Business analytics is a field on the rise. In the world of academics, there is perhaps no stronger confirmation of this than the fact that the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania has elevated analytics to its "Mount Rushmore" of disciplines, alongside finance, marketing, and entrepreneurship.
"Our dean is pushing all the chips behind data analytics," Eric Bradlow, faculty director of Wharton's Customer Analytics Initiative, tells Poets & Quants.
Interestingly, Wharton cites the increased popularity of analytics as the reason it is not currently adding an MS in the field; rather, it is bolstering the analytics content of its MBA core curriculum as well as offering an analytics major. "Companies… want people with business knowledge who understand analytics," explains Barlow; the MBA, which covers a broader swath of business knowledge than does the Master of Science, better serves this objective. Your personal circumstances will determine whether the MS, an MBA with a specialization, or a dual MBA/MS best suits your needs.
The specialized MBA is the most popular of the three choices. Many programs offer an analytics MBA, with more adding the specialization every year. How to choose the program that's right for you? We suggest considering the following factors.
The number of online analytics MBAs is increasing annually, creating an ever-broadening array of choices. What are the pros and cons of each option?
An on-campus MBA should provide you more opportunities to network with fellow students and to interact with faculty, administrators, and support staff. Although online educators have made progress in personalizing their programs, they still can't match the on-campus experience.
On the downside, many of the benefits of on-campus study apply primarily to full-time programs; part-time programs typically offer fewer concentration options and are less conducive to personal interaction. If you want to continue working while you study, you'll need to attend a part-time program. That will reduce the benefits of learning on-campus.
Nearly all online programs are designed for part-time students, so you can continue working and earning as you complete your MBA online. Online education also eliminates the geographic limitations of campus study; provided you qualify for admission, you can attend any program anywhere without having to relocate. And because most online content delivery is asynchronous, you can complete your work at your convenience without being bound to a class schedule.
Online education is certainly a more lonely endeavor than on-campus learning. That's why self-starters typically do better online than do those who require peer support or faculty prodding.
And not all online programs are created equal. Some incorporate lots of high-end video, interactive apps, live sessions, and other enhancements that improve learning and make the experience more engaging. Others are built largely on text pages and discussion boards. These programs are typically more affordable, but no one would accuse them of being inherently compelling.
When it comes to convenience, it's hard to beat online education. What could be more convenient than anytime, anywhere you can open your laptop? Many programs facilitate downloading of asynchronous content, meaning you don't even have to be online to read an assignment or watch a lecture video. Mobile apps make many programs even more user-friendly.
Attending a local on-campus MBA program precludes the hassle of relocating. Students in and near metropolitan areas should have the choice of at least one relatively affordable state university as well as several (probably more costly) private options. You'll have to decide whether the convenience of staying at home outweighs the benefits of relocating to attend a more prestigious institution.
Least convenient, of course, is uprooting your life and moving elsewhere to attend school. That said, thousands of people do it every year; it's a hassle, but it's obviously doable. For those outside big cities, attending a program in a major metropolis typically results in lots of new and promising career-building opportunities. It's a hassle well worth considering.
An MBA is usually a costly endeavor, in terms of both money and time expended. Tuition can run from $9,600 annually (at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for in-state students; out-of-state students pay $27,450) to $56,338 (University of Notre Dame) to $70,000 (Duke University). (All are two-year programs.) There are some exceptions; all full-time students at University of Massachusetts-Amherst receive a fellowship that entirely covers tuition, a stipend, and health care.
Online programs, on the whole, aren't much cheaper. The programs are part-time so the annual tuition charges are lower, but they take longer to complete and the final tally is comparable to that of full-time programs. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's MBA@UNC, for example, charges students $124,345 to complete its online MBA. Less expensive online programs include University of Nebraska-Lincoln ($30,240), ($35,100; $40,500 for MBA with a focus area) and Creighton University ($40,000).
Admission to a top MBA program, it goes without saying, is extremely competitive. Average GMAT scores at the top ten MBA programs in the United States all exceed 720; acceptees' undergraduate records and resumes are typically similarly impressive. Harvard University accepts only about 10 percent of applicants. Not all MBA programs are so exclusive, of course. The online MBA at Creighton University, which offers a concentration in analytics, has an 85 percent admission rate and an average GMAT score just above 500.
Nearly all MBA programs require incoming students to have completed undergraduate work in statistics. Some also require prior coursework in accounting, economics, and calculus. Most programs will conditionally admit applicants lacking this background, contingent upon their completing the coursework prior to beginning their MBAs.
The curricula of analytics MBA programs vary in both depth and focus. Some offer only the bare minimum: a sequence of three courses, all of which must be completed to earn a concentration. These courses are usually quite broad (e.g. prescriptive analytics, predictive analytics, data analytics). Other programs offer a wide range of electives, some of which are highly specific and even a bit arcane. How deep and/or how far off the beaten path do you want to go?
Different programs also define business analytics slightly differently. Some see analytics as a general category encompassing business intelligence and information systems. Others focus more narrowly but with different emphases: they may stress predictive analytics, perhaps, or data mining, or data visualization. If the program as a whole is stronger in operations or entrepreneurship or e-commerce, the analytics curriculum is likely to be as well. Review the program's curriculum as a whole and its analytics offerings to determine whether they match your areas of interest.
MBA programs generally do not report placement statistics by area of concentration, so determining where analytics MBAs from a particular program wind up in their internships and post-graduation careers may require a bit of guesswork on your part. Look at the posted data for the entire program to see which placements, if any, are obviously to analytics positions. Also, feel free to ask.
Your first point of contact will probably be an admissions officer, who likely won't have access to data as granular as placement-by-concentration. The admissions officer might put you in contact with someone from the career services office, however, or with one of the analytics program leads, both of whom are more likely to have the information you want. They should be happy to help you; remember, they want you to want to choose their program!
Finally, consider how well-known and respected the university is, both in its region and nationally. Obviously, a school's reputation will powerfully affect the impact of its MBA in the job market.
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