The age of analytics is here to stay. From baseball, to supply-chain management, to marketing, big data and the ever-evolving analytical processes used to extract insights from it are driving efficiency, speed, and performance.
Unsurprisingly, analysts have never been more in demand: the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the job market for analytics professionals will expand by almost a quarter over the next decade — almost 5x the rate for the US job market as a whole — with 24,000 new jobs up for grabs. These new analysts can expect above-average compensation: the BLS estimates the median salary for these roles to be $82,360, while the typical American earned only $58,260 in 2021.
For those looking to re-skill and enter the field, master’s in analytics programs have become an attractive option, especially as universities have begun offering students the flexibility to attend these degree programs partially or entirely online.
In this guide, we’ll give you all you need to know to determine whether a master’s in analytics program is for you, including a basic overview of analytics, reasons for pursuing an analytics master’s, insight into the kinds of jobs and salaries graduates can expect, and some tips for what to look for as you consider programs. We’ll also present our favorites to get you started on your research.
We’ll begin with the basics: what exactly is analytics?
What is analytics?
Drawing on computer science and statistics, analytics is a field focused on collecting, organizing, and analyzing data to extract insights and improve decision-making. Analytics has applications in a variety of fields and industries, often with a focus on increasing efficiency and performance or identifying new opportunities for innovation and growth.
There are four main types of analytics:
Descriptive analytics seeks to understand what has happened in the past through the analysis of historical data.
Diagnostic analytics seeks to understand why past events occurred by analyzing data sets to identify trends, causes, or correlations.
Predictive analytics seeks to understand what might happen in the future, often through the use of machine learning and other advanced statistical techniques.
Prescriptive analytics seeks to understand which actions an organization should take in the future, again through the deployment of complex machine learning algorithms.
To learn more about what analytics is, including examples of what these types of analytics look like in the real world, head to our deep dive on the topic. In our next section, we’ll break down the reasons for pursuing a master’s in analytics as well as the potential outcomes of pursuing one.
Why pursue a master’s in analytics?
There are two primary reasons for pursuing a master’s in analytics: 1) to upskill to change careers and 2) to advance in an existing analytics career.
Upskill to change careers
If you already have a bachelor’s degree and want to embark on a career in analytics, a master’s in analytics will help you develop job-ready skills and add an impressive credential to your resume. This is true whether you majored in a STEM field, the social sciences, or the humanities: whatever your past focus, an analytics master’s can provide the fundamental training in computer science, statistics, business, and operations you’d need to land a job as an analyst.
Advance in an existing analytics career
If you’re already working in the field but want to earn more and have more responsibility, a master’s in analytics can teach you the latest tools and techniques needed to reach the next rung of your career ladder. Many companies will reserve data science or senior analytics positions for candidates who hold advanced degrees. While a master’s in analytics won’t guarantee you a new job, it can certainly help you get an interview.
What kinds of jobs are available to those with master’s degrees in analytics?
Those holding master’s degrees in analytics typically work in one of four positions: data analyst, business analyst, business intelligence analyst, or data scientist. Understandably given the shared skill set, there is substantial overlap in the roles — often the responsibilities of a business analyst and a data analyst at two different companies can be nearly identical. There are some guidelines to keep in mind, however, when considering the potential outcomes of an analytics master’s.
A data analyst gathers and prepares data for analysis and analyzes it to yield insights related to operations, a product or some other initiative that the analyst will then communicate to relevant stakeholders using data visualization.
A business analyst collects, prepares, and analyzes data to extract business insights that can be employed to determine future actions.
Business intelligence analyst
A business intelligence analyst collects, prepares, and analyzes data not to directly determine future actions, but rather to produce informational reports and dashboards on markets, industries, or business performance.
While a data scientist often performs similar tasks as a data analyst, collecting, preparing, and analyzing data, they also ideate and execute new approaches to data analysis of big data sets, often using machine learning.
According to Salary.com, in the US the average data scientist salary is $139,631. While some with analytics master’s degrees land in data science jobs, if you’re looking to become a data scientist, you should also check out our guide on data science master’s programs.
We’ve covered the reasons to pursue an analytics master’s and gone over some of the potential outcomes — in the next section, we’ll cover the required prerequisites that prospective students need to meet.
What are the prerequisites for master’s-level study in analytics?
Prerequisites for master’s in analytics programs differ, so we recommend checking with each program’s admissions office prior to applying to ensure that your application will be welcome.
In general, applicants are expected to have earned a bachelor’s degree at a regionally accredited institution and be able to provide a transcript, GPA, evidence of English fluency if an international student, and, in some cases, GRE scores.
Depending on their emphases, some programs will require that applicants should already have experience with statistics or programming, while others will want applicants to have a certain amount of work experience.
What’s the basic curriculum of a master’s in analytics program?
The curricula of master’s in analytics programs can vary widely depending on a program’s particular emphasis. In general, however, a student can expect to cover the following:
Programming and basic computer science skills, including programming languages like SQL, Python, or R
Analytical methods, including regression, optimization, and decision trees, as well as certain machine learning techniques
Data management policies and procedures
Data visualization practices and tools
Analytics applications in business, often through a capstone project
Crucial to finding a master’s in analytics program that works for you is ensuring that the curriculum will help you meet your goals. In the next section, we’ll cover this and other considerations as you research programs.
What should you look for in a master’s in analytics program?
There are a lot of analytics master’s programs out there, and picking one or several to apply to can be daunting: how do you know you’re making the right decision? Here are some factors to pay attention to:
While there are still many full-time, in-person programs out there to choose from, there have never been more options for those who want to pursue their degree part-time or online so that they can have the flexibility to keep working or caring for a loved one. Often, this flexibility can make the financial calculation of whether to pursue graduate study much easier, giving students the opportunity to go back to school with no additional expenditures or lost income other than tuition.
Analytics is a big field, and many programs specialize in business analytics, data science, analytics management, or technical skills. As you’re researching, make sure that a program’s strengths and emphases match up with where you want to end up.
A master’s degree will already look great on your resume, and a big name will make you stand out from other job applicants even further. But a school’s reputation usually comes at a price, and you can usually find an equivalent education for a fraction of the cost. As you are considering programs, you’ll have to reckon with the extent to which a big name matters to you. If you need help deciding, hit up LinkedIn to see where graduates have ended up. Is this where you see yourself?
A Master’s study isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t need to be exorbitant. Though elite private schools charge a lot for their degrees, there are lots of public schools offering great programs for a fraction of the price, especially if you qualify for in-state tuition. As you are considering cost, you should also factor into the equation any scholarships or grants you might qualify for, any lost potential income, your increased earning potential upon graduating, as well as any interest for loans you would take out.
Career support can come in many forms. When researching programs, see if they offer opportunities to work on a capstone project that you can use to wow potential employers, if they have career offices with services like resume help and interview practice, and if they have active alumni groups that you can use for networking. You might also check to see if they can provide information on student outcomes. Often, this data can provide