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Question: What Does a Data Science Major Study, and Which Schools Offer a Bachelor’s in Data Science Degree Program?

Answer: Students who major in data science as undergraduates study mathematics, statistics, and computer science and learn to use algorithms, statistical methods, and analytics software to extract information from large data sets. More specifically, data science majors take classes in algebra, calculus, geometry, statistics, and computer programming as a foundation for advanced coursework in data science, which typically covers topics such as database systems, data mining and analytics, data structures and algorithms, data visualization, and machine learning. In addition, some undergraduate programs in data science may incorporate coursework in business analytics, which introduces students to various business applications of data science. While data science is commonly studied at the graduate level in master’s in data science programs, a growing number of colleges and universities now offer bachelor’s in data science and data analytics programs.

Although data science is a relatively new field, many of the components that are integral to a designated undergraduate major in data science are taught at colleges and universities through departments of computer science, engineering, mathematics, and statistics. Prior to the emergence of data science as a distinct and widely recognized interdisciplinary field, undergraduates training to be data scientists might major in statistics, mathematics, computer science, or engineering in order to learn how to code, navigate database systems, and analyze complex datasets using sophisticated statistical models, algorithms, and advanced mathematics. However, as the field of data science has grown, a growing number of colleges and universities have introduced undergraduate programs in data science. Some of these bachelor’s in data science programs are offered in traditional, campus-based formats, and others are offered online or in hybrid formats that provide a combination of on-campus and online courses.

Bachelor’s in Data Science Program Coursework

There are two primary components to a bachelor’s in data science degree program: general education coursework outside of the data science major; and the required and elective coursework that comprise a major in data science. The structure and format of undergraduate programs varies by school and by program, but bachelor’s degree candidates may complete as many as half to two-thirds of the credits required for graduation in general education areas, such as English composition and literature, history and culture, mathematics, social and behavioral science, and natural and physical science. The remaining credits in bachelor’s programs may then be allotted for coursework within a major such as data science, which would include core courses and in some programs elective courses.

While course titles and descriptions vary by program, a typical data science major encompasses classes in advanced mathematics and statistical theory, computer programming for data science, and the various computer systems and software applications used to collect, store, and process data for analyses, interpretation, and presentation. Depending on the program, this generally adds up to between 15 and 20 introductory, intermediate, and upper-division courses devoted to training and instruction in various data science knowledge and skill areas. Common course topics include: Discrete Mathematics; Statistics & Probability Modeling; Structured & Unstructured Data; Object-Oriented Programming; Algorithms; Database Systems and SQL (Structured Query Language); Data Mining; and Machine Learning. Undergraduate electives in data science might include: Principles of Information Security; Web Programming; Social Media Analytics; Business Intelligence Systems; Artificial Intelligence; and Advanced Programming Methods.

The table below offers an overview of courses that may be part of an undergraduate major in data science. The titles and descriptions draw on actual bachelor’s in data science program classes.

Course TitleCourse Description
Data Exploration & AnalysisA survey of statistical methods, including regression, variance, clustering, and time-series analysis using the R computing language and various data sources.
Probability & StatisticsThe principles of probabilistic thinking, statistical modeling, and data analysis, and the application of regression and linear models to the interpretation of datasets.
Data AnalyticsThe formal processes by which data are processed and interpreted in order to yield insights and other useful results.
Database SystemsAn introduction to data collection and storage systems, their design, and the manipulation of stored data using SQL.
Data Structures & AlgorithmsElementary data structures, including lists, stacks, and arrays, and the use of algorithms to process and analyze structured datasets.
Data MiningAn overview of the data mining process, from the collection and storage of raw data, to the sorting and structuring of that data for interpretation and analysis.
Object Oriented ProgrammingAn introduction to programming languages that are based on objects and data rather than actions and logic.
Data VisualizationPrinciples and techniques for data visualization with spatial and multivariate datasets.
Big DataAn overview of large-scale database and data collection systems and the use of parallel processing tools to process and sort big data.
Machine LearningAn examination of learning algorithms and their use to discover patterns in large data sets.

Types of Data Science Bachelor’s Degree Programs

A bachelor’s in data science program is an undergraduate degree program that leads to the conferral a bachelor’s degree and that offers a designated major in data science. However, there are different types of data science bachelor’s programs. The traditional way to earn a bachelor’s degree is through enrollment in a four-year, campus-based undergraduate program at an accredited college or university, and there are schools that offer this type of data science program. In addition, there are schools that offer online bachelor’s in data science programs. An online program offers all or most of its instruction and coursework through distance learning technologies, allowing students to access lectures and other course materials remotely using a secure Internet connection. A subset of these online programs are bachelor’s degree completion programs, which means they are designed for students who hold an associate degree and/or students who have otherwise completed one to two years of undergraduate coursework. Finally, some schools offer hybrid bachelor’s programs in which students attend classes on campus and receive a portion of their coursework through online instruction.

Undergraduate coursework and training in data science varies by program. Students who are interested in earning a data science bachelor’s degree should examine program curriculum prior to submitting an application in order to determine the specific courses offered by a particular school, department, or program. Some colleges and universities offer an undergraduate major in data analytics or business analytics, two closely related fields that are similar to data science. However, a data/business analytics curriculum may include less coursework in technical areas of computer science and statistical theory than a pure data science curriculum. For example, an undergraduate business analytics curriculum may include coursework in management, finance, and business intelligence systems in lieu of classes in machine learning, advanced statistical analysis, and object oriented programming.

Schools That Offer an Undergraduate Data Science Major

This section offers an overview of some of the different types of bachelor’s in data science programs offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities. For additional details on bachelor’s in data analytics and data science programs, including information on schools that offer these programs, refer to our Online Bachelor’s in Data Analytics/Data Science Programs page.

  • Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) has developed a Bachelor of Science in Data Science and Analytics major that is offered through its Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and its School of Engineering. This is a campus-based program that requires attendance of classes at the school’s main campus in Cleveland, OH.
  • The Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of San Francisco (USF) offers undergraduates enrolled in the school’s College of Arts & Sciences a designated major in data science. The USF’s Bachelor of Science in Data Science program is a campus-based undergraduate program.
  • Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, offers a campus-based data science undergraduate program. Students who enroll in Drexel’s Bachelor of Science in Data Science program begin the program by taking the same cluster of first-year courses as students who intend to pursue the school’s Computing and Security Technology and Information Systems majors.
  • Thomas Edison State University (TESU) in Trenton, NJ, offers a 100% online Bachelor of Science in Data Science and Analytics program in partnership with the Institute of Statistics Education at Statistic.com. Students who enroll in the program receive their general education and elective coursework through TESU and their Data Science and Analytics coursework through the Institute of Statistics Education.
  • California University of Pennsylvania (Cal U) offers a hybrid Bachelor of Science in Data Science and Statistics program that includes on-campus and online courses. The program offers roughly 60% of the coursework required for graduation online and integrates coursework that prepares students for the SAS Data Science certification.

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