Which Degree Course Should I Choose For A Career As A Data Analyst?

University graduate

When The “Best Days Of Your Life” Are Drawing To A Close.

I’ve covered off my own painful experience of choosing a degree course when I was at school in another article. The memory of that pain and indecision is still raw, even after twenty plus years.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the degree choice decision you make at 17/18 will ultimately dictate the exact path of the next fifty years of your career. But that’s really not necessarily the case. Unless you want to follow a strict career path like medicine or law, I don’t think it has any real detrimental impact over the long term. Much more emphasis should be placed on the opportunities you take post-graduation.

In hindsight, my own subject choice didn’t necessarily hurt my CV when I applied to work in Financial Services. (Note: I studied Accounting.) If it had been Maths, Economics or Physics it would have been equally as useful to me in practice i.e. not particularly.

The fact that I’d ran a mile from the world of accounting after graduating didn’t work against me too much. I meandered my way to banking via the Civil Service, software development, Health Service Trust and a couple of bouts of self-employment.  In fact, the variety of industries I’d encountered between graduating and starting at the bank actually worked in my favour. I’d been lucky to see the inside of a few different working worlds. And the degree itself was nothing but a piece of paper to me by then.

What Do I Look For When Recruiting Analysts?

When I’m recruiting data analysts, I don’t rank a candidate any higher because they studied Data Analytics or Maths instead of Music or English. I’m much more interested in what you have actually DONE and how you communicate that than which degree course you studied.

For junior roles, it’s harder to prove you have the necessary chops when you don’t have the history to base your interview answers on. That applies just as much to those who have a more “relevant” degree or Masters in Data Science or Analytics.

Even the general requirement of having to possess a Bachelor’s degree really frustrates me about traditional recruiting. I know many candidates with good business experience who would fall at the first hurdle in the majority of recruitment openings. Self-starters with years of client management skills but no university degree. Which one should we put more value on? It’s a no-brainer.

Taking their time to study for a degree would take their focus away from becoming better analysts on the job. And all that just to fulfil some box-ticking exercise to eliminate a misguided barrier to entry. What a monumental waste of potential talent.

We set the degree requirement to filter out more noise in terms of unsuitable CVs received. But it also stops good candidates from non-traditional education and career backgrounds getting through. It’s a terribly unfair side effect.

We need to encourage more people into analytics. Not pull up the drawbridge and fill the moat to protect ourselves and keep everyone else out.

The bottom line is to not get caught up in the analysis paralysis of degree selection. Personal experience tells me that choosing a course because you think you might want to work in that area often leads you down the wrong path. It may be years before the twists and turns lead you into a place you actually want to get to.

Find a course that interests you at a college or university that suits your situation. If you can boost your analytics skills through side projects or part-time work then make the most of it. Even if you haven’t and decide after graduation that you want to get into analytics, make the most of what you did do.

Find you can’t demonstrate critical analysis skills you should have developed in projects working towards your History or English degree? Red flag time. I’m going to wonder what the hell you did for those three or four years. And that’s where the really interesting interview questions will start…