Do I Need a Degree? How to Become a Data Analyst

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Data Analyst


In our increasingly data-driven world, the role of a data analyst has become pivotal in deciphering the wealth of information available to organizations. As businesses seek to make informed decisions based on insights derived from vast datasets, the demand for skilled data analysts continues to surge .

This article aims to guide you through the steps of how to become a data analyst. It also explores the career itself—What is a data analyst? What does a data analyst do? What skills are required?—as well as salary and job growth data.


How to Become a Data Analyst

Becoming a data analyst typically involves a combination of education, skills development, and practical experience.

In this section, we discuss the ins and outs of pursuing a career as a data analyst.

Do you need a degree to be a data analyst?

Employers typically require data analysts to possess a bachelor’s degree in data analytics or a relevant field such as statistics, mathematics, computer science, or information technology. Higher-level positions – or positions in specific areas such as healthcare data analytics or business analytics— might require a master’s degree.

There may be other routes you might follow rather than earning a degree. There are a number of bootcamp programs in data analytics. You might also look into professional certificate programs or self-study courses.

Courses for a bachelor’s degree in data analytics

Coursework in data analytics programs could vary, with some programs focusing more on technology and others on business processes. However, the following are some typical courses you might encounter:

  • Statistics
  • Data Visualization Fundamentals
  • Information Analysis
  • Database Systems
  • Data Warehousing
  • Data Mining
  • Big Data
  • Data Wrangling
  • Machine Learning
  • Introduction to Python
  • Applied Data Analytics
how to become a data analyst

How long does it take to become a data analyst?

The time required to become a data analyst could vary based on several factors, including your prior education, existing skills, and schedule. Bachelor’s degree programs typically take 4 years to complete, while master’s degree programs take 1 to 2 years.

Bootcamp and certificate programs vary more widely in length. Bootcamps might last anywhere from about 3 to 6 months. Certificate programs could take a few weeks to 2 years to complete. And if you are following a self-study route, the amount of time you need depends on your current skills and how much time you have to commit to your studies.

What Is a Data Analyst?

While the role of a data analyst might vary somewhat across industries, data analysts in different sectors share a number of commonalities in terms of core skills, tools, and purpose.

Defining the data analyst career

A data analyst is a professional who interprets, processes, and analyzes data to help organizations make informed decisions. Their role involves collecting, cleaning, and visualizing data, as well as extracting meaningful insights to address business challenges.

Data analysts could play a crucial role in helping organizations leverage data to gain a competitive advantage, improve decision-making, and optimize business processes. Their work spans a range of industries, including healthcare, finance, education, manufacturing, retail, travel, and insurance.

What does a data analyst do on the job?

Duties might vary depending on the industry and type of data analyst, but following are typical responsibilities and tasks associated with the role of a data analyst:

Collect data

  • Gather relevant data from various sources, such as databases, spreadsheets, and external datasets
  • Ensure data accuracy and completeness before analysis

Filter and clean data

  • Clean and preprocess data to remove inconsistencies, errors, or missing values
  • Transform data into a format suitable for analysis

Analyze data

  • Apply statistical techniques and analytical methods to identify trends, patterns, and relationships in the data
  • Conduct exploratory data analysis (EDA) to gain initial insights into the dataset

Create visual representations of data

  • Create visualizations, such as charts, graphs, and dashboards, to present findings in a clear and understandable manner

Generate reports

  • Generate reports summarizing key findings, trends, and actionable insights
  • Communicate complex technical results to non-technical stakeholders

What tools do data analysts use?

Data analysts use a variety of tools to gather, process, analyze, and visualize data. The specific tools could vary depending on the tasks at hand, but typically they use some of the following types:

  • Spreadsheets
  • Statistical software
  • Database management tools
  • Data visualization tools
  • Data cleaning apps
  • Collaboration and documentation apps

What skills do data analysts need?

Data analysts need a combination of technical, analytical, and communication skills to excel in their roles. Following are some key skills that may be essential for data analysts.

Technical skills

Data cleaning – Data analysts should know how to clean and prepare data for analysis. This includes removing errors, identifying outliers, and transforming data into a format that could be analyzed.

Data analysis and exploration – They need to be able to analyze data and explore it for insights. This includes using statistical methods to test hypotheses, identify trends, and make predictions.
Statistical analysis – Understanding statistical tests and tools may be crucial. Familiarity with mean, median, variance, standard deviation, correlation, regression, and hypothesis testing is typically fundamental.

Creating dashboards and reports – Data analysts need to be able to create dashboards and reports that communicate insights to stakeholders. This includes using tools like Tableau, Power BI, and Microsoft Word to create interactive dashboards and reports.

Data visualization – Using tools and libraries like Tableau, Power BI, Matplotlib, Seaborn, or ggplot2 to represent data in a visual format that’s easy to understand.

Soft skills

Communication—Clearly conveying findings, both written and orally, to non-technical stakeholders. This includes creating reports and presentations that provide insights about the data.
Problem-solving—Coming up with solutions to business problems using data-driven approaches.

Types of data analysts

Data analysts specialize in various domains and industries, and their roles may differ based on the specific focus of their work. Here are some common types of data analysts, each with its own set of responsibilities and skills.

Financial analyst

Financial analysts evaluate financial data to guide businesses in making decisions about investments and provide insights into business performance, budgeting, and forecasting. They tend to focus on a specific industry, produce type, or geographical region.

Operations research analyst

These professionals evaluate operational processes, supply chain data, and efficiency metrics to improve business operations. They collect data from sources such as customer feedback, sales history, and existing databases. They develop, test, and utilize analytical tools and support software.

Market research analyst

Marketing analysts monitor market trends to optimize marketing strategies, gather data about competitors and consumers, and analyze marketing campaigns. They design data collection methods and analyze the data using statistical software. They present their findings using tables, graphs, and written reports.

Business analyst

Business analysts focus on enhancing business processes by identifying opportunities for improvement and delivering data-driven insights. They deal with many aspects of a business, including IT, organization, and staff development. They need to understand the business strategies and goals of their company.

Computer systems analyst

These professionals collaborate closely with organizational managers to identify the specific role information technology (IT) systems should play within the company. This involves meticulous research into diverse technologies to evaluate their potential impact on enhancing organizational efficiency. They perform cost-benefit analyses on IT systems and design new systems or find ways to improve existing systems.

  • The Master of Financial Technology and Analytics from Wake Forest University strengthens your financial, technical, and leadership capabilities to stand out in the workplace. 
  • Build a deep understanding of emerging technologies, risk management, artificial intelligence, and visual analytics.   

Are data analysts in demand?

In today’s data-driven landscape, the significance of data analysis extends across nearly every industry, underscoring its integral role in shaping informed decision-making processes. The ubiquity of data has given rise to a surge in demand for data analysts.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides job growth information for several types of data analysts:

  • Financial analyst: 8% (faster than average)1
  • Operations research analyst: 23% (much faster than average)2
  • Market research analysts: 13% (much faster than average)3
  • Computer systems analysts: 10% (much faster than average)4

How much do data analysts make?

Salaries depend on a number of factors, including the industry, the type of data analyst, and geographical location. Following is 2022 salary information for several types.

Financial Analyst

Median annual salary: $96,2201
Highest-paying industry: Securities, commodity contracts, and other financial investments and related activities $106,3905)
Highest-paying states (annual mean wage)6:
New York: $140,880
Wyoming: $129,420
New Jersey: $127,090
Alaska: $117,030
California: $116,480

Operations Research Analyst

Median annual salary: $85,7202
Highest-paying industry: Federal government, $124,6107
Highest-paying states (annual mean wage)8:
Virginia: $121,460
Alabama: $109,160
New York: $108,260
Hawaii: $107,920
Maryland: $107,260

Market Research Analyst

Median annual salary: $68,2303
Highest-paying industry: Management of companies and enterprises, $82,7409)
Highest-paying states (annual mean wage)10:
District of Columbia: $103,430
Washington: $100,340
New York: $94,140
Delaware: $93,050
New Jersey: $88,420

Computer Systems Analyst

Median annual salary: $102,2404
Highest-paying industry: Management of companies and enterprises, $105,30011)
Highest-paying states (annual mean wage)12:
California: $129,330
Washington: $127,330
New Jersey: $123,690
Massachusetts: $121,100
Colorado: $119,020


Embarking on the journey to become a data analyst could be a dynamic and rewarding endeavor that demands a combination of education, skills development, and practical experience. Whether you’re driven by a passion for deciphering complex datasets or a desire to contribute to informed decision-making, the path to becoming a data analyst could offer not only a wealth of opportunities but also a chance to shape the future through the power of data.

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