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Data Science Master's vs. Bootcamp

Usmann Farooqui

Written By: Usmaan Farooqui

Published: 6/8/2022

Tech jobs remain in high demand, particularly in the evolving field of data science. Pursuing a master's in data science can therefore be a good decision if you want to take advantage of this favorable labor market. However, degrees can take time and money to complete — resources that many students don't have. 

Data science bootcamps are an alternative that can equip students with a set of job-ready skills in a matter of months, and often at a fraction of the cost for a degree. But aside from this obvious difference, there are several pros and cons to enrolling in a data science degree versus a bootcamp. So, it's important to evaluate your goals and circumstances before deciding which is the better choice for you.

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What is a Data Science Master's Degree?

A master's in data science is an advanced, interdisciplinary degree that covers topics in areas of computer science, data analysis, and business. Students gain an in-depth understanding of data science theories through coursework, as well as hands-on experience with various software while working on a capstone project, such as an internship or research paper. Master's programs also allow students to take elective classes to further develop their knowledge of how data is used in specific economic sectors.

Graduates with a data science master's typically have a contextualized understanding of their field, including with respect to best practices, challenges, and future developments. This training is complemented by a set of hard skills in computing, statistical analysis, and database management.

What Can I Do With a Data Science Master's?

There are relatively few careers that require a master's in data science. For instance, computer and information research scientist is one of the only tech professions which requires a graduate-level education in a STEM field. However, given that it can entail developing business acumen as well as familiarity with math and computing principles, you may find that a master's in data science opens the door to many different career paths. Apart from working in a tech-focused role, for instance, you may qualify for occupations that include management or decision-making responsibilities. Your education may also help you advance your career as it can demonstrate to employers that you have specialized expertise in a particular facet of data science.

However, aside from being a significant financial commitment, a data science master's can be quite difficult to complete. Additionally, with some degrees taking up to three

Your education may also help you advance your career as it can demonstrate to employers that you have specialized expertise in a particular facet of data science.

What is a Data Science Bootcamp?

A data science bootcamp is a focused program — usually lasting between a few weeks or months — that is geared toward helping students develop specific technical abilities. For this reason, bootcamps, unlike a master's degree, typically don't include elective coursework or classes on theoretical concepts. Instead, students concentrate on attaining various skills, such as those related to working statistical analysis, running queries on large datasets, and working with data visualization software. They often spend their time developing a professional portfolio that exhibits their potential to complete real-world data science tasks.

Bootcamp graduates receive a certificate rather than a degree upon completing their program. Compared to master's students, they have a limited understanding of the mathematical theorems or logical reasoning that goes into constructing complex algorithms or programming languages. Instead, they have job-ready data science skills that are aimed at meeting employer needs in technical roles.

What Can I Do With a Data Science Bootcamp?

A data science bootcamp can quickly equip you with the training necessary to land a job in computing and information science. In fact, bootcamps give graduates the same chances of finding employment in tech as do four-year degree programs, even when compared to credentials from prestigious institutions. Some have also helped graduates get their foot in the door at one of the Big Five tech companies. This is perhaps because bootcamps offer significant career support in the form of portfolio building and interview prep.

A data science bootcamp can quickly equip you with the training necessary to land a job in computing and information science.

However, while a bootcamp can help you find work, some employers may reserve higher level positions for applicants with a degree. Certain continuing education programs and professional memberships, which help ensure you stay up-to-date with developments in data science, may also require a formal degree.

How to Decide Between a Data Science Degree and Bootcamp

The key thing to remember when deciding between a data science master's and bootcamp is that each qualification can yield very different career outcomes and educational experiences. While both can lead to a job in tech, you may want to consider the following factors.

What are my overall career goals?

If you're coming from a non-computer science background and are interested in moving into tech, a data science bootcamp is a fairly quick way to change your career's trajectory. Your expanded skill set can help you find a lucrative job that requires a high level of proficiency with data. However, a master's degree can help you move into middle and upper-management positions, and can expand your job opportunities beyond the tech world as well.

What kind of educational qualification do I want?

A graduate degree from an accredited institution is a credential that is broadly recognized. By contrast, because bootcamps tend to vary in terms of the topics they cover, their quality needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Given this, if you want a prestigious educational credential that is widely accepted, a data science degree is the better choice.

What are my financial and personal circumstances?

A master's in data science can cost upwards of $15,000 in annual tuition and typically takes several years of full-time study to complete. Pursuing one is therefore a significant commitment of time and money. Bootcamps can typically be completed in a matter of months for under $20,000 — making them the ideal choice for students who have limited financial means and personal responsibilities that take up time in their schedule.

The Bottom Line

Given the differences between them, it can be confusing determining whether a bootcamp or a data science master's is the right choice for you. For instance, it is erroneous to think that a bootcamp is simply a faster and cheaper way to get the same level of training as with a graduate degree. On the other hand, it's also inaccurate to see a master's degree as superior to a bootcamp when it comes to the specific goal of securing a job in tech.

You should choose the option that fits with your educational preferences, professional aspirations, and personal circumstances. If you have limited time and resources but want to change careers and enter a lucrative field, the training and job support you receive in a data science bootcamp can help you achieve this goal. However, if you have a genuine desire to learn more about this cutting-edge discipline and want to advance your career by learning how to apply your knowledge in real-world scenarios, a master's degree may be worth it for you.

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