There is no doubt that data science is a field of study that is continuing to grow in popularity. After all, data science has been integrated into all corners of the economy as a means of reviewing large data sets, analyzing that data, and using the information gleaned from that data to inform decision-making.
To become a data scientist, one must master a variety of skills. This includes statistics, computer programming, data visualization, strong communication skills, and a solid background in business.
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Data science programs are growing in number with every passing year. While many of these programs are at traditional brick-and-mortar schools, a growing number of colleges and universities are offering data science degree programs online.
Where just a decade ago it might have been difficult to find more than a handful of data science degree programs offered online, today you can get anything from an associate’s degree up to a Ph.D. in data science or a related program and do so while studying wholly online.
The popularity of online learning is due to a wide range of benefits that traditional classroom learning typically cannot offer. So, if you’re thinking about majoring in data science, consider the following benefits of online learning as reasons to strongly consider enrolling in an online data science degree program.
Online Courses Enable Self-Pacing
A great deal of data science hinges upon difficult mathematical and scientific subjects. By going online in order to get the necessary training, students are often able to study at their own pace. Rather than being prodded along in a classroom setting in which the class moves forward whether you’re ready or not, many online learning options allow students to complete many components of an online degree program at their own pace.
While this means that those having difficulty can take their time to really absorb the material, it also means those who have grasped data science easily can move at a much faster pace than they might find in a traditional classroom environment. In that regard, it’s a win-win situation whether you’re learning the material quickly or whether you need a little more time.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some limits on self-paced learning. For example, you might be able to take an extra day or two to really study a concept before moving onto the next component of a class – you aren’t going to get months and months to master the material.
Still, even the flexibility of taking a little extra time when you need it can prove highly beneficial to you in terms of developing an understanding of the topics under study. It also gives you time to seek help from your professors that will further your understanding of the course material.
It should be noted that some in-person courses do allow for some measure of self-paced learning. However, it is typically not to the degree that an online course affords. For example, in a classroom setting, you might have a flexible period of time to complete an assignment, that way you can take extra time to complete the assignment to the best of your abilities. It is unlikely, though, that you would be able to take several days or an extra week to focus your attention on a specific topic like you can often do in an online learning environment.
There is a Convenience Factor
There is little doubt that online data science studies provide a convenient alternative to actually attending class on campus. This is especially true for students that work full-time.
For example, if you work a full-time job (or even a part-time job for that matter), you might find it difficult to get the time off that’s needed to attend classes at a specific time on specific days on campus. Likewise, if you have family obligations, such as young children at home, attending classes on campus might be prohibitively expensive due to the need for arranging child care.
But online learning negates both of these issues. By learning online, you can work on your studies after work in the evenings or on the weekends. If you have a day off or a long weekend, you can use that time to work on your coursework as well.
By the same token, studying online at home means that you don’t necessarily need to get a babysitter if you have kids at home. Granted, having young kids at home while you’re trying to study might be difficult, but if you can work out the logistics (i.e., studying after the kids are in bed) it could end up being much more convenient (and less costly) than studying on campus.
Additional benefits that increase convenience include not having to commute to class if you live off-campus, not having to find parking, and not having the opportunity cost of spending time in the car to get to and from school. All that time and effort can instead be focused on your coursework.
Now, obviously, if you’re a freshman in college and you live on campus, attending in-person classes isn’t inconvenient at all. You don’t have to worry about your commute time or parking or the time and expense that comes with it. Perhaps the biggest convenience question for on-campus students is how far they have to walk or ride their bike to get from the dorm to the classroom building.
But, having the option of taking some online courses will still benefit you in terms of being able to study when it’s convenient for you to do so. Having two or three online classes, even as a student that lives on campus, can help you manage your time more wisely and better manage your class load and achieve a better balance between school, work, and life in general.
Online Learning Cost-Effective
Taking online data science courses can be a more cost-effective way to get your degree as well.
As noted earlier, one of the inconveniences of learning on campus is the time needed to commute to and from campus. An additional inconvenience is that you have to pay for gas and maintenance for your vehicle and might have to pay for parking, too. By learning online, you can avoid these overhead expenses and put that money back into your pocket.
Another way in which online learning is more cost-effective is that some colleges and universities do not differentiate between in-state and out-of-state tuition for online learning. Since out-of-state tuition and fees tend to be much higher than in-state tuition and fees, it could work out to be a significant savings for you to study online.
According to Champlain College, in some instances, online tuition is actually lower than for the same courses on campus. With the price of higher learning, this could also add up to a great deal of savings.
Some online courses make use of existing learning materials that are already online. This means that you might not have to pay for textbooks for some online courses. Add that savings to the typically lower fees that students pay for online courses, and, again, you can have a good bit of money saved simply by studying online.
Of course, studying online means that you can do so from anywhere that you have an internet connection. This means that some students elect to stay at home with their parents, at least for a semester or two in order to save more money. With all the ways that you can save money with online learning, you might be able to graduate with your degree with much less student loan debt than other students that decide to study on campus.
Online Learning Can Be Done Anywhere
The flexibility of online learning is certainly an enormous benefit for students in data science. Without being tied down to attending class at a specific time, on a specific day, in a specific location, you can study data science from anywhere you like, provided you have the right tools to do so.
Since most online courses really only require that you have a computer and an internet connection, you can theoretically study anywhere you want – at home, in a coffee shop, on vacation, or somewhere in between.
This can be hugely advantageous for data science students because it gives you that much more freedom to study when and where it’s most convenient for you. For example, if you have a full-time job but you have a test on data visualization coming up, you could use your break time to get out your laptop and do a quick study session. Likewise, if you’re on a family vacation but you need to complete a project for an online class, you can do so from your hotel room, the pool, the beach, or wherever you find yourself.
The downside to this is that studying “anywhere” opens you up to distraction. Some people are able to get into the zone and study in even the loudest and most distracting places. Other people simply cannot do that. Just bear this in mind as you weigh this particular benefit of studying data science online.
Credit Transfers are Easier Than Ever
There was a time when students that studied online had to be concerned about whether their course credits would transfer if need be. Those days are gone.
For those students who want to also attend a brick-and-mortar university, the online credits acquired are very likely to be transferred to their new school. A student who is taking the summer off, for example, might take an online data science course and when the fall semester rolls around, they will be ahead of the curve when it comes to credits that apply toward graduation.
There are some things to consider with transfer credits, though.
First, if you take online courses that you want to transfer to a different institution, the online courses will need to be accredited. Regional accreditation is preferred, but some schools do allow transfer credits from institutions that are nationally accredited. Either way, it is critical that the online courses you take are accredited to ensure a greater likelihood that the credits will count.
Second, be aware that a course you take online might not transfer as that specific course to another institution. For example, if you take an online course in data analysis, that course might transfer as a data science elective, not as a specific data analysis course. Though there is nothing wrong with earning elective credits, if a course doesn’t transfer as the same specific class, you might have to retake the course at the institution to which you’ve transferred your online credits.
Third, schools will only accept a certain number of transfer credits. So, if you earn 45 credits online, a college or university might only accept 30 of them. As such, it’s important for you to understand exactly what will and will not transfer to your institution of choice before you begin taking online courses.
Data Science is a Hot Career Path
One benefit of choosing to study data science online deals with employment opportunities.
Back in 2012, the Harvard Business Review said that data science was the “sexiest job of the 21st century.” That still holds true today nearly a decade later.
In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the field of computer and information research will grow by 15 percent through the rest of the decade. That is a much faster rate than average and reflects how white-hot this field truly is.
And the job opportunities will likely only continue to grow given that the amount of data that’s produced is continuing to rise. With more data means more need for data scientists to sort, analyze, interpret, and report on that data.
Is an Online Data Science Program in Your Future?
As we’ve discussed here, there are numerous benefits to taking online courses for data science. Not only is it convenient and flexible, but it can also be cost-effective and enables you to study virtually anywhere you like.
Individuals with a strong background in data science are being sought out by major corporations and private individuals to analyze incredible amounts of data. These companies and private parties have little, if any, interest in whether you gained your skills by studying online or in a classroom on campus. All they want is someone that has the ability to take raw data and convert the information into something concrete that is useful. You can learn how to do precisely that by studying data science online.