Top companies like Apple and Amazon say they’re looking to fill high-paying analytics roles — and the quickest way to get there just might be a degree that’s half the cost and time commitment of an MBA.
A master’s of science in business analytics (MSBA) promises students quantitative and business skills to break into positions in data science, quantitative analytics, data business analytics and consulting. Top business schools like MIT Sloan, Carlson at the University of Minnesota, and McCombs at the University of Texas at Austin now offer the program.
The program recently experienced a global 300% increase in applicants, according to Daniel Kahn, senior research executive at education research firm QS Quacquarelli Symonds. Many of these schools boast sterling placement records at top companies (the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, for example, has a 95% placement rate). This is impressive considering that most business schools only began establishing these degrees around five years ago, according to Kahn.
Like many MBA students, MSBAs applicants come from economics and STEM backgrounds. The difference is that these students may want a different career trajectory. The MBA takes twice as long to complete and requires more work experience prior to application (four to five years, versus one to two years for an MSBA). Despite the shorter time frame, the MSBA still offers noteworthy salary increases.
The MSBA earning potential
Sri Zaheer, dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, told Business Insider that the program has had an almost perfect record of employment since launching in 2015.
“In three out of the first four years, we have 100% placement for these students,” she said.
For the latest class of Carlson graduates, starting salaries are now $96,000 on average, according to Zaheer. Students have gone to work at Facebook, Google, and other top companies around the country, all after only 12 months of additional study. At Carlson, a full-time MSBA costs a total of $44,550 for residents and $63,450 for non-residents, while a full-time MBA totals around $95,660 for residents and $118,220 for non-residents.
MSBA programs also emphasize real-world problem-solving. The Carlson Analytics Lab, for example, allows students to solve real business problems for companies using advanced analytics techniques and actual data. For example, one project with Land O’Lakes, a $15 billion agricultural company based in Arden Hills, Minnesota, centered on identifying why certain farmlands didn’t perform as well as others.
“You know, it’s not theoretical,” Ellen Trader, director of the lab, told Business Insider. “These are real problems the companies are coming to us with, and they really do intend to deploy the work.”
Land O’Lakes has worked with the analytics lab for over three years, hiring students from the program in the process.
“What we look for is somebody who is technical enough to jump in and deal with messy data,” Teddy Bekele, CTO of Land O’Lakes, told Business Insider. “At the same time, they also need to be able to not go too technical where they don’t know what business value their insights have.”
Domestic students aren’t applying as much as international students
Despite the US demand for graduates with this degree, the latest QS data shows that three of the five top business analytics programs in the country have less than 20% domestic students.
Carlson in particular is trying to change this.
“The interesting thing is that if you have a US student who’s coming to this program, starting salaries are often significantly higher than the international average,” Zaheer said. “In one year, many of them are getting the kinds of salaries that MBAs would normally get.”
The McCombs School of Business, located at the University of Texas, has the highest percentage of domestic students going for an MSBA among the top five business analytics programs. Prabhudev Konana, McCombs’ associate dean of instructional innovation, told Business Insider that this is because of its college pipeline.
Students admitted in their junior year of college continue on to the fifth year master’s, or they complete their undergraduate degree in three years and substitute the fourth for an MSBA. Around 32% of McCombs’ MSBA students come from UT Austin’s own undergraduate program.
Why students are drawn to the program
Sasha Kingsley graduated from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School this year with an MSBA.
“The program made me realize how much easier it is for a data analyst or business analyst to land interviews, internships, or full-time opportunities, versus someone who is an MSF, MS finance, which I saw along my peers,” he said.
Kingsley didn’t know how to code before he applied to the MSBA program. He had strong finance skills, but after gaining technical skills, he’s seen more interest among hiring managers.
“I have to say I picked up a lot, and I’m really happy with where I stand today in terms of my understanding,” he added.
Demand for MSBA grads is “insatiable”
Kingsley’s story lines up with the reasons many students give for taking the program. As job seekers in the 21st century, students both domestic and international have to think of the workplace of the future in order to be as marketable as possible.
“At the moment, demand is pretty insatiable,” Zaheer said. “Employers are hungry for this skill set.”
Analytics features center stage in future job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, market research analysts, which includes data analysts, have an expected growth rate of 23% from 2016 to 2026. That’s much faster than the 7% average growth rate for all occupations.
“Companies are looking for people that can derive dashboards and reports from big data and analyze the data,” Kahn said. “That trend isn’t going anywhere yet.”