Is A Data Science Degree Worth It?

Organizations both public and private are recognizing the importance of data science as an information and strategic decision-making tool. 

Data science is a field that can attract talented professionals seeking meaningful work. If you are intrigued by the prospect of coursework or a degree in this field, it is important to carefully consider the best path. 

Things to Consider When Deciding if a Data Science Degree is Right for You

People schooled in data science are in high demand and can work in many sectors of the economy1. While often associated with financial services, insurance and retail, data science is a broad field that comprises many professions and disciplines—from insurance actuaries to demographers, business analysts and academic researchers. Companies are eager to use data to determine profitable revenue streams, boost productivity, and enhance strategic decision-making. 

When deciding if a data science degree is worth the time, cost and effort, consider your goals and whether you have the necessary skill set.

Requisite Skills and Aptitudes

Professionals with data science skills are needed in almost every field. According to the BLS, scores of businesses and government departments rely on big data to succeed and better serve their customers.1 Methods, systems, processes and algorithmic structures used by those skilled in data science may be valuable for gathering knowledge in various sectors of the global economy.

Here are some of the critical skills a data scientist may use in their career:

  • Strong understanding of probability and statistics
  • Commitment to continuing education and lifetime learning
  • Understanding of computer programming concepts
  • Ability to engage in structured, systems-based thinking 
  • Passion for solving problems
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Excel and data management platforms

Your Career Goals and Interests

Given the many fields and industries where data science is used, it may be useful to narrow your areas of interest. 

One sector where data science is regularly used is retail. Whenever you make a purchase as a consumer, data sets remember what that item is, what you paid, and the web search you used to find the item. This allows the retailer to customize future homepage recommendations that align with your needs. 

Another area where data science tools are readily used is city planning, which uses information about the demographics of a city, the use of city services and how the residents of a particular locale live. 

For example, many city governments are providing information back to their residents as a way of demonstrating public accountability and transparency. An example of this is a situation where a city utilizes global information systems (GIS) to identify necessary zoning changes, providing citizens with information on the status of building projects and progress. 

Genomics is another area where data science applies to companies pursuing medical advancements. Researchers leverage data and information to identify genes, assess their function and offer gene-based solutions for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. 

Can You Teach Yourself Data Science?

Teaching yourself data science requires a great deal of discipline and focus. 

The field you work in, however, may confer certain advantages in terms of taking a do-it-yourself approach to learning. For example, if you are a civil engineer, your experience working with data may put you ahead of the learning curve. 

On the other hand, if you have no skills or background, you might discover data science is not an easy discipline to tackle alone. You may find it valuable to seek out mentors and others with data science acumen to help you establish a roadmap for self-study or alongside your degree program. These people may help you hone in on the key skills you need and steer around any blind spots in your learning process. 

Financial Return on Investment for a Data Science Degree 

Data science has received a lot of hype and attention in recent years. A degree or certificate in this field could be considered a good return on investment, given the abundance of jobs and high pay for data scientists, which can often top six figures

Data science may be an enticing career area for new graduates. Data science skill demand is expected to fuel a 27.6% rise in employment through 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.1 BLS cites a severe shortage of those possessing the necessary background and skills.

How Does Life Change After a Data Science Degree? 

The lifestyle of a data scientist can vary considerably depending on one’s role and responsibilities, but here a few ways life may change after earning your degree:

  1. Increased Career Options 

This degree might help you land positions that don’t have the term “data science” in the title. Take, for example, a city planner who uses data science skills in their role with a government planning agency, attending team meetings and building data models. All of this may be tied to a comprehensive smart planning roadmap that encompasses data, technology, digital intelligence, and solutions applications. 

  1. Opportunities to Flex your Data Skills

A new four-year graduate of a data science program working as an analyst for a retail chain might build analytic and predictive models to assess buying patterns and behaviors of customers. 

  1. Promising Career Outlook

The projected employment outlook for data science degree graduates is much stronger than the average for all occupations through 20261, according to the BLS.

Alternatives to a Data Science Degree

If you are interested in one of the specialized areas related to data science but are unsure if a data science degree is right for you, consider a short course or alternative certificate, bootcamp, or degree program. These take less time to complete than a full degree program, but they can be a good way to acquire or strengthen skills. Short courses, bootcamps, (sometimes called bootcamps) and certificate programs can be online, in-person, or a combination of the two.

Here is a breakdown of some specialized options to consider:

Data Science Certificate:

certificate in data science offers a path for professionals to build these skills on top of their current education and job experience. Earning a certificate may allow you to demonstrate knowledge proficiency in data science, including the use of the industry standard programming language known as Python. 

Cybersecurity Certificate or Degree:

With the continued rise in cybercrimes and nefarious hacks, programs in this field have grown quite popular. A certificate in cybersecurity may be particularly useful if used to enhance work skills you already possess.

Machine Learning Certificate or Degree:

A certificate in machine learning, involving the science of getting computers to execute digital activities without being programmed, represents another data science alternative. One of the ways to acquire these skills is via an online course. 

Artificial Intelligence Certificate or Degree:

The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence reports extremely high demand for AI professionals. Education in this area will focus on emerging applications used to make computers smarter.

The Emerging Future of Data Science Career Opportunities

Data has often been referred to as the “new oil” in terms of its immense value to the world. Enterprises are turning to data increasingly to build a prosperous and robust global future. 

The data science field is experiencing explosive growth,as stated above. This trend that may help you determine if a data science degree is worthwhile. Those skilled in the intricacies of data science may find a meaningful career path in this burgeoning field. 

1 Rieley, Michael. “Big Data Adds Up to Opportunities in Math Careers,” Beyond the Numbers, June 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed September 2020.arrow_upwardReturn to footnote reference

Last Updated September 2020