Business Intelligence & Analytics

Thinking About an Online Master’s in Business Analytics? Read This First.

Thinking About an Online Master’s in Business Analytics? Read This First.
A degree from a well-known, well-respected university can appreciably improve your employment profile, especially at the start of your career when you lack work experience. A master's in business analytics communicates both commitment and the ability to handle a challenging workload. Image from Unsplash
Tom Meltzer profile
Tom Meltzer April 12, 2023

Shopping for an online master's degree is like shopping for a car: you can get a Lexus or a Kia, and both will get you where you're going. The question is how much you'll enjoy getting there.

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As the world of business data grows—and it’s growing quickly—so too grow the opportunities in business analytics, a function that involves filtering, aggregating, and making sense of the avalanches of data businesses create each day. The field requires a diverse skill set: computer science and mathematics both figure prominently in the mix, as does business acumen. It’s definitely a field in which an advanced degree—a master’s in business analytics—is helpful if not absolutely essential.

Which advanced degree program best fits your career goals? If you aspire to be a manager with some technical savvy, theMaster of Business Administration (MBA) is probably the way to go. If you’d rather be a quant applying data to solve business problems, the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) is a good fit. For the extremely ambitious, a dual MBA/MS is a good option.

The fact that you’re reading this article suggests you’ve decided on anonline master’s degree in business analytics—an excellent choice for those who want to continue working while pursuing their degree. Here are the factors you should consider when narrowing your choices.

Admissions requirements

Most online MBA programs report their admitted students’ average GPA and GMAT scores, but schools are less forthcoming with this data for their smaller graduate programs. You can use the MBA data, which can usually be found on a school’s website or in its US News & World Report profile, as a rough proxy for admissions criteria for the school’s business analytics master’s program.

You’ll find other admissions requirements at the school website. The master’s program website should list the minimum undergraduate GPA required for consideration as well as any prerequisite undergraduate courses (most programs require undergraduate work in statistics, and some also require a background in computer science, calculus, and introductory data analytics).

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Curriculum

Many programs define business analytics slightly differently. Some include business intelligence and information systems within the business analytics category. Others define the field more narrowly, but even here there can be differences: some programs stress computer science and big data management, others the mathematics underlying analytics.

These differences will be reflected in the way the curriculum is balanced: is it weighted toward computer science, mathematics, or business? Many programs focus predominantly on STEM disciplines, including business courses only among their electives.

Speaking of electives: you’ll want to see whether a program offers any at all, and if so, how many. The business analytics curriculum at Arizona State University is entirely prescribed, with no elective options. Georgia Institute of Technology, on the other hand, mandates only two core courses, with the remainder of the curriculum devoted to electives. Do you want to concentrate on a particular business analytics subfield? Not all programs offer concentrations, so that’s something you’ll want to look into before choosing.

Content delivery

You might imagine that all online master’s in business analytics programs are delivered in pretty much the same way. In fact, different programs take different approaches to online content delivery (it’s even sometimes the case that two online programs at the same university use vastly different delivery methods). Some programs are 100 percent asynchronous, while others require weekly live class sessions. Some deliver asynchronous content entirely through text pages, while others utilize video, interactive apps, and simulations.

In programs that include video content, some produce original video exclusively for online students, others simply stream recordings of on-campus lectures. Shopping for an online master’s degree is like shopping for a car: you can get a Lexus or a Kia, and both will get you where you’re going. The question is how much you’ll enjoy getting there.

The smaller the online program, the less likely it is to invest in high-end video and similar accouterments. Online master’s in business analytics programs are typically pretty small. Only one program in our review of online analytics master’s programs, for example, includes regular live sessions (University of Maryland-College Park), and only a few produce video specifically for online students.

As you review each program’s website, look to see whether the program utilizes a web-conferencing app (e.g. Zoom) and collaborative tools like Voice Thread and Perusall, all of which promote engagement and typically make online learning more sticky.

Also, look to see whether the program offers a preview of its learning management system. If it doesn’t, ask an admissions officer if you can get a preview. To return to the auto buying metaphor: you wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive, would you? An online master’s degree is at least as big an investment, and you will likely be spending a lot more time in the learning management system than you will in your car.

Cost

Tuition for an online master’s in business analytics can run anywhere from $9,900 (Georgia Institute of Technology) to $57,084 (Southern Methodist University). Remember that various fees and the cost of books are not included in tuition and can be significant. Note also that some, but not all, programs require one or more on-campus residencies. For those, you’ll need to add travel and other related expenses.

Flexibility

Online master’s programs are marketed primarily to working students, and they are designed to accommodate students’ busy work/life schedules. Not all are equally accommodating. Some online master’s programs are cohort-based and lockstep, meaning you won’t be able to postpone a particular course or take a semester off. Make sure by looking into a program’s policies before enrolling.

Accreditation

Most business analytics master’s degrees are offered through a university’s school of business and so receive accreditation through one of the MBA accreditation agencies. The national accreditors emphasize different areas—AACSB favors large research-oriented schools, for example, while ACBSP stresses the quality of instruction and post-graduation outcomes—which is why some schools seek accreditation from more than one agency.

Accreditation is not necessary, but it is a reliable indicator that a school meets a respected agency’s baseline criteria, which are usually pretty stringent. To return a final time to the car-buying metaphor: imagine you’re considering two cars, one of which has a high rating from Consumer Reports, the other of which hasn’t been reviewed at all. Which one are you going to feel more comfortable buying?

Reputation

A degree from a well-known, well-respected university can appreciably improve your employment profile, especially at the start of your career when you lack work experience. A master’s in business analytics communicates both commitment and the ability to handle a challenging workload. Employers like those qualities.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

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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