Master of Science Degree
Curriculum & Courses

A Curriculum For Decision Makers

The Master of Science in Applied Analyses and Decision Making is a 20-month-long, part-time program, including 16 months of coursework, followed by four months of independent study on a Master’s thesis. Three of the four 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. The fourth course, designed expressly to help you hone your research skills, is held only in the first two semesters. 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 /

  • 20-month, part-time program
  • Advanced, interdisciplinary, practical curriculum
  • Fully accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission
  • 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 Applied Analyses and Decision Making 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, and share their central learning outcomes, but have been re-envisioned and re-designed for the master’s level. Specifically, the material has been recast to focus on the sorts of analyses that can support making complex decisions, and class activities go into correspondingly greater depth. In addition, expectations for demonstrating your learning are set at the master’s level, in keeping with the Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile. Assignments are more sophisticated and require an advanced level of knowledge and intellectual skills. Only master's students will take these courses; no undergraduates will be enrolled in them.

Research Methods (4 units)
In this course, offered only in the first two semesters, you will learn the methods of independent research, including study design and the R language and data analysis toolkit. You will explore a wide variety of case studies requiring you to sharpen your skills in gathering and analyzing evidence, applying concepts from the other three courses, and making practical and defensible decisions. These cases cover real-world challenges related to malnutrition, water allocation, the use of economic sanctions in international relations, computer-assisted medical diagnosis, and much more. In the second half of the spring semester, you will present initial plans for your proposed thesis project, assigning accessible readings for the rest of the class, so that other students may follow and critique your presentation.

Master’s Thesis (4 units)
During the four 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.

Big Questions
The content used in each course 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 the four courses, you will often be asked to consider how to analyze these same questions from different perspectives. These Big Questions serve to integrate the material and give you experience using concepts in real-world contexts.

Advanced Courses

Three Core Courses

The core of the program is three intensive courses. These courses differ from standard university courses in several ways. First, the primary goal of each is to learn and integrate Habits of Mind and Foundational Concepts (HCs). Second, each course illustrates these HCs with a wide range of content, helping you to 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 three core 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.

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.

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