Data Science

Although online education has advanced in the past few decades, it is still a significant commitment of time and financial resources to earn a master’s degree. But it’s worth it if it can help you make a higher salary or obtain a more satisfying job.

In this article, we’ll examine the pros and cons of receiving an online master’s degree in data science, detailing why you may or may not want to pursue one.

The Case for Earning an Online Master’s in Data Science

In general, you can expect to earn more money if you have a master’s degree than you would with only a bachelor’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), someone with a master’s degree in their field earns a median rate of $1,574 a week, while someone with a bachelor’s degree earns a median rate of only $1,334.

In addition, according to the BLS, the unemployment rate at the master’s degree level is 2.6 percent, while at the undergraduate degree level, it is a higher 3.5 percent. However, your chances of unemployment are low in the data science field, with BLS data showing that the job outlook for data scientists over the next decade will grow 36 percent, much faster than most jobs.

A data science master’s degree program from an accredited university will give you a solid grounding in the field. It will open the door to leadership positions or those with higher qualifications. An online master’s, for example, may include an internship position that could turn into full-time work. You may also meet potential employers in networking situations set up by your school.

Online programs may offer savings over in-person education since many schools feature accelerated programs or have fewer fees for online students. If you are attending your classes asynchronously, you also have a high level of flexibility that can be a boon if you work or have family commitments.

The Case Against Earning an Online Master’s in Data Science

While an online master’s degree program in data science may be worth it in some cases, other options offer similar flexibility at a far lower price. Remember that a graduate degree can cost as much as $100,000, which could be a barrier for many students.

You can learn much of what a graduate program would teach you with little effort without the cost and time commitment. How? Consider the following learning options:

Massive open online courses

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Bootcamps are short-term training programs that offer practical skills to students focused on advancing their careers. They can be intensive and are best for students with the self-discipline necessary to devote considerable time to a subject for the short term. Colleges, universities, and other organizations offer bootcamps, ranging in cost from free to many thousands of dollars. One example is DataCamp‘s programs, which include more than 100 online courses in data science featuring hands-on learning experiences and the opportunity to learn at your own pace. Limited access to the programs is free, but to fully utilize the library of courses, you’ll pay a reasonable $12.42 a month.

Graduate certificate programs

Graduate certificate programs are another way to access higher education in data science. Certificate programs are generally not as extensive or long-lasting as a complete master’s program and offer skills-based specialized education in specific areas. Once you have completed the program, you earn a certificate to show your proficiency in the topic.

You may find certificate programs offered through educational institutions, Coursera, or other online platforms. One example would be Harvard’s professional certificate in data science, offered on EdX. This self-paced program takes around a year and a half if you devote two to three hours a week and costs $891. It focuses on R basics, inference and modeling, and other topics in the field, and a Harvard professor teaches it. Some certificate programs are as extensive as graduate school programs and generally cost less.

Is an Online Master’s in Data Science Right for You?

Only you can determine if an online master’s in data science is the right choice for your needs. For some individuals, the structure and format of a graduate school program and the standard flexibility for online education make it an excellent choice. A master’s degree conveys a certain level of prestige and may be a requirement for some jobs. Master’s students may also qualify for financial aid unavailable for non-master’s coursework.

For others, however, who do not wish to devote several years and significant financial resources toward advancing their career, one of the other options we’ve outlined above may make more sense. A non-master’s course or program could be a better choice if your primary motivation is expanding your data science skills in a specific topic or area. Even with less commitment of time and money, you will still broaden your areas of knowledge considerably and may open yourself up to career advancement and an increased salary range.

Interested in another degree instead?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.