Data scientists are some of the happiest employees in America — this online Harvard program can help you break into the field and land a great position way more affordably than grad school

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  • Companies collect data in order to understand their users and drive strategic business decisions. Data scientists, who make this information understandable are thus very in-demand employees. 
  • The Data Science Professional Certificate Program ($792.80), offered by Harvard University through edX, is a reputable and flexible way to learn this valuable skill. 
  • By being offered at a fraction of the cost of traditional college tuition, it helps level the playing field for everyone willing and eager to pursue a data science career.
  • Read more: Google, Amazon, IBM, and more major companies offer free or cheap online courses taught by their staff — gain entry-level skills and certificates from the best teachers in the field
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One of the best jobs in America right now isn't a dog-surfing instructor or even a professional TV watcher. According to Glassdoor, third place goes to data scientists, based on the number of job openings, average salary, and job satisfaction rating. 

Drawing from techniques in statistics and computer science, data scientists translate large, seemingly incomprehensible sets of data into meaningful insights that can help drive important business decisions. Given the job's complexity and impact, companies are looking for data scientists in droves and are willing to pay up: the median base salary in 2020 is $107,801. 

If you're looking for a job that's impactful, well-paying, and in high demand, becoming a data scientist may be the path for you. And with online courses, it's actually possible to jump-start a career in data science without spending thousands of dollars or putting a wrench in your current job.

One e-learning option to consider is Harvard's Data Science Professional Certificate Program (available through edX), an intensive, 17-month-long online program that prepares you with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to pursue roles in data science. 

In this program, students will:

  • Learn fundamental R programming skills (a required skill in 64% of data science job postings) 
  • Understand statistical concepts such as probability, inference, and modeling, and how to apply them in practice
  • Gain experience with the tidyverse, which includes data visualization with ggplot2 and data wrangling with dplyr
  • Become familiar with essential tools for practicing data scientists such as Unix/Linux, git and GitHub, and RStudio
  • Learn how to implement machine learning algorithms
  • Gain in-depth knowledge of fundamental data science concepts through real-world case studies

The courses are taught by Harvard professor of biostatistics Rafael Irizarry, yet it costs under $800 and takes place entirely online, offering a combination of access, affordability, and flexibility previously unattainable at the actual school. 

Each course in the program is designed so you can progress at your own speed, but you should expect to spend about two to three hours per week per course. There are nine courses total, beginning with foundational basics and culminating in a capstone project in which you'll apply your new knowledge. This final project provides students with a tangible product to show potential employers or educational programs. Here are all the courses you'll take in the Data Science program:

  1. R Basics
  2. Visualization
  3. Probability
  4. Inference and Modeling
  5. Productivity Tools
  6. Wrangling
  7. Linear Regression
  8. Machine Learning
  9. Capstone

(Note: You can also audit these individual courses for free or — if you have some background in data science already and want to pick up a specific skill — you can pay $99 for full access and a certficate of completion to add to your LinkedIn or resume). 

Upon completion of the program, students receive an official certificate that they can highlight on their resumes to not only indicate their relevant data science skills but also to signal initiative, self-motivation, and a willingness to learn — traits that all employers love.

Past students of the program appreciated the engaging content and teaching style, hands-on exercises, and flexibility:  

"Excellent class. Really helpful instructor and lots of hands-on materials. It covers the essential things you need to know and builds on material sequentially. I really look forward to taking the rest of the modules in the sequence. I am a busy professional and so being able to complete this course on my own time when I am traveling is very convenient and effective." 

"Perfect! I loved the course and I'm going to complete the whole Harvard Data Science program. I liked the instructor, the subject is perfectly clarified, and the videos are engaging. The course is very concise —  no chance to get bored. Perfect solution for everyone looking for R fundamentals and a basic statistics course in one place." 

For about $88 per course, you can get your foot in the door to the fascinating, rapidly growing world of data science. Since edX is available on computers, tablets, and phones, you can do so anywhere and on your own time. 

More online classes:

  • Yale's most popular class ever is available free online — and the topic is how to be happier in your daily life
  • 54 free online courses from the best colleges in the US — including Princeton, Harvard, and Yale
  • 6 places to take free and affordable classes online, on everything from programming to photography
  • Skillshare is giving away 2 months of free access to thousands of online classes — I took a class with one of my favorite authors and loved it
  • Coursera offers a free online class called 'Learning How to Learn' that gives you the tools to master any topic
  • GoSkills offers affordable online classes that teach many of the business skills employers want

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