Best Data Science Bachelor’s Degrees (2023)
To get into data science today, the safest route is through a prestigious qualification that signals to employers that you have the skills and dedication needed to succeed in the field. But what exactly counts as a ‘prestigious qualification’? In some cases, an industry-recognized certificate from a data science course would suffice. In others, a data science bachelor’s degree would be preferred. And in still others, a higher qualification, such as a master’s or a Ph.D.
To help you navigate the shifting requirements of employers, we conducted several studies on the topic and found the best university degrees to become a data scientist today.
So, in this post, we’ll focus on the most common undergraduate data science degrees and also explore some viable options for postgraduate study, and some popular online data science degrees. These will help you decide what qualification is worth pursuing… Or if your current degree is suitable for the field.
But before we get down to the results, we want to quickly disclose the methodology behind our approach.
For the fourth year in a row, we’ve used LinkedIn to gather background information of current data scientists. We’ve used their education and prior experience to identify the required credentials for the field. We’ve also collected data from job-search websites to determine the most important qualifications and skills employers are searching for in a data scientist.
Table of Contents:
- Why a Data Science Bachelor’s Degree is All You Need to Succeed
- How to Choose the Best Data Science Bachelor’s Degree?
- Is Data Science the Best Undergraduate Degree?
- What’s the Most In-Demand Data Science B.A. Right Now?
- Is the University Ranking More Important than My Degree?
- Best Data Science Bachelor’s Degrees: Overview
Why a Bachelor’s Degree is All You Need to Succeed
1. Changing expectations from employers
Our results show that virtually all data scientists (91%) have graduated from an institution of higher education.
Moreover, nearly 12% of the data scientists worldwide had only completed an undergraduate prior to entering the field. While in some countries, like India, the number goes up to 31%.
This refreshing indicator shows employers are starting to value skills over years of schooling as the market for data science jobs grows at scale. So, even though graduate degrees still hold primacy, a qualified candidate today has a higher chance of breaking into the field, compared to three years ago. Even if they have completed only a data science bachelor’s degree.
And if we take a quick look at the job adverts available online, we’ll see that most of them list B.A. or M.S. degrees as the desired educational level.
Additionally, upskilling opportunities such as online data science courses abound. So, if you think an undergraduate degree is as high as you want to go, you can supplement your qualifications with on-demand lessons while working and gaining practical experience.
2. Undergraduate data science degrees take less time and money
On average, a master’s degree in the US lasts from 1,5 to 2 years, and in Canada a solid 2 years. While a Ph.D. can take anywhere from 6-8 years to complete. And that’s on top of the 4 years of B.A. you would have already put in. So, is it worth it?
According to our findings employers expect about 3.5 years of experience in the field from a bachelor’s degree holder, compared to 2.5 for somebody with a graduate degree. Therefore, having a master’s compared to a data science bachelor’s degree roughly equates to a year’s difference in the field.
Technically, a master’s degree promises to make landing an entry-level data science job quicker. But keep in mind, you are investing another 1,5 to 2 years into your studies and lowering the barrier of entry by merely a year.
Also, consider the costs involved in pursuing postgraduate study. In the US the tuition fees for a master’s degree average at around $66,000. Importantly, this number is 11 times lower in Canada, where data science courses are becoming more and more popular: c. USD $6,000. On top of that, scholarships are rare and far between. So, you might have to support yourself throughout the duration of your studies.
That’s why many aspiring data scientists are looking towards alternatives such as the MITx MicroMasters Program in Statistics and Data Science. This is a one-year program that costs between $1350-$1500, takes about 10 hours a week, and is entirely online. And if you want to really outshine the competition, the MITx program offers a pathway to the Harvard data science course.
3. B.A. in a data science-related field prepares you for the hottest entry-level jobs
What you want to do after graduation will of course play a role in your choice of degree. But unless you are planning of going into research, consulting, or a highly specialized tech role, a data science bachelor’s degree, supplemented either by a rigorous online course , or some years of experience, will be enough to land a job in the field.
This is also supported by data from our survey. For example, only about 3% of all data scientists in our sample owned an MBA. That’s not surprising considering, most MBA holders are unlikely to be interested in tech-related roles. Rather, a position at a data science consultancy would be better suited to their profile.
Consulting is a unique niche in data science, and one of the most competitive. So, an MBA or a master’s degree will definitely come in handy. Before you make it your choice career, however, it’s important to understand what data science consulting entails.
While certainly not a requirement for the field, Ph.Ds are remarkably popular among data scientists as well. Of course, once you enter the territory of academia a whole different area of data science opens up. One where a life-long commitment to research is an essential prerequisite for any form of success.
If we subtract, consulting and research, what we’re left with is the vast majority of popular data science roles on the market today. Data Analyst, Data Scientist or Data Engineer, Data Architect and Data Storyteller – for all of these a data science bachelor’s degree would be enough. As to the organizations that offer such opportunities, you can expect to find regular openings at companies such as Google, who are always on the lookout for emerging data talents.
How to Choose the Best Data Science Bachelor’s Degree?
A major, a concentration or a discipline – no matter how you call it, each degree has a field of expertise.
Our research suggests that 89% of data scientists come from a quantitative background.
Whether it’s the B. A., or the M. S., usually at least one of the degrees is quantitative.
Of course, natural sciences and math-heavy social studies degrees are considered quantitative as well. The first require conducting experiments and extracting insights, and the second help students develop analytic thinking.
Computer Science Degrees
But there’s been one definitive trend over the last 3 years when it comes to best degrees to become a data scientist.
With 18.3%, Computer Science is the most well-represented degree among data scientists.
This isn’t a complete shock, since transitioning to data science from computer science isn’t much of a leap.
Statistics and Maths
It’s not all that surprising that Statistics or Maths are close to the top of the list (16.3%).
After all, the ability to correctly interpret results is a huge part of Data Science. However, this percentage marks a decrease from previous years. The decline in Statistics mainly comes from the ongoing rebranding of the discipline.
What was once known as Statistics is being intertwined with other majors and presented as Business Statistics, Econometrics...Or even Machine Learning.
This way, Statistics’ share of the pie is slowly split among the other fields that benefit from this name change.
With a decrease in the representation of statistics comes an increase in another group – economics and social sciences (12.3%). This may seem odd at first, but these constitute the second most-represented data science bachelor’s degrees.
Because people with such degrees can both analyze the data properly and build a story around the insights they find. Yep, simply stating a change in X results in a change in Y is often not good enough. We also need to construct sets of rules to take advantage of this knowledge.
There's another reason for the influx of economics majors. Many of them start off as analysts and gain experience in the field as they go.
Overall, the analyst role has become a catalyst for many social studies graduates who want to transition into data science.
In addition, a lot of the work in data science is related to optimizing financial decisions and policies. So, a business or financial mindset is always welcome.
Is Data Science the Best Undergraduate Degree?
Data science as a degree itself is not really that hot. 21% of current data scientists own a concentration in the field. And, although the percentage is higher compared to 2019 (12%), Data Science is still very new as a discipline. That’s why it isn't widely offered in universities across the globe yet.
The limited availability leads many students to pick one of the other related options, like computer science. Compared to the latter, data science isn’t as well-known as a degree. Hence, securing an internship or an entry-level job with a background in computer science vs. data science will be much easier.
So, the most obvious choice, isn’t necessarily the correct one, when it comes to deciding on a degree.
Of course, the trend might shift within the next decade. But for now, the data science bachelor’s degree is still catching up to the more popular options.
What’s the Most In-Demand Data Science B.A. Right Now?
Currently, if we have a look at the job market, we’ll see an interesting trend.
Looking at the most-commonly sought-after concentrations in the field, Math and Statistics are the clear leaders.
This is especially true for companies offering internships to graduate-level employees. In those cases, roughly 86% of all Data Science ads listed Mathematics, Statistics, or both among their desired concentrations.
The shift in the trend comes from consulting companies not looking for Computer Science majors.
Less than 30% of consulting companies listed Computer Science as the desired data science bachelor’s degree for potential candidates.
Once again, that can be attributed to the preference for great storytellers, high demand for understanding data analytics and economics… And maybe a bit of a prejudice against CS graduates.
In general, computer science is the leader among current data scientists. Additionally, stats and mathematics are making waves among recruiters. Of course, this also has something to do with the higher level of technical expertise associated with languages such as Python and R.
Either way, different aspects of data science appeal to candidates from different fields. Therefore, knowing which domain of data science you want to make a career in is crucial for your choice of discipline. And vice versa – if you have already graduated in a certain field, your transfer into data science may be already predetermined.
Is the University Ranking More Important than My Degree?
Even though your major is essential, so is the reputation of the institution you got it from.
Our research showed that roughly 31% of current data scientists hold a degree from one of the top 50 universities listed by Forbes magazine.
This essentially means that roughly 1 in every 3 data scientists graduated from one of these 50 institutions.
In comparison, 9%, or 1 in every 11, graduated from a university outside the top 50, but inside the top 100 in the rankings.
Going further down the rankings, we see that 1 in 10 obtained a data science bachelor’s degree or a master’s from a school ranked between the 101st and 200th place.
This trickling down might not sound very shocking. But consider the following.
100 universities make up 9% of the sample, whilst 50 make up 31%.
This means that you are about 6 times more likely to become a data scientist if you went to a high-ranking school.
What happens if we add these numbers together? We see that the top 200 schools are responsible for producing 50% of all data scientists in the field. So, a degree from an elite institution is a better signal to employers that you are a worthy candidate than your major.
However, don’t be quick to despair - there is a silver lining.
Around one-fourth of all data scientists in our sample have a degree from a school outside the top 1,000 or one not even present in the rankings.
That suggests that sufficient experience and skills can actually outweigh a university degree!
So, if you can’t get into an elite data science bachelor’s degree, sharpen your coding and statistics skills enough with an online data science course to stand out!
Best Data Science Bachelor’s Degrees: Overview
To recap, according to our survey and previous studies of the data scientist profile, an undergraduate or graduate degree from a prestigious school is your best bet of breaking into the field.
However, the best major varies, depending on what you want to do afterwards.
Computer Science is the safest option, as it gives you a lot of freedom and is highly sought-after.
But if you intend to go into Consulting, Math or Statistics are a better choice. Planning to become a data analyst first? You can look for a degree in Economics, since the progression-line is much more straight-forward there.
1. Which degree is best for data science?
Postgraduate qualification in Computer Science is best overall according to our survey. However, different degrees are better suited to different roles in data science. For example, if you want to break into consulting, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a degree in a quantitative field such as Mathematics or Statistics would be much better choices. While if you’re interested in becoming a data analyst, Economics is your best bet for breaking into the field. Other things to consider are the level of education you’ll need and the ranking of your university. For most roles today, a data science bachelor’s degree supplemented by some years of experience, or an authoritative online data science course is all you need. Similarly, you don’t need to have a degree from an Ivy League school to prove you’re the right candidate. Employers understand that in data science demonstratable skills are outweigh degrees.
2. Is Data Science a B.A. or a B.S.?
Most commonly the data science bachelor’s degree is a B.S. (Bachelor of Science). In the USA aside from a stand-alone degree it is also popular as a minor. In fact, it is as part of another degree that you will encounter it most often. Since it is still relatively new and catching up in popularity to more established quantitative disciplines. Moreover, because of how fundamental data science is, you are likely to take data science courses in a range of programs, such as Computer Science, Economics, Statistics and more. It’s also worth mentioning that many of the top-ranking universities in the States such as Harvard, Stanford, Berkley, MIT, Yale offer data science as a M.S. (Master of Science) degree. Furthermore, MIT has launched what they call a MicroMaster’s in Data Science, which is entirely online and costs a fraction of a standard M.S. degree. The courses you take as part of the MIT program are also transferable to Harvard’s own continuing education course in data science.
3. Which bachelor’s degree is best for data analyst?
Economics and other social science degrees are best for a career as data analyst. This is because such degrees equip you with the analytic skills you need to extract insights from data. The data analyst role requires being able to tell a story with the data you’ve collected. So, presentation and communication skills are just as essential as a highly analytic mindset. Moreover, many of the concepts in economics require a background in mathematics to grasp. And that is of course transferable to a career in data science. In general, Economics graduate to data analyst is one of the most common transitions made in the field. Many data analysts come from an Economics or other social science background and learn the more technical skills required on the job. What matters is that you are able to market yourself well to employers when applying for data science jobs with an Economics degree and to know where your strengths lie.