Can You Become a Data Analyst Without a Degree?

If you have a head for numbers and a passion for extracting insights from data, you may be thinking of how to become a data analyst. When pursuing a career in data analytics, a professional degree may be preferred, but is not always a given. Data analysts can work in a range of settings and across multiple industries, so educational requirements often come down to the employer and scope of a role.

This page will highlight some of the common steps in the journey toward a career in data analytics.

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What Does a Data Analyst Do?

Before explaining what a data analyst does, it’s important to understand one key question: what is data analytics? Data analytics is the practice of extracting insights, predictions, patterns and other useful information from datasets. To put it simply, data mining and predictive analysis are the name of the game for these professionals. As enterprises become more reliant on big data to drive growth, data analysts use that information to make recommendations to stakeholders regarding business decisions and strategies.

A data analyst may also be responsible for designing or maintaining databases, preparing data reports for key decision makers and data warehousing (i.e. the practice of aggregating data from one or more sources). As a result, being knowledgeable in database querying languages is generally considered an asset. SQL databases use Structured Query Language to relay data to and from the database and begin to make sense of the data. Data analysts may also use object-oriented programming languages, like JavaScript and Python, which splits code into “objects” and “classes” that can be made repeatable and sequential.

This is not to be confused with the role of a data scientist. The difference between a data analyst and a data scientist involves how they use said data. A data analyst’s job description may include examining data, creating a data visualization to communicate findings to stakeholders and identifying trends. On the other hand, a data scientist’s responsibilities typically involve designing new processes and methodologies for producing and modeling data.

Types of Data Analysts

There are different types of data analyst jobs to choose from based on the industry you prefer and the specific responsibilities a particular role requires. Some common data analyst job titles may include:

  • Financial data analyst – A financial data analyst studies financial data and monitors market activity in order to forecast trends and help their managers make informed business and investing decisions.
  • Clinical data analyst – A clinical data analyst works in the healthcare field supporting medical researchers. They ensure that the data produced from clinical trials was collected accurately and ethically.
  • Business analyst – A business analyst typically works as a liaison between a company’s IT department and its executive stakeholders. They examine data to obtain insights on how a business can improve or streamline its operations, workflows or margins, and communicate those findings to the enterprise’s key decision makers.
  • Human resources data analyst – A human resources data analyst uses insights gleaned from data to report on and improve such HR issues as employee performance and employee retention, among others.
  • Pricing data analyst – A pricing data analyst examines business and market trends to help businesses determine how to price their goods and services in order to maximize profit and garner a loyal customer base.

Common Steps to Becoming a Data Analyst

What are the qualifications to become a data analyst? When figuring out how to become a data analyst, there are some common steps to consider, like earning a professional degree and gaining valuable data analysis skills during an internship or other professional opportunity. Some aspiring data analysts choose to earn bachelor’s degrees in information technology, while others attempt to bolster their chances on the job market by pursuing a master’s degree. Everyone’s career path is different.

For those asking yourselves “can you become a data analyst without a degree?” the answer is yes. There are a variety of certification programs and bootcamps designed to teach relevant skills to those looking to begin a career in data analytics. Some of those programs can be completed online.

Let’s examine some common steps for aspiring data analysts. Note that landing a data analyst position through the pathway described below isn’t guaranteed.

Step 1: Learn relevant skills.

Wondering about the requirements to become a data analyst? Each role comes with its own set of responsibilities, but gaining relevant skills is one way to kick off your journey to becoming a data analyst. A candidate doesn’t have to wait until they enroll in a bachelor’s degree program or bootcamp to become familiar with the basics of data analytics. Some professionals start by learning the basics of SQL, Python and other programs on their own time with free online courses or other avenues where they can tinker with the necessary coding.

Step 2: Enroll in a data analytics bootcamp or other online program.

If a candidate is looking to bypass earning a bachelor’s degree, they can enroll in a boot camp conducted in person or online. Whether candidates go for an online data science bootcamp or an online data analytics bootcamp, they can expect to spend a couple of months learning. Such bootcamps are designed to teach the coding, programmatic and statistical skills most relevant to a career in the field.

While there are a wide range of bootcamps and short courses available, it’s important to note that there are also undergraduate and graduate degree programs you can consider.

Step 3: Get certified.

Bootcamps give an overview of the skills relevant to careers in data analysis, but a candidate can always opt to receive further certification in SQL, Python or other programs and statistical methods in order to beef up their resumes and demonstrate their commitment to the field.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Data Analyst?

You may be wondering “what kind of education do you need to be a data analyst?” or “is it hard to become a data analyst?” and how those questions factor into the time it takes to become a data analyst.

Everyone’s journey toward becoming a data analyst is different—filled with its own unique challenges, advantages and potential setbacks—regardless of whether you solidify your data analytics skills by pursuing a bachelor’s degree or by completing a boot camp. A bachelor’s degree in data analytics or a related discipline can typically be completed in four years, or even longer, if the student is attending school part-time. By comparison, a boot camp program in data analytics can usually be completed in about six months. Be sure to check all the details of your desired bootcamp program as you map out your path to becoming a data analyst.

Data Analyst Salary and Job Outlook

When deciding whether to pursue a career in data analytics, questions to consider include: “are data analysts in demand?” and “how much is a data analyst paid?” You may also want to consider how related careers are faring.

As more and more businesses rely on big data in their decision-making, demand for data scientists is growing rapidly, according to a 2020 MIT Sloan Management Review article. Depending on the company and sector, data analysts and data scientists may work closely together laying the groundwork for one another, as detailed in a 2016 IBM Analytics report [PDF 1.2MB].

Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide occupational data on data analyst jobs, it does offer statistics on related, data-centric roles like operations research analyst. The BLS notes that the median annual salary of operations research analysts was $82,360 in May 2021. Meanwhile, employment of operations research analysts is projected to grow 25% through 2030.

Salaries and career outlook for data analyst roles can vary upon specialization. For, the BLS reports that financial analysts earn a median salary of $81,410, and can look forward to a projected 6% growth in job prospects between 2020 and 2030. Meanwhile, as of 2020, the BLS reports that management analysts (sometimes called business analysts) earned a median annual salary of $93,000. The job outlook for management analysts is above average, with a projected 14% growth in job openings between 2020 and 2030. Finally, computer systems analysts earned a median salary of $99,270 in May 2021 and can look forward to a projected 7% job growth from 2020 and 2030.

So, is data analyst a good career? Only you can decide. Prioritize the factors that matter most to you. Factors like work environment, job demand, earning potential and your personal interests can help you figure out if data analytics is the field for you.

Data Analyst Career FAQ

When researching how to begin a career in data analytics and what data analyst skills you’ll need to be able to compete for open data analyst jobs, you’ll likely have questions. We’ll answer some commonly asked questions here.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Data Analyst?

There are no hard and fast qualifications required to become a data analyst. That said, candidates typically learn the following programming languages: Structured Query Language (SQL), R or Python statistical programming, MATLAB and Apache Hadoop. It also helps to have a firm foundation in statistics, machine learning, data visualization skills, data cleaning and database querying.

Is It Hard to Learn Data Analytics?

No two data analyst jobs are alike and each position demands its own unique skill set. Not to mention that the field is constantly evolving. In that regard, there’s no set path to becoming a data analyst, but you may complete an online data science course to master the technical skills professionals use on the job. When picking between online short courses and degree programs, consider your learning style. Does the format of the former work for you or do you prefer to attend classes in person as part of a degree program?

You can also work on honing soft skills to help you tackle real-life challenges. Soft skills and traits like intellectual curiosity, a comfort with math and coding, acute attention to detail and a tendency toward proactive problem-solving may prove useful.

Where Do Data Analysts Work?

Depending on their job title, a data analyst can work in a variety of settings, including investment banks, hedge funds, private equity firms and other workplaces in the finance world. There may also be opportunities for data analysts in the tech industry and healthcare. The skills involved in interpreting and visualizing data can be useful in a number of industries, especially those where executives are increasingly looking toward big data to guide their decision making.

Can a Data Analyst Become a Data Scientist?

A data analyst may transition to data science. While a data analyst role involves the interpretation of data trends to influence business decisions, a data scientist position typically requires a relatively different set of data analytics skills. Whereas you may be able to break into a data analyst role by learning the relevant skills on your own or by completing a boot camp, data scientist roles may require an advanced degree since the position generally includes designing data modeling processes, algorithms and predictive models from scratch.

Interested in a data analyst role? As mentioned above, there is more than one route you can take to break into the field. Whether you opt for a full degree program in data analytics or choose to complete an online short course, you’ll learn relevant technical skills that can be applied across roles and industries.

Last updated April 2022