The world of online business programs is changing rapidly. Not so long ago, those considering an online MBA had relatively few choices, and within those choices, the options for concentrations were even smaller. No longer: each year, more schools enter the online MBA market. Those looking to differentiate themselves from the crowd are offering more specialized concentrations.
Today, excellent online MBA programs offer concentrations not only in such popular fields as finance, global business, and entrepreneurship, but even in the rarefied field of analytics, with more sure to join them in coming years.
How do you determine which online program best fits your needs? We'll recommend a raft of factors you should consider. But first, let's explore what you'll learn in a business analytics MBA program.
We live in the age of big data, a time when seemingly every thought or action is captured and recorded digitally. That data holds tremendous value, but only for those who know how to collect it, organize it, analyze it, and use it to drive business decisions. The process by which we make sense of this data is called, appropriately, data analytics (which is a subfield of data science). When that field is narrowed exclusively to business-related issues, it's called business analytics.
Once you decide on a graduate degree in business analytics, two paths lie before you. If you want to immerse fully in data mining, data management, data visualization, machine learning, and other deep-dive business data applications, you should consider a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA), such as the one offered by Wake Forest University's School of Business. The master's degree is the wonkier, nerdier option open to business analysts.
Should you prefer to combine business analytics with broader management study, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in business analytics is a better fit.
MBA degree programs typically take full-time students two years to complete. Most devote the first year to core courses in a broad range of business disciplines. These required courses cover:
Second-year study typically includes elective courses. Note that different programs configure the balance of required and elective courses differently. Some devote most or all of the second year to electives. Others may only allow two or three electives, with all other coursework prescribed. If you pursue your online MBA in business analytics at University of Dayton's School of Business Administration, you'll choose from the following analytics electives and discipline-specific courses:
Most MBA degree concentrations conclude with a capstone project, typically involving a real-world experiential learning project solving actual business problems through data analysis and predictive analytics.
It's obvious, but we'll say it anyway: to attend an online MBA program, you have to qualify for admission. Some graduate programs in business are relatively easy to get into: Creighton University, for example, has an 85 percent admission rate with an average GMAT score just above 500. Other programs are more selective. University of Texas-Dallas has the lowest acceptance rate (43 percent) among online MBAs offering a business analytics concentration, with an average GMAT score of 621. University of North Carolina's MBA@UNC has the highest average GMAT score (649) among online programs with analytics concentrations; its higher acceptance rate (61 percent) suggests a self-selecting applicant pool.
Nearly all online GMAT programs require a bachelor's degree with some prerequisite work in statistics. Some also require prior coursework in accounting, calculus, economics, and information systems; they want to make sure that you are ready to handle graduate-level business analytics courses by the time you start. These programs will admit non-qualifying students conditionally pending successful completion of these courses, though, and some even offer the courses through their online programs (these pre-degree courses are not credited toward your MBA, of course). Many, but not all, GMAT programs require applicants to have several years of post-undergraduate work experience.
Every online analytics MBA offers electives in analytics, obviously, but not all provide actual choices. Some programs featuring this concentration offer exactly three electives in the area, all of which must be completed to fulfill the concentration requirements; perhaps they should be called 'not-so-electives.' Other programs do offer choices: University of Massachusetts-Amherst, for example, offers 10 electives in analytics. It may not matter to you whether you can customize your concentration, but if it does, you should be aware that some, but not all, online programs accommodate that goal.
When shopping for an MBA, most people look for two things (not necessarily in this order): a great education and a degree that will improve their prospects in the job market. The former, obviously, impacts the latter. Still, the truth is that most employers don't have in-depth knowledge of each MBA program's curriculum and faculty, factors that significantly determine the quality of education. What they know is that a WhartonMBA is very impressive and that a Podunk College of Business MBA is not as good. They know the programs' general reputations.
Employers do know which MBA programs have sent them stars ("Hey, that guy we hired from Harvard is really great!") and that certainly boosts the value of their degrees. Then there are the rankings, which, despite their flaws, have a powerful impact on public perception; that's why schools tout them so prominently in promotional materials.
Take rankings into account as you consider your options, but unless your career goals require you to attend a top-ten or top-twenty school, remember that cost, convenience, and your educational experience will ultimately have a more significantimpact on your overall satisfaction with your MBA than whether US News & World Report thinks your school is the 28th or 53rd best.
At bare minimum, make sure the program you choose is accredited by either the Accreditation Council for Business Schools & Programs (ACBSP) or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Accreditation confirms that a program has met minimum standards set by these respected organizations.
Online MBA programs vary greatly in their methods of content delivery. At the low-tech, low-budget end of the spectrum are programs that deliver nearly all content asynchronously, primarily in text form. Video content, when available, typically consists of recordings of on-campus lectures. Your only face-to-face contact with faculty will occur in videoconference meetings, which you will have to request. Otherwise, your interactions will be through bulletin boards, IMs, and emails.
At the other extreme are programs that deliver content primarily through video produced exclusively for online students. These business programs typically employ other high-end interactives, such as simulations. Many require students to attend weekly live sessions led by adjunct faculty. The level of interaction and engagement in these programs is typically much higher.
Both approaches have their merits. The "low-tech" option offers maximum flexibility: all content can be completed on your own schedule, and you never have to dread being called on in a live session for which you are unprepared. That said, streaming video that includes helpful graphics is a much more effective teaching medium than a text-based web page or a discussion board, and live sessions make for more engaged students who enjoy a stronger sense of community with their classmates. The high-end programs arguably employ more effective pedagogic approaches. They are also, unsurprisingly, more expensive.
As noted, high-end production and technology come at a cost. University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill's MBA@UNC, the most expensive online program that offers an analytics concentration, charged MBA students entering during the 2018-19 academic year $124,345 to complete its program. The least expensive online analytics concentration is the MBA@Nebraska, offered by University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which charged students entering during the 2018-19 academic year $30,240. That's a huge difference, especially when you consider that—for those who plan to build their careers in the Great Plains region, at least—a Nebraska MBA might actually be more valuable than an MBA from UNC.
'Bargain' online analytics MBAs include those offered by University of Massachusetts-Amherst ($35,100; $40,500 for MBA with a focus area) and Creighton University ($40,000). Occupying the middle ground are programs at University of Texas-Dallas ($85,000) and University of Maryland-College Park ($87,318).
Many online students pursue their MBAs part time while continuing to work at their jobs, and many intend to remain with their employers post-degree (in some instances, the employer is paying some or all of the student's tuition). For such students, placement services aren't a big deal. There are some students, however, who aren't so lucky, and for them effective placement services can be a huge boon. Most online programs provide placement data for recent graduates. Review not only the salary data but also the types of employers who hire MBAs from each program. Is it mostly investment banks? Insurance companies? Tech companies? These placements reveal which employers recruit from which schools and therefore offer insight into where you might ultimately wind up when you've completed your degree.
One reliable indicator of whether students value their online MBAs is the rate at which they leave the program early. Not all schools provide this data on their websites, but you can be sure that the schools with high retention/graduation rates will. It's reasonable to assume that schools that don't share this information have relatively high attrition rates.
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