Business intelligence is an important and growing field in the worlds of business, health care, government, and nongovernmental organizations. Given that, it is surprising how few graduate programs offer a master’s degree specifically in business intelligence.
Schools address the need for instruction in business intelligence in several different ways. Some offer a shorter certificate program in lieu of a master’s. Others treat business intelligence as an area of interest within a larger discipline such as computer information systems, data science, business analytics, or business administration (often as a concentration within an MBA program). As you plan your career in business intelligence, you should consider how few graduate programs offer a master’s degree specifically in business intelligence toward achieving your goals.
Assuming you’ve decided that a master’s in business intelligence is right for you, how do you decide which program is best? Here are some things to explore when assessing your choices.
Not all schools define business intelligence exactly the same way, and of course different faculties have different areas of expertise. A program’s curriculum is a good reflection of what the program thinks is, and isn’t, important for a business intelligence expert to know, and fortunately you can review these curricula simply by surfing over to the program’s website. Does the curricula cover programming skills sufficiently? Will you be learning something new about databases, data mining, and data modeling, or simply reviewing material you covered as an undergraduate? How rigorously will the program challenge your quant skills?
As you look, ask yourself whether the program balances quant, computing, and business skills in a way that makes sense for you. Remember: while data management and analysis are definitely the heart of business intelligence, communication is also important. You need to know how to find and make sense of data, but you also need to be able to communicate your findings to those who lack your training. Look for a program that will shore up your current weaknesses.
Also, consider the latitude each program provides you to pursue your unique interests. Does the program offer any electives, or is the curriculum entirely prescribed? Are there lots of elective choices or only a few? Are there opportunities for independent study or projects? Does the program offer areas of specialization? Make a list of your career objectives and see how well they align to the program’s curriculum.
As you review schools’ curricula, ask yourself how much actual hands-on experience you will get in executing the tasks of a business intelligence expert. Most students learn better and remember longer what they gain through active learning, i.e. by completing tasks that use the skills taught. In contrast, knowledge gained during relatively inactive lectures and readings are less likely to be retained. Similarly, programs that involve internships and projects with outside parties (corporations, governments, nonprofits) will more likely yield significant and lasting benefits than those that do not.
Tuition charges for business intelligence master’s programs range from $455 per credit (CUNY Brooklyn, in-state students only) to $1,620 per credit (Stevens Institute of Technology). Different schools require different numbers of courses to graduate: while most require between 10 and 12 (30 and 36 credit hours), Carnegie Mellon University requires 20 (plus a summer internship in its 16-month track). As a result, tuition costs at these programs range from $5,835 (CUNY-Brooklyn, in-state students only) to $73,000 (Carnegie Mellon). These totals do not include lab fees, registration fees, books, and other additional expenses.
Time invested is, of course, another factor. Most full-time programs will take 12 to 18 months to complete; that’s up to a year-and-a-half in forfeited income and career advancement. Part-time students will need to spend more time in a program but may continue working, somewhat mitigating the time investment.
Who accredits a master’s in business intelligence program depends on which school within the university offers the degree. Business programs are typically accredited by national organizations and can be accredited by regional associations as well. Not all business intelligence master’s are offered through a university’s business school, though. Some are offered through the school’s computer science or information systems departments, and these will most likely be accredited by the appropriate regional accreditation organization. Employers may favor regional accreditors slightly because they are more familiar to them (regional accreditors generally have been in practice longer and are better known to the general public), but the advantage of one over the other is slight at best.
Not all graduate programs are accredited. Some schools forego the accreditation process because of the cost of meeting and maintaining accreditation standards that don’t always benefit the average student (faculty research requirements, for example). An unaccredited program can still deliver excellent instruction, but the real question is how potential employers will regard the degree. You should research the job placement record of any program you consider, but be especially diligent with unaccredited programs.
A graduate degree confers a level of commitment and specialization that appeals to employers. That’s why most people pursue one: to demonstrate enhanced skills and knowledge to potential employers. The better a school’s reputation, the greater boost its degree will provide.
How big a boost you need depends on your aspirations. If your goal is to remain with your current employer or to find a comparable position locally, any school well-recognized in your area will probably suffice. If you’re looking to penetrate the upper reaches of management, you may need to aim higher. Most schools list the employers of their most recent graduates; peruse these online to see whether they are placing their students in the sort of situations you want.
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