Choosing a Data Science Graduate Program

Due to the large list of Colleges with Data Science Degrees, I receive a number of email inquires with questions about choosing a program. I have not attended any of the programs, and I am not sure how qualified I am to provide guidance. Anyhow, I will do my best to share what information I do have.

Originally, the list started out with 5 schools. Now the list is well over 100 schools, so I have not been able to keep up with all the intricate details of every program. There are not very many undergraduate options, and the list only contains a few PhD programs, so the information here will be focused on pursuing a masters degree.

Start by asking 2 questions:

  1. What are my current data science skills?
  2. What are my future data science goals?

Those 2 questions can provide a lot of guidance. Understand that data science consists of a number of different topic areas:

  1. Mathematical Foundation (Calculus/Matrix Operations)
  2. Computing (DB, programming, machine learning, NoSQL)
  3. Communication (visualization, presentation, writing)
  4. Statistics (regression, trees, classification, diagnostics)
  5. Business (domain specific knowledge)

After seeing the above lists, this is where things get cloudy. Everyone brings a different set of existing skills, and everyone has different future goals. Here are a few scenarios that might clear things up.

Data Scientist

The most common approach is to attempt to build knowledge in all 5 topic areas. If this is your goal, find the topic areas where you are weakest and target a graduate program to help you bolster those weak skills. In the end, you will come out with a broad range of very desired skills.

Specialist

A different approach is to select one topic area and get really, really good. For example, maybe you want to be an expert on machine learning. If that is your goal, then maybe a traditional computer science graduate program is what is best. In the end, you will be well-suited to be an effective member of a data science team or pursue a PhD.

Data Manager

A third and also common approach is from people that want to help fill the expected void of 1.5 million data-savvy managers. These people do not necessarily want to know the deep details of the algorithms, but they would like an understanding of what the algorithms can do and when to use which algorithm. In this case, a graduate program from a business school (MBA) might be a good choice. Just make sure the program also involves coverage from the non-business topics of data science.

Example

I think NYU is the best example of a school that can help a person achieve just about any data science goal. The NYU program is a university-wide initiative, so the program is integrated with many departments (math, CS, Stats, Business, and others). Therefore, a student could possibly tailor a program to reach a variety of future goals. Plus, New York has a lot of companies solving interesting data science problems.

Conclusion

There you have it. It does not narrow the choices down, but it should help to provide some guidance. Other factors to consider are length of a program and/or location.

Good Luck with your decision, and feel free to leave a comment if you have and good/bad experiences with any of the particular graduate programs.

11 thoughts on “Choosing a Data Science Graduate Program”

  1. Hi, first of all, this blog is awesome, thanks for all the posts. I am really concerned with my carrer in data science. I really need your point of view, in order to take a decision about my future. Look, I am 23 years old and i studied actuary (mathematics and statistics). In high school, i received a lot of courses in data bases and computers, that’s mean that i have a good knowledge in computers. By the way, I continually learn more programs by myself for example r, python,php, matlab, mysql, etc.
    Of course, i am better in math than in computer science. Recently, i discovered this new field ( data science) and my world changed. I want to be a data scientist. But, there is a little problem, i always wanted to study a master in germany. So, i look at your masters degree list in data science, and there are only two universities(MS in data and knowledge engineering and engineering in information) offering courses in data analyse. Unfortunately, they focus more in computer science than in mathematics. But, NYU focus more in math and statistics. So i have fear, i don´t want to take a wrong choise, so my question is : If i study a master degree related with computer science , I can still be a data scientist?????

    Thanks for your time, and sorry for my english, i usually don´t write comments in english.

    1. Rene,
      Yes you can still be a data scientist with a computer science degree. Data Science is such a big field. The name of the degree is not as important as the material in the degree. Does the degree cover the necessary math, programming, databases, stats, and that stuff. NYU is a great choice, but no one but you can find the best choice for you. Make sure you look at the courses required for the degree (which it sounds like you have) and find one that fits what you want. If you do that, I don’t think you can really make a “wrong” choice.

      Thanks for commenting,
      Ryan

  2. Ryan,

    Hi! I’m Zach, an undergraduate student at Wake Forest University. Currently, I’m majoring in mathematical economics at my school and will likely minor in statistics, although over the past summer I taught myself Python.

    I’m not a go-to programming freak (my background actually leans more towards the humanities and education) but I’ve recently become very interested in Silicon Valley and its business ethos, as opposed to Wall Street, for which I would also be qualified. Is there a space in data science for me, in spite of my somewhat unorthodox background? (if not, feel free to say so.) More specifically, what program/work would you recommend coming out of college? The “Data Managers” positions sounds interesting, since it seems to be a compromise of sorts between management and data.

    1. Zach,
      The background does not matter all that much for data science. It is more important that you are curious, interested in data, and willing to learn. I could offer 2 future suggestions for you. Try to learn some stats and/or databases (colleges offer courses on both), and then try to find an entry level position where you can learn on the job. Otherwise, you could go straight to grad school, there are many options available at http://datascience.community/colleges . If you are interested in being a manager, then maybe you should target a Business Analytics program.

      Good Luck,
      Ryan

  3. I am a computer science graduate and is having four experience in IT sector currently working with IBM in analytics/data science.

    I am also keen on doing ms from Germany as it is very economical in Data and Knowledge Engineering (DKE) • University of Magdeburg.

    My profile:

    10th 86%
    12th 59.4%
    btech wbut -7.75
    work ex : 3 yrs in analytics start up and 7 months in IBM analytics
    toefl : 93
    gre : not keen on taking right now.

    Can i be accepted there ? Any idea

    1. I would love to offer a better answer, but I do not know the standards for admission at Magdeburg. You might want o contact someone from the university.

      Thanks for asking, sorry I cannot give a better response,
      Ryan

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