Data science certifications are becoming more and more popular. The reason? Over the last 10 to 15 years, data science has gone from a niche sub-sector of tech, to a growing part of Silicon Valley’s startup ecosystem, to a mainstream staple in modern day business.
Exponential increases in demand for data science skills (Python, SQL, statistics, and machine learning, among others) have yielded a massive influx of people looking to make a career out of data science.
This has led to a variety of new industries dedicated to teaching data science skills. Frequently discussed among them is the traditional data science masters program, which can run anywhere up to $50,000, and take multiple years. A step below that is the data science bootcamp, which is a heavily abbreviated version of a master’s degree.
The typical cost of these programs is between $10,000 and $20,000 and take anywhere between 10 to 24 weeks. For those that are looking to make a lighter, less drastic transition to data science, the greatest value per dollar may come in the next step of the educational continuum — the data science certification.
These easily accessible certification programs allow a very reasonable option for future data scientists to develop key skills and market themselves to prospective employers at a small fraction of the cost of other options, all without requiring students to leave their full-time jobs. Those with families, stable careers, and a less urgent timeline to break into the data science field may find a lot of value in this education alternative. In this article we’ll go through the subsectors of data science certifications, the cost, and whether or not you may be a good fit for one of these programs.
Data Science Academic Certifications
Despite certifications being an alternative for an advanced degree, many of the institutions that offer data science certifications are large universities. Many of these universities market their certification programs to graduates of four-year degree programs who want to add some extra firepower to their resumes and post-graduation skill. For those who have been out of college for a few years or more, these certifications serve as a reputable way to acquire data science skills and display them to prospective employers. Skills included in these certifications typically include the following:
- Python programming
- Machine learning
- Deep learning
- Business intelligence analysis (Excel, Tableau, PowerBI, etc.)
- Data engineering
- Analytics & modeling
- Data visualization
- Probability & statistics
It’s unlikely you’ll find a program that covers all the above, and that’s a good thing! Different programs like to specify their curriculum to a certain type of student, so make sure you get a good understanding of who a certification is geared towards before signing up.
In addition to the institutions above, data science certifications are also offered by high-end institutions like Boston University, MIT, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, and even through Harvard’s extension school, among many others.
There’s typically not a traditional application process like you would see in undergraduate or graduate programs, allowing a low barrier to entry to receive an education backed by top institutions. Some critics of data science certifications have said that these programs diminish the value and prestige of these high caliber schools, while others say that this allows increased educational accessibility to a wider range of people, an objectively positive step in boosting tech education efforts on a national and global scale.
Academic Data Science Certifications: What Do They Cost and How Long Do They Take?
Where data science bootcamps generally have a very standardized price and duration, data science certifications have tons of variability. This is great, as it adds to your ability to compare and contrast options to find the one that fits best for you.
For example, on one end of the spectrum is Columbia University’s Data Science for Executives Certification, which is a series of courses, each with their own certification, that last five weeks each. The fee for each of these five-week courses is $347. This serves as a reasonable way to get exposure to exactly the skills you want, all from a competitive school, without much commitment.
There are also programs like Stanford’s Mining Massive Data Sets Certificate, which can last anywhere from one to three years (somewhat self-paced), and costs $18,900. The target audience here would certainly be someone who is looking for a long-term, in-depth deep dive into this subsection of data science while also working a full-time job.
You’ll commonly see six month programs in the $5,000 range, but there are truly credible options to match almost all levels of time commitment and affordability. When it comes to self-paced programs especially, you’re afforded the ability to really customize your educational experience around your life circumstances, which is perfect for those with many other commitments and obligations.
Data Science Industry Certifications
In addition to academically backed certifications, many prospective data scientists may prefer industry certifications, which are often very focused toward a specific skill. In many cases, these programs are created by the company that created the software being taught, such as Microsoft running a certification for Azure, and SAS creating a certification for their statistical programming language of the same name. Because these certifications are accredited by the source of their creation, they typically hold extra meaning and credibility; no one is questioning someone’s ability to use SAS if SAS themselves give you a certificate for it.
Other industry certifications mirror the setup of universities, in that they aim to teach a full, well-rounded slate of data science skills. These programs are hosted by high-profile, tech-focused, and reputable companies such as IBM, Google, Cloudera, among others. The subjects taught in these more generalized programs typically mirror the skills discussed above in the academic certifications section.
One other flavor of industry certifications are the programs that are run by a formal tech organization. This includes the Data Science Council of America’s (DASCA) Principle Data Scientist Certificate, the Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) Certificate, the Open Certified Data Scientist (CDS) Certificate, and the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) Certificate. These are often geared toward more established industry professionals, and have a selective application process. If, however, you qualify and see relevance in these programs to your career, they can be a massive asset and upgrade to your resume.
Data Science Industry Certifications: How Much Do They Cost and How Long Do They Take?
One major difference between industry and academic certifications is that the industry programs are almost entirely self-paced, taught online via on-demand, pre-recorded videos, and priced based on the accompanying exams that are taken at the end of the course. These exams serve as the primary way that a student can earn their certification, legitimizing their proficiency with the given skill or programming language. In fact, all of the course content leading up to the exam is often completely free in these programs; you’re simply paying an exam fee to take the test and achieve certification. To reiterate, the on-demand nature of these classes makes almost all industry certifications 100 percent self-paced. With consistent work, most students should be able to get through the material of each program in anywhere between a couple weeks to a few months.
The exam fee, which is the only payment typically necessary, is usually between $100 and $1,000. Some programs that run in multiple phases, and have multiple subsequent tests, can be more expensive than this, but you’ll most commonly be able to achieve certification in a given skill for around $150. That makes industry certifications a much more affordable option than academic certification if you know exactly what skill you’d like to gain expertise in. You’ll often get a more hyper-focused overview of what you’d like to learn, and a more credible way to market it to employers, all for a fraction of the cost!
Online Data Science Certifications
Because these programs are generally marketed toward those that already have a full-time job and require flexibility, data science certificates tend to be fully online, remote programs. That is especially true for industry certifications, whose lecture content tends to come in the form of pre-recorded videos. Still, certifications that are accompanied with an exam to receive accreditation will often have a physical location that you attend to take the test. These proctored tests ensure academic honesty in order to further legitimize the certificate.
Academic certificates are also largely in person, though you will see many of the programs offer both on-campus and online options, which helps in facilitating a sense of community among students that are looking to transition into the field. Still, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the shift toward online learning, so remote certificates should continue to gain an increasing proportion of students and courses, even once the pandemic ends.
Is a Data Science Certification the Right Fit?
There are two major factors to consider when evaluating if a data science certificate is right for you:
- How am I looking to change my career and/or skill set?
- What is my timeline, urgency, budget, and availability to make that change?
Starting with the first question — data science certification programs serve as a solid way to foster a career change, particularly the academic certifications. If you are interested in transitioning to being a data scientist, data engineer, data analyst, ML Engineer, or some combination of the above, the generalized, all-encompassing approach of an academic certificate could be a great way to get familiar with these skills. If you know specifically what skill you want to learn and add to your resume, an industry certificate and exam may be much more in line with what you need, assuming that skill offers such a certificate. Above all else, if you are driven by curiosity and see yourself as passionate about problem solving, programming and statistics, and answering questions about the world around you with math and data, then this could be a fantastic route for you.
However, even if these do apply to you, that still doesn’t mean that a certificate is exactly the right approach. There are still a multitude of options outside of a certificate that may be more appropriate in terms of time and cost, including boot camps, masters degrees, or MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses on Coursera, Udemy, YouTube, or another free online education provider). Through this lens, a data science certificate is perfect for those who check the following boxes:
- You’re looking to transition to data science or learn a particular skill, but you’re willing to have the transition be gradual and on the side of your current job.
- You need to continue working a full-time job while you study data science.
- You are willing to invest into your transition to data science, but have a budget that is less than $5,000, as opposed to a boot camp or masters degree that will typically be $15,000 or more.
- You take care of a family or have other non-career obligations that require a substantial amount of time, and are better accompanied by a self-paced program.
If most or all of the above fit your circumstance, then you may be a great fit for a data science certificate. If your desire to change careers is more immediate and you have ample time to immerse yourself in the subject, a boot camp may be a more appropriate route.
Similarly, if you want a more long-term, traditional, and foundational career change that goes more in-depth, a masters degree may be the best route for you. If you’re having trouble determining the way to go, talking to alumni of any of these programs or industry professionals is a great way to think through your options, and evaluate which is the most fitting path.
Data Science Certification FAQ
To recap the above, here is an overview of the FAQ around data science certifications.
- What is a data science certification?
- A data science certification is a program that focuses on developing technical skills that will boost your proficiency and hireability in the field of data science. They are typically either hosted by universities as “academic certifications,” or by companies as “industry certifications.”
- What is the difference between an academic certification and an industry certification?
- Academic certifications tend to focus on a broader set of skills, particularly the ones that will translate to getting a job in the field. Industry certifications, however, tend to focus on one particular skill, and may only charge you for the certification test that comes at the end of the course. In terms of total cost, academic certifications tend to be higher, but more hands-on.
- How much do data science certifications cost?
- Cost varies heavily depending on the program, but getting an industry certification for a specific skill usually requires a payment for the final exam, which is typically between $100-1000. Academic certifications generally run around $2,000-10,000, but can be as low as $300 for a short course, and as much as $20,000 for a multi-year course.
- How long do data science certification programs last?
- Industry certifications often involve a lot of pre-recorded and pre-written content, which means that they tend to be self-paced over the course of a few months. Academic certifications have a wide range of potential lengths; they can be as short as one-to-two months, and as long as one-to-three years, particularly if you go the self-paced route.
- Can I do a data science certification program remotely?
- Yes, data science certifications are increasingly remote-based, though there are still many in-person options for academic certifications (usually hosted on or near university campuses).
- How do I know if I’m a right for a data science certification?
- A data science certification is ideal for someone who wants to transition their career to being data-focused, but wants to continue working full-time, or generally has a lot of responsibilities that would prevent full-time immersion into studies. It’s also ideal for someone who is on a stricter budget than the typical $15,000+ that a boot camp or masters program would require.