What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Operations Research Analyst?

If you’re great at advanced math, an operations research analyst career can help you put your statistics skills to work in the business world. The only thing standing in your way is a college degree. Studying computers and mathematics in college is a major decision, but also a potentially lucrative one, since these subjects have one of the highest work-life earnings by major at $3.1 million.

What an Operations Research Analyst Does

In every industry, organizations – from huge corporate conglomerates to small businesses and nonprofit charities – have to handle the routine of their daily operations with as little wasted productivity, time and money as possible. Operations research analysts are professionals with an extensive mathematics background who analyze data to help organizations solve problems like how to use resources, set prices and develop production or distribution schedules.

First, operations research analysts identify problems using both quantitative (data-based numerical) research and qualitative (interviews with clients, managers and employees) research. They assess the data, using statistical analysis software and modeling software, to find solutions to those problems and the likely consequences – good and bad – of making these potential changes. They report their findings to management and influence the decisions the organization makes and the policies it adopts.

An Education in Mathematics and Computers

The first step to a career as an operations research analyst is to earn your undergraduate college degree. Majoring in operations research isn’t a bad idea, if you happen to attend one of the relatively few schools that offer such a specialized degree program. However, many operations research analysts get an education in mathematics, computer science, physics or engineering, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Regardless of degree path, aspiring operations research analysts need to cultivate strong mathematics skills in advanced areas like calculus, linear algebra and statistics. They also need technical skills to use statistical, database and modeling computer software.

Holding a bachelor’s degree can be sufficient for securing entry-level operations research analysts positions, but it’s not enough for high-level roles, which many operations research analyst jobs are. To have more employment options or move up in your career, you will need a master’s degree in a subject like operations research, analytics and management science, computer science or engineering, according to U.S. News & World Report. At the graduate level, students will study advanced mathematics and computer science extensively.

Operations research analysts earn a median salary of $72,100 per year, according to the BLS, although those in industries like manufacturing have the potential to earn significantly more. Opportunities in this field should grow rapidly, with the BLS anticipating a 27 percent increase in operations research analyst jobs over a decade. These and other advantages of the career, like its upward mobility, led U.S. News & World Report to rank operations research analyst highly on its lists of the Best Business Jobs, Best STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Jobs and the 100 Best Jobs.

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