Is a Masters Degree worth it for Business Analysts?

I’ve been getting a lot of advertisements touting the salary increases from getting an MBA or a Masters in something else business related. But with any adverisment, is it really worth it?

I decided to look at this from two angles:

  1. You want to stay an individual contributor
  2. You want to move into management

Is it worth it if you don’t want to be a manager?

I don’t doubt that a lot of people get a bump from it, but I think that some of the people getting a bump from an MBA are transitioning from being individual contributors like analysts or data scientists to becoming people managers. As a result for people who don’t want to do that, I decided to investigate if it was still worth by using data from the American Communities Survey (2013-2017) and comparing the income distributions for individuals in the same occupation and age group (30-40 years old) by their education either a bachelors degree (any field) or a masters degree (ex MA, MS, MEng, MEd, MSW, MBA).

Results from the analysis

For analysts of different types, you can see that there are median increases to wages ranging from 10% to 47%. Compare this to the nominal value of this translates to between $7k to $26k per year depending on the occupation.

Compare this to the cost of a MBA’s or other related masters programs which comes to $50k to $150k to complete a full course depending on the quality of the program. Since we’re comparing the median graduates before and after, you’ll have to use your own judgement into your calculations. These increases aren’t huge if the program has a list price of $50k, but you’re going to only expect to bump up $15k in the case of an Operations Research analyst. Some quick math says it will take at least 3.3 years to make back that amount without taking into account any tax implications or opportunity cost. In fact, one important thing to note though is that the 75th percentiles for masters degree holders is much further out than for BS degree holders so your ceiling will probably increase as well.

Is it worth it if you want to move into management?

It’s hard to say if people get MBA’s and become managers or if the people who get MBA’s want to be managers and already have the qualities needed to do that but just need some extra qualifications to make it.

Using the same data table we can see that the portion of managers in these areas who have masters degrees is substantial at 19% compared to 11% for the working population aged 30-40 years old, suggesting that it helps if you get a masters degree but it isn’t a requirement in all management areas.

Masters degree holders are 19% of all Managers, but only 11.3% of workers aged 30-40 years old.

Most noteworthy, 3 fields stood out with very elevated levels of masters and doctoral degree holders in management and those were:

  • Architectural and Engineering Managers (36% Masters, 5% Other Advanced Degree) : Supervise engineers and architects.
  • Natural Science Managers (39% Masters, 17% Other Advanced Degree) : Supervise the work of researchers, scientists, chemists, physicists, and biologists.
  • Social and Community Service Managers (35% Masters, 5% Other Advanced Degree) : Many social workers get more advanced degrees and coursework that overlaps with health.

Therefore if you work in one of those areas, you may find more benefit than the median person.

Data Table

Analyst Occupations by Salary and Education Level

OccupationEducation 25th Percentile  50th Percentile  75th Percentile 
Management AnalystsBachelors $      56,880  $      80,000  $     113,761
Management AnalystsMasters $      68,337  $      94,699  $     130,853
Budget AnalystsBachelors $      52,950  $      72,683  $      91,534
Budget AnalystsMasters $      62,051  $      80,000  $     103,541
Credit AnalystsBachelors $      42,292  $      56,819  $      74,083
Credit AnalystsMasters $      56,006  $      83,691  $     123,720
Financial AnalystsBachelors $      61,020  $      80,823  $     113,761
Financial AnalystsMasters $      73,956  $     100,000  $     150,000
Operations Research AnalystsBachelors $      57,193  $      75,580  $      99,282
Operations Research AnalystsMasters $      72,479  $      91,006  $     108,725

Proportion of Workers By Education Level

OccupationMaster’s degreeOther Advanced DegreeBachelor’s degreeLess than BS
Administrative Services Managers13%2%34%51%
Agents and Business Managers of Artists, Performers, and Athletes8%5%45%42%
Architectural and Engineering Managers36%5%48%11%
Chief executives and legislators/public administration22%5%46%26%
Computer and Information Systems Managers26%2%50%22%
Constructions Managers6%1%34%59%
Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers3%0%23%73%
Financial Managers22%2%43%33%
Food Service and Lodging Managers4%1%23%72%
Gaming Managers9%0%24%66%
General and Operations Managers12%2%35%51%
Human Resources Managers22%2%40%36%
Industrial Production Managers13%1%37%50%
Management Analysts33%5%43%19%
Managers in Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations20%2%54%25%
Managers, nec (including Postmasters)20%3%39%37%
Medical and Health Services Managers24%6%33%36%
Natural Science Managers39%17%38%5%
Other Business Operations and Management Specialists25%3%48%24%
Property, Real Estate, and Community Association Managers9%2%33%56%
Purchasing Managers24%4%43%30%
Social and Community Service Managers35%5%41%20%
Transportation, Storage, and Distribution Managers7%1%25%68%
Grand Total19%3%39%39%

Methodology

I pulled the data from the raw American Communities Survey data for 2013-2017 and restricted to individuals between the ages of 30-40. The average MBA student is 28, so I decided to focus on the age range after where most of the people would have graduated. After extracting the data, I ran some summaries to calculate the income percentiles and educational distributions.

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