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The volume of data generated every day is growing exponentially, creating a steep demand for workers that can harness, analyze, and create value from the data available. Because of this, data science is one of the fastest growing fields today, and one of the best ways to break into the field is to pursue a master’s degree in the field. Fortune is launching its first-ever ranking of the top in-person master’s degree programs in data science.
Data science is one of the fastest growing fields—job openings have increased 480% since 2016, according to Glassdoor. And students graduating with a master’s in data science often land six figure salaries. The reason it’s a fast growing field, with high paying jobs, is because companies across all industries want data-savvy professionals in this era of digitization. Data provides companies and organizations with the resources they need to make better decisions—and in turn, they need professionals with data science skills who know how to understand and analyze data.
The GPA you’ll need to get accepted into a master’s program for data science varies by school. The University of Minnesota, No. 3 on Fortune’s ranking of the best master’s in data science programs, listed its average GPA for its students admitted for the 2020-2021 school year as 3.68. For the same period, the University of San Francisco’s was 3.47, the University of St. Thomas’ was 3.14, and the University of Michigan’s was 2.63—although it’s a bit of an outlier.
Master’s degree programs in data science can be offered in person, online or in a hybrid format—and that might be the difference in what the “best program” for you means. Fortune ranks the top five in-person programs as: the University of Michigan, Harvard University, the University of Minnesota, the University of San Francisco, and the University of St. Thomas. Additionally, our ranking of the top five online programs include: the University of Illinois, UC Berkeley, Texas Tech University, Bay Path University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
On average, it takes about one-and-a-half to two years to complete a master’s degree program in data science—with most programs requiring roughly anywhere from 25 to 60 credits to graduate. So it does depend on each individual program and whether you choose to be a full-time or part-time student. That said, thanks to a boost in salary and expanded career options, many students find it worthwhile to obtain a master’s degree in data science—and Gen Z considers the role of data scientist to be one of the most satisfying occupations.
A master’s degree in data science will teach you how to understand and analyze data. But because it’s a recently defined career path, how it’s applied can vary significantly. As Maurizio Porfiri, a New York University professor, told Fortune: “It’s a weird thing because it’s very vague. I discovered after a while that I had become a data scientist: people just started to refer to me as such.” But sometimes the first step to finding your place in the world of data science is picking a specialization—what type of problem you want to solve by using data. And a master’s degree can either help you find that specialization, or if you’ve already got the answer, will teach you the skills to pursue it.
Fortune compiled a list of seven universities that offer free online data science courses, which offers prospective students an opportunity to learn more about this field. Each university—Harvard University, the University of Michigan, UC Irvine, John Hopkins University, Columbia University, MIT, and Duke University—offers a different course, from linear regression to data science ethics to data science in real life. However, the common goal of these free courses is to give people an inside look into the field.
In 2020, data scientists made a median salary of $164,500, according to a survey conducted by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers—that’s close to an 8% increase from the previous year. Karen Panetta, dean of graduate education for the School of Engineering at Tufts University told Fortune that her “2022 grads are getting offers at $125,000 and $135,000.” And a degree from a top program might mean even more money—UC Berkeley (ranked second on Fortune’s best online data science programs) 2021 graduates with a master’s in data science, earned an average salary of $155,000, according to data provided by the university.