Data science is a term that may seem a bit confusing. However, it’s a field that influences every aspect of modern life. Data science professionals work in statistics, computer programming, marketing, public health, and nearly any imaginable industry. This is due to the fact that big data has created opportunities for firms to learn so much about their markets. They thus need experts at data analysis to write the scripts and build the databases that make the numbers work for them.
Though an associate data science degree is the lowest academic degree in the field, students can convert their two-year degree into a long-lasting career. While more learning is surely in the cards, an associate data science degree holder will compete with data scientists at the bachelor's and master’s level.
Requirements of an Associate Degree
An associate degree is an undergraduate degree program designed to take two years of full-time study. Associate degrees are typically offered by community colleges but are also offered by many four-year institutions. An associate degree can be a first step on the way to earning a bachelor's but many students use their associate degree alone to launch a career. Since there are many associate degrees that lead to professional licensure, there is often little need for later education and additional degrees are optional. The convenience of community colleges means these degrees are well within reach for most students.
While community colleges are found scattered throughout most states, not every one will offer the degree program a student wants. For that reason, many community colleges are now offering degrees online to facilitate learning for more students throughout their state. Community colleges also offer their credit hours at rates that are far below that of most four-year institutions. So, a student whose goal is a four-year bachelor's degree can complete their first two years in a community college and then finish up at the higher four-year college tuition rate. This can dramatically reduce the overall price of a bachelor's degree.
Where Can You Earn a Data Science AS Degree?
Students can earn a data science associate-level degree from most undergraduate degree-granting institutions. The most common schools for associate degrees are community colleges. This is because community colleges specifically design their curriculum for students who seek an associate degree. The academic advisers there are skilled at guiding students through the general education requirements and their major courses, as well.
For those who feel that a particular four-year college or university is their best choice for an associate degree, that is also a possibility. In fact, some colleges and universities have specific majors designed for an associate degree. However, sometimes students need to finish a bachelor's degree program early and their academic adviser can help ensure that they meet the requirements for an associate degree.
There is also a growing number of online colleges and universities that offer associate degree programs. These may have a physical campus, but many do not. Nevertheless, the online option is increasingly popular as educators refine how they teach in this medium.
Online Vs. Traditional Education in Data Science
Data science is a growing field and firms across the board are looking for qualified, degreed data scientists. Whether a student is aiming at a career in marketing, finance, public health, or software development, a degree is needed. After all, a degree is proof that you have mastered the complexities of the field.
Future data scientists need to decide whether to study with a traditional or online institution. The traditional route has many positive attributes. After all, that route has worked for most current data scientists. But this approach does have a few downsides. The biggest downsides are the practical details such as scheduling and making it to classes. Students who work may have trouble enrolling in the courses they need and even if they do, they must be sure that they can make it across town in a timely fashion.
Online courses, on the other hand, are easy to schedule and there is no issue with making it to class. All that is needed is a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection. Online courses tend to require a greater degree of self-discipline, however.
Furthermore, data science is a subject that is well-suited to online learning. After all, data science only requires a book and a computer for the class materials. Furthermore, data science students are likely already used to conducting a lot of their lives via online media. Thus, if someone wants to earn a degree in data science, the online option is viable, if not preferable.
What are the Admission Requirements?
Before starting a data science associate degree, a student needs to be admitted to a program. Luckily this is rather easy, especially for those who enter a community college. Most public community colleges have open enrollment policies that only require a high school diploma or passing scores on an equivalency exam.
By comparison, students who are interested in attending a four-year college or university often need to submit their high school transcripts as well as their scores on an entrance exam, such as the ACT or SAT. There are some four-year institutions that have open enrollment policies, but they are the exception.
For those who are interested in data science, it may be a good idea to have some background in higher mathematics, such as calculus, or computer science. Most programs will probably require statistics for their data science degrees, so students should be prepared for those courses. Generally speaking, a strong background in algebra will help, but students are encouraged to discuss this with their academic advisers.
Why Earn an Online Data Science Associate Degree?
An associate degree is a good idea for a number of reasons. One of the most obvious is the fact that an associate degree is often easily accessible from a nearby community college. Students who aren't interested in moving far away find that they appreciate the proximity of a community college and the ease with which they can attend classes. Community college is also a terrific option for those who aren't yet sure what subject they are going to study for their degree. Since an associate degree prepares students with the general education curriculum, they can earn their associate degree and use those courses to help make their decision. They can then find the best four-year institution for their bachelor's degree.
An associate degree is also a great way to launch a career. After completing a two-year degree, students can land an entry-level job and start gaining experience in their field while their friends are still studying for their bachelor's degrees. This is also helpful if a student determines that their associate degree was either in the wrong subject or that it was perfect, but they now know exactly how to proceed with their bachelor's degree. A student who studied data science for an associate degree may realize that they want to focus their career towards, say, public health. Their remaining two years of undergraduate work can then focus on that specific application.
Why a Degree in Data Science?
Data science is a relatively new field in the world. While it may have existed in other forms, colleges and universities are starting to support data science courses and degrees. This is because students are seeing that firms need professionals who can crunch huge troves of data. Even a student with an associate data science degree can get started working on those large data sets. If they have completed courses in statistics, programming, and data science, they are often prepared to work with big data. An associate degree in data science can thus help students land that first entry-level job and embark on a very successful career.
In fact, an associate data science degree can help a student start work as a data scientist. Once they have begun work in their specific industry, whether that be finance, information technology, or marketing, students can progress by earning professional certifications and other non-academic credentials. There are also a wide range of online courses and certifications that help students sharpen their skills in programming. For instance, the computer languages Python and R can be studied from a variety of free or affordable outlets. Since computer languages often are updated or have new variations added, most any data scientist will need to continually sharpen their programming skills.
What’s Involved in an Online Data Science Associates Program?
Data science is not an easy field. Students need to have very strong skills in mathematics, including statistics and calculus. They also need to be talented with programming in languages such as Python and R, as well as any applicable variants. Since data science involves huge databases, students should be familiar with various database platforms and languages, such as SQL and its many variations.
Data scientists should also be familiar with the specific application that is needed. That is, an analysis for a marketing firm may be completely different from crunching numbers related to public health and epidemiology. So, it may be important for students to earn a minor concentration in a field relevant to their ultimate goals. For those in an associate data science degree program, it may be difficult to pack in all of those courses, but relevant elective courses could help achieve this goal.
Data Science Common Courses
- Calculus I
- Applied Statistics
- Applied Data Analysis
- Communications in Business
- Big Data Technologies
- Data Gathering
- Introduction to Programming
- Introduction to Computer Science
- Analytic Geometry
- Linear Algebra for Data Science
- Data Structures
- Introduction to Databases
- Probability in Data Science
- Statistical Prediction and Machine Learning
- Ethics in Science and Engineering
What to Consider When Choosing an Associate Program for Data Science
One of the chief factors any student should consider when choosing an associate degree program is its accreditation. Accreditation is a credential that indicates that an academic program has met or exceeded the standards of an independent agency. These agencies evaluate schools and academic programs on the basis of the curriculum, faculty, student outcomes, and more. The process of accreditation is rigorous and is repeated often.
A minimum standard should be to find an associate data science degree program that has regional accreditation from an agency approved by CHEA.
Here is a list of CHEA approved accrediting agencies:
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
Some data science degree programs may have special, program-specific accreditation from an agency such as ABET. ABET accredits STEM programs of all sorts and those programs tend to have stellar reputations in the larger community. They even accredit STEM programs at the associate degree level.
Further Data Science Education
Online Bachelor’s Degree in Data Science
A bachelor's degree in data science is a terrific way to launch a career. The training a data science student receives will be welcomed by employers across a wide range of industry classifications. Some may find their first jobs in marketing firms or departments, while others might work for their state government's public health agency. Given this strong start to a career, a bachelor's degree can be leveraged for entry to graduate school, or it may help students earn special certifications that require a four-year degree.
Online Master’s Degree in Data Science
A master’s degree in data science trains students to be experts in their field. It will help students dive deeper into data mining, artificial intelligence, and a range of other applications. With this degree, students can take their careers to the next level. For instance, students who are building a career in economics, public health, finance, or marketing will find that adding an MS in data science to their resumes will be a tremendous benefit. Further, those who are seeking to change course in their career will find that there is more and more demand for their expertise across almost every industry.
Online MBA in Data Science
Businesspeople place a very high value on an MBA degree. It's a defacto requirement for many positions in business, especially those at the C-suites level. Thus, those data scientists who complete an MBA with a concentration in data science will see their earnings and job opportunities explode. The data science focus will help them become masters of marketing, finance, and even management. Since data science impacts every industry, an MBA with a concentration in data science will be highly sought in the job market.
Online PhD in Data Science
A doctorate in data science makes perfect sense for those who really want to advance the field and dive deep into the research. During the course of a PhD in data science, students will focus on a specific area of the field that is of interest to them. Some options include but are not limited to machine learning, statistical signal processing, natural language processing, and image processing. Upon earning one's doctorate, graduates can surely find technology companies who are eager for their top-notch skills. Another possibility is to enter academia as a researcher or as a professor. In fact, many data scientists move from project to project, always seeking new and different challenges.
Data Science Management Certifications
A certification in data science can pave the way to the next level in a data scientist's career. There are two general, non-degree types of certification for this field: professional certification and academic certification. Professional certifications are very important in the field and are increasingly sought when firms recruit new talent. These credentials indicate a professional who has specialized knowledge of a specific topic, such as machine learning. Since professional certificates must be renewed by way of continuing education, hiring managers see a dedication to lifelong learning and professional growth.
An academic certificate is another way to earn credentials without having to complete a full degree program. Certifications in data science are generally reserved for the graduate level. However, where a master’s data science degree might take two years and cover a range of topics, a certificate might be as few as five courses that focus on a specific area. For instance, there are academic certificates that focus on topics such as SQL and Tableau, Data Science in R, Data Visualization, Data Analytics, and Data Science Essentials. Not only does this approach take little time, but students will have academic credits to their name afterwards. These credits may help later on if they wish to earn a master’s degree.
While academic credentials are good for a lifetime, professional certificates can also make a long-lasting impact on one's career. Since a professional certificate is often tied to membership in a professional association, holders may have many opportunities to meet their peers, gain leadership positions, and learn more as they renew their credentials.
Potential Career Options for Graduates
- Associate Data Scientist:
This position helps businesses create insights into their firms and helps them solve long-term problems. While some employers seek a bachelor's degree for this position, a highly skilled worker with a proven track record and an associate data science degree can land the job. Though an entry-level position, this job can pay $70,000 or more.
- Associate Decision Scientist:
To land this job, applicants need a wide range of technical skills including writing SQL, R, Python, using database technologies, and knowledge of a cloud computing tool such as Google Cloud or AWS. They pay range for this job can go as high as $80,000.
- Associate Biostatistician:
For this position, employers may need to see a strong skill set including, but not limited to, statistics, probability, nonlinear regression, and generalized linear model.
- Associate Data Scientist II:
This position may be earned after a few years working as an associate data scientist. To excel in this position, an employer may want to see experience in their industry. For instance, some prefer a master of public health or an RN who has a degree and multiple years of experience.
- Cyber Security Associate:
A data science student who has experience with cyber security should seek out this position. Some employers will also accept experience gained through academic research.
The salary range for a data scientist is quite broad. For those who start their career with an associate degree, the pay is sure to be at the lower end, but then it'll be easy to rack up experience and raises. Since your competition may have bachelor's degrees, a worker with an associate degree should start work on getting certified in specific technologies as soon as possible. The more credentials they have, the better off they will be. Further, with more certificates they may never need to step foot in a college classroom again.
Nevertheless, with strong skills and an associate degree, workers can expect to start work for around $43,000. While that salary doesn't go as far as it used to, an eager worker can begin to rise through the ranks. In fact, some associate data scientist jobs have a low end of around $60,000, if not a bit more.
Regardless of the salary, those data scientists who have an associate degree should focus more on the job itself than the pay, especially when they are at the outset of their career. Since tech workers have a tendency to change jobs often, an entry-level worker can gain valuable experience in a few years and then convert that experience into a massive pay raise when they enter their next position.
Data science is a field that is on the rise. Students of data science can launch careers in a variety of fields, and many may never have data scientist as their formal title. Rather, they might work in public health and track disease information as epidemiologists, or they could work in machine learning and create next-level artificial intelligence for video games or military applications. There are also many, many data scientists who track trends in the market for marketing firms or departments. There are also many who work on Wall Street and devise electronic trading strategies that outwit the traders on the floor.
The outlook for data scientists is quite rosy. The advent of big data means that firms must employ data scientists who can crunch the numbers and discover the new business trends before their competition. Even healthcare systems need data scientists who can use data to stem the spread of diseases or to maximize efficiency in hospitals.
Finally, a student with an associate data science degree is sure to fare quite well in today's employment market. Provided that they continue to sharpen their skills in programming languages, statistics, and their general industry, a 2-year-degree holder is sure to find that they can pursue a brilliant, and well-paid career.