Undergraduate Data Science Programs Are on the Rise—But Is the Degree Right for You?

Data science has been a hot topic in recent years, so it’s no surprise that undergraduate programs in the field are popping up across the country. But for what kinds of jobs are these degrees designed to prepare students? And, how are they different from degrees in related disciplines, like computer science or statistics?

The American Statistical Association recently talked with professors from new undergraduate data science programs in the United States and the United Kingdom to get answers to some of these questions.

Notably, all the programs emphasize the central role of statistics in data science. “Statistics is an extremely valuable (and possibly undervalued) component to data science,” said professors from the new data science program at Northern Kentucky University. But the field also requires a background in computing and programming to do things like implement algorithms for data aggregation, cleaning and analysis.

The four-year undergraduate degree is designed to give students practical skills in both areas so they can enter the job market with in-demand skills immediately after graduation. In other words, graduate school is not a requirement to get a job working with data (although some data science jobs require an advanced degree).

For example, an undergraduate degree in data science may be particularly good preparation for someone interested in becoming a data analyst. These opportunities have grown rapidly in recent years due to the accessibility of Big Data and its value in helping organizations make better decisions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one of the fastest growing jobs is market research analyst, which involves gathering and analyzing data about consumers, economic conditions and markets. The BLS predicts 131,500 new market research analyst jobs will be created between 2012 and 2022.

If you want to attend graduate school in statistics to prepare for a career doing more sophisticated statistical analysis, you may be better off getting an undergraduate degree in statistics and mathematics than one in data science, some of the professors said. Make sure you consult with academic advisors and career counselors before making any final decisions.

The bottom line is statistics is becoming a more important skill for the workplace and universities are responding by offering more options to students. Whether you decide to major in statistics, data science or just take a couple statistics courses, you’ll be better prepared to compete in a labor market where data is king.

Read the full article in Amstat News here.

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