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Artificial Intelligence Degrees: What Do You Need to Apply?

Published on: Nov 6, 2022
By: Editorial Staff
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If you’re STEM-minded and looking for a new career path, you’ve probably already considered diving into artificial intelligence. Maybe you’re still in high school and looking to focus on computer science for your undergrad so you can help program the first sentient machines. Or maybe you already have an undergraduate degree and are looking to get a graduate degree in computer science, machine learning, or artificial intelligence to land a job driving growth as a data scientist. Or maybe you’re looking to join a computer science Ph.D. program and devote your life to AI research.

Whatever the reason for your interest in an AI degree program, you’re probably asking yourself the same question that every bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. student before you has asked: what exactly do I need to do to get in? What background and prerequisites do I need? What materials do I need to provide with my application?

In this article, we’ll give you an overview of artificial intelligence degree requirements for bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degree programs so you can know what to expect, what you might need to work on, and how else you can get closer to your goal of landing one of the exciting AI careers out there.

But first, what exactly do these careers entail? What does a data scientist or machine learning engineer does on a day-to-day basis? And how much can AI professionals earn?

Artificial Intelligence Careers

Artificial Intelligence Engineer

An AI engineer leverages artificial intelligence to design, develop, and deploy solutions to problems that impact everyday people and everyday life. Artificial intelligence engineers might focus on one area of artificial intelligence — like computer vision to improve self-driving cars, natural language processing to improve auto-translators, or deep learning to improve investment strategy — or work as a generalist. Though you will find job postings out there for artificial intelligence engineers, often individuals with these responsibilities have titles like software developer, software engineer, AI specialist, or AI engineer.

According to Glassdoor, the median AI engineer salary in the US is $126,639.

Machine Learning Engineer

A machine learning engineer is responsible for designing, developing, and shipping machine learning models — and then maintaining them once they are shipped and deployed to a live product. Just like an AI engineer, an ML-specific engineer might work on a team focused on building a particular product or feature, or they might work as a generalist and move between a variety of different types of projects. In addition, machine learning engineers can be responsible for managing data systems and undertaking various kinds of data analysis, such as analyzing data sets from A/B tests on a machine learning system or algorithm. 

According to Glassdoor, the median machine learning engineer salary in the US is $129,869.

Data Scientist

A data scientist ideates and executes novel approaches that turn raw data into business insights and solutions. After understanding business needs, they determine what types of data are relevant in addressing those needs and what kinds of questions need to be asked of this data, and then help develop machine learning models and other predictive analytics to efficiently carry out this analysis. After the analysis, a data scientist is usually responsible for communicating results to relevant stakeholders.

According to Glassdoor, the median data scientist salary in the US is $124,286.

Artificial Intelligence Degree Requirements

Now that we know a bit more about what AI careers are out there for those with AI degrees, we can return to the task at hand: what is needed to apply to AI bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs? Before we begin, however, it’s important to emphasize that, since artificial intelligence is such a new field, at all levels, AI curricula are often housed within larger programs, most often computer science programs. While this is important to keep in mind as you research, it makes no substantive difference in terms of what is generally required of applicants.

Undergraduate Degree Application Requirements 

While in Europe or the United Kingdom those seeking an undergraduate degree will often apply to a particular major within a university, in the US, high schoolers usually apply to — and are accepted by — a university or college as a whole, not a specific major. Only later, in their second or third year of college, do these students then declare a major. This is not to say that a student’s academic profile and personal statements don’t play a factor in admissions decisions, just that more often than not undergraduate computer science or artificial intelligence programs won’t have specific application requirements from the get-go.

The upshot? If you are looking to earn a bachelor’s in artificial intelligence, then find a school with a program that appeals to you — we have some great suggestions — and head to their undergraduate admissions page to see their application requirements.

Generally, prospective bachelor’s students are required to submit:

  • High school transcripts

  • Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)

  • Up to 3 letters of recommendation, including from a high school guidance counselor

  • Personal statement

  • School-specific supplementary essays

  • School-specific online application or the Common App

  • For certain international applicants, proof of English proficiency through TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo English Test (DET)

  • Application fee

Graduate Degree Application Requirements

Different from the bachelor’s application process, individuals seeking admission into graduate degree programs in artificial intelligence, whether terminal master’s or Ph.D. programs, will apply to the specific programs, and so will have to keep in mind the particular requirements of each.

Generally, prospective master’s and Ph.D. students are required to submit:

  • Transcripts from each university attended

  • Undergraduate GPA (often programs will require a certain GPA, for example, 3.0 or higher)

  • GRE scores

  • 3 letters of recommendation

  • Current resume or curriculum vitae

  • Statement of purpose describing reasons for entering graduate study, including career goals

  • (Sometimes) Personal statement describing how personal background motivates the decision to enter graduate study

  • Online application

  • For certain international applicants, proof of English proficiency through TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo English Test (DET)

  • Application fee

As graduate study is far more advanced than undergraduate study, graduate degree programs will additionally require applicants to be able to demonstrate proficiency in the following areas:

  • Advanced mathematics, including probability, statistics, and linear algebra

  • Basic computer science, including fluency in at least one programming language like Python or R

  • Familiarity with key artificial intelligence concepts like machine learning, deep learning & neural networks, big data, human-computer interaction, and others

Applicants can demonstrate this proficiency through their academic history, work experience as a data analyst, computer programmer, or even information technology (IT) professional, or some combination of the two.

In the US, doctoral students are generally accepted to hold only a bachelor’s degree, with the understanding that they will earn a master’s degree en route to the doctorate. Accordingly, Ph.D. applicants are required to demonstrate proficiency in the above areas, but not necessarily to a greater extent than terminal master’s applicants. Ph.D. applicants, however, will need to demonstrate aptitude for both the rigor of doctoral study and independent research. This can be shown through GPA, recommendations, transcripts, independent projects, participation in computer science and artificial intelligence conferences, and publication history. If you are thinking of applying to a Ph.D. program, it’s a good idea to get in contact with a faculty member (or several) to gauge your fit and begin building relationships.

Next Steps

We’ve just given the basic application requirements — but know you should always check the specific application requirements on a program’s website. You can check out our collection of great AI colleges to begin finding one that might be a good fit for you. Still not sure if an artificial intelligence course of study is right for you? Review our breakdowns of the various artificial intelligence degrees:

Or maybe you’re interested in learning more about the AI careers out there for someone who graduates from one of these programs? What’s it like to be a data scientist, for example, or a machine learning engineer? In that case, you can check out the deep dives in our career portal: