Data Science Degree vs. Statistics Degree: Analyzing the Difference

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Data rules the modern world. It’s collected everywhere and used in countless applications, from recommending products to online shoppers to suggesting the next binge-worthy Netflix series. Companies, governments, and organizations use data to drive critical decisions, and they depend on it to make informed decisions about future investments, product development, and improved systems and services. Data science and statistics both help make these decisions easier.

A data scientist analyzing statistics.

Data analysis has created a demand for professionals with unique technical skills that enable them to extract insights from complex datasets. However, there’s a distinct difference between a data science and statistics degree, and the opportunities and skill sets afforded to graduates of each. Although the degrees share some core similarities, earning a data science degree vs. statistics degree can open very different pathways.

Data Science Degree Overview

Data science degrees focus on data analysis, machine learning, statistical theory, and advanced programming skills. These programs teach students how to create new forms of data modeling and data processes. Students also learn how to analyze, monitor, manage, and visualize large datasets using the latest technology. Coursework includes studying Python, SQL, R, and predictive modeling. Many data science degree programs, like Maryville University’s, also feature a business minor, which can help prepare students for leadership roles in various fields.

What Do Data Science Degree Graduates Do?

Data science degree holders develop broad-based knowledge that’s in demand in a range of areas. Common roles include data analyst, management analyst, actuary, financial analyst, pricing analyst, computer systems analyst, operations research analyst, and data scientist.

Types of careers:

  • Data scientist. A data scientist’s role can vary greatly depending on the industry, type of business, and business goals. Most data scientists establish the data analytics system’s foundation and build and design systems to increase data insights. They help organizations to make more informed business decisions, more effectively reach customers, and deliver better products and services.
  • Financial analyst. Financial analysts help businesses and individuals to make investment decisions by providing financial guidance. They use their data savviness to assess investment performance and recommend investments, such as stocks and bonds, based on economic and business trends, industry insights, and other factors.
  • Computer systems analyst. Also known as systems architects, computer systems analysts examine computer systems and technology infrastructure and design solutions to increase operating efficiency. Another important part of their role is bridging the gap between business and IT to address specific business needs.

Statistics Degree Overview

Statistics degrees focus on collecting, organizing, analyzing, and interpreting numerical data to address business issues. Coursework typically includes calculus, mathematics, and statistics, such as statistical modeling. Many students who have a bachelor’s degree in statistics continue their education with an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in statistics.

What Do Statistics Degree Graduates Do?

Graduates of bachelor’s degree programs in statistics typically work in government, where many opportunities lie. However, there are also positions available in research and development (R&D) in the private sector, as well as careers teaching at colleges and universities.

Typical jobs in this field include mathematical statistician, biostatistician, and research assistant.

Types of careers:

  • Mathematical statistician. Mathematical statisticians use their math and statistics skills to analyze and solve problems for businesses, organizations, or government agencies across various fields, such as healthcare and engineering. Their numerical know-how can help predict trends, understand quantitative data, and make better business decisions.
  • Biostatistician. Biostatisticians focus on analyzing living organisms and often work in lab settings in colleges or universities. They use their analysis to draw conclusions or make predictions that can help with research studies or clinical trials. They share their findings with the broader scientific community through research proposals.
  • Research assistant. Typically found in social science or laboratory settings, research assistants use multiple data sources, such as the internet, documents, and surveys, to find and collect information. Their research helps to assist statisticians, professors, reporters, or other professionals leading research projects.

Similarities Between Data Science and Statistics Degrees

When considering a data science degree vs. statistics degree, it’s important to understand the underlying similarities. Both degrees focus on developing skills pertaining to data analysis, and both have courses designed to develop strong computer skills. Finally, both degrees can lead to careers in similar work settings, such as government, life and social sciences, healthcare, or engineering.

Difference Between a Data Science and Statistics Degree

Although there are some similarities between data science and statistics degrees, there are also several significant differences.

The Degrees Themselves

A bachelor’s in data science program helps students become data experts with job-ready skills applicable to any industry. Data science careers typically require strong technical skills, so coursework is often related to complex coding and systematic languages, such as Python and SQL. Data science degrees teach students how to find business insights rooted in statistical theory and technical skills. Many bachelor’s in data science programs enable students to select electives that support their unique career goals. Some data science majors can also opt to complete a business minor to prepare for leadership roles. Students will use project-based learning, and in some cases field experience, to build foundational knowledge as data analysts.

In contrast, statistics degrees focus on using numerical data to address business issues. Students learn how to collect, organize, analyze, and interpret data. Statistics degrees include coursework in calculus, algebra, probability, real analysis, and statistics. Statistics courses cover basic descriptive statistics, hypothesis testing, mathematical statistics, and specialized courses, such as biostatistics. Statistics degrees require a much stronger concentration on math-related studies.

Typical Future Career Paths

The demand for qualified data science professionals continues to grow at a rapid pace, with more than 2 million open jobs for candidates with analytical skills. Modern businesses rely heavily on data scientists to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and evaluate financial investments. In fact, the career site Glassdoor named data scientist the best job in America for the fourth consecutive year in its 2019 rankings. A bachelor’s degree in data science can prepare graduates to work in roles such as a computer systems analyst or a financial analyst, with median annual salaries of $88,740 and $85,660, respectively, as of May 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, it’s important to note that many data science positions, such as a computer and information research scientist, require an advanced degree, such as a master’s in data science.

Statistics degrees provide graduates with strong mathematics and statistics skills for research careers in the biological, social, and physical sciences. These professionals can work across various fields, such as government, finance, law, accounting, and engineering. While most statisticians work in government, there are positions in R&D, healthcare, and colleges and universities. According to the BLS, mathematicians and statisticians made a median annual salary of $88,190 in 2018. The BLS projects employment of statisticians and mathematicians to grow by 30% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the projected average for all occupations (6%).

Data Science Degree vs. Statistics: Which Is Right for You?

Data analytics skills are in high demand, making data science and statistics degrees appealing for those with an interest in math, statistics, and problem-solving. However, there are key differences. A statistics degree may be ideal for those with a specific interest in mathematics, as well as a potential interest in working in a government or university setting conducting research. In contrast, a data science degree provides coursework across a broad range of data disciplines, including data analysis, machine learning, statistical theory, and advanced programming.

The modern world runs on data and so do major companies, which leverage information for development, product design, and marketing. With a data background, you’ll drive the decisions that lead your company to success. Earn your online bachelor’s in data science from Maryville University and you can apply your skills to almost any industry, from thriving e-commerce markets to growing on-demand services, as well as brands and traditional businesses. Stepping into a data science program means meeting the future halfway and taking advantage of the dynamic jobs it offers to professionals with the right skills to capture them.

Forbes, “Data Scientist Leads 50 Best Jobs in America for 2019 According to Glassdoor”

Harvard Business Review, “What Data Scientists Really Do, According to 35 Scientists”

Maryville University, Bachelor’s in Data Science

PwC, What’s Next for the Data Science and Analytics Job Market?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Research Scientists

U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer Systems Analysts

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Financial Analysts

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mathematicians and Statisticians