10 Outstanding Reasons to Earn a Master’s Degree in Data Science
Are you an undergraduate in data science, or are you studying a closely related field? Did you graduate some time ago and want to pick up your education where you left off? Then a master’s degree in data science might be right for you.
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Data science is a great field to enter right now. Demand is high – and so are the salaries. And while you can get good entry-level (and even some mid-level) data science jobs with a bachelor’s degree, your career options open up significantly if you have a master’s.
But there are many other benefits of getting a master’s degree in data science beyond the career and salary opportunities.
Here are a few of the top reasons why you should consider getting an advanced data science degree.
Gain Proficiency in Data Management Technologies
One obvious advantage of earning an advanced degree in data science is that as a master’s degree candidate, you will have the opportunity to become proficient in the data management technologies that are important for data professionals to know.
These technologies can be challenging to learn outside of regular work hours if the student’s current job doesn’t already require the use of them. Having an experienced instructor teach these technologies is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to gain proficiency in them.
For example, you might study topics like mathematics, statistics, and computer science in your undergraduate studies. But what you learn in undergraduate courses is not as detailed or in-depth as your graduate studies. Think of undergraduate courses like a river that is a mile wide, but only a foot deep. By comparison, graduate courses are like rivers that are a foot wide and a mile deep.
This means that you can gain far greater depth of knowledge and proficiency in related skills by getting your master’s degree. For example, you likely learned a lot in your introduction to computer science course as an undergraduate. But as a graduate student, you might take two or three courses that focus on Python, R programming, and SQL, to name a few. That’s the greater depth of knowledge you get when you pursue a master’s degree in this field.
Become More Readily Employable
Data science is relevant to virtually all industries right now. This means that proficient and knowledgeable data science master’s degree graduates will be assets to employers in just about any industry in which they want to work.
Talented data scientists are needed in finance, healthcare, and tech. They work in academia, for government agencies, and private non-profits, too.
With a master’s degree under your belt, you can become an enterprise architect or data architect for a large company, a statistician for your state’s government, or a machine learning engineer for a software company, to name a few possibilities.
There are thousands of unfilled data science jobs available for people who can demonstrate they have the skills and credentials to fill them. Many of these are coveted, high-paying jobs with top Fortune 500 companies that require applicants to have a master’s degree.
But what if you already have a good-paying job, but you want a career change? A master’s degree in data science could be the ticket to a career in a new industry. And depending on your level of education and work experience, you might find that getting a master’s degree in data science takes less time than you might think.
For example, if you’ve already taken some graduate level courses in this field, there’s a good chance that they will count towards your degree if the courses were completed in the last seven years or so from an accredited institution.
If you enjoy your career, but feel as though you’re a bit stalled, a degree in data science can help you move up the ladder. There’s no sense in completely changing jobs if you like what you do – but adding to your curriculum vitae with an advanced degree can help jumpstart your career and enable you to stay in a field where you already have significant relevant work experience.
Earn a More Impressive Salary
Like virtually all jobs, the level of education is one highly relevant factor in determining what a data scientist’s salary will be. If you have just a bachelor’s degree, you can expect to earn less per year than a data scientist with the same amount of job experience and a master’s degree.
Having an advanced degree translates to higher earnings in many industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Historical employment data shows that any candidate who plans to pursue a data science career in the tech, healthcare, education, or business sectors will typically earn a significantly higher salary as a master’s degree graduate.
For example, the BLS reported in 2019 that the median yearly salary for a computer scientist was $122,840. In other words, this data science-related career has a median annual salary that is over $83,000 more than the median salary for all occupations combined. That’s not bad!
Granted, not all data scientists earn six figures. But if you have a master’s degree in this or a closely related field, your chances of earning six figures is much, much greater.
For example, the pay range for this job extends to above $190,000 per year for well-qualified and experienced workers. Even the lowest 10 percent of data science workers earn around $70,000 per year. This is a great income for a worker with little or no prior work experience, and it’s a great starting point for building up to a six-figure salary over the course of your career.
A master’s degree, particularly one that requires completion and defense of a capstone data science project, will confer credibility on the student who successfully graduates from the program.
Successful completion of such a project can demonstrate to potential employers that you are capable of using data to solve meaningful and relevant problems. You can show them how you use what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to actual problems in the real world.
This does two things for you. First, it’s a chance to demonstrate what you know and what you can do. It’s a meaningful display of your skills that potential employers can use to gauge whether or now you’re a good fit for the job.
Second, you gain credibility by showing that you have a good grasp of data science theories and that you can apply those theories to your work. While you can highlight your knowledge and skills in an interview process, there is nothing like giving potential employers some “proof in the pudding” that shows your knowledge and skills hard at work.
And it isn’t just programs with a capstone project that can provide you with credibility. Some programs require practicum or internship experiences that give you on-the-job experience in data science. Yet other programs give students that chance to participate in conferences and even competitions in data science. These types of events might not be as long-term or in-depth as a capstone project or internship, but they will still provide that extra level of credibility on your resume.
Enter an Exciting and Future-Centric Field
There is no doubt that data science is an incredibly interesting and exciting field of study. In getting your master’s degree, you have the chance to take a deeper dive into data science than you did in your undergraduate studies. This means exploring topics you didn’t have the chance to explore before – and potentially finding an area of expertise that truly intrigues you.
As discussed earlier, having a master’s degree will make you more employable. This is certainly important for getting your first job after graduation. But since data science is a forward-looking field, having a master’s degree can help you retain employment or more easily switch careers in the future.
If you think about the things data scientists are involved in right now – things like artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, and self-driving cars – it’s tantalizing to think of what you might work on in five years, ten years, or fifteen years down the road. A master’s degree will help you develop the skills that enable you to pursue future endeavors in data science. In that regard, think of a master’s degree as a tool you can use to future-proof your career.
You Can Learn Online
Aside from all the benefits that a master’s degree in data science offers you for your future career, in the short term, it gives you a chance to more easily learn in an online environment.
Not all colleges and universities offer data science master’s degrees, let alone ones that are fully online. However, it is becoming a more and more popular option. This means you have more opportunities today to get a master’s degree than ever before.
Today’s online learning environments are much different than they used to be. Twenty years ago, online learning often consisted of little more than online message boards where you could “interact” with your professor and classmates by leaving messages.
But today, you can get an online master’s degree in data science and have a wealth of resources available to you. This might include video-based classes, archived video lessons, real-time chatting and messaging, and access to tutoring, to name but a few.
Additionally, many online programs are asynchronous. These programs don’t have a set course schedule. This gives you the flexibility of taking courses in an order that best suits you.
Speaking of flexibility, online learning is far more flexible than on-campus learning. While you will still have assignment due dates, exams, projects, and so forth, by and large, the time of day you engage in the learning material is up to you.
Of course, learning online can be less expensive for some students as well. There are no room and board fees, parking fees, or paying for gas to commute to and from school. Instead, you can set up your study space in the comfort of your own home and learn about data science without the fuss and muss that comes with on-campus learning.
Data Science is a Great Career Choice
As outlined above, there are many excellent reasons to launch a career in data science. It’s a fascinating area with countless lucrative and prestigious opportunities to pursue.
Additionally, considering that there is a skills shortage in this field (along with high earning potential), it’s definitely worth giving some thought to the benefits of obtaining your master’s in data science. You could very well find that a master’s degree opens new doors to careers and higher levels of income than you thought possible.
The first step, though, is to finish your undergraduate studies if you haven’t already. Then you can decide on which master’s program in data science you wish to pursue.
As we’ve discussed, there are many different fields of data science and many specializations beyond that. Your undergraduate studies likely whetted your appetite for a particular kind of data science. When looking for a master’s program, it’s wise to think about what areas of this field interest you the most and what your career goals are. Doing so will help you identify potential programs that might fit your specific needs.
Just remember that learning never ends. Getting a master’s degree in data science will certainly prepare you for high-level work in this field in the immediate future and in the long term. But data science is evolving so quickly that continuing education is all but required if you want to stay on the cutting-edge of the field.
While this doesn’t mean that you should pursue a Ph.D. (although for some, that’s a great idea, what it does mean is that you should consider your master’s in data science as just one more step in your educational process. Continue to learn and grow, take post-graduate courses, and think about pursuing a data science certification. Doing so will keep your data science skills sharp – and your career options plentiful.
Whatever specialization you pursue in data science, you will likely find that it ends up being a great career choice now and in the future.
Updated Apri 2021