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What Degree Do You Need to be a Data Analyst? What to study for a career in data analysis

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Data analysts are some of the most in-demand workers in today’s numbers-driven world. They take large, seemingly opaque data sets and analyze them to draw conclusions. The information they glean helps businesses make decisions on everything from marketing to hiring. Although becoming a data analyst doesn’t have rigid licensing requirements like are found in law and medicine, most companies are looking for candidates with certain degrees.

What Degree Does a Data Analyst Need?

There are generally no strict educational prerequisites to becoming a data analyst. It’s not like becoming a lawyer where you have to obtain a juris doctor and then pass the Bar exam. That said, most employers want candidates with educational backgrounds that show they have mastered certain skill sets needed for the job. Applicants who majored in fields such as mathematics, statistics, computer science and information systems often go to the front of the line, as these majors tend to produce graduates with high-level quantitative and analytical skills.
You can get an entry-level job as a data analyst with only a bachelor’s degree, especially if you graduate with a high GPA from an elite STEM school like MIT or Georgia Tech. Some highly motivated candidates have even entered the field without a formal degree by attending data science boot camps or even by learning on their own using free online resources. But as Big Data becomes more complex and intricate, candidates with master’s degrees and even Ph.D.s are likely to become even more appealing to employers. As of 2017, a little over a third of job postings for data analysts stated that an advanced degree was required.

Besides a Degree, What Else Do Aspiring Data Analysts Need?

Although a college degree in a STEM major can show employers you have the abstract skills needed to succeed as a data analyst, success in the theoretical world of a classroom doesn’t guarantee success in the field. For this reason, employers want to see more than a diploma. They also want to know you can take what you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it in a way that benefits them.
If you can demonstrate real-world readiness along with your degree, you’ll be a much more competitive candidate. One of the best ways to do this is by getting as many internships as you can during college. An internship not only allows you to sharpen your skills and apply your classroom knowledge, but it also lets you start making connections that can benefit you throughout your career. Instead of waiting until the summer before your senior year to try to snag an internship, try to do it earlier. There are even companies that will hire summer interns with only one year of college under their belt.
In addition to internships, contributing to open-source data analysis projects is another way to demonstrate both your knowledge and your passion for the field. These projects, many of which you can find online, let you work on real-world data sets and network with people already working in the field. They also give you a ready-made portfolio to show off to potential employers.

How Much Do Data Analysts Make Out of School With a Bachelor’s Degree?

A few factors determine how much a new college graduate will earn in their first data analyst position, including location and industry. According to Glassdoor, the nationwide average salary for entry-level data analyst jobs is around $55,000. For experienced analysts, the average rises to roughly $75,000.
Location plays a significant role in determining salary, as well. California has the highest average salary for entry-level data analysts at just over $75,000, whereas states with lower costs of living, such as Mississippi and Arkansas, also come in below the national average for data analyst salaries. Certain fields and industries also correlate with higher salaries for data analysts, including IT, cybersecurity, banking and finance.
These figures represent what a new data analyst out of college can expect to earn with just a bachelor’s degree. Candidates with advanced degrees such as a master’s or a Ph.D. can generally expect a higher starting salary, even if they’ve never held a full-time position in the field.

Is Grad School Required to Advance in a Data Analyst Career?

Graduate school is not necessarily required to advance in a data analyst career, but it can provide significant benefits for the right candidate. Depending on the industry you work in, a master’s degree not only can qualify you for more prestigious and higher-paying positions but also may help you build your professional network and introduce you to people who can help you in your career down the road.
That said, grad school often involves a significant investment in not just money but time, and it might not be the right choice for everyone. Many data analysts find that the time they would otherwise dedicate to graduate studies would be better spent taking on additional roles and responsibilities in their current position or learning new niche skills on their own. You might also choose to pursue various industry certifications instead of a broader graduate degree. The Certified Analytics Professional and Cloudera Certified Associate Data Analyst designations both look impressive on a resume and could help you get a foot in the door for a higher-paying and more prestigious job.
One reason to choose graduate school as a way to advance your data analyst career is if you’re thinking of pivoting from one industry to another. For instance, if you currently work for the corporate office of a large retail organization but envision a better future in a more tech-forward niche, a master’s degree in something like informatics or biostatistics — fields that meld data and technology — can start you down the right path.
Overall, the majority of prospective data analysts have at least a bachelor’s degree, and most of them majored in STEM fields such as mathematics, statistics or computer science. Although an advanced degree isn’t required, it can open additional career opportunities for you down the road.

Ready to start your journey?

Ready to start your journey?