Data Science Degree: How To Get One

Should you pursue a data science degree? Data science is a popular topic and career path in this day and age. With a data science degree, you’ll have your choice of working in many different industries, from growing startups to historic companies. 


Data science is rather broad, and there are many ways to become a data scientist/get a job in data science. But, before you make your decision, let’s learn a little more about data science, how to get a data science degree, and most importantly, whether or not this path is right for you. 



What is a Data Scientist?


According to Berkeley School of Information,“Successful data professionals understand that they must advance past the traditional skills of analyzing large amounts of data, data mining, and programming skills.” 


Data scientists are truly experts when it comes to analysis, computer science, mathematics, and statistics, and they are able to combine their technological skills with social science.

What Does a Data Scientist Do?


Data scientists can understand data and identify trends in order to help companies find solutions and expand by using that data to understand how to make a profit and innovate. 


They have to understand the full extent of the data science life cycle to analyze what is sometimes massive amounts of data. They need to organize this data, find insights, and present their findings to their company in a way that they will understand and be able to internalize. 


To put it simply, data scientists can take a lot of information and make it make sense to others. 

Where Does a Data Scientist Work?


There are many different types of data scientists and also many different industries that data scientists can potentially work in. 


There are data scientists, data analysts, data engineers, data architects, etc. Data scientists may work in tech, science, computer science, public health, urban development, finance, fintech, and real estate. They may work remotely or in-person (or both). Most data science jobs tend to be near places where there is a need for them, generally in bigger cities or tech-driven areas like Silicon Valley.



Data scientists working at a table with laptops.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay


Steps to Becoming a Data Scientist


If you’re interested in becoming a data scientist, there are several paths to get there. One of the most direct paths is by getting a bachelor’s degree in Data Science first, and continuing onto the job market and gaining experience. Let’s talk about what that will look like. 


Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Data Science or Related Field


There are many schools that offer bachelor’s degree programs in data science or a related field. Some examples of related fields or programs include computer science, geospatial science (GIS), applied statistics, mathematics, and business analytics. 


Plenty of schools offer a mix of online and in-person learning, or one or the other depending on what’s right for you. Though a bachelor’s degree is not always necessary for becoming a data scientist, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Moreover, some will go on to get a master’s degree in data science (or another related field) to maximize their job opportunities. 


Learn the Skill-Set Required for a Data Scientist


A good data science degree program will set you up for success, but there is definitely a specific skill-set that’s required of a data scientist. 


Whether you learn these skills in school or on your own, here are just some of the skills you’ll want to add to your resume:


  • Programming
  • Analytics
  • Machine learning
  • Organizational skills
  • Software engineering
  • Data mining, cleaning, and munging 
  • Data warehousing and structures
  • Statistical analysis
  • Manipulating cloud tools
  • Communication skills


As you can see, data scientists rely heavily on hard skills, but soft skills do come in handy if you want to set yourself apart from the competition.   


Consider a Specialization


Data science may seem to be a degree that’s very specific, but in terms of the job itself, there are so many specializations you can get into. These include everything from artificial intelligence and machine learning, to GIS and research. In addition to a specialization, data scientists may also want to combine their knowledge and skills with skills from a related field. 


Land an Entry-Level Job


Once you earn your degree, you can pursue higher education in data science, or hit the ground running. As long as you have the education, experience, and skills to prove yourself, you can land an entry-level job in data science. It may not be in your speciality just yet, and it may not be your dream data science job, but it’s a foot in the door and an opportunity to start putting into practice what you’ve learned. Strengthen your resume where you can, and consider creating an online portfolio to showcase your projects. Also, reach out to your network. 


Get Your Certifications


Data scientists can get certifications. These include Certified Analytics Professional (CAP — not to be confused with CPA, though they are both good with numbers!), the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate, the Open Certified Data Scientist (Open CDS), and SAS Certified Big Data Professional certification, just to name a few. Though a data science certification isn’t always required, it can make you stand out while learning more skills in the meantime. 



Finger pointing at data signs.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Alternate Ways to Get Data Science Experience


Why get a data science degree if there are data science bootcamps that exist? While it’s very true that you can learn a lot of the skills you need to be a data scientist through a bootcamp, online course, or MicroMasters, this might not be helpful for everyone. Bootcamps have lots of positive aspects, but they can be expensive and intense. 


Getting a bachelor’s degree in data science or a related field will help you take your time, and you’ll have the degree itself to fall back on in case you decide this specific career isn’t right for you later on. In the end, though, you have to weigh the pros and cons and see what’s right for you. 


What Does a Successful Data Scientist Look Like?


Sometimes, if someone tells you they are a data scientist, you may not be surprised. Why? Well, data scientists do have particular traits to them. They can be meticulous and organized people who love numbers and are always curious about finding answers in things. Where you see just some statistics or numbers, they may see charts, patterns, trends, and solutions. 



Data Scientist Salary


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a data scientist in 2019 was $94,280, and numbers have gone up since then. Depending on where you work, the industry, and how much experience you have, you can earn more than this, too. 


A data scientist can have a very lucrative career, and may also have the flexibility to work freelance and/or as a consultant if corporate isn’t right for them.


While there may be lots of job opportunities for prospective data scientists, that naturally can lead to more competition for the role. But, as data scientists are typically smart and resourceful, chances are you’ll find your place.



Is a Data Science Degree Right for Me?


So, is a data science degree right for you? Well, if you’re interested in the job description, believe you have the skillset to work in this career, and the income is intriguing, then we’d recommend exploring this career further. There is a huge need for data scientists and you don’t have to be stuck working in one job your entire life; there is a lot of versatility with this degree and options in the field.


One factor that may discourage someone from seeking a data science degree is because they know there are bootcamps available or the ability to learn the skill set independently. They may also consider the costs and recognize that a data science degree may just be too expensive comparatively. 


But what if we told you you could get a degree in a related field to data science for less money than a bootcamp? The University of the People offers degree programs in Computer Science, and we are the first accredited institution of higher education in the United States that’s tuition-free. Don’t let the cost of a degree hold you back from what could be a potentially very rewarding career.