Data Science

What Salary Can You Earn With a Master’s in Data Science?

What Salary Can You Earn With a Master’s in Data Science?
Data science is definitely a field where having an advanced degree is worth it, and not just because it will probably deliver a salary boost. Image from Pexels
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry March 21, 2023

Do you need a master's degree to work in data science? Yes. Will that master's degree pay off in the long run? Again, yes.

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Google data scientist salaries and you’ll run across headlines like ‘This Is Why Data Scientists Make So Much‘ and ‘Why Data Scientists Get Paid So Much‘. If you were wondering whether the average master’s in data science salary is relatively high, you can stop reading here. The answer is yes. You’ll earn good money if you decide to go into data science.

Don’t expect becoming a data scientist to be easy, however. The reason data scientists earn salaries in the six-figure range is that they nearly always have advanced degrees. With those degrees comes a high-level skill set acquired through considerable time and effort. Data scientists tend to have highly developed programming skills, math and statistics expertise, and domain knowledge. Many data scientists develop a specialization in one industry, adding yet another weapon to their arsenal of skills.

That’s not all you’ll need to know if your goal is to make Big Data dollars. In this article about what the average master’s in data scientist salary looks like, we cover:

  • Why should I pursue a master’s in data science?
  • What kinds of jobs can someone do with a master’s in data science?
  • What kinds of projects can data scientists work on?
  • What is the average master’s in data science salary?
  • Will attending one of the best schools for data science increase my salary?
  • What other factors affect salaries in data science?

Why should I pursue a master’s in data science?

The simple answer is because you want to become a data scientist. There was a time when there weren’t many dedicated data science master’s programs. Aspiring data scientists had to create their own academic pathways. They’d pursue degrees in subjects like data analytics, data engineering, applied statistics, and business intelligence. They’d then fill in the gaps in their education by enrolling in data science boot camps or MOOC classes. Now, however, more colleges and universities offer data science programs and, in some cases, entire data science institutes to attract students who want to go all-in on data.

While it’s still technically possible to become a data scientist with a bachelor’s degree, keep in mind that 90 percent of data scientists hold master’s degrees, and 47 percent hold doctoral degrees. When you start looking for your first data scientist position, that’s who you’ll be competing against. This is a field in which having an advanced degree is worth it, and not just because it will probably give you a salary boost. Without one, you might not be able to land a job at all.

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What kinds of jobs can someone do with a master’s in data science?

Data science professionals can use their knowledge and skills in many ways and in almost every industry. This means that designing a post-graduation career trajectory for yourself may not be easy. You might specialize in business intelligence or robotics or healthcare informatics. There are almost too many options.

Data science is still an emerging field, and that means there’s still room for innovation. The work you do after graduation might involve researching new uses for data or new methods of data analysis, or even teaching computers to look at data more creatively. People tend to focus on the business applications of data science, but data science professionals help make medicine more effective, architecture safer, and education more productive.

With a master’s in data science, you might become a/an:

Nearly all the roles above pay over six figures and qualify as high-profile positions. If you like the thought of climbing the corporate ladder, experience in these roles plus a master’s degree can help you land a Chief Technology Officer or Chief Data Officer position.

What kinds of projects can data scientists work on?

In some ways, the term data science has become a catch-all for many different kinds of responsibilities. Depending on what degree concentration a data scientist chooses, what industry they work in, and where their passions fall, they might participate in projects involving the creation or implementation of:

  • Cyber security tools designed to detect fraud
  • Dashboards and other reporting tools
  • Machine learning models that classify, cluster, or correlate different kinds of data
  • New ways to approach market analysis and sentiment analysis
  • Predictive models that identify future sales trends
  • Robotics models that demonstrate how computer networks learn
  • Systems that can predict when and why transportation accidents are likely to happen
  • Systems that optimize manufacturing processes
  • Tools that can find and eliminate junk data

Some data scientists work in research looking for new data science applications. If that sounds appealing, know that you will probably need to pursue a PhD in Data Science.

What is the average master’s in data science salary?

Data science salaries tend to be high. You might run across entry-level data science salaries in the seventies, but mid-career data scientists typically earn well over six figures. According to Indeed’s salary data, the average data scientist earns about $125,000, though PayScale reports that the average data scientist’s salary is closer to $99,000 and other sources list numbers like $113,000 and $123,000.

With a master’s in data science, you’ll have plenty of leverage in salary negotiations, because there are still more open data science positions than qualified data scientists. That said, those opportunities aren’t evenly distributed. Also, the competition for jobs has undoubtedly gotten more fierce over the past decade. An advanced degree alone may not get you into the highest-paying jobs—especially in major metro areas where there are more qualified data scientists.

Will attending one of the best schools for data science increase my salary?

The quick answer to this question is maybe. You’ll probably earn more in this field after graduating from a top master’s program in data science, but there’s no way to predict how much more. That said, graduating from one of the following programs can make it easier to market yourself after graduation, because students in these top programs leave school with valuable industry contacts:

Chances are excellent that graduating from a dedicated data science program at one of the above schools will have a positive impact on your salary, now and in the future. Currently, there’s no one must-follow degree pathway for aspiring data scientists. Becoming a data scientist can involve forging your own path and creating your own opportunities. It’s not easy, which is probably why there aren’t more qualified data scientists, even as the number of master’s in data science programs grows.

What other factors affect salaries in data science?

Education isn’t the only factor determining how much you’ll earn when you become a data scientist. If you dig into the average master’s in data science salary, you’ll discover that there is a vast salary range on sites like Indeed and Monster.com. There are $70,000 data scientist jobs and $200,000 data scientist jobs, and positions with salaries that fall across the range in between.

While it’s true that there are still more data science job openings than there are data scientists to fill them, that isn’t uniformly true across the United States. The local cost of living also plays a role in data science salaries. According to Indeed, data scientists tend to have the highest salaries in California, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, and New Mexico—all of which have a relatively high cost of living. Data scientists in states and cities where the cost of living is lower tend to earn less.

The industry you work in also influences your earning potential. Data scientists who work in the computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing earn the most ($148,000), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other top-paying industries include:

  • Semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing: $142,000
  • Other information services: $140,000
  • Data processing, hosting, and related services: $126,000
  • Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services: $124,000

Experience is important, too. There’s really no such thing as an entry-level data scientist. Many data scientists are data analysts who advanced into data scientist positions after working in data analytics a couple of years and then earning a master’s degree in data analytics or data science. Nearly all data scientists have master’s degrees—some sources say 88 percent—and almost half have PhDs. That said, a data scientist who has been in the field for 15 years will almost always earn more than one with two or three years of experience, regardless of degree.

The takeaway is that even though the average data scientist salary is relatively high, earning a master’s degree in data science is no guarantee that you’ll end up with five zeros on your paycheck. To become one of the top-earning data scientists, you might need to go back to school for a PhD or switch industries. On the other hand, don’t forget the role experience will play in your earning potential. It may be that the only thing you need to do to boost your salary is to work hard and wait.

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