While there’s no doubt that data science has changed the way people hire — more emphasis on accomplishment and portfolio than time-in-seat, for example — the right data science degree could make you a more competitive candidate. 

It’s tricky to make correlations directly between a data science degree and jobs. That said, studies done in the past years suggest that companies may be more comfortable hiring data scientists with degrees. Even more importantly, many data scientists do have those degrees. Without one, you might struggle to stand out.

What data science degree is right for me?

According to our research, 24% of employers request a bachelor’s or a master’s for jobs posted since January 2020. The drive for that education is going strong despite changes from the pandemic. Close behind is the next level, a master’s or Ph.D., at 23% of employer requests.

An early study from Burtch Works in 2015 suggested that as much as 88% of data scientists had a master’s degree. 46% carried PhDs. Although the emphasis has shifted in the ensuing years, that degree could still mean the difference in a competitive field.

Just 14% of the jobs in our research study asked for only a bachelor’s degree, compared to the 30% average across the entire economy. The field still leans towards that graduate benchmark. You can make a name for yourself in Data Science without an official degree, sure, but the odds are stacked against you.

But what data science degree do you really need?

So how far should you go up the education ladder? In a perfect world, as high as you wanted. Time and location constraints, as well as access to funding, may temper your decision, so it looks like your safest bet is a master’s.

Back in the day, companies like Facebook divided their data scientists based on degrees, calling Ph.D. levels “research scientists” as an example. In reality, only about 5% of job listings require a minimum education level of a Ph. D. Most are fine with a terminal degree, although going after the Ph.D. does unlock some of the highest paying positions in the field.

Masters or Ph.D. level work made up 41% of the job listings we tracked — a good sign that investing in that master’s degree would pay off in the end if you can make it. Combine it with a certificate and hands-on training in high-paying niche fields, and you’re well on your way to a serious competitive advantage.

Burtch Works continues to study data science’s status. They found an increasing shift towards “citizen data scientists” and technical screens as hiring tools rather than the reliance on graduate degrees from their 2015 study. As more boot camps and alternative training programs emerge, companies’ perceptions of graduate degrees are changing.

Maximizing your education

From our own research, a master’s data science degree is still the safest bet if you’re looking to make the transition to data science and you want access to better jobs. However, you must combine this data science degree with proven skillsets — something a portfolio could showcase. 

Working on Github projects or joining hackathons can help satisfy an employer’s desire for a graduate degree while showcasing the work you can do in real life. And if that master’s degree is out of reach for the moment, there are certainly more accessible training options.

It’s essential to focus on your entire employment picture rather than getting hung up on the degree. However, it seems like a master’s is the safest education bet and the biggest bang for your buck. Go for the masters if you’re able to at all, and until that can happen, train, participate, and network.

Finding your next job regardless of your data science degree

Regardless of your data science degree, there are a number of ways you can start preparing for a job.

Find jobs with the Ai+ Careers platform

There are plenty of job sites out there, but our own Ai+ Careers site is designed specifically for data science and artificial intelligence professionals. Featuring automatic job matching, job assessments, and advanced career searches, this is your go-to tool for finding your next job.

Scout the ODSC jobs board daily

We frequently add new jobs to our data science jobs board – bookmark it and check daily for new in-person or remote data science jobs.

Learn new skills with Ai+ Training

On the Ai+ Training platform, you gain access to all of the most important skills that employers are looking for when looking for data scientists. Our on-demand and live courses will dive into anything from machine learning fundamentals to how to use specific tools for data visualizations. Upcoming live training sessions include: