Master's in Data Science: Your Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

With a master’s degree, you can work on projects that require expertise in statistics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, or other fields related to big data. Learn more about the benefits of earning a master's in data science.

[Featured image] A student in a beige jacket sits in front of two monitors working on a master's in data science project.

Gain a deeper understanding of data science methods, develop your analytical skills, and qualify for leadership and other advanced roles in the data science field with a master's degree in data science. With this degree, you can often specialize in a specific area of data science, such as artificial intelligence or big data, or make a career change. 

Find out what it takes to earn a master's in data science, what coursework you can expect, and the jobs you can pursue with a data science master's degree. 

What is data science?

Data science is the examination, processing, and analysis of data used to solve a problem or address a challenge for a company or client. As a data scientist, you'll use creativity and technical knowledge to extract insights from data to drive better business decisions.

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What is covered in a data science master's program?

Typically, you will complete core classes that concentrate on machine learning, modeling, statistics, and databases, as well as elective courses related to data science. You might also complete one or more capstone courses in which you'll apply what you learn to real-world problems. 

What coursework can I expect to take?

In many data science programs, it’s common to take courses in:

  • Machine learning

  • Probability and statistics

  • Data mining

  • Big data

  • Object-oriented programming  

  • Data manipulation and management

Your master's program might also include coursework in programming languages, such as Python, R, or SQL. You may be able to specialize in a particular area of interest as well, for instance:

  • Analytics and modeling

  • Analytics management

  • Applications

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Big data informatics

  • Business analytics

  • Computational intelligence

  • Data engineering

  • Technology entrepreneurship

Is a master's in data science worth it?

Not all data science jobs require a master's in data science, but by earning the degree, you can gain a deeper understanding of concepts you’ll need in the field. Thirty-nine percent of data scientist and advanced data analyst positions call for a master’s degree or higher [1]. Graduate programs will often complement your undergrad knowledge with real-life scenarios.

Many master's programs include a capstone project or an internship, which gives you valuable work-related experience. The knowledge and skills you can gain may help you stand out to employers and be ahead of the curve once you enter the workforce. 

Admission requirements

To qualify for enrollment in a master's in data science program, you will typically need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. While a bachelor's in data science or a related field such as computer science, cybersecurity, accounting, mathematics, or statistics can help you prepare for master's coursework, it’s not always required. However, you may be required to prove foundational knowledge in linear algebra, statistics, and computer programming. 

Depending on the program you apply to, you might also need a personal statement or essay, letters of recommendation, or a minimum GPA. Other programs may require you to complete one or more master's level courses and receive a minimum grade before enrolling in the full program.

How long does a master's in data science take to complete?

On average, master's degree programs take about two years for students to complete when attending full-time. Some programs are designed to take only a year and others a year and a half. You can also participate in a master's in data science program part-time to accommodate your work schedule or other responsibilities. Depending on your time commitment, this might take two and a half years or more. 

Your school may impose a time limit on how long you take to complete your master's, so consult with the admissions department before enrolling to ensure you have enough time to complete your coursework.

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Where can I study for a master's in data science?

Many state and private universities offer master's degrees in data science. As the field is expanding, more and more schools offer master's programs for data science. You can complete courses online at many universities or attend in-person classes at a school near you. When exploring schools, you may find master's in data science programs called by different names, which may vary by coursework. Examples of master's in data science programs include:

  • Master of Liberal Arts, Data Science

  • Master of Science in Data Science

  • Master in Interdisciplinary Data Science

  • Master of Science in Applied Data Science

  • Master of Advanced Studies – Data Science and Engineering

  • Master of Science in Data Analytics

  • Master of Arts in Mathematics with an emphasis in Data Science

What can you do with a master's in data science?

A master's degree in data science is a common requirement for a range of jobs in the field of data science. Some positions may require more math, programming, or organization skills than others. Some roles you might pursue include:

  • Data scientist: Data scientists collect data from data analysts and engineers to further analyze it with advanced tools. They use principles of statistics and probability to find patterns in data and make predictions so businesses can make informed decisions.

  • Data analyst: A data analyst reviews data to find trends and characteristics of a customer base and create data sets that can be quickly processed and interpreted. They look for patterns that can be used as solutions for companies and organizations. 

  • Data architect: A data architect is in charge of designing the policies, models, technologies, and systems to work with the processed information. 

  • Data engineer: A data engineer prepares data for analytical and operational uses. These professionals build data pipelines to bring data sets that analysts and scientists later process. 

  • Data science and analytics manager: A data analytics manager joins several tasks from their team into a cohesive effort for a more extensive data project. They research and construct methods for data collection, information analysis, and problem-solving. 

  • Business intelligence analyst: A business intelligence analyst reviews data and produces financial and market intelligence reports. These reports are for pattern recognition and finding trends in a market used for a company’s financial decisions. 

  • Machine learning engineer:Machine learning engineers create data filters and solutions for software. They need high-level programming and mathematical analysis skills and the ability to design, build, and maintain machine learning systems and software. 

  • Statistician: Statisticians work to collect, analyze, and interpret data to find trends and recognize patterns to be used by higher-ups for decision-making and prioritization.

Get started

If you're ready to enroll in a master's in data science program, explore the convenience of earning your degree online with the Master of Applied Data Science from the University of Michigan or the Master of Science in Data Science from the University of Colorado Boulder. Learn at your own pace from anywhere with an internet connection. Experience for yourself what it's like by previewing a degree course:

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Article sources

1. Burning Glass. “The Quant Crunch, https://www.burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/The_Quant_Crunch.pdf." Accessed August 9, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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