Data Science Major: What You Need to Know Before Declaring

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

The rise of big data has created more demand for data science careers and degrees. If you're considering a data science major, find out what you need to know before declaring.

[Featured image] A data science student in a blue shirt and holding goggles works on his computer.

As a data science major, you’ll learn how to collect and manage data responsibly and ultimately use it to make informed decisions. This degree program is an interdisciplinary field of study that incorporates computer science, statistics, mathematics, business, and social sciences. During your study, you may work in teams or independently to analyze data and solve complex problems.

Prepare to pursue a degree in data science by learning more about the types of courses you'll take and the career options that will be available after you graduate.

What do data science majors study?

As a data science major, you’ll take courses across several disciplines, such as computer science, math, and big data. You might also benefit from studying graphic design, public speaking, and storytelling. Through this coursework, you’ll build the knowledge and skills needed to collect, clean, and visualize data, as well as generate algorithms and identify trends.

Read more: What is Big Data? A Layperson's Guide

Common courses

As a data science major, you’ll likely see the following courses, which may vary depending on your school of choice:

  • Data courses: Foundations of data science, data mining, data mining, analysis of algorithms

  • Math courses: Calculus 1 and 2, linear algebra, discrete mathematics, probability, statistics

  • Computer science courses: Data structures, operating systems, programming languages, artificial intelligence

Essential skills data science majors develop 

You’ll need to practice a variety of skills as a major in data science to succeed in your career. Analyzing data is a great place to begin your education in the field. The list below contains more of the skills you could develop through the course of your program that you can apply to your future career in data:

  • Technical skills: Artificial intelligence, big data, data visualization, data manipulation, data mining, and DevOps 

  • Workplace skills: Critical thinking, interpreting data, research, communication, collaboration, presentation, and project management

  • Programming skills: Programming languages (C++, Python, Java, Perl, SQL), and SaaS

Build your skills: 7 In-Demand Data Analyst Skills to Get Hired in 2022

Data science graduates can responsibly collect, manage, and use data to discover ideas, make decisions, think critically, and communicate effectively.

  Find opportunities for a diverse field of careers in engineering, statistics, and business with a degree in data science. Organizations want to leverage data to reduce operating costs, improve decision-making, upskill their employees, develop new products and services, and more. As a data scientist, you’ll be part of that process by gathering, interpreting, and presenting big data to stakeholders and decision-makers in a clear and concise manner.

Here’s a list of 5 popular occupations in the data science industry:

1. Data scientist

As a data scientist, you’ll gather, clean, and organize large amounts of data for businesses and organizations. You could work for global corporations, small businesses, and other types of companies. The average salary for a data scientist in the United States is $122,650 [1].

Get curious: What Is a Data Scientist? Salary, Skills, and How to Become One

2. Machine learning engineer

Machine learning engineers work behind the scenes building machine learning systems. As one, you would create data funnels, implement software solutions, and run tests to monitor computerized systems and applications. The average salary for a machine learning engineer in the United States is $123,530 [2].

Read more: What is a Machine Learning Engineer and How Can You Get Started?

3. Data architect

Data architects have many responsibilities, including creating databases, designing applications for multiple platforms, and ensuring data solutions meet performance expectations. Expect an average salary of $153,274 in this vocation in the United States[3].

Read more: What Does a Data Architect Do? A Career Guide

4. Data engineer

Sign up for a degree in data engineering to have multiple roles within an organization. You’ll perform batch and real-time data processing before sharing your findings with supervisors and other members of the management, marketing, and engineering teams. Your other duties could include building and maintaining data pipelines to make information available to other workers who need it. You could make an average salary of $113,991 in the United States as a data engineer [4].

Read more: What Is a Data Engineer?

5. Statistician

If your analytical skills define your nature and personality, major as a statistician. As a statistician, you’ll detect trends and relationships in data sets by collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data to help an organization make the right decisions across various departments. In addition to applying your strong mathematical skills on a daily, you’ll also design processes for collecting data and sharing details with the company’s stakeholders. The average salary for this job in the United States is $82,215 [5].

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Should I major in data science?

Data science plays a vital role in many fields, including the government sector. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics lists Data Scientists as one of the fastest growing occupations over the next decade. [6].

Consider the following benefits of majoring in data science:


  • Job prospects: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in data science will grow by 31.4 percent through 2030 [6].

  • Professional value: Your data science expertise will likely be highly sought by business owners and executives to leverage big data within their organizations.

  • Portability and flexibility: The nature of a data scientist's role makes it possible to work remotely, which could mean greater freedom to work where you want.

  • Educational options: You can access educational opportunities online and on campus for many of the disciplines covered by the data science major.

Things to consider

  • Costs: The average cost of tuition for a four-year degree at a public university is $25,487per academic year [7].

  • Time: It typically takes four years of full-time study to complete a bachelor’s degree and two additional years to complete any graduate studies. Take advantage of your time while in college to upskill and join the data science workforce through internships and professional certificates.

  • Continuing education: The skill set you develop as a data science major will evolve throughout the years as new concepts arise in the field. After finishing your degree, you can take additional courses or learn new skills to stay relevant in the field.

Get started

Learn a new programming language, dive into the history of big data, and build a foundation in machine learning when you earn your degree in data science. Not sure if data science is right for you? Explore the day-to-day activities of a data scientist as you build job-ready skills with the IBM Data Science Professional Certificate

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Article sources

1. Glassdoor.  “How Much does a Data Scientist make?,,14.htm.”  Accessed April 20, 2022. 

2. Glassdoor. “How much does a Machine Learning Engineer make?,,25.htm.” Accessed April 20, 2022.

3. Glassdoor. “How much does a Data Architect make?,,14.htm.” Accessed April 20, 2022.

4. Glassdoor. “How much does a Data Engineer make?,,13.htm.” Accessed April 20, 2022. 

5. Glassdoor. “How much does a Statistician make?,,12.htm.” Accessed April 20, 2022.

6. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Fastest growing occupations,”  Accessed April 20, 2022.

7. Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of College & Tuition,” Accessed April 20, 2022.

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