The Value of a Distance/Remote Learning MSc in Business and Data Analytics?
Given the state of the world — with both a focus on Data Analysis and the inability to travel due to unforeseeable COVID lockdowns — being able to progress in your quest for an MSc without these being a blocker is of immense value.
The study of data analytics is a popular topic these days. Our world has gone through multiple cycles of industrial evolution. Most recently, every business has needed to onboard technology in their day-to-day in order to stay competitive. Today, thanks to each business being part of the technological ecosystem, a lot of data is available both internally and externally for companies to extract information to their advantage. Because of this transformation, the skills needed to build data processing pipelines and leverage tooling for visualizations are quickly becoming an expected part of everyone's toolkit. Moreso, an ever-expanding set of non-engineering roles are focusing on data gathering and analysis as the platforms which make the technical aspects easier become more widespread.
That’s where an MSc comes in handy, but is it worth it to do one while doing a full-time job?
Continuing to work full-time while you study has many benefits. It allows you to have a more financially sound way of covering your costs without taking a loan and contributes massively to your career development since you do not need to sacrifice any of your work deliverables to pursue your academic goals. You can empower your career both by the skills you learn through an MSc as well as achievements through your ongoing job.
Over the past two years, I have been pursuing a Masters of Business Analytics from the University of Bath, a play on the standard in-person course. There is still up to a year left to go, but the program has already been a useful and productive learning experience that has paid dividends in my day-to-day job without negatively impacting the targets I have set myself at work. This is in part thanks to the extended length of the program, which makes it such that teaching modules do not overlap.
When I was looking into information about others going through similar programs, I could not find many tangible answers to my questions. I will try to provide answers to those questions here. I hope this will allow others to have a smoother experience in the decision-making process of whether to go on this journey or give more importance to the alternatives.
Who should do a distance MSc?
- cannot afford to take a year or more off to pursue in-person learning, or who do not want/cannot afford to get a loan or down-pay the programs they wish for
- do not want to pause their career to upskill or who are not interested in the academic experience (being in-person at the university)
Upskilling is possible even through free online programs (or less expensive ones). Hence, pursue a Masters if you are interested in obtaining the qualification itself (perhaps you are pursuing it for the standards at your company or to keep yourself up to standards for a future Ph.D.).
One powerful reason for my desire to pursue a formal Masters is not only the knowledge and qualification but because I am locking myself down in a promise that is fairly hard to break. Once the program has started, I owe it to myself and the money I have spent to make the most of it.
This psychological aspect contributes to learning new skills that may be easy to neglect. Yes, the knowledge is already out there on the internet, and advisors (both free and paid) are available outside of academia. But whether you have a passion for the subject or not, it can often be quite difficult to get down and dirty with new topics without something to push you into doing it.
What if I have a family or other obligations, even beyond a day job?
If you have a family, you may be better off going for a part-time program, where you will get time off from work in order to attend classes, do assignments and prepare for exams. This way you are not juggling between working your day-to-day job, interacting with family and friends, and having to work on your MSc.
Where possible, extending an MSc over a period of over two years allows you to spend time on a single course/module at a time. This makes things very manageable depending on the constraints of your personal life.
How does it compare to an apprenticeship?
Apprenticeships are usually designed for less qualified people or for those working for companies who already have onboarded these types of programs. These companies usually embed the apprenticeships into their day-to-day so they can leverage people who are learning (and get tax deductions). This can be a great way of going into a company, but also to upskill from entirely unrelated backgrounds.
Apprenticeships may be in some cases more accessible than an MSc, but are not necessarily the same level of qualification.
This is where you have to make the call of whether it is important for you to gain the Masters qualification or only the knowledge. There are other ways of obtaining knowledge, some free in nature, others premium, but still much more flexible and less costly.
When should I start?
If you are asking yourself this question, the answer is likely: right now.
The younger and fewer responsibilities you have, the more fit I believe you are for online programs, as they add even more weight to your shoulders outside of your day job.
Additionally, consider if you are confident in your default productivity and job stability. While the online programs are quite flexible and can be extended over many years, it will sometimes feel like a burden and interfere with your personal life.
Thoroughly consider part-time options and full-time Masters if these options are suited to your lifestyle. An online option does not mean it is easier. The fact it may span over many years could become quite stressful.
Will the workload impact my career negatively?
As mentioned in the previous sections, consider thoroughly what you’re signing up for as an online program may span a couple of years. The purpose of this type of online program is to allow you to pursue qualifications without having to take time off and to spread out the cost as well. While these benefits may seem a no-brainer, the stress and burn-out you may feel after even the first few months could get to you.
For example, consider being a few months in the program, feeling already as if it is too much over your day-to-day job, and then realizing you still have more than a year to go.
Self-motivation and planning for your assignments and exams are as important as for a full-time program, and slacking off will burn you out in the long run.
What is the application process?
This is normally well documented on the website of the institution you apply to. In my opinion, the most crucial components of the application are the references and cover letter. I believe it is all about coming across as a prospective student who will be able to afford completing the program and cope with the stress of going through it while working full time.
There is less competition than for in-person programs, and it is most likely that you will be accepted, as it is easier for the universities to deliver the program as well, compared to in-person ones.
Will I interact with other students?
This may vary a lot from program to program. In my case, there is expected interaction with other students, some of which are even graded ones. These interactions range from group exercises on internal forums to assignments submitted as a group project where everyone is expected to have contributed.
Is it of the same standard as an in-person MSc (from an employer’s perspective)?
As far as I have observed, yes. You can choose to be selective about how you present your MSc to prospective employers. The knowledge you extract from your program is on the same level as in-person learning. If you get hands-on and involved from your side, you can definitely benefit from the knowledge of the teachers and your peers.
Pursue an Online Masters program if you:
- can leverage some of the free time you have outside of your work schedule
- want the Master’s qualification
- believe it will empower your future career or academic goals.
If instead, you can afford to take a year off and invest in an in-person program at a high-grade university, then by all means consider that approach as your best option.
Finally, make sure to do some research on the program itself. Even if it’s an online program, it is essential to ensure that the program is worth your time and your money.
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