A Complete Guide to Bachelor’s and Other Undergraduate Machine Learning Degree Programs Online and On-Campus

Written by Scott Wilson

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If you’ve used any kind of AI chat program or image building software today, it’s almost certain you have machine learning to thank for it.

Machine learning algorithms, pouring over gigabytes of training data, have taught themselves to talk, to paint, to develop new insights and spot trends that no human would be capable of. ML remains one of the most promising techniques on the cutting edge of artificial intelligence research.

So earning a degree in this hot field is also a great way to get into AI overall. Indeed, many degree programs combine the two subjects closely.

As a slightly more mature field of study than AI, there’s a lot of benefit to be gained from majoring in ML. Although the research scientists and engineers that are building out those incredible tools certainly have more advanced degrees under their belt, you can bet that many of them started out with undergraduate studies in machine learning.

Machine Learning Is a Part of Artificial Intelligence That Extends Beyond AI Alone

block chain cubesThere’s one critical thing to be aware of when looking at any sort of degree in machine learning as a building block toward a career in AI: not all ML degrees are built with AI as your destination.

While machine learning is a vital technique in creating many kinds of AI systems, it’s not the only one. It’s also a technique that has long been used heavily in areas outside AI, like data science, bioinformatics, and speech recognition. There are categories of ML degrees that focus more on these applications than AI.

While you can certainly use what you learn about ML even in those contexts to build an AI-aimed career, you’ll be leaving out some important additional knowledge that AI ML degrees will cover. Focusing exclusively on this path to AI can also limit your understanding of alternate techniques for building machine intelligence.

On the other hand, these are all key concepts that you will certainly cover at the master’s level in AI studies if you should decide to keep going. So in many cases, specializing in machine learning at the undergraduate level will prepare you with more practical and in-depth information you can apply as a grad student… and free up your work at that level to go into even more advanced topics.

The right path for your career will be uniquely yours. Just be sure you understand exactly what an ML degree will equip you to do before you sign up.

Machine Learning Undergraduate Degree Programs Offer an AI Focus from the Start

There are many paths in artificial intelligence careers today. Part of that is because, until recently, so few degree programs were offered in the field. So many of the leading scientists are working with majors in fields like:

But ML has a leg up on unlocking AI careers. Not only is it one of the hottest sub-fields in AI today, but it has a healthy and longstanding background as an independent field of study. That means you won’t have much trouble finding mature and reputable degrees to get started with.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Machine Learning Come with a Range of Specializations

raised hand in robotics classBecause machine learning has been around for a while, and has a wide range of applications, you’ll find that bachelor’s programs in the field are offered with a wide arc of emphasis areas. A Bachelor of Science in Machine Learning and Autonomous Systems will help you focus on ML approaches in robotics programming. A Bachelor of Science in Computing and Machine Learning delivers general skills in applied mathematics and ML computation. And a Bachelor of Science in Applied Machine Learning will focus on algorithm design and optimization.

There are also many programs in other majors that offer concentrations in machine learning, like a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science in Machine Learning, or even a Bachelor of Science in AI with a concentration in Machine Learning. And you will find even more specialized applications through degrees like a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering Machine Learning Concentrations or a Bachelor of Science in Cognitive Science with Specialization in Machine Learning and Neural Computation.

Of course, Bachelor of Science in Data Science Machine Learning concentrations have been a popular path into big data analysis for years now.

Additionally, many degrees blend AI and ML together, such as a Bachelor in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. These present ML squarely in the role of a core technique in modern AI development.

Bachelor’s in Machine Learning Concentrations

ML undergraduate programs are not blessed with a wealth of concentration options to choose from. The major itself serves as a sort of specialization. And with the tough math and programming core needed to get your head around ML fundamentals in the first place, there’s not a lot of room at the bachelor’s level to specialize further.

But some programs do have options available. You may find tracks available in:

Of course, if your machine learning degree is itself a concentration in another major, you’re less likely to find specialty focus options within it.

Can You Earn an Associate Degree in Machine Learning?

ai head jigsaw puzzleAlthough they are very rare, you may come across the occasional associate degree in machine learning, as well as the more common bachelor’s programs. With only two years to fit in some pretty heavy computational and mathematics education, these degrees won’t get you any advanced AI/ML jobs right out of the box. But they can serve as valuable, and inexpensive, progress toward a bachelor’s program.

Degrees like an Associate in Applied Science in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, an Associate of Science in Applied Artificial Intelligence, or an Associate in Engineering Technology with a Specialization in Machine Learning and Design Techniques cover the basic groundwork of the first couple years of a bachelor’s degree. That means an emphasis on the basics of math, algorithm design fundamentals, statistics, and programming. As far as practical ML work, you might get a taste, at best.

And a required slate of general studies courses in English, social studies, and other liberal studies can be expected to consume about half your credits.

On the plus side, with a friendly four-year college as your destination, all those credits may apply directly to a bachelor’s degree in ML or AI. So an associate program can get you on the right path quickly, and for less money than diving right into your bachelor’s studies.

Exploring the Curriculum Taught in a Bachelor’s Degree in Machine Learning Program

electronic brainBachelor’s degrees are the great introductory education for American students to all the fundamentals of their field and more. With four years of study to work with, these programs have a lot of room for exploration and diversification. You’ll not only study the core concepts behind ML itself, but also take in a range of required general education courses. That gives you a broad set of skills in communication, problem-solving, logical analysis, and cultural comprehension.

But the heart of ML bachelor’s programs are the hard sciences. That means you can expect major requirements to include courses such as:

Together, the classes in a machine learning undergraduate degree give you a solid grounding in both machine learning processes and the foundational skills in math and code needed to build them.

Of course, these courses are influenced by the area of the major itself. ML has many contributing fields in engineering and computer science. While you’ll still get the same core skill development and base of knowledge, you’re likely to find a slant toward the major field in your studies. For example, an ECE (Electrical and Computer Engineering) degree may come at machine learning from the perspective of signal processing, a longstanding scientific field stretching back to the days of radio… but which has modern uses and made many contributions in the AI image and audio processing.

Elective Choices in ML Bachelor’s Degrees Expand Your Horizons and Build Expertise

One big strength of machine learning undergraduate programs is the wealth of electives you can take to help hone or specialize your skillset.

Because ML has such a wide range of applications, you’ll find elective coursework that can take you into all kinds of different fields. That can include:

You can use these to either explore your interests and find a specialization to pursue at the graduate level, or to build your expertise in a specific area.

Exploring Schools That Offer Bachelor’s Degrees in Machine Learning

woman with robot carrying booksThe good news is that there are plenty of colleges that offer undergraduate degrees in machine learning these days. With a proven track record of utility in data science, and a new injection of relevance coming through the surge in artificial intelligence, supply has kept up with demand in this field.

The downside is that you have a lot of different ML bachelor’s programs to sort through to find your ideal match. You’ll find that both the quality of your education and your future career opportunities are on the line.

Choosing the right university for your ML education will make all the difference in your future prospects in artificial intelligence. Thinking about these factors will help you find the perfect fit for your ambitions.

A School That Has the Right Alignment Between ML Expertise and Your Interests

Since ML programs are often angled toward one specialization or another, even those with equal academic excellence don’t necessarily offer you equivalent preparation for your career. You need to make sure the university you pick has the right kind of curriculum and the right experts to support your goals.

That comes through:

Strong Academic and Research Support Systems Signal Good ML Undergrad Schools

As an undergrad, you will still be finding your feet in some pretty tough concepts as you study machine learning. Basic math and computer science classes are no picnic, even before you get to applied uses.

So a school that delivers serious academic support and counseling to get you through your classes with top marks should be a priority. Tutoring, on campus writing and computer labs, and well-stocked libraries are all good signs.

And because ML is a computer science-intensive field of study, ensuring that you will have access to adequate computational resources is another must. Whether through campus or cloud-based resources, make sure you’ll be getting the kind of heavy-duty support you need to train cutting-edge algorithms.

The Right School Offers a Ladder to Higher Levels of Education Often with Accelerated Tracks to Grad Studies

ai communication networkWhether or not you continue graduate studies in ML or AI, it’s always a good idea to find a school offering degrees at the master’s or PhD level. Their very existence means advanced research happening in the field, as well as a stock of experienced experts to tap into when you are facing tough problems in class.

Some schools offer accelerated options that can get you through both bachelor’s and master’s studies in machine learning in only five years, combined. That’s a real advantage if you’re in a hurry to get your career started—but it’s only possible at colleges that offer both programs.

Online Machine Learning Degrees Are a Great Fit for Undergraduates on the Go

Finally, online bachelor’s degree programs in ML can bring you the education you need with the flexibility and affordability you deserve.

By offering most classes asynchronously, you don’t have to pin your schedule to your school obligations. That leaves you free to keep family commitments or hold down a job while you study.

And by opening up the option of attending universities far from home without relocating, you will have more options and can find a better fit for your ML career objectives. You’re also likely to save money by sticking close to home and avoiding the expenses of relocation and renting in a college town.

What Does It Cost to Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Machine Learning?

Another factor that every college student faces today is cost.

No matter what university you turn to, there’s no question that a bachelor’s degree is a serious investment for most people these days. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average cost of tuition and fees at four-year schools in 2022 was $14,307.

Private schools, naturally, will run you more—$33,691 per year. But you may find that number well worth it, since some of the most elite and well-funded ML degree programs are run by those schools.

Four-year public universities, on the other hand, can also deliver a very respectable undergraduate education in ML. And at an average annual cost of only $9,596, that might provide a better fit for your budget.

Either way, you’ll get a head start on your career path crunching the numbers for costs and benefits!

Diverse Career Paths Are on the Horizon for Graduates from ML Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Speaking of benefits, as you consider making that investment in your ML education, you’re also going to be looking at what the payoff will be. In other words, what exactly can you do with a bachelor’s-level education in machine learning?

The answer is, a lot, with more options emerging all the time! ML is a maturing field, and there are many applied uses in a lot of different industries. Advertising, marketing, automotive design, weather forecasting… it’s hard to find any modern area of commerce or government that isn’t already using data science and other ML-driven processes.

And because ML has shifted past the pure R&D phase, you’ll find plenty of those careers open to you with just an undergraduate degree.

Just as important, however, a bachelor’s in machine learning is the perfect steppingstone to advanced studies in either machine learning or artificial intelligence. There’s no doubt you can confidently apply for a master’s in AI or ML, or both, with all the boxes checked for prerequisites.

And with an artificial intelligence career in your sights, an ML undergrad degree will set you up for most of the same positions that a bachelor’s in AI would.

With so much going on in the world of machine learning, it’s going to be hard to choose. But it will be nice to have all the options that open up to you with an undergraduate degree backing you up.