3 Tips to Pick a Data Analyst Master's Degree
I’ve worked with students from a number of different data analyst master's degree programs over many years.
There can be a big difference in how well they’re prepared for their first full time job as a data analyst depending on the program.
Let’s get into 3 Tips to Pick a Data Analyst Master’s Degree.
What's the value of a degree?
Keep in mind the goal of getting a degree.
For most people, It isn’t to be the most technically skilled person.
Yes, you’ll certainly be building a lot of skills. But the real goal is to prepare you to be effective in finding and working in a position.
These are general guidelines of what I’d look for in a masters program.
Can you be successful without them? Of course!
But if you’re trying to choose from a multitude of options, these are things you’ll want to look for.
1. A program that teaches you hard skills
While you don’t need to be the most technical person to get a job as a data analyst, you will need SOME technical skills.
Whether the program focuses on a programming language like Python, R, or SAS or they use lower code options like Tableau or Power BI, you should be proficient in at least one of these areas when you finish the program.
Some programs forego a dedicated focus and instead introduce you to many different tools and languages.
This intro is nice, but to be most effective in a job, I’d highly recommend you supplement by learning at least one tool or language more in depth if you’re in a program like this.
2. A program that teaches you how to think about problems
Very defined problems are a great way to start learning a new skill.
You’ll quickly find when you’re in a data analyst job that every problem isn’t the same and they’re often much more ambiguous than the exercises you worked through in school.
This is why you should look for a program that also focuses on teaching you how to think about problems.
This will help you be much more effective than simply working through technical exercises.
3. A program with skill application
Specifically, the most effective programs usually have practicum projects working with companies and organizations where the skills they’re learning get put to use.
Sample Master's Degree
Let's look at a data analytics master's degree program that meets all 3 of these criteria.
NC State’s Master of Analytics
A great example of a data analyst masters degree program that illustrates all of these items is NC State’s Master of Analytics.
They were actually the first master’s degree program in analytics and they set the bar high.
The program is competitive - and can be expensive if you're out of state - but very effective.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with students in the program as a company sponsoring a practicum project.
The amount of skill, professionalism, and growth while in the program is very impressive.
Students spend the first part of the year in the classroom learning tools, skills, and techniques, and then spend the rest of the program splitting their time between traditional in-class learning and working on a real problem facing a business.
They’ll work with non-profits on solving practical problems like predicting and reducing fall risks in an assisted living home. And they’ll work with for-profit businesses solving analytics challenges they’re facing.
Fixing Problem Programs
What if you’re already in a program that doesn’t check all 3 boxes?
Or you’re considering a program that doesn’t?
Look for ways to supplement in the areas that are lacking.
1. Missing hard skills
Build technical skills using a platform like DataCamp.
2. Doesn't teach how to think about problems
Think Like an Analyst builds skills for dealing with the reality of analytics problems in real applications.
3. No skill application
Look for internships or opportunities to help business or non-profits with your newfound analytics skills.
Do you have a friend or family with a business you might be able to help?
Which local community organizations could use your skills?