excellent job prospects if you pursue a computer or information research science career
  • Depending on the program, you will be able to tailor your research to database systems topics
  • Some programs include teaching assistantship opportunities, which can help you gain experience in academia


  • A career as a database administrator does not require a doctoral degree, and you may be competing against applicants with a master's degree and more experience
  • Because programs specifically in database systems aren't available, you may be required to study other areas that don't interest you
  • Online programs are not available at this time

Courses and Requirements

Your coursework will vary based on the computer science program. Common classes in a doctoral program cover topics like algorithms, formal languages and programming languages, database management, computer science theory, the architecture of databases and applied statistics. Other topics you may study include artificial intelligence, language processing, compliers and software engineering. Most programs require that students pass at least one qualifying exam, conduct research and write a dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Online doctoral degree programs in computer science are very rare. You may be able to complete your studies in a hybrid format, which means you will need to complete a portion of your computer science studies on-campus. Most doctoral programs will require that you interact with faculty to complete your research. Although online programs are rare, you may be able to work independently to conduct your research and prepare for your dissertation at an off-campus location.

Stand Out with This Degree

The BLS notes that training in a specialized field can be helpful for prospective computer and information research scientists. With that in mind, you may consider focusing your research on a specific area of database systems. If you are interested in using your database training for an academic career, it could be helpful to complete a teaching assistantship while you complete the doctoral program. This can give you the teaching experience that most employers look for during the hiring process.

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