Can I Earn a Specialized MBA in Data Science?

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Incoming post-graduate students with an interest in both statistical analysis and business administration may feel they have to pursue an MBA or data science degree. However, there’s no need to make this difficult decision when entering graduate school. Pairing an MBA with a data science degree is possible. Many business schools offer dual degrees to develop business and data management skills together. Joint MBA degrees are an appealing choice for aspiring data professionals. Demand is constantly growing for qualified data scientists with extensive business leadership experience. Pairing an MBA with data science may represent an academic challenge, but the rewards are often worth the effort. Here’s everything future MBA students should know about dual data science degree options.


Introduction to the Expanding Field of Data Science

Data science is a young discipline compared to most academic and professional occupations. The term “data science” was first coined by Peter Naur during the 1970s. Despite its short history, the data science field has greatly expanded its scope and application over the last few decades. It is an interdisciplinary field that blends:

  • statistics
  • math
  • computing

These applications are used to extract information from data. Statistical analysis combined with the power of 21st-century technology has opened the doors for a revolution in the way organizations use data. Analytics give businesses an effective tool to measure and quantify nearly everything. Data scientists in business can add value to their organization by helping to:

  • study consumer behaviors
  • set profitable price margins
  • recruit talent

Corporations rely on business analytics to inform and validate their everyday operational decisions. Forecasting market trends and business revenue requires big data.

Overview of the Master of Business Administration

MBA in Data Science

The Master of Business Administration, or MBA, is a graduate-level professional degree that sharpens corporate leadership skills. It’s intended to promote students into executive management positions. Though the mission stays the same, MBAs come in various shapes including:

  • Full-time MBAs– These are ideal for recent college graduates who are finding their feet in business.
  • Part-time MBAs– These are excellent for current working professionals looking to advance their careers.
  • Executive MBAs– Programs are tailored for upper-level managers who already have 5+ years of experience.
  • Online MBAs– A great option for anyone needing the flexibility of logging into digital classes anytime 24/7.

Adding any MBA to one’s resume proves strategic management abilities. According to CNBC, 40 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have an MBA. The MBA is a popular master’s chosen by more than 100,000 students yearly.

Is Accreditation Important?

When you are searching for the perfect MBA data program, accreditation is important.  Accreditation validates a program’s commitment to providing high-quality education.  You will need to make sure the college or university offering the program holds regional accreditation.  This is the most prestigious type of accreditation a college or university can receive.  The US Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee the agencies that accredit colleges and universities in the US.  These accrediting agencies include:

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

While 85% of US colleges and universities hold regional accreditation, another 15% are nationally accredited.  National accrediting bodies typically focus on trade and vocational schools.  These schools may have less rigorous admission standards and may cost less than regionally accredited schools.

Schools can seek voluntary accreditation for their business schools.  There are three primary accrediting bodies for business schools include:

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB): This global nonprofit association serves over 1,700 member organizations and 900 accredited business schools across the globe.

The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP):  The ACBSP accredits MBA programs that demonstrate excellence in education.  Graduates of ACBSP accredited programs are competitive in the job market.

The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE): The IACBE has been around since 1997.  They provide business programs with an independent external evaluation that measures effectiveness.

Admission Requirements for Joint MBA Programs

How can post-grads pair an MBA with data science? First, apply to an MBA program with dual degree pathways or data specializations. MBA entrants need at least an accredited, four-year bachelor’s degree. Many require prerequisite courses, such as accounting, finance, and statistics. Most MBA programs are available to non-business majors though.

Minimum undergrad GPAs of 2.50-3.0 are usually enforced. Taking the Graduate Management Admission Test might be required. Prospective students should aim for GMAT scores above 500 to increase admission odds. Top B-schools, such as Stanford and Harvard, have an average GMAT score over 700.

Dual degrees could go beyond the standard MBA program requirements. For instance, prospective students might need to verify programming skills like C++ and SAS. Professional master’s programs will often demand a resume and employer references for 2+ years of experience.

Typical MBA Curriculum

Depending on the format, an MBA program normally require 36 to 56 credits beyond the bachelor’s. Graduates of non-business majors may need up to 72 credits to make up foundational courses. An accelerated MBA program take as little as 10 months. Meanwhile, part-time MBAs can last four years or longer.

Students enroll in advanced courses at the 500 level and higher. Typically, the MBA core consists of generic management classes. Expect course titles like:

  • Managerial Economics
  • Advanced Accounting
  • Organizational Behavior

Students then take specialized courses and study data science. Hopeful data scientists will elect data analytics classes, such as:

  • Data Mining
  • Marketing Analytics
  • Business Analytics
  • Machine Learning
  • Predictive Modeling

Several MBA programs integrate an internship component. Global MBA tracks require short-term trips abroad. Nearly all MBAs culminate with a capstone project.

Coursework for a Master of Science in Data Science Degree

Coursework for a Master of Science in Data Science DegreeThe Master of Science in Data Science is a technical degree that’s harder, yet shorter than an MBA program. There’s nothing generic or foundational about an M.S. in Data Science. Graduate schools generally require 30 to 39 credits for a Master of Science. Like MBAs, master’s degrees in data science include courses at the 500 to 700 level. Data science degrees can be delivered on campuses, online via platforms like Canvas and Zoom, or in hybrid formats. Data science majors dig right into meaty STEM master’s courses, such as:

  • Applied Regression
  • Advanced Probability
  • SQL Programming
  • Machine Learning

The M.S. in Data Science requires hands-on lab projects using diverse analytic software and algorithms. Most Master of Science students complete independent thesis research. Thesis-optional curricula may require a capstone project or comprehensive exam. A data science master’s usually take 12-48 months.

How Dual MBA and Data Science Programs Work

So, what happens when the two different curricula above are combined? Pairing an MBA with data science presents the opportunity to study both fields simultaneously.  Professionals no longer need to choose an MBA vs data scientist degree.  Many institutions offer programs tailored to this objective.

Dual degree students take business administration and data science courses at the same time. Joint MBA majors are dually enrolled in the business school and data science department. Though different degrees get mashed together, several courses will likely count toward both degrees. This reduces the number of credits for each degree. It’s a shorter path than pursuing the MBA and M.S. in Data Science separately. Nonetheless, dual programs take longer than one degree. Most Joint MBA students study for three to four years and finish just one capstone. Dual degree graduates must finish the residency and GPA requirements for both schools to earn two concurrent diplomas.

Should I Choose a Part Time or Full Time Program?  

Many MBA students are working professionals.  Taking a break from work to be a full-time college student can be a challenge.  Thankfully, today’s students have options.  So how do you decide whether to return to school as a part-time or full-time student?

Part-Time Programs On-Campus

Many schools offer part-time MBA programs.  These programs can be a great choice for students who work full-time or have significant family or personal commitments.  Part-time programs may be offered during the evening or on weekends to accommodate busy schedules.  Evening classes allow students to work during the day and earn their degree after hours.  Students who continue working while earning their degree have less college debt and can “pay as they go”.

Some employers offer tuition assistance to their employees who return to school.  Employees returning to school provide their organization with added value.  They can apply their knowledge and training gained in the classroom to the work setting.  This application of knowledge can help a student better understand course material and stay engaged in the classroom.   The financial benefits to the student can’t be ignored either.  Employers may require their employees to continue working with them for a set period to receive college financial assistance.  However, most tuition assistance programs are “free money” and don’t require the employee to pay back those funds once employment conditions are met.

While part-time programs are a great choice for some students, they are not one-size-fits-all.  Some schools limit their specializations to part-time students.  Data professionals seeking a concentration in business analytics or another data-driven area will need to make sure their selected program offers that concentration to part-time students.  Part-time programs also take longer to complete.  Since fewer courses are taken each semester, students may take an additional semester or two to complete their degree.

Full-Time Programs On-Campus

Full-time MBA programs provide students with a more traditional post-grad experience.  Courses are offered on-campus, throughout the day.  Students work closely with peers and faculty while completing their degree.  Since many specializations and concentrations require students to take courses outside the business department, opportunities are more robust.  On-campus students have access to a full spectrum of courses and departments to optimize their degree.

Full-time students may need to fund their education with scholarships and loans.  Some programs offer flexible payment plans for students who choose to pay out of pocket for their education.  Students can also apply for graduate assistantships that may offer a stipend or tuition waiver.  Paid internships are another way for students to earn money while completing their degree.

Full-time programs take about two years to complete.  These are a great choice for students coming right from a bachelor’s degree program.  MBA degree programs can provide networking and professional development opportunities to students with limited work experience.

Earning an Online MBA

Online programs are on the rise.  Colleges and universities recognize the need for students to have access to quality and affordable education.  An online MBA gives students the opportunity to earn a degree from an institution they might not normally have access to.  Students can complete their degree from the comfort of home (or anywhere with a wifi connection!) without needing to relocate and leave their job and family.

Online programs are often taught by the same faculty who teach brick and mortar programs.  These faculty are experienced online educators who understand the needs of diverse learners.  They engage with students through an online platform using video conferencing software, email, and live discussion boards.

Online classes are offered in either a synchronous or asynchronous format.  Synchronous courses are delivered in real-time.  Online students have a set log-in time with other students, creating a virtual classroom.  Some programs include online students in their traditional on-campus courses while other programs deliver exclusive online content.

Declaring an MBA Specialization in Data Science or Business Analytics Concentration

Dual degrees aren’t the only way to pair an MBA with data science though. Many MBA degree programs give students options for concentration. Perhaps the most popular MBA programs specializations are:

  • accounting
  • finance
  • marketing
  • management

However, an increasing number of B-schools are launching MBA concentrations for data science or business analytics. MBA specializations are the quickest way to get business and data know-how in one degree. Students take specialized courses in data science after MBA courses are completed.  MBA attendees can choose electives to create a unique business analytics concentration. Prospective students should look for data-related classes including:

  • Data Visualization
  • Business Analytics
  • Financial Informatics
  • Business Intelligence

Students can further focus their MBA by picking a data related capstone project. A capstone project can help students gain valuable hands-on experience in an area of interest.  Students without professional work experience can choose an MBA internship placement.  These specialized internships provide students with the change to work directly in areas like data analysis and modeling. Students can also join B-school clubs concerned with Big Data to gain experience and network.

Examples of Business Schools With MBA and Data Science Paths

Examples of Business Schools With MBA and Data Science PathsAccording to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 500+ business schools with MBA degrees in America. As of May 2020, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) has accredited 874 B-schools in 56 countries. There’s no shortage of MBA options to choose from.

The tricky part comes when finding colleges that offer an MBA for data scientist professionals. More continue to pop up as hiring in the Big Data industry soars. Financial Times reports that enrollment in data analytics courses rose 74 percent from 2017 to 2018. During the same period, demand for traditional MBA classes only increased by 32 percent. Data science is a growing driver to business school. Let’s take a closer look at some business schools where business and data science blend.

  • Clarkson University – The David D. Reh School of Business offers a 59-credit, AACSB-accredited Dual MBA/MS in Data Analytics or Combined MBA/MS in Healthcare Data Analytics at its Upstate New York campus.
  • University of Iowa – The Tippie College of Business provides a 60-credit, eight-semester Joint MBA & M.S. in Business Analytics with AACSB accreditation for $2,100 per weeknight course in Iowa City.
  • University of Virginia – The Darden School of Business and Data Science Institute partner to admit MBA/MSDS cohorts with a median 720 GMAT score each Summer for a 24-month, AACSB-accredited curriculum.
  • University of Notre Dame – The Mendoza College of Business awards a 68-credit, AACSB-accredited Dual MBA/MS in Business Analytics that boasts 92 percent job placement at $144,536 average pay.
  • Northeastern University – The D’Amore-McKim School of Business grants a 55-credit, AACSB-accredited MBA in Data Science that builds on Boston courses like Algorithms with three-month corporate residencies.
  • California State University Fullerton – The MBA Business Analytics Concentration is available to full and part-time students.    The Business Analytics concentration includes courses in data mining and data warehousing.

These are just five examples of programs pairing an MBA with data science. Other popular B-schools for Big Data preparation include:

  • University of Minnesota
  • Oklahoma State University
  • Columbia University
  • University of Arizona
  • George Mason University
  • Brandeis University

Which business school should future data scientists select? That depends on factors like:

  • personal preference
  • location
  • budget

You can use the U.S. News & World Report rankings to find a top MBA for data science minded professionals. Students should narrow down the top choices based on their needs. For instance, MBA program entrants who learn better in small groups should look for low-student-faculty ratios. Individuals who struggle with tests can find GMAT-optional master’s tracks. Students who prefer city life might head to Manhattan or Silicon Valley. To impress potential employers, select a big-name school that’s both accredited and ranked highly.

Career Opportunities for Dual MBA and Data Science Degree Holders

There are many careers for people with dual expertise in data and business. Aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders need to be data literate. Professionals who have the technical skills in data and understand the applications of business administration gain leverage in the job market.

According to Tech Republic, data scientists have America’s #1 most promising job. There’s no shortage of data related employment opportunities.  Job openings for data graduates soared 56 percent in 2019. Data scientists received an excellent 9/10 score for career opportunities. There are 6.5 times more data professionals today than there were in 2012. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a mean annual wage of $100,560 for all data scientists. Pairing an MBA with a data degree prepares students for the following in-demand, six-figure jobs.

  • Data Architect – Data architects design, develop, maintain, and update business databases to organize important corporate data. Data architects configure the security protocol to prevent databases from being infiltrated or hacked. Data architects also run troubleshooting tests to fix system bugs and keep info accessible.
  • Business Intelligence Analyst- Business intelligence analysts gather large data sets in spreadsheets to run statistical analysis that pinpoints patterns and trends. Business intelligence analysts mine company and competitor data to give managers insights into best practices. BI analysts find scientific proof of business areas that need improvement.
  • Operations Research Analyst- OR analysts utilize data mining and modeling procedures to investigate business problems. Operations research analysts input relevant data into statistical software like SPSS to assess identified issues. OR analysts then advise managers on effective methods to solve operational challenges.
  • Data Engineer- Data engineers flex their SQL, Python, and C++ programming muscles to develop business data infrastructures. Data engineers create the digital pipeline for delivering fresh data to company analysts quickly and securely. Data engineers code usable software solutions to keep company executives informed.
  • Clinical Data Analyst- Clinical data analysts uniquely develop databases for health care facilities to reference and assess patient data. Clinical data analysts compile information on research trials, medical procedures, and insurance billing. Analysts ensure clinicians have access to correct, reliable records for sound treatment.
  • Analytics Manager- Analytics managers supervise teams of data professionals and have final decision-making authority on data projects. Analytics managers control the hiring, training, and oversight of qualified business analysts. Pairing an MBA with data science opens analytics management jobs leading productive data personnel.

According to The Wall Street Journal, 75 percent of MBA graduates switch careers. Professionals with MBAs see an average salary increase of $36,742 immediately. An MBA data scientist could reap even higher rewards. Other popular careers include:

  • quantitative developer
  • risk manager
  • enterprise architect
  • machine learning engineer
  • statistician
  • corporate strategist
  • marketing analyst
  • business intelligence analyst
  • information research scientist

Data scientist MBA graduates qualify for virtually any career focused on coaxing insights and solutions from unstructured data. Some MBAs even enjoy the freedom of data consulting jobs and travel or work from home. Having an MBA opens doors to C-suite executive roles too. Chief data officers (CDOs) implement business-wide strategies to improve analytics. Chief information officers (CIOs) manage the entire computer network that stores data.

Tips for Earning an MBA and Data Science Degree Together

Tips for Earning an MBA and Data Science Degree TogetherPairing an MBA with data science is an ambitious goal.  MBA data science students must be proactive, engaged learners. They must:

  • Always do the textbook readings and follow the course syllabus to the letter
  • Take copious notes with charts and diagrams to help content sink in
  • Ask professors questions in class and during office hours
  • Jump on the opportunity to gain real-life insights from current and former business executives
  • Join study groups and clubs to network with fellow MBA peers
  • Participate in stimulating strategy debates when reviewing case studies
  • Take advantage of university computer labs with handy data science software like MATLAB and Tableau
  • Follow a strict schedule to finish data science thesis research on time
  • Find ways to cope with stress for good mental health

How Can I Afford an MBA?

Joint MBA and data science degrees aren’t cheap. Poets & Quants found that top MBA programs cost an average $196,067 total. The #1 B-school, Stanford, costs $231,672. That’s without adding another degree to the MBA. Therefore, securing financial aid is crucial. You should:

  • Contact the college’s financial aid office about MBA fellowships and grants available
  • Embrace graduate assistantship positions that can pay half to whole tuition for research work
  • Look for free money from both MBA and data science scholarships

Assistantships allow students to work as a graduate assistant while earning their MBA.  Interested students need to apply for these competitive positions which can cover a significant portion of tuition expenses.  Students work alongside faculty, conducting administrative type activities.  Graduate assistants are in a unique position to network and build professional connections within their department.

There are several scholarships available for data science or MBA students.  Some of these include:

  • The Daughters of the American Revolution provides the $2,000 Mary Elizabeth Lockwood Beneventi Scholarship to MBA students with GPAs over 3.25
  • The National Black MBA Association funds scholarships of $3,500 to $100,000 at select partners, such as Georgia Tech, Bentley, Purdue, and Syracuse
  • The Acxiom Diversity Scholarship gifts $5,000 to full-time data science and analytics students

Prospective MBA students who are currently employed (and plan to continue their employment) should check into employer sponsored scholarships.  Many employers offer sizable scholarships to their employees in exchange for a work commitment during or upon completion of their degree.  You will want to read the fine print (especially if you are planning to leave) but these opportunities can certainly help offset the cost of an MBA.

You will want to exhaust the free financial aid opportunities before filing the FAFSA and taking out Graduate Plus loans.  These are federal loans which can cover the cost of an MBA program.  These loans come with interest charges and must be paid back after you’ve earned your degree.

Students with excellent credit may want to check out private student loans.  These could have a lower interest rate than a federal loan but may be exempt from special deferment programs.  Fixed and variable interest rate loans are available from a variety of private lenders.

Families who plan ahead and made contributions to a 529 college savings fund can decide to use those funds for an MBA program.  Most of the time, a 529 is thought of as a way to cover the cost of an undergraduate program.  Families can make the decision to save that money for graduate school when scholarships may be harder to come by.

If you find that you are struggling to cover the cost of an MBA program, it is always a good idea to reach out to your school’s financial aid office.  They may have additional resources or point you in the direction of funding opportunities.  Communication is key, so it is important to be transparent about your financial situation when discussing financial assistance options.


Overall, students who want to dive into the field of data science while keeping their eyes on a career in business management don’t have to choose between an MBS vs data science master’s degree.  They can pursue a dual degree or a specialized MBA concentration. Joint MBA degrees and MBA specializations give post-grads the best of both worlds. Taking business and data science courses together saves more time and money than earning two distinct degrees.

Professionals with managerial and data analysis skills are a hot commodity in today’s $123.2 billion Big Data market. Business leaders who have a firm understanding of the science behind their data have an unparalleled advantage. Companies need data-oriented minds to understand their business’s strengths and weaknesses. Even though there are many benefits, dual degrees are more physically and mentally demanding. Prospective graduate students should carefully weigh the pros and cons of a degree in data science vs MBA degree.

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