How to Find and Choose the Best Data Science Courses
There are hundreds of options for selecting data science courses, and making your way through the maze of choices can be difficult. To make things easier, we present this guide to data science courses in five main categories:
- Data Science Bootcamps
- Data Science Books
- Online Video-Based Courses (MOOCs)
- Online Interactive Courses (like we provide at Dataquest)
We look at the pros and cons of each to help you decide which is the best fit for you.
Studying Data Science at University/College
The most traditional option for a data science course is a tertiary educational institution like a university or college. Offerings include a three or four-year undergraduate degree, or a postgraduate degree like a masters or Ph.D.
One strong argument for pursuing a data science course at a college is that the degree credential you earn is widely recognized by employers, which will help you in getting your first job in the industry.
Additionally, the social aspect of an in-learning person option helps you feel like you're not learning alone, and can help make your learning experience smoother.
A big negative of a university option is cost. Graduate degrees can cost anywhere between $10,000 to over $50,000, and undergraduate degrees cost several times more. If you're fortunate enough to live somewhere where college is free or subsidized then that factor is lessened, but for most, affording college is no small factor.
In order to go to pursue a college data science course, you need to be sure that it's a good fit. Once you make that decision, you're committed by virtue of how much you've paid. This can be seen as a positive, as the strong commitment you make will help you follow through and complete your studies.
Other negatives include a large time investment, inflexible learning schedule and entry requirements - especially at top colleges, entrance is competitive.
If you have both the time and money to spend on a college qualification, it can be a very effective way of getting into the industry, however, there are several more affordable options available.
Data Science Bootcamps
Bootcamps provide a condensed in-person data science course, often lasting about around three months of full-time study. Bootcamps have a pre-defined curriculum so you can focus on learning. You'll meet others and be able to network and learn collaboratively.
Bootcamps can be expensive — expect to pay anywhere from $3,000 for shorter bootcamps up to $20,000 for a full three months. Like with college, this cost is a double-edged sword. It is an expensive option, but on the other hand you are likely to follow through and not flake on your commitment with that much money on the line.
In order to get the most of your bootcamp, you'll need to have some experience already. Most bootcamps have entry requirements, as there's too much to learn in a few months otherwise. If you don't have that experience, a bootcamp may not be a good option and you may need to consider a different data science course (or a different option first).
Some bootcamps will help you find work, or at least give you support while you do, which is a really worthwhile benefit.
There are a large number of data science bootcamps out there, and quality can very a lot. For this reason, it's best to stick to those that are established and have a strong reputation to ensure that you get quality instruction. While a bootcamp being new and/or small doesn't mean it can't deliver, sticking with one of the "big boys" is a lower-risk strategy.
If you're looking for a more flexible option and don't want an in-person experience, there are a number of online-only bootcamps that are available.
If you can afford a data science bootcamp, they can be an effective way of quickly gaining the skills you need to get a job. That said, there are options that are more affordable and offer more flexibility in terms of learning schedule.
Data Science Books
While technically not a data science course, learning from books is a tried and tested method. Even if you decide to choose another approach for learning data science, books can be a great supplementary source for learning and reference.
They're also great for when you're not in front of your computer — you can learn during your commute or while on vacation!
One big advantage of books is that they are cheap — most cost less than$40 and some of the top data science texts are free.
Generally, you'll need to use at least a few books if you want a well-rounded data science education. There are some great beginner texts, but as you want to dig in deeper you'll need to specialize your reading.
Another thing to keep in mind is that to get the most out of your experience, you'll need to set up a coding environment to put what you learn into practice. Some alternatives (like interactive online courses) allow you to defer this tricky step so you can get into learning immediately.
Learning from books can be an extremely cost-effective way of learning data science. That said, you'll need to put in extra effort to put what you learn into practice, otherwise you won't be able to convert your knowledge into the real world practice of data science.
Online Video Courses (MOOCs)
Emerging in the late 2000s, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) are mostly video-based versions of university courses offered on platforms like Coursera and EdX.
MOOCs allow for low-friction access to college-level data science courses — many are offered for free, with a small charge if you'd like a completion credential. Some MOOC programs charge a monthly subscription fee.
Generally, the data science certificates offered from MOOCs are not regarded with the authority that completing the course as part of an actual college degree would be, due to the availability of the various MOOCs.
That said, MOOCs are one of the most popular options for data science courses, particularly online.
Like with books, you'll need to set up your own coding environment to put what you learn into practice as MOOC courses are not interactive.
MOOCs can be an excellent option for learning data science — you get the ability to learn from some of the world's best universities at an affordable cost. If you decide to pursue this option, make sure you put the extra effort into putting what you've learned into practice.
Online Interactive Courses (Dataquest)
Online interactive data science courses, like those we provide here at Dataquest, provide what we think is the best option for most people who want to learn data science.
Dataquest costs $49 per month, although our most popular modules are totally free. You can learn on your own schedule — most students complete our data science learning path within 6 months, so you're looking at a total cost of around $300. This makes it a more expensive option than books or MOOCs, but considerably cheaper than college or bootcamps.
Dataquest doesn't use any video. Instead, our text lessons are combined with an interactive coding environment. You complete our code exercises directly in your browser so you don't have to worry about set up of your local environment to get started. When you run your code you get instant feedback on what you've written.
Passive learning methods like MOOCs and books have been proven to be not as effective as hands-on interactive courses — studies show that hands-on learners performed, on average, 20% better than students who learned via passive methods.
Similar to college and bootcamps, Dataquest's learning paths provide a holistic curriculum, teaching you everything you need to know to get an entry-level data science or data analyst job. Our method is proven — in a 2019 survey of student outcomes, 96% of students said they'd recommend Dataquest to other people for career improvement.
62.5% of students said they were using skills they learned at Dataquest in their current job, and reported a median pay increase of $12,450 when comparing their salary before Dataquest to their current salary.
Our students have rave about our teaching methods. Here are a selection of their testimonials:
Independent rating site Switchup has awarded Dataquest it's best online bootcamp award for the past two years running (despite the fact we're not a bootcamp) and it's best data science bootcamp for three years running. Student ratings on Switchup average at 4.9 out of 5.
Choosing a Data Science Course
The table below makes it easy to compare the attributes of different types of data science courses:
Flexible Learning Schedule
We're a little biased, but we believe that Dataquest's interactive learning paths provide the best balance of benefits versus cost, with the flexibility to learn on your own schedule.
Data Scientist at Dataquest.io. Loves Data and Aussie Rules Football. Australian living in Texas.