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BY Meghan MalasAugust 24, 2022, 6:43 p.m.

A pedestrian walks past the University of Minnesota campus, seen in April 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturity/Getty Images)

Data science is one of the fastest growing fields today with job openings for this role growing 480% since 2016, according to Glassdoor. Businesses and organizations of all sizes and in all industries are looking for knowledgeable professionals who can create value from the massive volumes of data available. To meet this high demand, schools are unveiling more data science degree programs.

Drawing on a wide range of perspectives, from software development to storytelling, data scientists must be versatile to succeed. And data science students often earn six-figure salaries after graduating from master’s degrees. While earning a master’s degree isn’t the only way to break into this hot field, it’s a direct and promising avenue.

Just ask Miguel Miguélez Díaz, a business intelligence engineer at Amazon who received his job offer months before graduating in May 2022. At the University of Minnesota, where Miguélez pursued his master’s degree in data science, about 90% of students in the data science program find employment before graduating. The university landed No. 3 on The wealth ranking of the best master programs in data science.

To find out what makes a master’s program in data science interesting, Fortune spoke with Miguélez and two professors from the University of Minnesota.

Data scientists with in-depth knowledge are in high demand

In 2017, Miguélez was working as an intern at a consulting firm, finding ways to cut costs and maximize profits for different businesses. It was during this experience that he started using elements of data science in his analysis – and it proved so beneficial that he wanted to learn more.

Although his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering prepared him for his job as a consultant, if he wanted to do deeper analysis and get more robust results, he knew he needed to update his skills. This is a common thread among students in a master’s program in data science.

“There is a very recent trend of creating many undergraduate programs in data science to meet the demand for data scientists,” says Daniel Boley, professor of computer science and engineering and director of the study program. in data science at the University of Minnesota. “But because data science is a rapidly evolving field with many new experimental methods being proposed every year, many industries will always seek the maturity and deeper skills that come with a graduate degree.”

Even managers seek to understand the discipline so they can use the power of data more effectively. A master’s program helps professionals focus on the capabilities and application of data and technology, which includes the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

“Many effective AI and machine learning methods are data-driven and therefore inseparable from what could be considered data science,” says Boley. “Methods may evolve, but data will continue to underpin advances in machine learning, AI, and data science – practitioners who know how to manage and analyze data will continue to be in request.”

An undergraduate data science program can give a student a highly sought-after skill set, but insight into the work experience a student has before pursuing a graduate degree in data science is extremely valuable.

“In a master’s degree program, students learn to translate real-life, real-world problems much more effectively into technical solutions,” says Jaideep Srivastava, professor of data science and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. engineering from the University of Minnesota. . “The demand for data scientists has grown, but these days, the depth of experience and knowledge of a data scientist is increasingly becoming a priority.”

High salaries are common for Masters in Data Science graduates

Whether students enter a master’s degree program in data science with a bachelor’s degree in a related field or are looking to change careers altogether, earning a higher degree usually means a significant salary increase.

This fact was not lost on Miguélez when he made the decision to pursue his Masters in Data Science. Miguélez also considered pursuing an MBA, but ultimately opted for data science because the program was more affordable and his salary would be comparable to that of an MBA graduate, he says.

Acquiring data science skills also offers a promising route to working at larger companies or moving to a larger metropolitan area, which can lead to higher compensation.

The average annual salary for data science in the United States is $108,660, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in several cities, such as San Jose, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Washington DC, Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, data scientists earn an average of more than $120,000 a year. On average, graduates of the University of California, Berkeley’s highly ranked online master’s program in data science, earn more than $155,000 per year.

Additionally, while Miguélez was in his previous job at a small consulting firm in Spain, he saw the opportunities that big companies offered their employees. He thought working at a big company would open more doors for him, which also fueled his decision.

“When you already have a job, going back to school is not easy,” says Miguélez. “I kept thinking about the opportunities and saw the potential salary, so I decided to go for it.”

A Masters in Data Science Is Versatile

The power of data is not limited to any particular sector or industry, says Srivastava. In the fields of business, technology, health and social sciences, data-savvy professionals have many opportunities to find new solutions and better understand the capabilities and limitations of data science in their profession.

Data scientists can pursue a wide range of careers after earning their master’s degree, even if they aren’t sure what path they want to take when they start.

“Most of our graduates go on to work in a variety of industry jobs – our graduates have been employed at high-tech companies like Amazon, retail stores like Target, and commercial businesses like Capital One Bank and CHS Industries,” says Boley. “Most, but not all, of our students don’t have a specific job goal in mind when they enter our degree program.”

Many master’s students try to fill a skill or knowledge gap they’ve noticed in their careers, Srivastava adds. Some people used to working in the data management and computational area of ​​a project may not be familiar with the actual application of their analysis, and vice versa.

Additionally, some prospective students are interested in how the latest technical advances can be used. Massive datasets can be overwhelming and challenge many professionals to learn about machine learning techniques, which are usually covered in a data science master’s degree program.

Those pursuing research can also seek a master’s degree in data science to enhance their data skills for the technical field they are in. At the University of Minnesota, Ph.D. students also pursuing a master’s degree in data science come from a variety of fields of study.

“Chemistry, electrical engineering, bioinformatics, astronomy, economics, and in health sciences such as radiology and surgery, these are all subjects where data plays an important role,” Boley says.

Find out how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s ranking of the best master’s programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public healthand business analysisas well as the best doctoral programs in education, and part time, executive, full timeand on line MBA programs.

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