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A data science degree online qualifies learners for exciting careers helping organizations make informed decisions. Potential careers include data scientist, database administrator, statistician, and computer and information research scientist. Many of these professionals make high salaries. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that computer and information research scientists earn a median annual salary of $122,840.
This guide ranks the best online master's in data science degree programs. We also explain what to expect when earning a master's in data science, how to find the right school, and potential job opportunities for graduates.
What Is Data Science?
A relatively new and interdisciplinary field, data science refers to the theories, methods, and systems used to find meaning in data.
Data science professionals capture, maintain, process, analyze, and communicate data so organizations can use the practice to accomplish goals and understand their customers better. Online data science degree programs cover topics like data mining, big data, machine learning, and human-computer interaction.
Graduates with a master's in data science can pursue roles like data scientist, computer and information research scientist, statistician, and computer and information systems manager. Popular industries for data scientists include computer systems design, research and development, and software publishing.
The BLS projects strong job growth rates from 2019-2029 for many occupations related to data science, including computer and information research scientists (15%), mathematicians and statisticians (33%), and database administrators (10%).
Why Get an Online Data Science Degree?
Earning an online master's in data science helps graduates gain new skills, qualify for more job opportunities, and change careers. A data science bootcamp may work for those who can digest large amounts of information in short periods of time. However, master's programs give students more time to hone their skills. Below, we describe several benefits of earning a data science master's degree online.
- Greater Career Opportunities: Because so many organizations need help managing and making sense of their data, an online data science degree can open the door to many career opportunities. Potential jobs include data scientist, computer and information research scientist, and database administrator.
- Make a Career Change: Many students use a master's in data science to advance their careers or change careers completely.
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What To Expect From Master's in Data Science Programs
Online master's in data science students learn how to collect, clean, organize, and interpret data to help organizations make meaningful and informed decisions. They study topics like data analysis, data visualization, programming languages, and data mining.
A typical online master's in data science takes two years of full-time study to complete. Part-time learners may take three years or longer to graduate. Costs vary by school, but private institutions typically charge higher tuition rates than public universities.
Most master's in data science programs include courses on topics like algorithms for data science, statistical methods and data analysis, data visualization, and principles of database systems. Below, we explain what to expect while earning an online master's in data science, including admission requirements, degree options, and typical courses.
Admission requirements for online data science master's degree programs vary by school. Most programs require a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, business, or a related field. Applicants without a related background may need to complete prerequisite courses before beginning the program. Most master's in data science programs also require a minimum GPA, which varies by school.
Additional requirements may include letters of recommendation, GRE/GMAT scores, a statement of purpose, and a resume. Some online data science degree programs require an interview. Although not usually required, relevant professional experience may increase students' chances of acceptance.
Students seeking an online data science degree program can pursue an MA, an MS, or a master of business administration (MBA) in data analytics. MA and MS programs focus exclusively on data science topics. An MBA in data analytics combines general business and data science courses. Some master's programs offer concentrations similar to data science that go by other names, such as:
A financial analytics concentration combines finance and data science courses. Students learn to use financial data to make decisions and improve profits.
A cybersecurity concentration focuses on improving data security and preventing and responding to cyberattacks.
A business analytics concentration combines data science and business, teaching students how to use business data to make informed decisions.
Comparing Data Science and General Computer Science Degrees
A general computer science master's program offers a broad overview of the theory of computing. Computer science students learn about operating systems, algorithms, and programming languages. Online master's in data science students focus primarily on issues related to data collection, storage, and analysis.
In the table below, we compare key components of data science master's programs and general computer science programs.
|Master's in Data Science||Master's in Computer Science|
|Focus||Applied statistics, database systems and administration, machine learning, data analytics||Computing theory, computer programming languages, algorithms, operating systems|
|Length||2 years full time||2 years full time|
|Types of Classes||Artificial intelligence, marketing analytics, human-computer interaction, cybersecurity||Advanced operating systems, advanced computer architectures, advanced algorithms, thesis|
|Potential Careers||Data scientist, database administrator, computer and information research scientist, statistician||Computer and information research scientist, computer and information systems manager, computer network architect, software developer|
|Admission Requirements||Bachelor's degree, minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE/GMAT scores||Bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE/GMAT scores|
Popular Data Science Courses
Online data science degree programs typically include core, elective, and project or capstone courses. Courses vary by program, but the following list outlines courses commonly found in online master's in data science programs.
Algorithms for Data Science
This class covers topics like algorithm design and analysis, computational complexity, and design paradigms. Students also learn about data processing methods, linear programming, statistical learning methods, and computational geometry.
Statistical Methods and Data Analysis
This foundational course introduces a variety of statistical methods and mathematical theories. Learners explore topics like probability, random variables, statistical inference, and hypothesis testing. They also learn how to use statistical software programs.
Students in this class learn about the theory and practice of creating visual representations of data. Topics include visualization toolkits, flow visualization, data representation, and volume rendering techniques. The class also looks at the use of advanced display devices and applied human perception.
This class explores topics like relational databases and SQL queries, dashboards, and advanced spreadsheets. Students also learn about statistical analysis in R, including interactions, multi-linear regression, and tests for regression assumptions.
This class introduces theories and methods for analyzing large quantities of text data. Students learn to mine text for social behavior analysis, business intelligence, and the digital humanities.
How Much Will a Master's in Data Science Cost?
The cost of a data science online degree varies by school. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) reports an average annual graduate tuition rate of $19,314 for the 2018-19 academic year. Learners seeking the most affordable options should look for public universities where they can pay in-state tuition. The NCES found the average tuition rate for public institutions was significantly less during the same time period, at $12,171 a year.
Students pursuing an online master's in data science should research financial aid opportunities to help offset the cost of their degree, like loans, scholarships, and grants. Unlike loans, scholarships and grants do not require repayment, making them ideal forms of financial aid.
Jobs for Master's in Data Science Graduates
Graduates with a master's in data science can pursue jobs like data scientist, database administrator, computer and information systems manager, and computer and information research scientist. All of these careers offer strong salaries. For instance, computer and information systems managers earn a median salary of $146,360 annually.
The following list outlines several potential careers for graduates with an online master's in data science.
Data scientists collect, analyze, and present data to help organizations make data-informed decisions. Data scientists need skills in areas like big data analytics, Java, Python, and data mining. They work in industries including healthcare, education, and government.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Average Annual Salary: $96,500
Database administrators need at least a bachelor's degree, but organizations often prefer employees with a master's degree. Typical job duties include backing up data, ensuring data security and efficiency, maintaining databases, and testing database structures. Database administrators may work in industries like computer systems design, education, management, and insurance.
Computer and Information Systems Managers
Computer and information systems managers oversee computer-related activity for their organizations. They need a bachelor's degree at minimum, but many employers prefer applicants with a master's degree. Computer and information systems managers also typically hold at least several years of IT experience.
Mathematicians and Statisticians
The BLS projects much faster-than-average job growth for mathematicians and statisticians from 2019-2029. Typical job duties include analyzing data and using math to solve problems. Statisticians work primarily for research and development companies, the federal government, and the healthcare industry.
Computer and Information Research Scientist
Computer and information research scientists develop computing technologies and use existing technologies to solve problems. Typical work tasks include developing new computing languages, publishing research results, and improving software systems.
Choosing the Right Data Science Graduate Program
Our ranking of the top online data science degree programs provides an excellent starting point for research, but prospective students should consider a variety of factors before deciding on a school. Below, we describe some key considerations for prospective data science students.
- Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to factors like faculty qualifications, student learning outcomes, and academic rigor. Attending an accredited school increases students' financial aid, employment, and education opportunities.
- University Resources
- Prospective students should research the availability of student support resources like tutoring, career development services, library and research assistance, and student clubs and organizations.
- Alumni Network
- A robust alumni organization can give students professional networking opportunities that lead to internship and job offers.
- Students should research the estimated cost of attendance for prospective programs. In addition to tuition, students should consider expenses like housing, textbooks, transportation, and technology upgrades. They should also look into financial aid opportunities, like scholarships, grants, and loans.
- Program Length
- A typical online master's in data science takes two years of full-time study to complete, but some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to graduate in less time.
Why You Should Get Your Data Science Degree Online
Earning a data science degree online offers flexibility, accessibility, and convenience. Many distance learning programs let students log on to the virtual classroom and complete assignments on their own schedule within set deadlines. This flexibility allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.
Additionally, online students can attend top programs around the country without relocating. Plus, many schools allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of where they live.
The Top Master's in Data Science Online Programs
The list below covers the top computer science master's programs. The schools ranked here hold either national or regional accreditation. Some of the programs listed here also boast accreditation from industry-specific agencies.
Accreditation is a critical factor verifying that a program or school meets previously established quality standards developed by expert certification bodies. Notable accrediting agencies endorsing the below-listed programs include:
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU)
Frequently Asked Questions About Data Science Master's
What degree do you need to become a data scientist?
Becoming a data scientist requires at least a bachelor's degree in data science or a related field. However, many employers prefer candidates with a master's in data science.
Can you learn data science online?
Yes. Many universities offer excellent data science online degree programs.
What can I do with a master's degree in data science?
Earning an online master's in data science prepares graduates for a variety of careers, including data scientist, computer and information research scientist, and computer and information systems manager.
Is a data science master's worth it?
Yes. PayScale reports that graduates with a master's in data science earn an average annual salary of $78,500, with many data scientists earning much more. This makes the degree a worthwhile investment for many students.
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