MBA vs. Specialised Masters — Which is Better?

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With numerous institutions offering thousands of graduate programs, finding the perfect course for you can be a challenge. Before looking into specific schools and courses, one needs to answer one crucial question. Which is the right choice — an MBA or a Specialized Master’s degree? Here are some key differences between the two:

The Goal

MBA programs are more comprehensive and are meant for students to gain functional knowledge across all business aspects. A specialized Master’s program focuses on a specific business area and provides an in-depth and precise understanding of that subject. It is mostly designed for candidates with little or no professional work experience. It helps them develop advanced skills and knowledge that make them more equipped for the increasingly competitive job market. Students can seamlessly transition to graduate school to pursue coursework relevant to their career goal, instead of the 3–4 years of full-time work experience required for MBA courses.

The Specialized Master’s

Master’s courses are designed for aspirants at the beginning of their career or for graduates who wish to pursue a higher level qualification before entering the job market. MBA degrees utilize professionals’ experience and peer learning, so they have a prerequisite of at least two years of full-time professional experience. While the MBA is suited to candidates from any academic or professional background who want greater career flexibility, management roles, or business ownership, Master’s programs are the better option for highly specialized knowledge in a specific area. Many highly-specialized Master’s programs require an academic background in a relevant field of study or even some work experience. Non-consecutive Master’s programs are the exception as they are targeted at those who want to change their academic field of research or switch careers.

The MBA

The MBA is a multi-subject degree that encompasses topics from leadership and finance to marketing and technology. At the same time, the business Master’s is a highly specialized degree that dives in-depth into one topic such as management, accounting, information technology, human resources, etc. An MBA qualification offers a broader view of business management through its curriculum of multiple business disciplines. Pursuing an MBA course is a better choice for those whose goal is executive leadership, general management, or entrepreneurship. On the other hand, a business Master’s degree helps students become real experts in one functional area, building on the skills gained at the undergraduate level and developing their knowledge of a particular area. The curriculum focuses on developing technical and analytical skills, rather than leadership and management as in an MBA program. For that reason, a business Master’s course is suitable for professionals who aim to pursue careers of thorough expertise in subject-matter.

A Bachelor’s or an equivalent is a prerequisite for enrolling in either type of program — a Master’s or an MBA. MBA students often obtain a Master’s degree before enrolling in the course, which shows that gaining a Master’s degree and continuing to an MBA adds value, both personally and professionally.

Eligibility Criteria

The programs can differ in duration and requirements. MBA candidates usually enter business school after a few years of professional experience in the workforce. They aim to take their career to the next level and spend an average of two years on their business degree. Specialized Master’s programs can be as short as one year and often accept students with little or no work experience. They offer an accelerated way to gain the know-how required to secure a specialized position.

Career

A Specialized Master’s degree helps students become experts in a functional field, build on the skills acquired at the undergraduate level, and develop their knowledge in a specific area. The curriculum focuses on developing technical and analytical skills rather than management and leadership in an MBA program. Hence, a Specialized Master’s is suitable for professionals who aspire for careers of thorough subject-matter expertise.

Affordability

An MBA program can cost more, but it also offers a higher return on investment. Companies pay well for an experienced professional who carries a more extensive range of business knowledge. A Specialized Master’s program also provides excellent returns and is often a more affordable route to successful careers. Most employers who seek employees with Master’s level education specifically require an MBA degree. However, many may accept a Master’s degree in a similar or related field depending upon the profession.

Another alternative beyond a traditional MBA or a specialized non-MBA master’s degree is an MBA with a formal specialization in the discipline or industry that interests you most. There’s a long list of concentrations available, from broad categories like finance or healthcare to more specific ones such as sports management.

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An MBA will be a better choice if your professional career requires an overall business grasp. On the other hand, if you are clear of your job interest and want to become an expert in a specific field, a specialized degree could be your best bet. Eventually, it’s about visualizing the direction of your career path and selecting your route accordingly. It’s a good idea to seek a counselor’s help, talk to institutions, do your research, and introspect.

We live in a world brimming with innumerable opportunities for career development and learning. It would be best to build a strategy that will take you to where your dream destination is.

I am a career counselor, and a study abroad mentor.