A hot market for data scientists means starting salaries of $125K and up this year

BY Dawn RzeznikiewiczFebruary 24, 2022, 2:22 PM
Students attend their graduation ceremony at South Carolina State University in December 2021 in Orangeburg.
Students attend their graduation ceremony at South Carolina State University in December 2021 in Orangeburg.
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images)

It’s a great time to have a degree in data science thanks to a hot job market for these roles. Data scientists made a median salary of $164,500 in 2020, according to a 2021 survey of engineering professionals by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). That’s a nearly 8% increase from the $152,500 median salary in 2019. 

Job opportunities are so abundant that this year’s crop of grads with a master’s degree are already fielding job offers from companies—months ahead of graduation. “Most students worry about getting a job, these students are worried about: ‘Which one do I take?’” says Karen Panetta, dean of graduate education for the School of Engineering at Tufts University and IEEE Fellow. “My 2022 grads are getting offers at $125,000 and $135,000.”

Elsewhere, robust demand for data science grads is also resulting in a steady stream of job offers and large compensation packages. The University of San Francisco, which reports an average starting salary of $120,000, reports that 90% of all data science graduates since 2012 have received a full-time offer of employment within three months of graduation. At Northwestern University, master’s of science in analytics students raked in a median salary of $112,000 in 2021, not including the 71% who reported an average signing bonus of $12,000.

The latest figures signal a solid increase in starting salaries over the past few years. Syracuse University, the No. 10 program in Fortune’s ranking of the best master’s degree programs in data science, reported an average salary of $86,625 for its 2020 on-campus graduates, and the University of Virginia reported the average salary in 2020 as $87,123. 

Why companies are paying big for data scientists

For an up-and-coming occupation—data scientist is still a fairly new job title—companies are willing to pay top dollar for their data teams. This is in part because of how professionals are unlocking new ways to utilize companies’ massive data sets as well as the desire to utilize emerging technologies such as cloud computing, A.I., and machine learning. 

“When we think about data science, we think about it as using data to best serve customers, or anticipate where the next need is going to be. But it’s really evolved far beyond that,” says Panetta. “It’s not just the ability to use math, there are so many components to data.”

Traditionally, companies have looked at data with a narrow view: crunching the numbers, running statistical models, and garnering straightforward predictions, Panetta says. The problem is, the predictions were often wrong—and hence, there’s been a need to hire data-minded individuals with advanced skills, she adds. “Students want to hit the market and say, ‘I have the depth to jump into this field and be an immediate technical contributor.’”

The hottest jobs on the market

The big players are still dominating when it comes to which companies are employing these data scientist graduates. According to a Stitch survey of over 11,000 data scientists, the companies with the largest teams of data scientists are Microsoft, Facebook, and IBM, with LinkedIn, Twitter, Apple, and GE hitting the top end of the list. The top five employers of MDMS alumni at University of San Francisco are Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Walmart Labs, and Google. 

According to figures from Indeed, the average salary for data scientists is $109,802, but some of the previously mentioned big players are offering salaries on the high end: from $161,071 at LinkedIn and $172,368 at Meta (Facebook) to $180,281 at Apple.

The traditionally data-flooded industries of e-commerce, banking, and cybersecurity are still among the top hirers. But there are also a few industries newer to data science catching the eye of current and recent students.

Panetta tells Fortune that health and biomedical fields are emerging as some of the companies her students are looking to join: “This is more of an upward trend because of what’s recently happened with the pandemic.” 

Even more than other industries, data scientists are going to have to continue education throughout their career to stay up-to-date on new technologies and changing protocols. As Panetta shares: “It’s always going to be evolving. And if [a data scientist] keeps up with it, and stays on the leading edge, they’re going to be even more in demand.” 

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best business analytics programs, data science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.