A master’s in data science can be the ticket to a six-figure salary

BY Sydney LakeDecember 05, 2022, 2:53 PM
Students walk along on the campus of University of Missouri – Columbia, as seen in November 2015 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Data scientists are among the fastest-growing and most in-demand jobs in the U.S. The number of jobs is expected to skyrocket by 36% between 2021 and 2031—which is much faster than any other occupation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And data scientists earn $100,000 salaries, on average.

While data scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree in math, statistics, computer science, or another related field of study, some employers prefer candidates who have earned a master’s degree in data science. Not only do these employers prefer this qualification, but they’ll pay more for it. Data science master’s grads can make starting base salaries of more than $150,000; that amount doesn’t include bonuses.

In fact, grads from University of California—Berkeley’s online master’s in data science program, which Fortune ranks as the second-best in the U.S., in 2021 earned an average annual salary of more than $155,000, according to data provided by the school. Not far behind is Harvard University, which reports that its in-person data science master’s grads make median base salaries of $130,000, data collected during Fortune’s ranking process shows. Harvard is ranked as having the No. 2 in-person data science master’s program in the U.S.

Syracuse University, which holds the No. 10 spot on Fortune’s ranking of the best online master’s in data science, reports some of the highest median base salaries of the top programs at $105,000, data submitted during the ranking process shows.

“Our data science graduates reap the benefits of high average base salaries due to the increasing demand of data specialists in the United States,” Christopher Perrello, director of career services and professional development at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, tells Fortune. “Organizations are discovering they can maximize their bottom lines by analyzing large amounts of data for better decision making, so they need to hire to keep up with this demand.”

Jobs that data science master’s land

Graduates from Syracuse’s program take on a variety of roles: data analysts, data scientists, machine learning engineers, data engineers, quality specialists, data visualization designers, business intelligence analysts, and data mining analysts. These grads work for big tech companies, and they’re also working in other industries including nonprofit and government, Perrello says.

“The analysis of data is necessary in any industry or company that dares to survive these days,” he adds. “This is why our graduates can find themselves in a variety of organizations.”

Other top data science schools including Indiana University—Bloomington and the University of Missouri—Columbia also report that their grad students go on to take a variety of data science roles in an array of job sectors. 

Some Indiana grads go on to advanced manufacturing roles in auto, engine, and aircraft sectors, while Mizzou grads enter a “broad spectrum of industries,” to become data scientists, data engineers, machine learning engineers, and even managerial or leadership positions, Grant Scott, director of Missouri’s data science and analytics program, tells Fortune.

“Our students are able to see the big picture,” he says. “They understand that the value of data is in its transformation from raw collection and business inputs into high-value business products that increase productivity, revenue, value, and other aspects that lead to business success.” Missouri reports median base salaries for its data science grads at $105,000, while Indiana’s grads make $100,000. 

Syracuse credits its focus on applied data science as one reason why grads are able to land six-figure jobs after graduation.

“Our program is focused on how to apply data science and machine learning within an organizational context—hence our ‘applied data science’ program name,” Jeffrey Saltz, program director of Syracuse’s master’s in applied data science, tells Fortune. “This focus on how to use data science to provide actionable insight and effectively communicate those insights is highly valued by potential employers.”

Why a master’s degree can help your data science career

Experiential learning is a major component of many top-ranked data science master’s programs. At Indiana, students get hands-on experience converting complex data into visual representations in many decision-making processes, Haixu Tang, Indiana’s director of data science academic programs, tells Fortune. These real-world data science projects help students learn how to work with both academic and industrial partners, he adds. 

Missouri also places a “heavy emphasis” on developing professional skills, including project management, teamwork, and communication, Scott says. Students practice these skills with their peers, real customers, and even C-suite executives

There is also a huge need for data scientists to have both hard and soft skills, Perrello adds, which students work on during the Syracuse program. 

“Data professionals must have working knowledge of Python, R, and SQL but also must possess emotional intelligence, communication, and time management skills,” he says. “These factors all contribute to a higher base average salary compared to other careers.”

Check out all of Fortune’rankings of degree programs, and learn more about specific career paths.