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Tom Meltzer

March 10, 2021

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.

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, along with 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 best fits your career goals? If you aspire to be a manager with some technical savvy, the _Master of Business Administration (MBA)_ is probably the way to go. If you'd rather be a quant, 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 an online 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. 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 and calculus).

Curriculum You should be aware that 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, others the mathematics underlying analytics.

These differences in definition 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 given over 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, and 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, and for those, you'll need to add travel and other related expenses.

Flexibility Online master’s programs are marketing 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.

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