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How to Choose the Right Degree: Master's in Business Analytics vs. Data Science

December 6, 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard talk about the increased demand for data-driven professionals in nearly every industry. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that careers in data science and business analytics will grow much faster than other fields over the next decade. 

If you’re keen to capitalize on this growing market, a master’s degree could be the catalyst you need to break into the field. But when it comes to choosing the right degree program, you aren’t alone in wondering which is better — business analytics or data science? 

While the two degree programs will each prepare you to work with data, they won’t necessarily prepare you for the same type of career. Below, we’ve outlined some of the important things you need to know to choose the right graduate degree program for your personal and professional goals.

What's the Difference Between Data Science and Business Analytics?

You may have heard people use “data science” and “business analytics” interchangeably, but the truth is there are real and important differences between the two fields and their associated master’s programs. 

On the most basic level, you can think of the difference being that business analysts use data to draw meaningful conclusions and solve business problems with light use of coding. Data scientists, on the other hand, prepare data for analysis by writing algorithms and building statistical models through heavy use of coding.

Data Scientists Business Analysts
Extract and organize data

Communicate with clients and look for business solutions

Look for unstructured and structured data to extract meaningful insights Specialize in structured data only
Need to have knowledge of machine learning, statistics and mathematical skills Need to have interpersonal and management skills
Need to have strong knowledge of Python, Spark, TensorFlow, Hadoop and R Must have knowledge of SQL, Tableau and Excel
Make adjustments in machine learning models Assist in designing and implementing tech solutions, track and update business projects and growth

To understand how these differences will impact your career trajectory, it helps to better understand each field and what you’ll learn in the pursuit of a graduate degree.

What is Business Analytics?

Business analytics includes the skills, technologies and practices used to investigate past business performance in order to gain insight and drive future business decisions. 

There are four main types of business analytics:

  1. Descriptive analytics are used to identify historical business trends
  2. Diagnostic analytics are used to determine which factors influence trends
  3. Predictive analytics are used to identify likely outcomes or events
  4. Prescriptive analytics are used to make recommendations to reach desired business outcomes

Analytics professionals use these techniques in almost every industry today to develop marketing strategies, increase sales, improve financial efficiency, streamline processes and increase productivity.

What Degree Do I Need to Work in Business Analytics?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, business analysts typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to get into the field, but some employers may also require a master’s degree. Though business analysts aren’t typically expected to earn a degree in a specific field, a strong background in finance, mathematics, statistics, economics, marketing or psychology can lend to your professional success.

A Master’s Degree in Business Analytics can help you learn the skills, programming languages and techniques you need for a career as a business analyst if your undergraduate degree didn’t prepare you for the role. A master’s degree can also help you pursue a business analytics position at the management level or higher.

What Do You Learn in a Business Analytics Graduate Program?

A graduate-level business analytics program is designed to help you become proficient in coding languages, like Python, strengthen your skills in math and statistics, data mining and data visualization. You’ll use a wide range of tools and software programs while you study probability theory, statistical analysis, numerical methods, computation and simulation methods and others.

Careers in Business Analytics

Career opportunities in business analytics can include:

  • Analytics Manager
  • Data Analyst
  • Data Scientist
  • Functional Analysts

Business analysts earned a median annual salary of $87,660 in 2020, and employment of business and management analysts is expected to grow 14% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is Data Science?

Data scientists extract and analyze raw data in order to deliver structured data. On a day-to-day basis, data scientists are involved in extracting, formatting, analyzing and maintaining big data sets and typically work on the front end of the data collection and analysis process. 

Because data science includes the more specialized fields of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, data scientists must have strong coding and data manipulation skills.

What Degree Do I Need to Work in Data Science?

To get your foot in the door as a data scientist, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in data science or another computer-related field, although most data science careers will require a master’s degree in computer science.

What Do You Learn in a Data Science Graduate Program?

A graduate program meant to prepare you for a career in data science will incorporate theoretical understanding with hands-on work, so you can learn the basics of computation and how to build the secure databases and systems that help the virtual world flourish. Courses typically include:

  • Data Structures
  • Machine Learning
  • Software Engineering
  • Database and Operating Systems
  • Programming Languages
  • Networking
  • Cybersecurity
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Big Data Analytics (“R”)
  • Advanced Python

Careers in Data Science

Career opportunities in data science can include:

  • Data Scientist
  • Machine Learning Engineer
  • Machine Learning Specialist
  • Applications Architect
  • Business Intelligence (BI) Developer

In 2020 data scientists and other computer and information research scientists earned a median annual salary of $126,830, according to the BLS. Employment in this field is expected to grow 22% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Which is Better – Business Analytics or Data Science?

Business Analytics and Data Science are both excellent fields to consider. As businesses continue to use data to inform decision making, career opportunities in business analytics and data science will only grow over the next decade. 

Choosing which degree and career path is better for you should ultimately come down to what you want to learn and do after earning a graduate degree. 

If you want to develop more technical skills in the area of collecting and analyzing data, data science might be the better path for you.

If you want to focus on finding trends in data and developing ways to leverage that information for growth, business analytics is the better path.

Start Your Analyst Career With a Degree from SHU

If you’re interested in learning more about how to pursue a Master’s in Business Analytics, then look no further! Sacred Heart has an elite business school (which was ranked as a Best Business School in 2022) with a renowned Master’s in Business Analytics – we invite you to request more information today!

You can also learn more about all of our master’s degrees in business and technology at SHU and gain insight into the way we’re pioneering the intersection of business and technology in our free resource, Pioneering the Future, A Guide to SHU’s Jack Welch College of Business and Technology.

jack welch college of business and tech guide ebook thumbnail

Download the Guide Today

SHU Graduate Admissions Team

About the Author

We are the graduate admissions team at Sacred Heart University. We aspire to create a welcoming and supportive environment for students looking to continue their education while empowering them in mind, body and spirit. We hope you find our resources helpful and informative as you explore and pursue a graduate degree at Sacred Heart!

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