Master of Science Degree
Curriculum & Courses

A Curriculum For Decision Makers

The Master of Science in Decision Analysis is a 21-month-long, part-time program, including 16 months of coursework, followed by five months of independent study on a Master’s thesis. Three of the five Core Courses are based upon the undergraduate Cornerstone courses, but recast at the graduate level to focus on the types of analyses and considerations needed to support complex decision-making. A fourth course focuses on statistics-based inference, applied to case scenarios from diverse fields, and the fifth course is designed expressly to help you hone your research skills. With help from a carefully chosen thesis advisor, your independent Master’s thesis work will culminate in an original research project in which you will identify an issue, analyze it, and defend a specific decision, or decisions, addressing the issue.

Liat Segal, Master's Student in Berlin
Key Program Features /

  • 21-month, part-time program
  • Advanced, interdisciplinary, practical curriculum
  • Research-based thesis
  • Expert faculty advisors
  • Professional development support
  • No residential requirement

Liat Segal, Master’s Class of 2017 joins Minerva undergraduates at a co-curricular event in Berlin.

Photo: Marcus Reichmann/Blink

Program Philosophy

Utility Across Disciplines

The Master of Science in Decision Analysis program leads bright, highly-motivated post-Bachelor’s students to acquire competencies that allow them to analyze complex real-world problems from multiple perspectives, to present options for addressing these problems, to exercise sound judgment in choosing among the options, and to establish criteria for monitoring and evaluating the efficacy of the decisions that are implemented. This program is guided by KGI’s focus on innovation and engagement, as well as its specific emphasis on translation of knowledge for the common good. We focus on developing ways that the material can be used in practical applications.

After completing the program you will be able to analyze and use data effectively in a variety of fields, to compare options available in any given decision-making scenario, and to establish metrics and systems to evaluate and make intelligent decisions. These skills are useful in many professions, ranging from law and business to the life sciences and medicine, and are also central to most academic pursuits. The ability to analyze and make intelligent decisions touches virtually all types of human endeavors.

Curriculum Design

Built on a Solid Foundation

The curriculum is empirically oriented and based on understanding and assimilating the Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HCs) that underlie critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication, and effective interaction. Course requirements are as follows:

Core Courses (24 units) 
Three Core Courses parallel the Cornerstone courses offered in the undergraduate program, but have been re-envisioned and re-designed for the master’s level. This part of the program is designed to promote mastery across 65 central learning outcomes in creative thinking, critical thinking, and effective interaction. Throughout the curriculum, class material focuses on the sorts of analyses that can support making complex real-world decisions, and class activities go into greater depth on a wide variety of cases and problem domains. 


Analytical Focus Courses (8 units)
Two additional courses focus on practical, hands-on skill development related to data analysis and research design. One emphasizes computational and information-based decision-making, including statistical inference using the R platform and programming language. A second course covers the methods of independent research, in which you will learn quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods study design, and continue your use of the R language for data analysis. In both of these courses, you will explore a wide variety of problem domains, including public policy, business and industry, and the sciences, requiring you to sharpen your skills in gathering and analyzing evidence, applying concepts from the other three courses, and making practical and defensible decisions. Specific case studies cover topics such as malnutrition, the use of economic sanctions in international relations, computer-assisted medical diagnosis, water allocation, and much more.

Big Questions
The content used in three of the five Core Courses is guided by a set of Big Questions. We adopted questions that are globally relevant, very difficult to answer (and hence require deep analysis and consideration before making decisions regarding them), and which touch on issues that affect students’ lives. In these courses, you will often be asked to consider how to analyze these same questions from different perspectives. The Big Questions serve to integrate the material and give you experience using concepts in real-world contexts.

Advanced Courses

Intensive, Applied Courses

All of our courses differ from standard university courses in several ways. First, the primary goal of each is to learn and integrate very explicit learning objectives. These are all described in course syllabi, attached to each class session, and your progress on each one is available via an online dashboard. Second, each course illustrates these learning objectives with a wide range of content, helping you to generalize your skills and learn to analyze situations and alternatives that underlie intelligent decision-making. Third, each course is a seminar. As such, they all focus on active learning, not passive reception of information. The five courses are:

  • Advanced Formal Analyses, which teaches you how to represent situations mathematically and logically, using concepts in mathematics, probability and statistics, computer science, and logic. The subject matter used to illustrate this material will typically be drawn from a wide range of problems (see “Big Questions” above).
  • Advanced Empirical Analyses, which teaches you how to use the scientific method to analyze situations and make decisions by framing problems, formulating and testing creative hypotheses, and engaging in informed conjecture. The subject matter used to illustrate this material will typically be drawn from the natural sciences.
  • Advanced Complex Systems, which teaches you how to analyze complex systems such as economic and social systems. Such systems have many interacting parts and multiple inputs, typically involve feedback loops and nonlinear effects, and often give rise to emergent properties. Because so many human social systems are complex in this way, such analysis is vital to effective leadership, debate and negotiation. The subject matter used to illustrate this material will typically be drawn from the social sciences.
  • Information-Based Decisions, which teaches you how to extract meaning from data using modern approaches such as Bayesian Inference. Discover how to make big strategic decisions with mathematics, statistics, and computer simulation. Technical aspects of the course focus on computational approaches and real-world challenges, drawing cases from the life sciences, public policy and politics, education, and business.
  • Research Methods, which teaches you how to design new research studies to collect the qualitative and quantitative data needed to support your decisions. Extend your use of the R language to develop effective data visualizations, descriptive statistics, and regression models. 

Master’s Thesis Project

Decision-Making in Practice

The Master’s Thesis is expected to represent a substantial body of work, of publishable quality. It has two components. First, you must identify and characterize an issue that you can analyze. Part of this process requires a literature review of relevant materials. Second, you must use the tools acquired in the coursework to identify key decisions that must be made to address the issue. You must use material learned to justify making specific decisions. Typically, students will obtain data sets that they can analyze, but in some cases purely qualitative analyses will be acceptable. In all cases, however, you must use appropriate analyses to justify proposed decisions in detail.

Master’s Thesis (4 units)
During the five months following the conclusion of your coursework, you will complete a master’s thesis. This will require you to conduct an original research project, with the advice and guidance of a Thesis Advisor. Specifically, you will identify an issue, research the existing literature, and conduct original research and analysis to justify making a specific decision — or decisions — that bear on the issue. The work must demonstrate effective use of the skills you learned in the coursework but the topic is open, subject to approval from your advisor. The thesis will be graded at graduate-level standards by the Thesis Advisor and another faculty member who was not involved in the project. The project must include:

  • A statement of what issue will be addressed. The issue should be posed in the context of a detailed literature review. The review should not simply summarize previous relevant studies or literature, but should critically analyze it and conclude with a clear statement of the implications of the review.
  • A clear statement of why the issue to be addressed in the project is important.
  • A summary of the methodology to be used in the study.
  • A detailed description of what was actually done.
  • A clear and rigorous report of the results, using appropriate descriptive and inferential statistics, which in turn justify making a specific decision.
  • A discussion of the applied implications of the results of the study.

You will be assigned both a Thesis Advisor from the Minerva faculty and an outside reader, who is an expert in the relevant domain.

Graduate program applications are now open for the Master’s class starting in Fall 2019. 

Be ready for what’s next.