Master’s in Business Analytics v MBA: What’s Different?

Master’s in Business Analytics v MBA: What’s Different? main image

When Renu Khokhar applied to business school it was not the flagship MBA program that piqued her interest. Instead she opted for a new and rapidly-growing course: business analytics.


“I don’t think an MBA is necessary to make it to the top brass,” says Khokhar. “Companies realize they can increase their profits and performance with data-driven decisions. They need people with analytics degrees, not only MBAs.”

Khokhar is now studying the Master of Science in Business Analytics at the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Participants on the nine-month course, which costs US$53,100 for internationals, have on average 3.5 years of work experience. Half the class have an undergraduate degree in engineering and 30 percent have a business degree.

It’s one of a swelling number of courses specializing in the business of big data, driven by white-hot employer demand for analytics professionals. MIT Sloan, NYU Stern, HEC Paris and a bevy of other highly-regarded business schools offer similar degrees and demand from students continues to grow. 74 percent of big data programs in the US reported a spurt in applications last year, compared to just 32 percent of full-time, two-year MBA courses, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

In 2018, the WP Carey school received more than 800 applications for 220 spots in its big data degree — a 400 percent increase in four years.

So, what skills does a business analytics degree teach you that a traditional MBA won’t? Brett Duarte, assistant clinical professor and faculty director at WP Carey, says: “Tools and techniques historically associated with management science have found a wealth of applications, and executives are beginning to see the importance of data-driven decision making.

“This has created huge demand for skills associated with data mining, predictive and prescriptive analytics.”

This huge demand for business analytics-related roles is expected to reach 1.5 million jobs this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Given this, it’s no surprise that more than 80 percent of WP Carey’s graduating class of 2017 reported employment within six months of graduation.

Sarah Laouiti is currently studying business analytics at Imperial College Business School in London, and she says: “By far and large I have had more employers reaching out to me than before undertaking this degree, from start-ups and corporate tech companies to consultancies and the FMCG sector.”

Following her studies, Laouiti hopes to secure a data science position either in-house or within a consultancy firm. “I am also considering freelancing to build up a portfolio and expose myself to varying business data,” she adds.

The value of the data degree is far more than the Imperial brand, she says. “The beauty of studying the MSc Business Analytics is that I am still considering subjects you cover in an MBA — finance, accounting, marketing, human resources — but from a data-driven perspective,” Laouiti says. “I can answer typical business problems with less subjectivity.”

A few hours away from Imperial, the MSc Business Analytics degree at Warwick Business School is also booming. “We’ve received close to 1,200 applications for the 2018/19 entry, an 82 percent increase on last year,” says Arne Strauss, associate professor of operational research and academic director.

Despite this high demand, Warwick has capped student numbers at 100. Entry requirements are an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as economics, business or engineering. The course also requires strong numeracy and IT statistical ability.

“We look for evidence of outstanding performance and ambition, with some demonstrative abilities in quantitative subjects such as statistics,” Strauss says.

At the USC Marshall School of Business in the US this year, 1,570 applicants fought for 90 spots on the Master of Science in Business Analytics. “Data science as a field is on an upward trajectory, and the degree programs are growing in conjunction with this,” says professor of data sciences and operations, Ramandeep Randhawa.

He does not believe that the courses will cannibalize the MBA degree. “The MBA and data science masters are two distinct populations — MBA applicants are not signing up for these data degrees,” Randhawa says. “The weakening in the overall full-time MBA market is an outcome of several factors, one of which is the total cost to students.”


Back at the WP Carey school, Khokhar says she plans to join an Arizona-based manufacturing company this year, as an analytics engineer. As a long-term goal, she envisions using analytics to help solve big global challenges such as healthcare or fighting human trafficking. “The job prospects are huge,” she says.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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