How to Decide Between an M.S. or an MBA in Data Science

In this increasingly data-driven world, professionals in several fields seek data skills. To pursue leadership roles in business, you must have a foundation in data knowledge. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for data scientists, in particular, should grow 36% through 2031.

Data science positions frequently require an advanced degree, which has led to an increase in Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in data science and Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees in business analytics or data science/analytics.

The most prevalent professional degrees for aspiring data science leaders are MBAs specializing in business analytics and an M.S. in data science. While these programs share some similarities, there are notable distinctions in their curricula and career-focused training. Individuals should understand the similarities and differences before pursuing one over the other.

Who Is the Ideal Candidate for an MBA in Data Science?

The ideal candidate for an MBA in Data Science, like at Henderson State University, typically possesses a combination of business acumen, analytical skills and a passion for leveraging data to drive strategic decision-making. While specific requirements may vary across academic institutions, some common characteristics of an ideal MBA in data science candidate include the following, per an InterviewQuery article:

Business background and leadership potential:

A solid foundation in business concepts and practices is valuable for an MBA in data science candidate, including knowledge and experience in finance, marketing, operations and general management principles. This type of program often emphasizes leadership development. Therefore, candidates with a demonstrated ability to lead and inspire teams, as well as an interest in managerial roles, are well suited for this degree. For this reason, an MBA can be a steppingstone to a leadership career in data analytics. Jobs for graduates are business analyst, business intelligence analyst, management analyst and business ops roles.

Communication and collaboration skills:

Data scientists often work in cross-functional teams, so they must have effective communication and collaboration skills. An ideal candidate can translate complex technical concepts into actionable insights that non-technical stakeholders can understand. The MBA core business curriculum develops these skills, enabling the graduate to liaise between departments and project stakeholders.

Analytical and mathematical aptitudes:

Proficiency in quantitative skills — such as statistics, mathematics and data analysis — is crucial for extracting insights from complex data sets. Candidates should have a strong aptitude for working with numbers and comfort using analytical tools and programming languages commonly used in data science.

Curiosity and big picture/problem-solving mindset:

Data science leaders are problem solvers and tackle complex business challenges through data analysis. The ideal candidate should be curious about how new concepts lend themselves to problem-solving with business challenges. They should possess logical and critical-thinking abilities to break down problems, formulate hypotheses and devise data-driven solutions.

Who Is the Ideal Candidate for an M.S. in Data Science?

The ideal candidate for an M.S. in data science typically possesses a strong foundation in mathematics, computer science and statistics, combined with a keen interest in data analysis and its applications.   While specific requirements may vary across academic institutions, per InterviewQuery, some common characteristics of an ideal candidate include the following:

  • Quantitative skills: Proficiency in mathematics, statistics and computer science is essential for an M.S. in Data Science candidate. A strong background in these subjects enables individuals to effectively analyze and manipulate data, implement algorithms and work with machine learning models.
  • Programming proficiency: Candidates should have experience or a willingness to learn programming languages commonly used in data science, such as Python or R. Knowledge of SQL and data manipulation tools is also beneficial for handling large data sets.
  • Analytical mindset with domain knowledge: An ideal candidate should possess strong analytical and problem-solving skills. They should be able to identify patterns, extract insights and derive meaningful conclusions from complex data. This can be especially useful for candidates with experience in a particular field who can apply analytical skills to specific industry concepts or projects.
  • Commitment to continuous learning and research: Technology evolves exponentially, so the ideal candidate should want to explore new methodologies, algorithms and emerging technologies. A commitment to continuous learning and staying current with technological advancements and industry trends is crucial. Because M.S. programs emphasize research, candidates with this mindset and an interest in contributing to the advancement of data science through academic pursuits are well suited for such programs.

These skills befit roles including data scientist, research scientist, machine learning engineer and AI/deep learning specialist.

What Are the Critical Curriculum Differences Between the Two Program Types?

While there are variations among different universities and programs, some critical curriculum differences exist between MBA in data science programs and M.S. in data science programs. Here are the key distinctions:

  • Business and technical skills vs. business management and project management: MBA programs focus on combining data-driven insights with driving decision-making and business strategies. Of course, it also provides core MBA business courses such as finance, marketing, operations and management, as well as concentration courses in data science. Courses emphasize management and leadership skills development. On the other hand, M.S. programs emphasize technical knowledge and skills with courses in statistics, machine learning, programming, data visualization, mining and modeling. Courses emphasize technical proficiency with skills used for data analytics projects.
  • Breadth vs. depth of knowledge: MBA programs provide a broad business perspective, and the data science concentration courses typically offer a narrower focus on analytics techniques and their applications in business decision-making and strategies. The more specialized and in-depth concepts and methodologies taught in M.S. programs delve into more technical areas like machine learning algorithms and data visualization techniques.
  • School offering the program: Business schools offer MBA programs, and a university’s engineering, computer science or mathematics school typically have M.S. programs.

As you contemplate whether to pursue an MBA or M.S. data science program, consider your background and innate capabilities as well as your career aspirations. Do you envision yourself providing leadership in cross-departmental business initiatives, or would you prefer to lead highly technical projects and teams? No matter which academic path you choose, the rapidly growing, high-demand field of data science offers many career opportunities to reward your decision.

Learn more about Henderson State University’s online MBA with a Concentration in Data Science program.

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