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How Data Science Bootcamps Stack Up to Master's Programs

Images of computer screens with data appear in front of a woman wearing a brown blazer as she types on a computer keyboard.

The modern world is full of data. Due to widespread digital technology adoption, organizations across disciplines have access to massive amounts of structured and unstructured data—everything from anonymized healthcare data and corporate performance reports to information about shopping and driving habits. This data is rich with potential insights organizations can leverage for strategic decision-making in competitive markets, provided it is properly collected, sorted, processed, and analyzed.

This is where data science comes into play. Data scientists have specialized skills that help them find meaningful patterns in complex datasets. These patterns provide valuable and actionable insights that organizations might otherwise miss. The applications of data science span almost every sector. For example, city planners rely on data science to improve the safety and efficiency of traffic patterns. Marketers in the retail industry use data science to understand their customer base and create targeted campaigns. Data scientists work in government, healthcare, education, manufacturing, scientific research, transportation, and entertainment.

As technologies advance, the volume of bulk data increases, leading to even more sophisticated applications of data science. That's why the field is so rich with opportunity. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), data science employment will grow by 31 percent by 2029. Launching a data science career today means you'll enjoy long-term job security.

Most organizations now recognize how crucial it is to hire qualified data professionals, but what 'qualified' means varies from organization to organization. You can take different paths to become a data scientist. Some employers consider bootcamp certificate holders qualified to step into advanced data analytics and data science roles, but nearly all employers recognize that data scientists with master's degrees have the technical and managerial skills to deliver value. 

Data science bootcamps are short, intense experiences geared toward beginner or practicing data scientists who want to dive deeper into one or two skills. On-campus and online Master of Science in Data Science (MSDS) programs provide a deeper education over an extended period. These master's programs, like the online MSDS offered by Tufts University School of Engineering, focus not just on the "how" of data science but also on the "why." 

Data science bootcamps and degree programs are not mutually exclusive—many professionals complete both, using bootcamps to speed professional development. Bootcamps have their place, but the rigorous curricula, opportunities for experimentation, and deep industry insights in data science master’s programs provide data professionals with refined interdisciplinary skills and broader professional networks. It is telling that 90 percent of working data scientists have advanced degrees.

What Master of Science in Data Science Programs Provide

MSDS programs are better for professionals who want to build broader skillsets and gain in-depth knowledge. They are also a good option for computer science professionals who want to transition into data science careers. MSDS graduates have the technical and soft skills to take advantage of new career opportunities, credentials that position them to step into higher-paying management roles, and the ability to adapt as technology evolves. 

Other reasons a data science master's program may represent the best educational pathway include:

Industry-Leading Knowledge 

In-person and online data science bootcamps are a means to rapid upskilling. Because MSDS programs are longer and more involved, they provide opportunities to explore the potential of data matter more fully. 

Tufts' rigorous interdisciplinary MSDS curriculum covers data visualization, regression, algorithms, deep learning and machine learning models, natural language processing, business intelligence, and scripting and programming languages like SQL, javascript, and Python. Students work with various tools, including Microsoft Excel, Tableau, Apache Spark and Hadoop, the Python Data Analysis Library (pandas), Matplotlib (for data visualization), GitHub, and NumPy.

They learn from industry-leading faculty who can adapt the curriculum to changes in the field. The program is purposefully agile. Faculty can incorporate new data science technologies and processes into coursework and project work more quickly than data science courses and bootcamps can. Tufts online MSDS graduates leave with the ability to apply analytic techniques to answer questions, collect and clean data to solve problems, evaluate answers in terms of risks and potential errors, and formulate problems using data science best practices.

Robust Career Support 

A study conducted by the data science education platform 365 Data Science examined 1,170 data science job openings in the United States in 2020. The study found that 47 percent of job postings required that applicants have a bachelor's degree or higher, while another 31 percent explicitly listed a master's degree as a requirement. 

Students in master’s programs receive more faculty support and career coaching than those in bootcamps. Data science master's candidates at Tufts receive one-on-one guidance and support from the moment they enroll through graduation. Because Tufts MSDS students often continue working full-time while studying, they can use what they learn in the program in their workplaces immediately. Rather than studying hypothetical scenarios data science professionals may face, online data science master's students can apply theory to specific experiences and goals with guidance from career coaches and mentors. They can access career services and take part in networking and employment events. And they benefit from Tufts' proximity to and relationships with technology firms, hiring partners, and startups in the Greater Boston region.

Lifelong Networking Opportunities 

The benefits of graduate education don’t end at graduation. Full-time and part-time master's degree programs—including online MSDS programs—build in significant relationship-building opportunities. Tufts online MSDS candidates may work full time while earning a part-time master's in data science, but they still have time to develop meaningful connections.

The robust professional connections formed while in school give master's program graduates access to better jobs after graduation and later in life. Tufts' MSDS students benefit from faculty mentorship and support. And graduating from Tufts School of Engineering grants access to an elite Tufts alumni network of more than 100,000 individuals worldwide, making the post-graduate job search that much less daunting.

Increased Earning Potential 

Employers see data scientists and data engineers with master’s degrees as experts in their craft, which is reflected in average data science salaries. Tufts MSDS holders may have an edge in compensation negotiations over bootcamp completers. Data scientists already earn an average base salary of $110,000, but senior data scientists and data scientists with deep domain knowledge earn closer to $143,000—provided they have the right credentials. 

Soft Skills Development

Master’s of science in data science programs also provide more opportunities for peer collaboration and soft skills development. Soft skills such as communication, leadership, writing, and public speaking are foundational in today’s business environment. According to a recent LinkedIn study, 92 percent of companies and hiring managers cite soft skills as required qualifications and 89 percent of companies identified "bad hires" as specifically lacking soft skills. That's why coursework in Tufts' online MSDS program helps students hone their communication, writing, and presentation skills. Project work involves applying knowledge to real-world data challenges, and Tufts students exit the program with well-rounded technical and people skills.

The Appeal of Data Science Bootcamps

Data science bootcamps are a relatively new educational pathway, but their popularity exploded during COVID-19 because they offered opportunities to develop new skills quickly and remotely. People who previously didn’t have time to learn analytics, statistics, and programming skills suddenly had nothing but time. Online bootcamps offered three primary benefits: they were time-efficient, taught specific in-demand skills, and were usually cost-effective.

Bootcamps are Shorter and Focused

Everyone makes career and education decisions based on their familial obligations, career goals, and schedule flexibility. Bootcamps are great for people who don’t have much time. They may last just days or weeks, and the longest bootcamps last just three to six months on average. Most data science bootcamps are so short because these programs upskill participants quickly, teaching specific data science skills that prepare them for entry-level roles or a handful of advanced skills. However, part-time online data science master’s programs such as Tufts' graduate data science program are also time-efficient because they let students continue to work full-time and often last only as long as on-campus programs. 

Bootcamps Offer Specific Skills Training

Unlike graduate programs, the focus of most bootcamps is narrow. While some bootcamps offer career or technical interview coaching, most teach a few key competencies. Some of the most popular bootcamp skill pathways are Python and R programming languages, machine learning, big data, and natural language processing. Many data science bootcamps also teach participants data visualization skills using tools such as Tableau or Qlikview.

Instead of a degree, bootcamp participants earn certificates validating specific skills. Many data science professionals sign up for bootcamps because they see areas of their work where they could improve or because emerging technologies are outpacing their skills. Bootcamps offer professionals the opportunity to refresh their knowledge as new technologies and techniques emerge, e.g., automation and machine learning. 

Just like a surgeon may attend a retreat to learn about breakthroughs in non-invasive operating procedures, data science professionals may seek out bootcamps based on advances in the field. Employers may be willing to pay for their employees to participate in bootcamps if they think the outcome will be valuable to their business. Learning one new skill can lead to a pay increase, but professionals should always have a conversation with their employers before enrolling in bootcamps.

Bootcamps Can Cost Less than Degree Programs

On the surface, data science bootcamps are less expensive than graduate programs. Data science bootcamps can cost anywhere from $25 per month to $18,000 in total, while quality master’s degree programs tend to cost $50,000 to $75,000. If you are already working in the field and know that you can get a raise by adding another skill to your resume, a $5,000 bootcamp makes sense. Similarly, if you’re just entering the data science field and aren’t sure whether you’re ready to pay for a graduate program, a lower-cost bootcamp is one way to explore your interest without breaking the bank. 

However, keep in mind that calculating educational expenses isn’t as simple as comparing tuition. Top data science bootcamps typically do not offer financing options, while students in graduate programs such as the Tufts School of Engineering online MSDS rarely self-fund the entirety of their degrees. Data science master’s candidates usually take advantage of various financial aid options, including employer sponsorship, scholarships, grants, and fellowships. They also finance their degrees with student loans, which is an intelligent move given that professionals with master’s degrees earn more than those with bachelor’s degrees or bootcamp experience

You Can Position Yourself for Unparalleled Career Advancement with an MSDS

The world is only beginning to understand the profound impact of analyzed data, which means opportunity abounds for data professionals at all levels. Bootcamps have their place in the data science landscape because they offer participants opportunities to upskill quickly so they can qualify for early career data science positions. These programs also represent a chance for those entirely new to the discipline to test the waters before investing in further education. 

If you want to upskill fast to transition into data science or quickly add a new skill to your toolkit, a bootcamp may give you what you need. Tufts' online MSDS program, on the other hand, will give you a more comprehensive learning experience with better long-term career outcomes. If you're passionate about Big Data and ready to grow in this field, pursuing a data science master's online at Tufts University can prepare you for a lifelong next-generation career in exploratory data analysis and data-centric problem-solving. 

Apply to the Tufts online MSDS program now, and in under two years, you'll have the skills and credentials to compete in even the most competitive job markets.