16 Best Data Science Degrees [Undergraduate & Graduate]

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degrees for data science

Whether you’re considering a career in data science or looking to advance in the field, the right degree can make all the difference. In general, data science jobs have exploded in popularity within the last 5–10 years with a projected growth rate of 36% between 2021 and 2031. To help prepare those who are seeking a career in data science, many colleges and universities are offering relevant programs and degrees, especially since employers are looking for undergraduate experience and often a master’s degree. 

Keep reading to learn which degrees are most helpful and might be the right fit for your data science career.

8 Popular Careers in Data Science

Though data scientist is a popular career choice, there are many other exciting positions in the field of data science.

  • Data Scientist A person in this position uses data expertise to create impact for businesses or organizations by developing an understanding of a business problem or challenge, preparing data that can be used as insight, conducting exploratory analysis, and engaging in data modeling and visualization. 
  • Data Analyst — Data analysts translate numbers and data into words and graphic visualizations to help organizations and companies understand how to make more informed business decisions — everything from how to price and market new products to how to attract new customers, reduce expenses, improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of medical care, and much more.
  • Database Developer — A central role of the database developer is to help organizations improve the way they utilize data to enhance operational efficiency and uncover valuable business insights and potential opportunities.
  • Business Data Analyst (or Business Intelligence Analyst) — A business analyst, as defined by LiveAbout.com, listens to leaders, stakeholders, experts, etc. and then devises ways to help a company get where it needs to be.
  • Data Engineer — In this type of position, you are mainly responsible for formatting, scaling, cleaning and studying data to help drive informed business strategies, decisions and actions.
  • Data Financial Analyst — This type of analyst juggles numbers to analyze and discover the inner workings of a company with the goal of maintaining the financial health and wealth of a business or organization. 
  • Quantitative Analyst — These professionals specialize in using algorithms and different types of modeling to solve complicated financial challenges and issues. 
  • Data Architect — A data architect creates and oversees the large-scale management plan for an organization’s current and future data. 

Average Salary for Data Science Careers

In general, salaries for data science careers are on the higher end, with many positions netting six figures. The exact amount, however, will depend on the specific position, the company, your responsibilities and the required experience and education. To give you an idea of what to expect, here are some common salaries and ranges*:

  • Data Scientist — Average salary of $140,042 with a range between $124,770–$154,336
  • Data Analyst — Average salary of $82,447 with a range between $73,655–$92,370
  • Data Science Engineer — Average salary of $152,109 with a range between $137,078–$168,377. 
  • Data Architect — Average salary of $145,000 with a range anywhere from $70,000–$279,000.

*The numbers listed will likely fluctuate in real time due to changing data. 

Data Science Career Outlook

As we mentioned, the outlook for data science careers is quite promising. The position of data scientist has made U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of Best Technology Jobs, Best STEM Jobs, and 100 Best Jobs. The rankings also include other data science-related careers such as information security analyst, computer network architect and computer systems administrator.

In a recent article “19 Hot Jobs That Pay More than $100,000 a Year,” the following jobs made the list: information security analyst, database architect, data scientist and computer and information research scientist. 

Real-World Data Science Applications

From the obvious to the more subtle, data science has become an integral part of many professions and industries:

  • The world of sports analytics relies heavily on data science, including everything from fan engagement and player performance to fantasy sports and product development.
  • Data science is used in education to analyze the metrics of students such as qualifications and exam results. 
  • The company StreetLight offers products that allow consumers to use big data to analyze traffic, solve transportation problems and streamline route efficiency.
  • Healthcare relies on data science for everything from drug development and chatbots to wearable devices and tracking patient health. 
  • Enigma is a company that aims to transform “hundreds of online and offline sources into the freshest, most reliable data on the identity, activity, and risk profile of every small business.” 

Qualifications to Work in Data Science

The qualifications will vary depending on the position, but the following hard skills are typically required:

  • Data mining
  • Programming languages such as Python 
  • Statistics and probability
  • Mathematics
  • Visualization
  • Optimization
  • Predictive modeling
  • Machine learning and deep learning
  • Data engineering
  • Cloud computing 

In many cases, an advanced degree is required for data scientist or data science-related positions. 

Best Bachelor’s Degrees for Data Science

If you’re a high school student who is interested in a data science career, there are many undergraduate degrees that would serve you well depending on your interests. Here are some of the most common bachelor’s degrees:

  • Data science 
  • Data/analytics 
  • Computer science
  • Applied mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Information technology
  • Computer information systems
  • Business, finance, or economics
  • Engineering (mechanical, electrical, or industrial)
  • Physics
  • Biostatistics

Some undergraduate degrees may be a better fit for certain careers. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a data financial analyst, a business or finance degree is a good option.  

Best Master’s Degrees

Many data science careers require an advanced degree. While these types of master’s degree programs are ideally suited to those with a background in science, math, engineering or technology, they may also be structured to train those from other backgrounds who are motivated to transition into data science. 

  • A master’s degree in applied data science will prepare students with in-depth analytical knowledge tied to real-world applications, programming skills and knowledge, and important professional skills that will help them succeed in their career and create meaningful social impact. 
  • A data analytics master’s degree program offers comprehensive knowledge of data analytics and engages students in understanding the applications of the latest industry tools and approaches. This includes training and techniques for organizing, cleaning, analyzing and visualizing large amounts of data. 
  • A master’s in business analytics prepares students to work in technical roles involving such responsibilities as extracting data to explain trends, predicting future performance, determining best approaches and explaining solutions in the context of business to stakeholders. 

Popular Certifications 

Data science certifications are an excellent way to supplement your education and demonstrate to potential employers that you’re serious about expanding your skills and knowledge. Popular options include: 

According to the Coursera description, “The Advanced Business Analytics Specialization brings together academic professionals and experienced practitioners to share real world data analytics skills you can use to grow your business, increase profits, and create maximum value for your shareholders. Learners gain practical skills in extracting and manipulating data using SQL code, executing statistical methods for descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive analysis, and effectively interpreting and presenting analytic results.” 

This certification is geared toward “individuals who perform Big Data analyses with at least two years of experience using AWS technology,” according to Amazon. A new version of the exam became available in April 2020: the AWS Certified Data Analytics – Speciality. 

This certification from the CAS Institute “offers analytics professionals and their employers the opportunity to certify skills specifically as applied to property-casualty insurance.” The certification program centers on insurance and technical knowledge. Participants will also complete a project that includes a real-world situation.

“The Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) certification is a trusted, independent verification of the critical technical expertise and related soft skills possessed by accomplished analytics and data science professionals, and valued by analytics-oriented organizations.” 

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Which Degree Path Is Right For You?

While there are many options, the right choice will depend on your short-term and long-term career goals and interests. If you’re interested in finance, consider a business degree. If you are open to different industries and professions, a more general degree such as data science or computer science might be a better choice. 

Budget, time and flexibility are also important factors you need to consider. For example, many advanced degree programs offer online, part-time options that are better suited for working professionals. 

We recommend conducting as much research as possible and contacting enrollment advisors or career counselors at higher education institutions who can provide more information about specific programs. 

Another option is to conduct informational interviews with professionals in data science who work in a specific role or industry in which you’re interested. This is also a helpful way to learn about specific educational paths from others in the industry and which degrees might be most beneficial to you. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most popular undergraduate degrees for data science?

Bachelor’s degrees in data science, computer science and mathematics are common options for undergraduates who are interested in pursuing a data science career. Others include data analytics, statistics, information technology, business, engineering and physics.

What are the most popular graduate degrees for data science?

Advanced degrees in applied data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer science are common in data science careers.

Is a master’s degree required to work in data science?

In many cases — yes. But education requirements will depend on the specific position. Even if a master’s degree isn’t required, it will set you apart from other candidates and provide you with knowledge and skills that can lead to future job opportunities.

Can I obtain a master’s degree in data science if my undergraduate degree is unrelated?

While a master’s in data science is typically geared toward those with a background in science, math, engineering or technology, certain programs may also be structured to train those from other backgrounds who are motivated to transition into data science.

If you’re ready to explore advanced degree programs, we invite you to consider the University of San Diego’s Master of Applied Science in Data Science, which is designed to equip graduates with the technical knowledge, skills, and strategies needed to apply powerful and modern analytical tools to real-world applications. Have specific questions about the program or admissions process? Contact our enrollment advisors for more information.

Considering Earning Your Master’s in Data Science?

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