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Data Science Programs and Majors Explained: Degree Levels, Specializations, and Common Data Science Courses

David Munyaka - June 07, 2022

If you want to break into the field of data science, you might be wondering what a data science degree is. Data is a valuable asset in today’s world, and a data science degree can help you become a data scientist . Businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations all need data scientists to interpret data to help them make informed decisions.

Data scientists have a great job outlook, with attractive salaries and rewarding career paths. After reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the different kinds of data science programs and high-paying data science jobs to look forward to.

What Is Data Science?

Data science is a field that uses statistics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and specialized programming to collect and extract value from data. Through analyzing large data sets, data scientists can create predictive models to help organizations find actionable insights and develop data-driven business strategies.

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Data Science Quick Facts: Job Outlook and Average Salaries

Is Data Science Hard?

Yes, data science is a relatively hard discipline to learn. Data science programs have lots of technical requirements for admission and graduation. You’ll need to learn a wide variety of technologies, programming languages, and applications, as well as statistical analysis.

In data science jobs, you’ll need to be comfortable working with large data sets and staying up to date on the newest data science techniques. Data science careers require the ability to focus and a passion for lifelong learning.

Is Data Science a Good Major?

Yes, data science is a good major when you consider the number of data science career opportunities. Although data science majors have different names at different schools, data science programs prepare you to work as a data analyst, database administrator, big data engineer, or data mining engineer.

Why Should You Get a Degree in Data Science?

You should get a degree in data science because it is the best way to get a job in data-related fields. Most data science careers require a bachelor’s degree or higher, but you can get started in some data science jobs with an associate degree. Below are some of the reasons you should get a degree in data science.

  1. Earn a required education credential. A degree in data science or a related field is a common education requirement for data science jobs.
  2. Build a foundation for further education. If you want to get a graduate degree, you need to start by earning a bachelor’s degree . A master’s degree makes you eligible for many managerial or senior positions.
  3. Join a rapidly growing field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for data science professionals is expected to grow by 22 percent by 2030, compared to eight percent for the average growth of all occupations. Data science jobs are some of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States.
  4. High job satisfaction. When evaluating career opportunities, one key metric you should look at is job satisfaction. According to Glassdoor, data science ranks number eight for jobs with the highest job satisfaction.
  5. High earning potential. With a data science degree, PayScale reports that you can earn an average salary of $85,000 to $136,000 per year. This is significantly higher than the national average salary, which BLS reports as $58,260 per year.

Data Science Major: What Degree Can You Get in Data Science?

The degrees you can get in data science include an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree. At each degree level, there are different types of degrees and different data science specializations. Below is an overview of the different degrees that you can get in data science.

Types of Associate Degrees in Data Science

The types of data science associate degrees are an Associate of Science and an Associate of Applied Science in Data Science. Most institutions offering these programs have transfer credit programs, which allow students to transfer to a four-year institution to complete a bachelor’s degree after finishing their associate degree.


Associate of Science (AS in Data Science)

An AS is a two-year program offered mainly by community and vocational colleges. This is an entry-level degree that prepares students to transfer into a bachelor’s degree program. The curriculum covers foundational computer science, information technology, and data analysis.

Common Courses in AS in Data Science Curriculum

  • Introduction to Databases
  • Applied Statistics
  • Fundamentals of Information Security

Associate of Applied Science (AAS in Data Science)

An AAS is a two-year program that prepares students to enter the workforce after graduation as IT professionals or data technicians. Most data science AAS degrees are called data analytics programs. While AAS degrees are not designed to prepare you to transition into a bachelor’s degree, it is usually possible.

Common Courses in AAS in Data Science Curriculum

  • Business Computer Applications
  • Computing Fundamentals
  • Introduction to Data Science Programming

Types of Bachelor’s Degrees in Data Science

The types of data science bachelor’s degrees are Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Data Science. These programs have different curriculum requirements and lead to different careers in the same field. Below is a brief overview of the types of bachelor’s degrees in data science.


Bachelor of Science (BS in Data Science)

A bachelor of science degree is a four-year program that focuses on mathematical, scientific, and analytical data science skills . Students complete core courses in programming, statistics, calculus, and big data, and they may be required to take some general education requirements in the social sciences.

Common Courses in BS in Data Science Curriculum

  • Programming
  • Algorithms and Data Structures
  • Calculus

Bachelor of Arts (BA in Data Science)

The difference between a BS and a BA degree is that a BA degree teaches students analytical skills, communication skills, and critical thinking skills, with a strong foundation in the humanities. A BA in Data Science still incorporates math, statistics, and programming course, but it gives students the flexibility to study topics in the humanities.

Common Courses in BA in Data Science Curriculum

  • Foundations of Data Science
  • Data Mining and Analytics
  • Ethics in Science and Engineering

Types of Master’s Degrees in Data Science

The type of data science master’s degree that you can get is a Master of Science in Data Science degree. Unlike other subjects, there are few to no master of arts (MA) options for students.


Master of Science (MSc in Data Science)

An MSc in Data Science focuses on programming, engineering, and mathematics. They are typically two-year programs that will take your data analytics skills to another level. Among the technical skills you’ll learn include machine learning, big data, anomaly detection, hypothesis testing, and graphical modeling.

Common Courses in Master of Science in Data Science Curriculum

  • Computer Systems for Data Science
  • Probability and Statistics for Data Science
  • Exploratory Data Analysis and Visualization

What Will You Learn in a Data Science Degree Program?

In a data science degree program, you’ll learn how to do data analysis, computer programming, and predictive modeling. You’ll gain valuable skills in data analysis and database management, which will make you eligible for several roles in the job market.

The depth of the coursework depends on the degree level. With an associate’s degree, you’ll be introduced to many topics which will prepare you for coursework at university, but you won’t become an expert. With a bachelor’s degree, you’ll learn data science techniques that will prepare you for career paths in diverse fields. With a master’s degree, you’ll become an expert in data science.

Popular Specializations for Data Science Degrees

Data science is an evolving field, and new specializations are created as this area of study grows. Below are some of the most popular specializations for data science that you should consider.

The 5 Most Popular Data Science Concentrations

  1. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis
  2. Data Engineering
  3. Machine Learning
  4. Data Visualization
  5. Marketing Data Analysis
  6. Artificial Intelligence

Common Data Science Courses Across All Specializations

Regardless of your data science specialization, there are some common data science courses that all students take. Prospective students can expect to take most or all of the following classes in their data science programs.

  • Introduction to programming. Programming skills are essential in data science. Data science degrees must have some form of a computer programming course. Universities offer programming classes in Java, Python, R, and C++.
  • Data structures. A course in data structures introduces students to the process of collecting, organizing, and storing data effectively using data structures and algorithms.
  • Computer science. You’ll learn the basics of computer science as you advance your knowledge in problem-solving, structured programming, debugging, and the theory of computation.
  • Linear algebra. Before taking upper-level courses, you’ll have to take an introductory class in linear algebra. In this class, you’ll learn how to solve linear equations using different methods.
  • Calculus. You’ll have to take a series of calculus courses in your data science degree, starting with an introductory course. You’ll learn about optimization and solving complex functions.

Best Minors for Data Science Students

The best data science minors give you the chance to explore a complementary field. You can follow your interests or choose a minor that prepares you for a particular career. Here are some of the best minors for data science students.

The 5 Best Data Science Minors

  1. Statistics
  2. Business Analytics
  3. Artificial Intelligence
  4. Communications
  5. Cognition and Behavioral Science
  6. Marketing

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How to Choose the Right Data Science Degree Program for You

Choosing the right data science degree program is crucial to starting a successful career. Below are a few factors that you should consider to help you choose the right degree program.


Practical Experience

Look for a program that allows you to gain hands-on work experience through a capstone project or internship. Data science is a practical discipline, and you really need on-the-job training experience to transform the data science theory you learn in classes into data science skills.


Learning Format

If you just graduated from high school, an on-campus learning format will give you the traditional college experience. On the other hand, if you are a working professional or live in a remote area, you might be better off learning online. Pick a learning format that’s in line with your schedule, professional and personal responsibilities, and preferred learning style.



You don’t need to bury yourself in a mountain of student debt to get a degree. Weigh the costs and benefits of the program beforehand, and research financial aid and payment options to help you cover your education costs.

If you're on a tight budget and want to enroll in a degree program, you could start with an associate degree at a community college and transfer to a bachelor’s degree program. It is usually much cheaper than completing all four years of a bachelor’s degree at a university.


School Graduation Rate

The graduation rate informs students about the percentage of students who've completed their program. It gives you an idea of how well a school supports its students and how likely you are to finish a degree at that college or university .


Career Services

Career services are a key resource for students preparing to enter the job market after graduation. A good career services office should have resources or workshops for resume preparation, social media profile management, salary negotiations, and interview preparation.

Best Data Science Colleges and Universities: Where to Find the Top Data Science Degree Programs

The best colleges and universities for data science degree programs include Harvard University, Cornell University, the University of San Francisco, and the University of Michigan. Here are the best schools to get an associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree in data science.

Best Schools to Get an Associate in Data Science

  1. Northcentral Technical College
  2. Saint Paul College
  3. Tunxis Community College
  4. Florida State College at Jacksonville

Best Schools to Get a Bachelor’s in Data Science

  1. Boston University
  2. Drexel University
  3. Northeastern University
  4. Penn State University
  5. University of California, Berkeley

Best Schools to Get a Master’s in Data Science

  1. Brown University
  2. Columbia University
  3. University of Michigan
  4. Carnegie Mellon University
  5. University of Washington

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How Can I Pay for a Data Science Degree Program?

You can pay for a data science degree program using scholarships, FAFSA, loans, and grants. There are several different payment options at schools that offer data science degree programs. Here’s a brief overview of how you can pay for a data science degree program.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

If you need financial aid for your data science degree at college or university, the first thing you should do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This provides you with access to special loans, grants, and work-study funds from the federal government. The application is free and takes about 30 minutes to complete.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs are on-campus, part-time jobs that pay students. Employers know that they are hiring students whose primary responsibility is to study, so these jobs are more considerate of a student’s schedule. Contact the financial aid office at your school to see what the specific requirements are for their work-study program.


Scholarships are need or merit-based awards that students can apply for to pay for tuition or specific school costs. Scholarships do not need to be paid back. Scholarship amounts vary depending on the school and program. Some scholarships are offered by private organizations, non-profit organizations, or professional associations.


Private student loans are a popular payment option that students use to cover the cost of tuition and living expenses. Private loans should be a last resort because they are very difficult to pay back. Before you commit to a private loan, speak to a financial advisor or your school’s financial aid office to help you make an informed decision.


Grants are similar to scholarships, but they do not need to be spent on tuition or school supplies. They are a type of financial assistance that does not need to be paid back, and students can decide how to spend grant money to best offset their personal costs during their degree. Most grants are offered by the federal government or third-party sources.

Data Science Scholarships

Scholarships are a popular financial aid award that can help cover partial or full tuition costs. Although there are many different scholarships, here are some of the most popular data science scholarships.


CA Technologies Fellowship for Women

Amount: $14,670

This generous scholarship pays the full tuition of a woman enrolled in a Master of Science degree in Complex Systems and Data Science at the University of Vermont. This student must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Women enrolled in the University of Vermont’s Master of Science in Complex Systems and Data Science, minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Amount: Full semester tuition up to $14,670 per semester

Jack Larson Data for Good Fellowship

Amount: $8,500

The Jack Larson Data for Good Fellowship is awarded to students studying a data science master’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley. Students must demonstrate a clear vision for using data science to make society better in some way.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Masters in Data Science student at University of California, Berkeley, previous public service through work or volunteering
  • Amount: $8,500

MinneAnalytics Scholarships

Amount: $1,000

This scholarship is available to undergraduate students attending college or university in the Midwest. Students should be studying data analytics, with the goal of starting a career in data science. Students must also demonstrate a commitment to community engagement.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Undergraduate student majoring in data analytics, a record of commitment to community
  • Amount: $1,000

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Student Loans for Data Science Majors

Loans are a common way of paying for an education. However, not many students are well-informed about different kinds of student loans, including both public and private loans. Here’s a brief overview of how other students use loans to pay for different degrees.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Data Science Associate Degrees?

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the average loan amount for associate degree students was $18,550 in 2016. This figure includes students in public and private institutions. The average amount of federal loans was $18,060, and the average amount of nonfederal loans was $9,950.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Data Science Bachelor’s Degrees?

NCES found the average total loan amount for bachelor’s degree students in 2016 was $29,910. The average loan amount for bachelor’s degree students in public schools was lower, at $26,930. For private, for-profit schools and private, non-profit schools, the average loan amounts were $41,320 and $31,890, respectively.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Data Science Master’s Degrees?

In 2016, the average loan for graduate students in a master’s program was $50,290 , according to NCES. When you include the remaining debt from previous bachelor’s degrees, this figure jumps to an average student loan debt of $64,770.

How to Get Into the Best Schools for Data Science

To get into the best schools for data science, you should first earn good grades in high school and in your undergraduate degree and earn high scores on the relevant standardized tests. For undergraduate programs, you’ll need to take the SAT or ACT, and for graduate programs, you’ll need to take the GRE.

Submitting your application early is a great way to improve your odds, either through early decision or early action programs or for schools with rolling admissions. When completing your application, you’ll need to include an impressive personal statement and strong letters of recommendation to increase your chances of acceptance into your school of choice.

Top 5 Tips to Get Into the Best Programs at Data Science Schools

  1. Earn high grades in relevant coursework.
  2. Complete a passion project to demonstrate your skills.
  3. Participate in data science-related extracurriculars.
  4. Earn a high score on the ACT, SAT, or GRE by studying months in advance.
  5. Write a strong statement of purpose.

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How Can You Get a Data Science Internship While in College?

You can get a data science internship while in college by networking with successful program alumni, asking local companies, or working with your school’s career services. Internships present a great opportunity for students to gain valuable hands-on experience. Here are a few pointers to guide you through finding an internship program.


Network with Successful Program Alumni

Do you know anyone who successfully completed a data science degree program and has a data science job? Connect with them through your school’s alumni network. They may be able to help you find an internship at the organization where they work, or they might have some professional connections with internship opportunities.


Ask Local Companies

Reaching out to local companies directly is perhaps one of the most common ways to get an internship in this field. You can also look up available internships through company websites and LinkedIn pages or send an email directly to the human resources department. Be polite and professional in your communications.


Contact Your School’s Career Services

Your school’s career services center should have a list of companies that have offered internships to students in the past. Ask for their help in finding an open internship opportunity that fits with your career goals.

What Jobs Can You Get With a Data Science Degree?

The jobs you can get with a data science degree are data analyst, statistician, data scientist, business intelligence developer, database administrator, data manager, and data mining specialist positions. You can pursue these positions with a Bachelor’s Degree in Data Science.

You can do some entry-level jobs with an associate degree and relevant experience, but most data science employers prefer employing candidates with a bachelor’s degree. The difference between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree is two additional years of education, which makes a big difference in the highly technical field of data science.

A master’s degree gives you the most job options in data science. According to a Burtch Works Study in 2018, over 43 percent of data scientists had master’s degrees and 48 percent had doctoral degrees . This means that to get a good job in this field, you’ll eventually need a graduate degree.

Data Science Degree Salary Outlook

A typical data science degree salary is significantly more than the national average, which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates is $58,260 per year. As you earn more advanced degrees, your earning potential increases.

Degree Level Average Salary
Data Science Associate Degree $81,000
Data Science Bachelor’s Degree $87,000
Data Science Master’s Degree $89,000

Data Science Degree Jobs and Career Outlook: What Can You Do With a Data Science Degree?

You can get many high-paying and in-demand jobs with a data science degree. Such jobs include data analyst, data scientist, business intelligence developer, database administrator, data manager, and data mining specialist. You can also pursue further education with a data science degree to increase your skills and overall marketability.

Top Data Science Associate Degree Jobs

  1. Database Administrator
  2. Business Intelligence Developer
  3. Statistician
  4. Data Analyst
  5. Data Scientist

Top Data Science Bachelor’s Degree Jobs

  1. Information Officer
  2. Data Mining Specialist
  3. Data Manager
  4. Business Analyst
  5. Data Architect

Top Data Science Master’s Degree Jobs

  1. Machine Learning Scientist
  2. Machine Learning Engineer
  3. Applications Architect
  4. Data Engineer
  5. Business Intelligence Developer

Highest-Paying Data Science Jobs

Highest-Paying Data Science Jobs Entry-Level Salary (0-12 Months) Early-Career Salary (1-4 Years) Mid-Career Salary (5-9 Years) Experienced Salary (10-19 Years)
Data Scientist $85,456 $96,152 $110,685 $123,303
Data Engineer $77,735 $88,494 $105,107 $116,960
Data Architect $72,201 $86,162 $112,475 $131,671
Information Security Analyst $60,965 $68,976 $83,878 $97,521
Information Analyst $52,988 $60,343 $73,807 $85,572

Professional Data Science Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations are a great source of information for new developments in the field of data science. These groups have a wealth of knowledge about internships, learning resources, career pathways, conferences, events, scholarships, and networking opportunities. Here are some professional data science organizations that you should consider joining.


The Association of Data Scientists (ADaSci)

This is a global body that serves professionals interested in data science and machine learning. Some services offered by this body include publication and access to peer-reviewed journals, national events for academics and professionals, and analytics certificates to assist members in furthering their education.


Associate for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Management of Data (ACM SIGMOD)

This is an association of professionals and students who are interested in solving large-scale data management problems. Members of this association have access to database resources, content from sponsored events, and a bundle of SIGMOD-related publications.


American Statistical Association (ASA)

This is a non-profit association that serves members by offering practical resources and helping statisticians in their professional lives. They promote the field of statistics and strive to use data and statistics to inform decision-making processes. They publish magazines for the general public and technical journals for data scientists and statisticians.

Data Science in 10 Years: Is Getting a Data Science Degree Worth It?

Yes, getting a data science degree is worth it. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes some data science careers among the fastest-growing careers in the United States. For instance, statistician and information security analyst jobs are expected to grow by 33 to 35 percent through 2030, respectively.

Many businesses and organizations are investing tons of resources in the collection and utilization of data. Earning a data science degree increases your odds of employment in this competitive market. Additionally, you’ll be earning significantly more than the national average with a degree in data science.

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Data Science Degree FAQ

What degree do you need to be a data scientist?

You’ll need a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science, Data Science, or a related field to make you eligible for most entry-level data science jobs. Earning a master’s degree is ideal for those looking for career advancement opportunities, but most employers hiring entry-level data scientists accept candidates with a bachelor’s degree.

Is data science an easy degree?

No, data science is not an easy degree. An associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in this field requires coursework in math, statistics, programming, and database management. Many people find these topics challenging to learn.

Is data science in demand?

Yes, data science is in demand. Businesses across all industries, from agriculture to shipping, use data science to streamline their work and make data-driven decisions. Whether you want to work for a large corporation or a non-profit, data science skills will be invaluable.

Is data science a good career for the future?

Yes, data science is a good career for the future. Big data is one of the most valuable assets for businesses today. Organizations are collecting and using more data than ever before. This means that there will be many employment and career advancement opportunities for data scientists in the future.

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David Munyaka

About the author: David, a certified Executive Coach by the International Association of Professions Career College, is a business researcher, developer, and consultant. His writing has appeared online in various human resource and finance publications. David has over a decade of experience writing about career-related topics, and he also has a background in web development languages like HTML. He holds a Bachelor of Business in Commerce and Finance from Kenyatta University.

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