Business Intelligence & Analytics

What to Look For in a Master’s in Business Analytics Program

What to Look For in a Master’s in Business Analytics Program
If what most excites you is the prospect of making sense of data in order to formulate business policy, a master's in analytics will help get you where you want to be. Image from Unsplash
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Tom Meltzer April 12, 2023

Business analytics is so new that not all schools agree on what it is, exactly. You'll need to review each program carefully to determine how well it fits your career goals.

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Businesses have always created data. Until relatively recently, however, most of that data was stored in paper ledgers, files cabinets, and corporate safes. That is to say: it existed, but it wasn’t easy to aggregate, and even if you could, how would you make sense of it all?

Then came the Computer Age, and then the Super Processor Age. Suddenly, businesses not only had the computer memory to record and store data in one place but also the processing power to sort through it, analyze it, and draw meaningful conclusions from it. Thus was born the field of business analytics.

Business analytics is a technical discipline requiring proficiency in mathematics, computer science, and business. An advanced degree is undeniably a career booster in a field requiring so many skills, but which degree should you get?

That depends on where you want to focus your career. If you want to become a business generalist with expertise in analytics, a specialized Master of Business Administration (MBA) could suit you well. If you want to be a quant, pursue a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA). If you want to cover all the bases, consider an MBA/MS dual degree.

If what most excites you is the prospect of making sense of data in order to formulate business policy, a master’s in analytics will help get you where you want to be. Here are the criteria you should consider as you select the program that best fits your career goals.

Admissions requirements

Before seriously considering a program, you need to realistically assess your chances of getting in. Universities typically don’t publish average GPAs and standardized test scores for students in their smaller master’s programs, so there’s no data to indicate exactly how impressive you need be to get into Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

That said, it’s a safe bet that standards there are pretty high. You can use admissions standards at each program’s associated MBA program as a fairly reliable proxy. As a general rule, the more exclusive the MBA program, the more exclusive the business-related master’s programs.

Nearly all online master’s in business analytics require some prerequisite undergraduate work in statistics. Some also expect you to have taken courses in computer science, calculus, and economics. Most programs will admit students who lack these qualifications pending their completion of bridge coursework prior to commencing master’s study.

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Full-time or part-time? On-campus or online?

If you’re in a hurry to earn your degree, a full-time study will get you there fastest: most full-time master’s in business analytics programs can be completed in one year. That’s one year of income and work experience forgone, true, but with a high return on your investment.

Full-time study often also involves relocating, which is both expensive and disruptive but, again, potentially very beneficial. If the program you attend is located in or near a major business center, relocation could well open many new opportunities for your post-graduation career. Full-time programs are also best for students hoping to maximize networking opportunities with faculty, recruiters, and fellow students.

Part-time study allows you to continue working, earning, and potentially applying what you’re learning in real time. Many/ employers will cover some or all of an employee’s graduate education expenses in return for a commitment to continue working for them post-graduation, making the part-time degree a potentially significant money-saver.

Choosing to attend part-time increases your choices to include online programs (most of which are designed for part-time students), a convenient way to earn a degree while working (read more about the best online analytics master’s programs).

Cost

Full-time tuition for an online master’s in business analytics can run upwards of $121,000 (Washington University; $80,730 annual tuition for an 18-month program) or as low as $31,372.50 (University of Iowa, Tippie College of Business, for in-state students; out-of-state tuition is $50,580). And that’s just among programs ranked among the top 30 by Poets & Quants; there are even better deals to be found below this top stratum.

Online analytics master’s are less costly overall. The highly respected Georgia Institute of Technology offers a bargain-basement online degree for under $10,000. At the other end of the continuum is Southern Methodist University, which charges $57,084 tuition for its online master’s. Indiana University ($39,900) is among Poets and Quants‘ top-ranked program offering an online degree.

Curriculum

There is no conventional approach to a business analytics master’s degree program; in fact, different schools structure their programs in vastly different ways. Emory University‘s ten-month program, for example, starts with two mini-terms followed by two conventional semesters; the program includes a capstone project but no areas of concentration. Duke University‘s program also runs ten-months, but with six-week terms and dedicated tracks for those wishing to specialize in finance, marketing, strategy, or forensics.

New York University is technically a part-time program, meeting five times (at various global sites) for a week to ten days at a time. Schools have come up with all sorts of innovative ways to deliver instruction in this new, fast-moving academic discipline.

Analytics is so new, in fact, that not all schools agree on what it is, exactly. Does it include business intelligence and information systems, or are those distinct disciplines? Is analytics more of a business discipline, a mathematics discipline, or a computer science discipline?

Different programs arrive at different answers to these questions, and you can discern their answers in their curricula. What subjects are emphasized, and which receive less attention? How geeky is the STEM content? Fortunately, the curricula are all online, with reasonably thorough course descriptions included. Look for the program with the course offerings that excite you most.

Career advancement

Not all master’s programs publish internship and career placement data, but those that do will make the information easily accessible on their websites. Look carefully not only at the median salary (what most people look at first, naturally!) but also the names of frequent employers and the business sector they represent.

Duke University, for example, reports that 12 of its 140 graduates in 2018 were hired by Wayfair and that Deloitte, Ernst and Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and UPS each hired three. All told, Duke lists 84 employers in finance, forensics, marketing, and strategy. A careful review of this information will reveal where a master’s in business analytics from Duke could land you.

A degree from a top-name program will impress employers, obviously. You don’t need a degree from an Ivy to boost your resume, however. Any master’s from a well-known, well-respected program will assure potential employers that you can take on challenges similar to those you will face as an analytics professional.

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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