Should You Earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA)?

A broadening and more varied spectrum of data has permanently altered the business landscape and the types of professionals needed to drive growth and new initiatives. In terms of skills specializations and educational advancement, this trend has given way to the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) degree, a program that stands on its own to address this growing skills shortage and overlaps in several regards with the time-tested Master of Business Administration (MBA).

This skills gap will only continue to grow, driven by greater demand for data analytics, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence, according to the World Economic Forum. Professionals and recent graduates have noted this shift: based on the Graduate Management Admission Council’s Application Trends Survey Report 2019, data analytics master’s programs collectively saw over 50% greater application volume between 2019 and 2020.

The New Vantage Partners’ Big Data Executive Survey 2017 found that 85% of all Fortune 500 companies invested in this technology, but as a glaring blind spot, software programs alone rarely drive advancement. Instead, these businesses require professionals to comb through and make sense of all this structured and unstructured information.

Traditional MBA programs also don’t want to leave students in the dark. Along with the MSBA, business schools including Wake Forest have developed a business analytics concentration to introduce these skills within the management and leadership focused curriculum. If you’re thinking about the next level of your career and the skills and education to get there, learn about the differences and similarities between the MBA and an MS in Business Analytics.

The MS in Business Analytics at a Glance

Data analysis itself isn’t a new occupation. Rather, the number of available sources, the vastness of each, and the types of data started multiplying several times over with the internet’s widespread adoption in the ‘90s, to the point that the methods used in past decades were no longer efficient or as accurate.

Today’s data analysts and data scientists need to be familiar with a host of programs and methods for examining and drawing insights from complex, often unstructured data sets and how to translate these figures into visualizations that support and influence business decisions. Years ago, simply examining market conditions and competitors’ strategies were enough. Today, hard data needs to explain why these moves are a good idea and indicate what a company should expect with such a plan going forward.

In turn, a business analytics professional looking to adapt and stay competitive needs to have these modern analytical skills and a solid, multifaceted understanding of business. Compared to a strict management position, data analytics is a technical career choice, requiring candidates to be well-versed in programming languages, data quality management, data mining, statistics, and modeling.

Professionals looking to go down this path have a handful of choices: you can begin in a lower-level analysis role, earn a certificate, return to school for an MBA in Business Analytics, or start an MSBA program. Dice found that while not every data analytics career requires a master’s degree, candidates who’ve acquired this credential often experience a salary boost in the workplace.

Reflecting this career trajectory and desired outcome, MSBA programs tend to be angled toward professionals and recent graduates with technical backgrounds, such as a bachelor’s in computer science, information technology (IT), or engineering. However, business and economics majors who’ve acquired some coding skills may also benefit from a data-driven perspective of finance and organization.

As a program, the MS in Business Analytics degree builds off the shift in graduate business school degrees that started just over two decades ago with the Master of Science in Management program. Diversifying degree offerings to address skills shortages created a one- to two-year program that blends an overview of practical business methodology for context with advanced modeling, statistics, machine learning, and programming skills.

The MBA at a Glance

Content and structure wise, the MBA is a vastly different graduate business degree, but to adjust to the rapidly changing times, programs are starting to touch on data analytics.

The MBA at its core has been an advanced degree for experienced business professionals seeking to earn a management or leadership position in the workplace, either as a department head or company executive. This factor not only shapes the curriculum but also the application process. Typically, business schools look for candidates who have spent anywhere from three to seven years in the workforce, have moved up through multiple roles, and are ready for a career with more responsibilities. MSBA programs, by contrast, usually don’t have this requirement and may accept candidates who are completing their bachelor’s in a related field.

In line with this mission, the MBA focuses on strengthening students’ functional business knowledge and enhancing their leadership potential. Because of the career boost many candidates receive, figures from the US Department of Education show that, of all graduate degrees, MBAs experience the greatest amount of demand.

Yet, while the program trains individuals to work in teams, make stronger decisions, and communicate with professionals at all levels, MBAs frequently involve a concentration component. Covering areas from marketing and organizational management to business analytics, concentrations balance the holistic perspective the MBA offers with the specialized knowledge of a singular business discipline.

In the case of MBA in Business Analytics programs, courses present this area from a theoretical perspective, stressing the importance of data mining, modeling, and machine learning for making decisions in today’s business world. Although technical skills and tools may be covered, the concentration convinces students that, to be a successful manager or leader, data needs to shape every process, procedure, and initiative.

MS in Business Analytics vs. MBA Curriculum

In 2019, McKinsey & Company released a report titled Closing the Future-Skills Gap that points to the lack of data and business analytics skills in the workplace. In addressing this dearth of knowledge, MSBA programs examine higher-level business strategy but spend more time on data science, particularly quantitative analysis, machine learning, analytical modeling, data collection, various optimization methods, applied probability, and programming languages like Python, SQL, and R. The program strives to graduate professionals who thoroughly understand these specialized technologies and can apply them to solve business challenges. At Wake Forest, students are taught to use analytics to take their organizations from insight to impact. 

Students undertaking an MS in Business Analytics program find that coursework touches on functional and practical areas of business but devotes more time toward hands-on experience—essential for mastering the skills listed above. The MSBA curriculum often begins with courses in finance, marketing, accounting, and management, before thoroughly diving into prescriptive and predictive analytics, machine learning, programming languages, statistics, and data mining.

Aiming to graduate well-rounded business professionals, the MBA curriculum devotes more courses toward functional business concepts and the skills involved in marketing, finance, economics, leadership, accounting, and management. This approach assists students with thoroughly understanding all areas within an organization and how they function together and gives way toward more informed decision making and organizational efficiency.

With a Business Analytics concentration, MBA students further become familiar with forecasting and statistical models and learn how machine learning benefits common processes and applications.

MS in Business Analytics vs. MBA Program Length

With their longevity, the MBA has become known for its two-year full-time format, although accelerated options exist. Students wanting to earn an MBA part time may spend four to six years in the program, depending upon how many courses they can take at a time.

The MSBA, by contrast, tends to have a shorter duration, although this isn’t always the case. Depending upon if a student aims to earn an MS in Business Analytics on a full- or part-time basis, this program can be completed in roughly a year or may take two years to complete. Wake Forest’s onsite MSBA, for instance, has a 10-month structure, versus the online format’s two-year duration.

Career Outcomes for MBA and MS in Business Analytics Programs

Glassdoor.com regularly lists data scientist, data engineer, and data analyst among its “50 Best Jobs in America” roundup. As companies large and small rely more and more on Big Data, these professionals will be needed to not only compile, examine, and find insights among multiple data sources, but to also develop stronger reporting solutions, anticipate financial risks, improve product and service pricing, and seek out new opportunities for growing revenue.

Based on education and experience, MS in Business Analytics graduates are prepared to work as:

  • Data Analysts;
  • Data Scientists;
  • Marketing Analysts;
  • Business Intelligence Analysts;
  • Revenue and Pricing Analysts;
  • Operations Research Analysts;
  • Social Media Analysts;
  • Decision Analysts;
  • Market Researchers;
  • Business Analytics Managers;
  • Intelligence Managers.

Of these positions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that operations research analysts will see 26% growth between 2018 and 2028.

The BLS also predicts 7% demand across all management occupations over this period. MBA graduates who have earned a Business Analytics concentration are primed for positions in which they’ll need to understand and examine consumer behavior, particularly for improving marketing and revenue strategies to attract profitable customers.  

Prepare for Your Career with an MBA or an MS in Business Analytics from Wake Forest

Whatever your desired career path or skills set, Wake Forest’s degree programs, including our MS in Business Analytics and an MBA in Business Analytics in Charlotte and Winston-Salem, help you gain a specialization and advanced leadership knowledge to take your career to the next level. Interested in taking the next step? Request more information today.