By Purvanshi Mehta, Data Scientist at Microsoft.

It’s true that online learning gives you the flexibility and affordability to take up whatever courses you like. But there are several reasons I think a formal degree can help someone aspiring to enter the field of Data Science.

This is just my own perspective, and people can disagree with me on many levels. Feel free to share your own points.

 

Don’t know where to learn from

 

Let’s say you want to learn machine learning. You start up with Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course and finish it. Now you Google what else you can study in ML. You will find 100’s of ’10 best Machine Learning courses’. Now you are confused about which course to take.

In ML, being such a vast field, you could take one course each on SVM, regression, and the list continues. You can easily become discouraged at the end!

A formal degree will usually have one applied and one theoretical course in ML, which helps to define what are the most important topics in the fields and will provide you the resources that cover those.

 

A formal degree assures continuity

 

The current average rate of completion for a MOOC course is just ~15% [1]. Many people want to learn stuff, but maybe life gets in the way, or they end up losing interest.

A formal degree ensures a constraint on the time period and the resources you spend.

 

Assignments for a course

 

Most popular online course assignments have solutions available on GitHub or other sources. The amount of time you are stuck with a problem is low as you will tend to search online.

Good courses at a university usually will have tough questions and will force you to think out of the box. In fact, I learned the most from my assignments, especially those assignments in theory subjects can be really fun.

 

Projects

 

If it’s a popular course, almost everyone is doing it. So, the ‘Object detection project’ in the computer vision course you took has been taken by 1000’s of other people. For making your resume stand out, you need to have something of your own.

Getting ideas to work on when you are still working on your basics is very difficult. If you have the assistance of a professor who can bombard you with ideas, you will have a head start.

 

Research projects

 

It’s difficult to dive into research by yourself. Papers not only give you an edge over other people but also helps you to learn in-depth about a topic. You can work under a professor and maybe get some publications.

 

International Exposure

 

Getting a graduate degree experience in an international environment and a different country can be an experience of its own.

 

Industry still values formal education

 

There are many positions to this date that are just easier to get if you have a formal degree. This is because of several reasons. I am not commenting on whether this is wrong or right, but there are certain positions reserved for, let’s say, Ph.D. students.

[1] MOOC completion rates (katyjordan.com)

 

Original. Reposted with permission.

 

Bio: Purvanshi Mehtais a member of the Microsoft security research team with more latest writings available on Medium.

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