Data Science Major: Everything You Need to Know

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Data science is a fairly new, extremely fast-growing field that’s in high demand in just about every industry. Smart business decisions are driven by numbers and technology, so most organizations need an effective data scientist on their team.

The Harvard Business Review called data science “the sexiest job of the 21st century.” It was ranked the #1 Job in America by Glassdoor for four consecutive years, before ranking a highly respectable #3 in 2020.

So, how can you get in on this thriving career? One route is to pursue a data science major in college. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the field of data science, data science degrees and certificates, and the steps you can take now to prepare for your future role as a data scientist.

What is data science?

Data science combines statistics, mathematics, and computer science. It’s the process of gathering, analyzing, and modeling data to create actionable plans for organizations.

Data scientists collect data from many different sources, which may include email, social media, smart devices, and much more. This data is used to identify patterns and trends, make observations, and draw conclusions that drive important business decisions.

In today’s technology-focused world, almost all industries require data scientists, making it a stable and lucrative career choice.

What do I study in a data science major?

If you major in data science, expect your coursework to focus on mathematics and computer science. You’ll learn to use statistical methods, algorithms, and software to collect information from large data sets.

Data scientists require both mathematical and programming knowledge, as well as the ability to use a wide range of technical tools, such as:

  • Python
  • Apache Spark
  • R
  • GitHub
  • Tableau
  • NoSQL databases

You may also take a few business courses, which will help you learn how to analyze and apply data to make smart business decisions. Additional essential skills for a data scientist include communication, leadership, and research abilities.

What classes does a data science major take?

More specifically, data science majors might take classes like:

  • Calculus
  • Linear Algebra
  • Statistics
  • Concepts of Probability
  • Probability for Data Scientists
  • Econometrics
  • Program Structures
  • Data Structures
  • Operating Systems and Systems Programming
  • Programming Languages
  • Computer Security
  • Database Systems
  • Data Mining and Analytics
  • Applied Data Science
  • Data Visualization
  • Methods of Risk Analysis
  • Advanced Business Analytics
  • Data, Inference, and Decisions
  • Modern Statistical Prediction and Machine Learning
  • Business Communications
  • Information Technology and Society

Of course, the classes you take will depend on the college and degree program you choose. You’ll also take General Education courses, which are core college classes required for all students. These typically include basic courses in English, Math, Science, History, the Humanities, and sometimes Foreign Languages.

After you complete your General Education courses, you advance to the more in-depth, specific classes that are required for your degree.

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What are the different types of data science degrees?

Data science is a relatively new and emerging field. Some schools offer degrees in Data Science or Data Analytics, but many don’t have programs designed specifically for data science just yet.

So, what’s the difference between a data scientist and a data analyst? The biggest distinction is that a data scientist requires more knowledge of coding.

Both data analysts and data scientists gather and interpret data to form meaningful insights. Data scientists, however, also write their own algorithms, build their own statistical models, and use these tools to predict future outcomes.

What if you’re interested in a school that doesn’t offer a degree in Data Analytics or Data Science? The following degrees can also provide an excellent foundation for a future data scientist:

  • Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Computer Science
  • Information Technologies
  • Physics
  • Economics

Is a data science major useful?

If you’re interested in working as a data scientist, a major in the field is certainly useful. Your coursework will blend the business, mathematics, and computer science knowledge you need to succeed in this unique career. Prospective employers will appreciate the fact that your degree and skillset directly translate to the career you’re pursuing.

Additionally, a strong educational background is typically required for data scientists. 88% of data scientists have at least a master’s degree, and 46% have PhD’s. A bachelor’s degree in data science can earn you an entry-level position in the field, but a more advanced degree is usually required for more advanced positions.

Whether you’re content with an entry-level position in data science or want to explore advanced opportunities, a data science major is an excellent first step. After all, you’ll need to earn your bachelor’s degree before you can begin working toward a master’s.

What careers can I go into with a data science major?

“Data scientist” isn’t the only job title you qualify for with a degree in data science. Many other lucrative jobs are related to data science, including:

  • Machine Learning Engineer– Build machine learning systems, create data funnels, and generate software solutions.
  • Machine Learning ScientistAs a machine learning scientist, you may go by a title like Research Scientist or Research Engineer. That’s because you’ll research new algorithms and data approaches to use in adaptive systems.
  • Applications Architect– Build various components of applications, then track how they interact with each other and with users.
  • Enterprise Architect– You must have the ability to deeply understand the goals of a business and their technology needs, then design systems architecture that will help the business meet their needs.
  • Data Architect– Data architects work on the systems used by data scientists and data analysts. They create new systems and improve existing systems, ensuring data solutions function optimally.
  • Data Engineer– Data engineers process data and build and maintain an organization’s interconnected “data pipeline.” This allows data scientists and other key stakeholders to have access to necessary data.
  • Business Intelligence Developer– Design and develop strategies that help business users easily find the information they need to make business decisions. These business users may not be especially data savvy, so you’ll need the ability to communicate complex information in way that is accessible and understandable.
  • Statistician– Collect, analyze, and interpret data, and communicate results to business stakeholders. Statisticians may also inform business decisions and design processes to collect data.
  • Data Analyst– Compile data in preparation for analysis by companies. This may include tracking web analytics and A/B testing to inform a company’s marketing, customer service, and website strategies. Data analysts must prepare reports that easily communicate the patterns and insights they’ve observed from collected data.

How is the job market for data science majors?

Millions of organizations around the world rely on data scientists to inform decisions about cutting costs, better serving their customers, and ultimately earning higher profits. Naturally, any job that can significantly improve an organization’s business strategy and earning potential is in high demand.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for all computer and information research scientists are projected to grow by 16% over the next ten years, with more than 5,000 jobs added. That’s twice as fast as the average job growth rate of 8%.

And as of 2019, the median pay for computer and information scientists was $122,840 annually. If you’re considering a career in data science, great choice! It’s a high demand career that comes with a high salary, and demand is only expected to grow over the next decade.

Do I need a degree in data science to work in the field?

Although a degree in data science is helpful to break into the field, it isn’t a requirement. Degrees in related areas like mathematics, computer science, and business may give you the necessary background to succeed as a data scientist.

If you aren’t sure that your background qualifies you for the position, you can also pursue a certificate in data science. You can also pursue a graduate certificate in data science if you have your bachelor’s degree. Graduate certificates are typically faster and less expensive than pursuing an advanced degree.

What data science certificates can I earn?

Available certificates in data science include:

  • Certified Analytics Professional (CAP)
  • Cloudera Certified Associate: Data Analyst
  • Cloudera Certified Professional: CCP Data Engineer
  • Data Science Council of America (DASCA) Senior Data Scientist (SDS)
  • Data Science Council of America (DASCA) Principle Data Scientist (PDS)
  • Dell EMC Data Science Track
  • George Mason Graduate Certificate in Business Analytics
  • Google Certified Professional Data Engineer
  • Google Data and Machine Learning
  • Harvard Business Analytics Certificate Program
  • Harvard Professional Certificate in Data Science
  • IBM Data Science Professional Certificate
  • Microsoft MCSE: Data Management and Analytics
  • Microsoft Certified Azure Data Scientist Associate
  • Open Certified Data Scientist (Open CDS)
  • SAS Certified Advanced Analytics Professional
  • SAS Certified Big Data Professional
  • SAS Certified Data Scientist

In addition to George Mason and Harvard, many other schools offer professional or graduate certificates in data analytics or data science. However, some institutions are more reputable than others. It’s important to ensure that the certification program you choose has a good reputation, fits your interests, and will help you reach your goals in the field of data science.

What schools offer a data science major?

As we mentioned earlier, your degree doesn’t have to say “Data Science” to prepare you for a career as a data scientist. If you’re set on a data science major, however, here are several colleges that currently offer one:

  • Auburn University
  • Arizona State University
  • Babson College
  • Bellevue College
  • Boise State University
  • Boston College
  • California Institute of Technology
  • California University of Pennsylvania
  • Chatham University
  • Colorado State University- Fort Collins
  • Columbia University
  • Daytona State College
  • Drexel University
  • Duke University
  • Eastern Michigan University
  • George Mason University
  • Iowa State University
  • Marquette University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Mills College
  • Northeastern University
  • Purdue University
  • Temple University
  • The Ohio State University
  • Tufts University
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Kansas
  • University of Michigan
  • University of San Francisco
  • University of South Florida
  • Washington State University
  • Yale University

If a school that you’re interested in isn’t listed here, double check and see if they have a Data Science major. If they don’t, look for related majors like Data Analytics, Business Analytics, Statistics, Economics, Applied Mathematics, Computer Science, or Information Technology. Keep an open mind and remember that there’s more than one path to a data science career.

What steps can I take in high school to prepare for a data science major?

If you’re still in high school, it’s never too early to begin taking steps toward your future career as a data scientist. Here are a few actions you can take now:

  • Take advanced courses, especially in STEM fields. Be sure to sign up for calculus, physics, statistics, and any classes related to computers or coding that your school offers.
  • Earn a high GPA—especially in those advanced STEM courses!
  • Participate in computer, math, science, and business extracurricular activities.
  • Start developing your coding skills. Become familiar with common programming languages like Python, Java, R, and MatLab.
  • Read books or watch videos about data scientists to learn more about your chosen career field.
  • Develop your leadership and communication skills through in-class and extracurricular activities.

Once you’re in college, consider earning a minor in one of the areas related to data science that we mentioned earlier. Remember to build your network by talking to peers and professors, and consider pursuing a data science internship. Later, you can leverage you network as you apply to a master’s program or get ready to launch your career.

Final Thoughts: Data Science Major

If you’re good with numbers, computers, communication, leadership, and analytical thinking, pursuing a data science major could be a smart decision. Your degree will prepare you for a variety of jobs related to data science, and all of them are both in-demand and well paid.

Your data science career will blend business, computers, and mathematics as you collect and make sense of data. You’ll identify patterns and trends, manipulate the data to gain important insights, and then use this information to help businesses make solid strategic decisions. If that sounds interesting to you, a data science major is definitely worth considering!

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