Headlines have been predicting the demise of data analytics and the discipline's inevitable replacement by machine learning systems for some time. Given that, you could be forgiven for assuming that a data analytics master's is less valuable than a more technical data science degree.
But while it's true that automation is playing an ever-bigger role in analytics, data analytics continues to thrive. A Master of Science in Data Analytics—or any of the many closely related analytics degrees—can still lead to lucrative careers in data science, business intelligence, data engineering, or management.
In many ways, the degree actually looks like a safe bet. Experts predict that humans will create 175 zettabytes of digital data by 2025 (a zettabyte is one trillion gigabytes). That's a lot of data to sift through.
The key is choosing the right data analytics master's program. Programs at the top schools with data analytics master's degrees tend to prioritize what might be called "advanced analytics" and Big Data analytics over business intelligence. The online Master's in Data Analytics and Visualization at Yeshiva University, for example, includes topics like predictive analytics, Artificial Intelligence, and machine learning. Students graduate from the strongest data analytics programs with the technical knowledge and specialized skills necessary to help companies and organizations leverage vast quantities of data.
In this article about the best schools for data analytics master's programs, we cover:
Because colleges and universities use different naming conventions for similar degrees, the Master of Science (MS) in Data Analytics is just one of many data analytics master's degrees. This is important to keep in mind when searching for the best data analytics master's programs. Some schools confer the MS or the similarly named Master of Data Analytics. Others offer degrees like the:
Core courses in all of these technically advanced analytics master's programs typically cover topics like:
Some programs require students to complete an internship, practicum, capstone project, or thesis. Non-thesis graduate programs may devote more credit hours to in-class coursework than to research.
After graduation, data analytics master's degree holders become data analysts, data architects, and analytics managers, as well as data scientists and data engineers. They work in almost every field, though one report put together by IBM and Burning Glass Technologies found that more data analytics professionals work in finance, insurance, information management, manufacturing, scientific services, and technology than in any other industries.
It's possible to launch a successful analytics career without a graduate degree—for now—but you may advance more slowly without a master's and hit a wall when it comes to advancement and earning potential. While only twenty five percent of hiring managers in this space are looking for candidates with graduate degrees, nearly 40 percent of job listings for advanced analytics positions require applicants to have a master's degree or PhD in analytics, data science, or a related discipline.
You may also need a data analytics master's if your goal is to move into senior-level or management and leadership positions. It's also worth noting that a master's degree can maximize your earning potential in this field. While the average salary associated with a Master of Science in Data Analytics is about $77,000, senior data analytics managers can earn well over $100,000.
The colleges and universities below boast well-regarded data analytics programs:
There are also strong online data analytics master's programs at the following schools:
Cost is almost always a factor when choosing a master's degree program, which is why it's somewhat frustrating that tuition for the above programs is all over the map. Tuition for most data analytics master's programs falls somewhere between $35,000 and $45,000, but the MIT tuition is significantly higher at between $66,000 and $88,000 (depending on the analytics capstone course sponsor offset), while tuition for the Georgia Tech program is just $9,900 total. No hard-and-fast rules dictate how graduate schools price their programs, so never assume that shorter programs or online programs are less expensive. Some colleges and universities actually charge slightly more when you factor in the additional fees distance learners pay.
The schools with the best graduate-level data analytics master's programs provide the tools to hone problem-solving skills, think analytically, use the latest analytics and data science technologies, and confidently work with various stakeholders. They also offer:
It should come as no surprise that data analytics master's programs offered by schools like MIT and Columbia are more selective when it comes to admitting applicants.
The programs we identify in this article are, for the most part, geared toward experienced professionals who already have analytics skills. The online Master of Science in Applied Data Analytics program at Boston University, for instance, looks for "mid-career IT professionals or students with a computer science background who seek to train their focus on analytics." Admissions officers will look as closely at your work experience as at your college transcripts.
Surprisingly, the best schools for data analytics master's usually don't require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in a specific field. Some don't even require applicants to submit GRE scores. Instead, they require applicants to have an academic or professional background in information systems, cloud computing, computer science, analytics, or statistics. Some data analytics schools expect applicants to know the most common programming languages analytics (e.g., Python, SQL, and R).
Modern on-campus and online data analytics degree programs have a lot in common with data science master's degree programs; the gulf between these two disciplines is narrowing rapidly. Some schools have even transformed their data analytics programs into data science programs instead of maintaining two distinct programs.
When colleges and universities offer both a Master of Science in Data Analytics and a Master of Science in Data Science, one is typically administered by a college of business while the latter is administered by a school of engineering. The curricula in these programs may be largely the same, which may be why students who graduate from analytics programs frequently go on to work in data science careers. At North Carolina State University's Institute for Advanced Analytics, about 30 percent of students who graduate with a Master of Science in Analytics become data scientists. Only 20 percent become data analysts.
Any of the programs we identify will give you a solid education in advanced analytics, but choosing a degree program isn't as easy as enrolling in the highest-ranking one. You'll also need to think about your finances, personal and professional commitments, and location. Keep in mind, too, that each program we've listed here has unique curriculum and features, which you should review carefully. What may be most important of all is whether you'll enjoy the work you'll do over the one or two years you're enrolled in a data analytics master's program.
If you want to spend your career doing more technical work or eventually transition into data science, look for STEM-designated programs or programs that touch on high-tech topics like predictive analytics. On the other hand, if you're dreaming of becoming a business analytics consultant or you're fascinated by business intelligence, a business-focused program may be the better fit. In both cases, make sure the program you choose includes plenty of project work and lots of internship opportunities. The more practical experience you have upon graduating, the better your career prospects will be—regardless of which school you attend.
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