Most roles that deal with data and information are in high demand, but fewer are as sought-after as data analyst. One big reason for that is that the job title of data analyst is quite broad, and these professionals can be found in virtually every industry.
Organizations large and small, both for profit and not, all require the assistance of data analysts to help inform smart decision-making. Getting a data analyst job means continuing your education after high school and usually means getting a graduate-level degree.
Let’s explore the path you’ll need to take to get a data analyst degree that can propel you to a next-level career.
What Do Data Analysts Do?
While their specific day-to-day job duties will vary depending on the organization and the industry in which they work, in a broad sense, data analysts gather, process and analyze large-scale sets of data.
According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), data analysts are becoming increasingly mission-critical for employers across all industries, as organizations of every stripe will need to hire qualified professionals who can tackle the accumulating data we’re all generating and consuming every day.
Not only are data analyst jobs in high demand today, but for those with a desire to ensure their careers won’t vanish as the global economy continues to modernize, a degree that provides a solid foundation in data science and analysis should be a wise investment. In fact, the WEF report further indicated that about one-third of the core skills of the average worker need to change as technology continues to disrupt economies all over the world.
But that also means that the everyday tasks of the average data analyst are likely to change at a rapid clip. Today, most data analysts use a combination of hard skills like database programming and soft skills like communication to achieve the goals to which they are assigned. Here’s a look at some common tasks data analysts have to deal with on a daily basis:
- Generating reports
- Collaborating with coworkers and supervisors
- Analyzing data to spot trends
- Collecting and cleaning data
- Establishing and maintaining data infrastructure
- Writing and executing database queries
- Conceptualizing and creating data visualizations
- Using data to recommend organizational decisions
Skills & Qualifications
A successful data analyst will possess a combination of mathematical prowess, technological skill and problem-solving abilities. While these jobs do tend to have significant programming and other technical requirements, unlike a job like data scientist, a key function for data analysts is being able to effectively communicate their findings to others. In short, they can’t just be about the numbers.
Here’s a look at some of the hard and soft skills needed to excel in a data analyst role:
- Programming and database languages: Data analysts will need to be familiar with at least one programming language, and usually more, as being able to harness data successfully means drawing from whatever source is available. The most common languages you’ll encounter are R, SQL and Python.
- Microsoft Excel: For data analysts, Excel will need to become a second language, and they should be able to perform advanced techniques to clean, sort and model data.
- Data visualization: Getting your arms around data often means translating it from a number to an image, and that means understanding the science behind data visualization and the technical requirements to create effective visualizations of your data. This is also a helpful tool in successfully communicating your findings and recommendations to others within the organization. While you may use tools like Excel or SQL to gather your data, you’ll need to master one or more programs to create visualizations, such as Tableau or Adobe Illustrator.
- Analytical thinking: Given the job title, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a data analyst needs to be an analytical thinker. This goes beyond being able to understand the technical aspects of querying a database because you also need to know what questions to ask and why a given set of data will help answer those questions.
- Interpersonal communication: Using your vast technical and analytical skill to find a piece of data that solves a business problem is only the first step in your task. That’s because you also need to be able to effectively communicate what you’ve learned and, if applicable, what steps you recommend be taken by the organization. Communicating clearly and effectively will help ensure your message is received.
Choosing a Degree Path
Not all data analyst degrees are created equal, and figuring out which one is right for you means understanding yourself and your goals before jumping in. Degrees for data analysts exist at every level and with just about any specialization you can imagine, which means that narrowing down why you want a particular degree is important to your educational success.
Ideal Job Title
Data Analyst is just one of a vast array of possible job titles that would fit under this umbrella. Having a sense of your ultimate career goals is important, especially when going about getting a degree because some job titles may require specialized training in one or more areas.
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Some differences are obvious: A healthcare data analyst’s job likely would require knowledge in areas like consumer healthcare or public health policy, while an individual who hopes for a career in business data analytics should consider programs that include business, finance or management training.
Because the possibilities are endless, it is impossible to provide a complete list of potential job titles, not including the obvious one (Data Analyst), that a person could pursue after a data analyst degree, but here’s an idea of the diversity inherent in this job role:
- Forensic Accountant
- Business Data Analyst
- Supply Chain Manager
- Risk Analyst
- Management Consultant
- Compensation and Benefits Analyst
- Health Policy Analyst
- Market Researcher
- Operations Research Analyst
- Budget Analyst
- Machine Learning Analyst
It isn’t always necessary to decide on a job title before you begin a degree path, though. If you don’t have a strong sense of a specific industry you might want to work in, pursuing a generalist data analyst degree could help you figure that out. Or you might realize a few years into a particular type of data analyst job that a different industry is really the right one for you, and at that point, you can pursue jobs in that field or perhaps consider a further degree or certificate program to build any necessary skills you might lack.
Educational Level & Types of Degrees
Some entry-level jobs for data analysts require only a bachelor’s degree, but a master’s degree will be helpful for highly specialized roles. The higher up the educational ladder you go, the more difficult the degree will be to obtain but the more specific the education.
For example, an individual whose eventual career goal is to become a senior-level economist might first get a degree like Bachelor of Science in Statistics. This type of degree would provide them with foundational knowledge of statistics, mathematics and analysis as well as appropriate skills in a variety of basic tools used in statistical analysis.
But that degree alone would not be enough to get a senior-level economist job, so they likely would later need to pursue a graduate degree, such as Master of Science in Economic Analytics, which would provide the necessary education in economic theory as well as further training in the tools necessary to secure a higher-level job.
For many data analysts, a master’s degree ends up being a terminal degree in their educational journey. However, in many cases, further specialized training may be needed, which could consist of a graduate certificate or intensive in a subject or even a doctoral degree. Using our senior economist example, if our theoretical professional would need to conduct academic or laboratory-type research as one of their job functions, they likely would need a Ph.D. in Economics. On the other hand, if their dream job is managing a department or even running their own company, an MBA or Master of Management degree may be required.
The bottom line is that the type of degree (or degrees) you should plan to pursue will depend on both the type of job you want and the specificity of your daily job duties. The more general the job, the lower the required level of education.
Certifications & Licensure
Many data analyst jobs don’t require specific state licensure or professional certifications. But there are some notable exceptions to this, and those exceptions may also inform the degree you pursue and which institutions you consider.
For example, someone pursuing a Forensic Accountant job may need to qualify as a Certified Public Accountant. In every state, CPA certification requires a specific number of hours of professional experience, and in most cases, a bachelor’s degree from a program that’s earned accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). If the licensure or certification you need for your career means earning a degree, even an associate degree, be sure you investigate whether a specific accreditation is necessary.
Non-state-mandated certifications also can help boost your value on the job market. Data analytics certifications like Associate Certified Analytics Professional (aCAP), Certified Analytics Professional (CAP) and IBM Data Science Professional Certificate all are issued by private organizations, usually based on successful completion of a course and/or sitting for an exam.
There is no single license or certification that applies across the board to data analyst jobs, so be sure to do your due diligence in investigating what would be expected before you commit to an educational program.
There’s no doubt that the future success of organizations, business, even government agencies lies in their ability to harness data and make decisions based on analysis of that data. That’s why jobs for data analysts won’t be in short supply, but it also is the biggest possible sign that getting a data analyst degree could be a wise investment, regardless of your current career level.