Business Intelligence & Analytics

Here’s the Difference Between an MS, MBA, PhD, and DBA (Honestly, WTF) in Business Analytics

Here’s the Difference Between an MS, MBA, PhD, and DBA (Honestly, WTF) in Business Analytics
Business analytics involves the filtering, aggregation, and interpretation of the mountains of data businesses create each day, and the transformation of that data into actionable guidance. Image from Unsplash
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Tom Meltzer May 1, 2019

Is a certificate enough, or do you need a master's? Maybe you should take it further, to the doctoral level. Also, are you dizzy yet?

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According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the international job market for emerging occupations in data analytics and similar tech-and-data-driven professions is poised to grow between 16 and 27 percent by 2022. In its report, the WEF also predicted a significant shift in the job market toward roles requiring analytical thinking skills, active learning, and expertise in technology design as well as creativity, originality, and initiative. The forecast didn’t specifically single out business analysts, but it easily could have: the ascendant traits it describes are the very traits that define business analytics.

Business analytics involves the filtering, aggregation, and interpretation of the mountains of data businesses create each day, and the transformation of that data into actionable guidance. The field requires a diverse skill set: computer science and mathematics both figure prominently in the mix, as do business acumen and soft skills in communication and presentation. It is a field in which an advanced degree is practically required.

But which degree? Is a certificate program enough, or should you pursue a master’s? And if so, is the Master of Science in Business Analytics or an Analytics MBA a better fit for your career goals? Or maybe you should take it even further, to the doctoral level. Once again, there’s a choice between a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Business Analytics or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) with a Business Analytics focus/concentration. What’s the difference between those two, anyway? Why so many different graduate programs for one discipline?

Certificate programs

Certificate programs are a lot less costly than a master’s degree or doctorate. They can be completed relatively quickly; they typically require students to complete a four- to six-course curriculum, at least two of which take a 30,000-foot view of the subject. Completing these programs will require you to master challenging work, but not at the level you would be challenged by a master’s in business analytics program.

Certificates are great for managers who need to understand business analytics better in order to work effectively with analysts—they definitely offer a competitive advantage over those who don’t hold certificates—but they are neither extensive enough nor deep enough to qualify anyone for a career in business analytics.

If you think you might be interested in shifting your career to analytics but aren’t sure enough yet to commit to a graduate program, a certificate program is a great way to get your feet wet. Many programs allow for ‘stackable credentials’ which means you can apply at least some of your certificate work toward an MS in business analytics, should you later decide to pursue one. Finding such a program makes pursuing a certificate a safe choice, since it leaves open the possibility of a later upgrade.


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Master of Science (MS) vs MBA

Both an MS and an MBA are master’s degrees, although people typically refer to the former as ‘a master’s’ and the latter as ‘an MBA.’ Both usually take two years to complete as a full-time student, although each is sometimes offered in a concentrated/abbreviated format that can be completed in as little as one year.

The chief difference between the two is that the MBA is a generalized business degree designed to provide graduates with knowledge and skills in all functions across a business, while the MS is a more specialized, more technical degree. An MBA with a concentration in business analytics should be able to apply her expertise in analytics to marketing, supply chain management, human resources, finance, and other functions, because she will have a background in all those fields along with her deeper understanding of analytics.

She likely won’t have the depth of technical understanding as does someone who pursues an MS in business analytics, however, because that person will devote more of his graduate study to the field’s underlying mathematics, computer programming skills, and data science. The student pursuing the MS, by the way, is more likely to have undergraduate experience in engineering, mathematics, or computer science than is the MBA student.

Both degrees provide students with an understanding of data mining, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics, and both will help students develop essential analytical skills. The MBA focuses more on the why of these applications, while the MS emphasizes both the why and the how, a luxury afforded by not having to expend degree credits on marketing, operations, finance, and other functions. The downside, of course, is that the student with the MS won’t understand businesses as a whole as well as does the MBA. This explains why more than a few analytics students decide to pursue a joint MS/MBA; it’s the best way (albeit expensive) to cover all the bases.

PhD vs DBA

Both the PhD and DBA are doctoral-level degrees, and both entitle you to the honorific ‘Doctor.’ While curricula vary widely from program to program for both degrees, both the PhD and DBA focus on research and stress the need for developing and employing scrupulous research practices.

The PhD is, like the MS, a degree in business analytics, while the DBA, like the MBA, is a generalized business degree with a specialization or concentration in analytics. The primary difference between the two, however, is that the PhD traditionally leads to a career in academics, while the DBA is designed for working professionals looking to augment their skill set.

This primary difference drives a number of secondary differences in both content and format. PhD faculties typically consist of academics, while DBA faculties are more likely a mix of academics and active professionals. DBA programs tend to be more accommodating of distance learning options, and in fact a number of online DBA programs are available. The PhD always culminates in a dissertation; some DBA programs allow candidates to submit multiple published articles in scholarly journals or a final project in lieu of a dissertation.

The PhD is most often a full-time program and, at least during the coursework phase, students are expected not to work outside the university. The DBA is more often a part-time program pursued by students who remain active in the business world; in fact, it is not unheard of for DBA candidates to draw on their own work experience in their research and dissertations. Post-degree, the PhD typically teaches and conducts research to develop and test new theories, while the DBA more likely applies theories and research to the challenges of the day-to-day world of business.

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About the Author

Tom Meltzer began his career in education publishing at The Princeton Review, where he authored more than a dozen titles (including the company's annual best colleges guide and two AP test prep manuals) and produced the musical podcast The Princeton Review Vocab Minute. A graduate of Columbia University (English major), Tom lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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