Is Online Masters in Data Science Worth It?

Data science is a booming industry right now as more and more companies want to benefit from the large amounts of data we generate every day. Getting a degree is the typical way of becoming qualified for a job, but do you need a master’s degree in data science? Should you get an online master’s or learn by yourself?

An online masters in data science is not worth it—skills and experience matter more than degrees. You can learn the same skills by self-teaching through online courses on Coursera, EdX, Udemy, etc. So it’s not necessary to spend time and money on an online master’s in data science.

This article will discuss the (in)significance of an online master’s degree in data science. We’ll also compare it with other online sources of learning data science and understand how you can become a data scientist without a formal degree. 

Important Sidenote: We interviewed numerous data science professionals (data scientists, hiring managers, recruiters – you name it) and identified 6 proven steps to follow for becoming a data scientist. Read my article: ‘6 Proven Steps To Becoming a Data Scientist [Complete Guide] for in-depth findings and recommendations! – This is perhaps the most comprehensive article on the subject you will find on the internet!

How Helpful Is an Online Master’s in Data Science?

Before we discuss the pros of having a master’s in data science, we need to get one thing out of the way. No master of data science program will provide you information that you can’t get online for cheap or even free. Online courses and books have already covered everything you need to know about data science to land a job.

As you’ll see, many universities offering master’s degrees also have courses on Coursera, EdX, etc. And you’ll also find the same professors creating data science courses on platforms like Udemy. The quality and depth of these courses are similar to master’s programs.

What, then, is the point of spending money for a master’s degree? A formal degree program offers you structure, motivation, and social interaction with teachers and other students. If these things are important to you, you will benefit from an online master’s degree in data science.

If you’re already working as a data scientist, getting an online master’s degree can be beneficial. It can significantly boost your career by allowing you to apply for senior data scientist positions. Some job listings specifically mention a master’s in data science as a requirement. If you don’t have a formal degree, you won’t be able to apply for those jobs even if you fulfill other criteria.

You can go for a master’s program if you’re passionate about learning more about data science and connecting with other data science enthusiasts. Online master’s programs are usually divided into different specializations like machine learning and business analytics. Choose the right domain, and an online master’s may help you do more research.

You Can Become a Data Scientist Without a Masters Degree

A master’s degree indeed teaches you a lot about data science. You’ll become a confident coder and have strong statistical and mathematical knowledge. However, you don’t necessarily have to get a university degree to acquire these skills. There are many online free and paid resources that’ll teach you the ins and outs of programming and data science.

Having the right skillset and being able to prove it is more important than having a degree. A master’s degree does show that you’ve put in the time and effort to learn data science. However, you can also showcase your skills by building practical projects using knowledge acquired from online resources.

So it’s very much possible to become a data scientist without getting a master’s degree. However, it’s essential to carefully choose what you learn and from where you learn it. When you’re learning by yourself, it’s up to you to ensure that you have the right skills. Let’s now look at some of the best university-level resources for data science.

Masters Degree vs. MOOCs for Data Science

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are becoming increasingly popular for people wanting to learn tech skills. We’ve already discussed that the information taught is essentially the same in degree programs and online courses offered by universities. Let’s briefly look at how you can become a data scientist through online classes.

Coursera is one of the most popular online course platforms. You’ll find many comprehensive courses offered by different universities on this site. Many of the courses are free to watch, but you have to pay to obtain a verified certification.

For example, you can enroll in the data science specialization offered by Johns Hopkins University for free. It’s a collection of 10 courses designed to help you become proficient in data science and kickstart your career.

IBM also offers a data science course on Coursera. It requires no prior programming experience and teaches you everything about data science. You learn Python, SQL, data visualization, how to build machine learning models, and more. You can check out more of Coursera’s data science by following this link.

EdX is another education platform similar to Coursera. You can enroll in the data science specialization offered by Harvard University. The program itself is not free. However, if you click on individual courses within the program, they are free to watch and learn, only requiring payment for a verified certificate. You can see more of EdX’s data science courses here.

Interactive learning platforms like Datacamp are also great for teaching yourself the fundamentals of programming and data science. They conveniently group skills necessary for a particular industry into ‘career tracks.’ These platforms also have lots of assignments and examples for you to practice and solidify your skills. If you want to read more about it, check out my full review of Datacamp. has made a detailed comparison in 2019 between data scientists who have a master’s and those who don’t. I highly recommend going through the statistics they present. You’ll find that although there are slight differences in their job roles, compensation, etc., the difference is negligible. A data scientist without a master’s can earn just as much as a data scientist with a formal degree, given that they have the right skillset.

A Portfolio Speaks a Thousand Credentials!

Okay, maybe not a thousand, but you get the idea. What I’m saying is that relevant work experience massively impacts your chances of getting a job. The data science industry is usually willing to overlook academic qualifications in favor of hands-on experience. Even if you don’t have a master’s degree, you can still prove that you have all the required knowledge.

Having previous work experience speaks volumes about your credibility. But if you’re a fresher, you can build practical projects to prove your skills. You can also create a blog where you post insights and machine learning models you developed from public datasets. Lastly, it’s also a good idea to participate in machine learning competitions on Kaggle to ensure that your approaches are working.

So the bottom line is that you can undoubtedly land a high-paying data scientist job by self-teaching the necessary skills. Just build relevant projects, participate in competitions, and keep improving your resume and profile.

Author’s Recommendations: Top Data Science Resources To Consider

Before concluding this article, I wanted to share few top data science resources that I have personally vetted for you. I am confident that you can greatly benefit in your data science journey by considering one or more of these resources.

  • DataCamp: If you are a beginner focused towards building the foundational skills in data science, there is no better platform than DataCamp. Under one membership umbrella, DataCamp gives you access to 335+ data science courses. There is absolutely no other platform that comes anywhere close to this. Hence, if building foundational data science skills is your goal: Click Here to Sign Up For DataCamp Today!
  • MITx MicroMasters Program in Data Science: If you are at a more advanced stage in your data science journey and looking to take your skills to the next level, there is no Non-Degree program better than MIT MicroMasters. Click Here To Enroll Into The MIT MicroMasters Program Today! (To learn more: Check out my full review of the MIT MicroMasters program here)
  • Roadmap To Becoming a Data Scientist: If you have decided to become a data science professional but not fully sure how to get started: read my article – 6 Proven Ways To Becoming a Data Scientist. In this article, I share my findings from interviewing 100+ data science professionals at top companies (including – Google, Meta, Amazon, etc.) and give you a full roadmap to becoming a data scientist.


Since we’ve discussed many things in this article, let me summarize everything for you in a few points:

  • Does an online master’s degree in data science provide in-depth knowledge? Yes.
  • Will it help you land a job? Yes.
  • Does this mean a master’s necessary? No.
  • Can you get the same knowledge online for free or cheap? Yes.
  • Can you land the same job without a master’s degree? Highly likely.
  • So, should you invest your time and money into a university degree? Probably not. It’s not wise since the result, i.e., a data scientist position, is the same.

BEFORE YOU GO: Don’t forget to check out my latest article – 6 Proven Steps To Becoming a Data Scientist [Complete Guide]. We interviewed numerous data science professionals (data scientists, hiring managers, recruiters – you name it) and created this comprehensive guide to help you land that perfect data science job.

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  4. Is a masters degree necessary in data science? – Quora. (n.d.). A place to share knowledge and better understand the world.
  5. Researcher, S. O. (2019, April 4). Was it worth studying a data science masters? Medium.
  6. Shivamb. (2019, December 2). Spending $$$ for MS in data science – Worth it ? Kaggle: Your Machine Learning and Data Science Community.
  7. What do data scientists do? (2019, March 13). University of Wisconsin Data Science Degree.
  8. What does a data analyst do | How to become a data analyst | SNHU. (2020, February 24). Southern New Hampshire University – On Campus & Online Degrees | SNHU.

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Daisy is the founder of Passionate for the field of Data Science, she shares her learnings and experiences in this domain, with the hope to help other Data Science enthusiasts in their path down this incredible discipline.

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