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Our Guide to Online Master’s in Data Analytics Programs

As data-driven decision making cements its place in the operations of industries like finance, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail, data analytics capabilities have never been more in-demand. Technavio estimates the global data analytics market will grow by almost 14% between 2021 and 2026, a difference of $2 billion that Technavio attributes to the proliferation of advanced data technologies like machine learning. 

global data analytics market size chart

But demand for data analytics isn’t just being felt by companies offering data analytics services, software, or hardware: companies are eager to onboard those with data analytics skills to improve their internal analytics capabilities. As a result, the analytics job market is booming. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics foresees 23% growth in the “Operations Research Analyst” — or data analyst — market over the next decade, with an additional 24,000 jobs up for grabs.

Those with bachelor’s degrees looking to begin building data analytics skills or add to those skills they already have are increasingly seeking out data analytics master’s programs, with many flocking to online data analytics master’s programs in particular. These online programs offer more flexibility and can be less expensive than traditional on-campus programs, with graduate students able to access world-renowned data analytics curricula without leaving the comfort of their couches.

Is an online data analytics master’s degree right for you? In this article, we’ll help you decide for yourself by providing some background about data analytics, explaining the reasons to pursue a data analytics master’s, and exploring what sets an online degree apart from an in-person one. At the end, we’ll also present our favorite programs to help kick off your research if you decide an online data analytics master’s might make sense for your current situation.

What is data analytics?

Before moving into what a data analytics master’s program entails, we should nail down what data analytics itself entails. Data analytics is an interdisciplinary field concerned with using the tools of computer science and applied statistics to execute the collection, preparation, storage, statistical analysis, and interpretation of data with the ultimate goal of extracting valuable insights that can then be communicated to relevant stakeholders to improve understanding and motivate future action. There are four primary types of data analytics: descriptive analytics, diagnostic analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics.

  • Descriptive analytics involves analyzing data to better understand what has happened in the past. A clothing retailer might use descriptive analytics to better understand how their sales over the holidays compared to their holiday sales the year before.

  • Diagnostic analytics involves analyzing data to better understand why past events have occurred. If the clothing retailer in our previous example had discovered through descriptive analytics that red ties had performed more poorly during the recent holiday season than the year before, they could employ diagnostic analytics to begin drilling into why this might have occurred, perhaps by analyzing external, big data sets from social media to determine whether there had been a change in public sentiment against red ties.

  • Predictive analytics involves analyzing data — often with the help of machine learning algorithms and models — to predict what might happen in the future. Our clothing retailer might use predictive analytics to try to predict what the hot clothing item of next holiday season might be to better inform their buying.

  • Prescriptive analytics involves analyzing data, again with the help of machine learning algorithms and tools like decision trees, to prescribe future actions. The clothing retailer of our examples might use prescriptive analytics to automate purchases of essentials like packing materials according to seasonal variation.

Why pursue a master’s degree in data analytics?

While a master’s degree is an advanced degree, data analytics graduate programs are generally open both to those already working data-centric jobs who are looking to advance their careers and those working in another field who are looking to break into data analytics.

Career advancement

Many who already have skills in programming, statistical analysis, and data management pursue a data analytics master’s degree in order to learn more advanced data analytics techniques, new software, and other cutting-edge data practices. Doing so can help these data analysts perform an existing job better and be a more attractive candidate for promotion at their current company or for a more senior role elsewhere. If data analyst job postings are any indication, many companies hiring for these more senior positions prefer candidates to hold a master’s at the time of application.

Career transition

Data analytics master’s are also a great way for someone holding a bachelor’s degree either just out of college or working in a different field to gain the skills, expertise, and experience needed to break into data analytics. While some programs will require that students enter with some existing facility with programming, data management, or statistical analysis, many provide opportunities to build these skills either prior to or at the beginning of the program.

Data analytics vs. business analytics vs. analytics: What’s the difference?

Start researching data analytics master’s programs and looking through data analyst job descriptions and you’ll frequently come across the fields of “business analytics” and “analytics” and the roles of “business analyst” and “analyst,” respectively. While these can seem at first glance to be distinct fields, in reality there’s a lot of overlap.

“Analytics” is frequently used as an umbrella term for both data analytics and business analytics. And the distinction between data analytics and business analytics is typically more one of emphasis than essence. Ultimately, the three share a set of skills, techniques, and expertise, with some weighed more heavily depending on the particular use-case.

The same is true for “analysts,” “data analysts,” and “business analysts.” While large companies in particular will distinguish between these — business analysts focusing more on big picture business goals, data analysts focusing more on day-to-day operations — oftentimes they are used synonymously. Importantly, any one of these jobs is available to someone holding a master’s in data analytics.

We’ll dive deeper into the responsibilities of these positions below, plus what you can expect to earn in them. If you want to learn more about the distinction between a business analyst and a data analyst — or at least our thoughts on it — check out our explainer. If you’re interested in a business analytics program specifically, head to our business analytics master’s guide.

What kinds of jobs are available to those with master’s degrees in data analytics?

MS graduates with a data analytics degree usually find employment in one of four roles: data analyst, business analyst, business intelligence analyst, or data scientist. Included below are brief summaries, but you can also check out our article on analytics jobs for some real-world job descriptions.

Data analyst

A data analyst is responsible for gathering and preparing data for analysis and analyzing it to extract insights related to operations, a product, or some other initiative. estimates the average data analyst salary in the US to be $81,719.

Business analyst

A business analyst is responsible for collecting, preparing, and analyzing data to yield business insights to inform future business actions. estimates the average business analyst salary in the US to be $79,770.

Business intelligence analyst

A business intelligence analyst’s responsibilities resemble those of a business analyst, but their emphasis is not on analyzing data to directly determine future actions, but rather to produce informational reports and dashboards on markets, industries, or business performance. estimates the average business intelligence analyst salary in the US to be $85,278.

Data scientist

Data scientists and data analysts have overlapping responsibilities — both collect, prepare, analyze, and extract insights from data — but a data scientist also designs, develops, and deploys new approaches to data analysis of big data sets, often using machine learning. estimates the average data scientist salary in the US to be $139,631. If you want to learn more about what it takes to become a data scientist, check out our piece on data science career paths. You might also look into data science programs (such as bootcamps and certificate programs).

Why pursue a master’s degree online?

So far, we’ve covered what data analytics entails plus some of the reasons to pursue a master’s degree in data analytics. But why should you consider studying data analytics online? The way we see it, an online MS in data analytics provides flexibility, accessibility, and cost savings with only very manageable downsides. We’ll dive into each of these in turn, but first, let’s look at the state of online learning.

The state of online learning

Two decades ago, an online master’s degree — at least a reputable one — was almost unheard of, not least because of the technological capabilities at that time. In the 20 years since, however, online programs have grabbed a surprising amount of market share. According to data provided by Urban Institute and published in Inside Higher Ed, master’s students studying online in 2016 made up almost one-third of the total number of master’s students, up from just 5% in 2000 and 21% in 2012.

The success of distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has likely only accelerated this migration online. While it might be too soon to see concrete data attesting to the acceleration in online master’s enrollment, public sentiment regarding the efficacy and comfort of remote work and study, combined with the fact that there have never been more programs to choose from, suggests that online degrees are more popular than ever before.

While technological progress is no doubt a factor behind the stunning rise of online master’s programs, they’ve only gained market share because they present distinct advantages over traditional in-person programs. We’ll move on to these presently.

Advantages of Online Master’s Programs

Online master’s programs are appealing chiefly for the flexibility, accessibility, and potential cost savings they provide.


Whether through pre-recorded lectures that can be viewed on a student’s schedule or live video-sessions that can be attended from anywhere, online master’s programs give students the chance to fit in their education around their lives, whether they wish to keep working while studying, need to care for a family member, or simply wish to spend their lives traveling. Online master’s programs frequently also offer part-time options that allow for further flexibility while extending the length of study.


For many, geography and cost have long been barriers to learning at the best universities in the world, students simply unable to travel to attend class in person. With online master’s degrees, however, these universities can now travel to the students. Online learning also presents distinct advantages for those with cognitive or physical impairments, with accessibility accommodations like closed captioning, on-demand video, and speech input allowing for greater ease of study that would be possible in in-person environments.

Potential Cost Savings

The flexibility and accessibility of online learning can add up to some serious cost savings for learners. Taking time off work, finding caretakers for loved-ones, and relocating and finding housing in a new city can add substantially to the total cost of an education. Absent these costs, some might find that the potential salaries available to data analytics master’s degree-holders make the financial calculus worth it.

Additionally, online learning can potentially offer savings on tuition. Let’s face it: higher education is expensive. Spurred by breakneck growth in university administrations and college campuses, tuitions are higher than they’ve ever been and only growing. The average cost of one year of graduate study in 2018 was $12,171 for public institutions (in-state) and $27,776 for non-profit private institutions. It seems, however, that online learning is lowering tuition bills. According to US News & World Report, “the average per credit price for online programs at the 168 private colleges that reported this information is $488 – lower than the average tuition price for on-campus programs at ranked private colleges, which is $1,240 among the 113 colleges that reported this information.” 

It’s worth keeping in mind that some disagree that online education offers a cost-benefit compared to in-person study — your best bet will always be to crunch the numbers yourself — but if you’re sitting on your couch trying to decide between studying online and heading to campus, keep in mind this potential financial upshot of staying right where you are.

Disadvantages of Online Master’s Programs

While the advantages of online master’s programs are significant, there are certain disadvantages to consider as you decide whether to pursue an online degree.

No Campus Experience

In general, the flexibility of online study will come at the cost of a robust campus experience, so before you commit you’ll want to make sure you’re okay with foregoing the ivy-covered walls of Columbia University or Stanford University’s Frederick Law Olmsted-designed grounds (and the cultural happenings, parties, and academic resources that come with these campuses) for your bedroom, living room, or kitchen.

Digital-Only Networking

While there may be some local opportunities for in-person networking, in general the nature of online degrees means that networking will occur over the internet rather than face-to-face. For some students, this won’t be a problem, but if you’re not great at socializing over Zoom, it’s a disadvantage to take seriously. The relationships you make in graduate school can offer an important support system both during your program and once you’re looking for a job on the outside, so you want to make the most of them.

Potential for Lower Engagement

Some have difficulties staying engaged and motivated when not in the physical presence of others or when learning on your own. If this sounds like you, seriously consider whether you’ll be able to make the most of an online degree program. They are serious investments, and you want to be able to extract as much value as possible.

Online Master’s in Data Analytics: Pros & Cons



More flexible

Loss of campus experience

More accessible

Limited or no in-person networking

Potential more affordable

Potential for lower engagement

What’s the basic curriculum of an online master’s in data analytics program?

We’ve covered the advantages and disadvantages of an online data analytics master’s compared to an in-person program, but one thing that will likely be quite similar between the two options is the curriculum. Both in-person and online students can typically expect to cover the following:

Computer science skills, including programming languages like SQL, Python, or R

Statistical methods for data analysis, including optimization, regression, and decision trees, and certain machine learning techniques

Data collection, preparation, and processing practices, including data mining for big data and data cleaning

Data visualization tools and best practices

Applications in business, non-profits, or the public sector

What should you look for in an online data analytics master’s program?

If you think it might be the right path for you having seen the chief advantages and disadvantages of an online data analytics master’s and its basic curriculum, what should you keep in mind when you’re researching programs?

Program profile

Many programs will have similar curricula, but they won’t all emphasize the same things. For some, the focus might be more on big data or machine learning techniques; others might focus instead on data visualization or business applications. Before applying for a program, you want to make sure that its strengths match up with your interests.


When researching programs, it’s easy to focus on big-name, elite private institutions — especially since remote learning makes studying at one easier than ever before. While name recognition is important for many recruiters, this name usually comes at a price, even when you can find instruction on a par or even exceeding that found at elite institutions for a fraction of the cost at state schools (especially if you qualify for in-state tuition). In the end, you’ll need to decide for yourself whether it’s worth it to pay up for reputation. As you make this decision, it can help to peruse LinkedIn to see where graduates of the programs you’re considering have ended up


As we said above, master’s study is usually pricey, but it doesn’t need to be exorbitant. In addition to considering public universities, you should also consider any scholarships or grants you might qualify for, lost potential income, increased earning potential from your education, as well as interest if you take out loans to fund your education.

Career support

Education is the first (or next) step in your data analyst career, but everyone needs support to reach your full potential. When looking into graduate programs, note the kinds of career support they offer, for example internship opportunities, career offices, alumni networks, or private job boards. Check also to see if they can provide student outcome information: this data can provide a great picture of whether the program offers a worthwhile return on investment.

Our picks for best online master’s in data analytics programs

There’s no single “best” online master’s in data analytics program for all the aspiring data analysts out there: each student has a different background and different needs that will ultimately determine which program is best for them. Our picks forego ranking and instead focus on presenting a variety of great programs that we think will deliver lasting value. The factors behind our decisions include:

Reputation: Does the program provide valuable name-recognition?

Program profile: Does the program offer a curriculum that will help you not just get a job you want, but excel in it?

Career services: Does the program offer sufficient resources to help its students find a job after graduating? Are graduates getting placed in well-paying jobs?

Cost: Does a school offer good value for money? Is there a high likelihood of a substantial return on the initial investment?

With that in mind, here are our recommendations:

u chicago school mark

The University of Chicago’s Online Master of Science in Analytics

The University of Chicago’s Online Master of Science in Analytics program offers students flexibility to study full-time or part-time as they skill up with synchronous and asynchronous instruction in advanced programming, data engineering architecture, machine learning, big data, and cloud computing.

UChicago designed their MS in Analytics program for students with backgrounds in technical fields who have at least 2 years of work experience. With the part-time option, students are able to continue working full-time.

Students in the program can make use of a variety of career services, including career fairs, company info sessions, alumni networking events, and help with everything from resumes to interviewing. According to a quarterly survey administered by UChicago, 75% of students found a new job while completing the program.

Selected Courses:

  • Data Mining Principles

  • Statistical Analysis

  • Linear and Nonlinear Models for Business Application

Program Length & Modality: 12-18 months (full-time); 18 months (part-time); online or in-person

Tuition: $62,556

Georgia Tech logo mark

Georgia Tech’s Online Master’s of Science in Analytics

Georgia Tech’s Online Master’s of Science in Analytics program offers foundational and advanced training in computing, statistics, operations research, and business along one of three tracks: analytical tools, business analytics, or computational data analysis.

Prior to enrolling, students of the program are expected to have demonstrated interest in data analytics, have a basic mathematics and computing background, and hold a bachelor’s degree. After taking core and elective courses, students have the opportunity to take a six-hour applied analytics practicum.

Selected Courses:

  • Data Analytics in Business

  • Deep Learning

  • Data Science for Social Networks

Program Length & Modality: Self-paced, online

Tuition: $9,900

columbia seal

Columbia University’s Online Master of Science in Applied Analytics

Columbia University’s Online Master of Science in Applied Analytics program offers students a part-time path to actionable data analytics training and expertise. Guided by faculty members who are leading data analytics practitioners in business, students have constant opportunity to contextualize the analytical tools and methods they learn through real-world business problems.

In addition to teaching students hard data analytics skills, Columbia also focuses on “soft” skills for leadership, data storytelling, and strategy. Students have the option to put these hard and soft skills to the test through an industry internship.

Selected Courses: 

  • Analytics and Leading Change

  • Data Analytics Using SQL and Relational Databases

  • Healthcare Analytics

Program Length & Modality: 18 months, online

Tuition: $87,408

johns hopkins university seal

Johns Hopkins’ Master of Science in Data Analytics and Policy

Johns Hopkins’ Master of Science in Data Analytics and Policy program stands out among other online programs by focusing squarely on how analytics can drive decision-making in policy areas like healthcare, the environment, criminal justice, education, and security. 

Students are able to pursue one of four concentrations — statistical analysis, geospatial analysis, public management, or political behavior and policy analysis — and complete their own capstone, all from the comfort of home. With a more fundamental curriculum than some other entries on the list, the program is perfect for students with backgrounds in the humanities and the social sciences who don’t have substantial computer science or statistics experience but want to improve their quantitative skills through graduate study to work in government, nonprofits, or think tanks.

Selected Courses:

  • Probability and Statistics

  • Machine Learning and Neural Networks

  • Financial Management and Analysis in Nonprofits

Program Length & Modality: 16-24 months, online

Tuition: $55,260

What’s next?

In this guide, we’ve gone over the basics of data analytics, examined some of the reasons to pursue a data analytics master’s degree and what sets an online analytics course of study apart, and presented some of our favorite programs. What’s next?

If you see a program that interests you, we’d recommend clicking through to the program’s website to learn more. If you’re interested in master’s-level study but not ready to pull the trigger, you can instead check out our deep dive on how to determine if a data analytics master’s degree is worth it for you. If you want to learn more about what a data analytics career looks like, see our career path explainer.