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Business Master’s Now or MBA Later?

Matt Kefford

Matt Kefford - BusinessBecause

Matt Kefford is a writer for BusinessBecause and mba.com.

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You’ve just finished your undergraduate degree, so what next? Should you work for a few years and then enroll in an MBA or should you go back to school and pursue a business master’s degree?

Both MBA and business master’s pay off when it comes to salaries and jobs prospects after graduation. The world’s biggest companies—including Amazon, Microsoft, and McKinsey—hire MBA and business master’s grads.

But choosing between an MBA or a business master’s depends on your career goals and the kind of skills and specialist knowledge you want to get out of a graduate business school program.

MBA vs Master’s: What’s the difference?

So what’s the difference between an MBA and a business master’s degree?

You’ll need to have completed an undergraduate degree to enroll in either an MBA or a business master’s, as both are postgraduate qualifications.

An MBA is a generalist management degree aimed at professionals with at least two or three years of experience, with a curriculum covering a wide range of subjects including finance, marketing, and accounting. A focus on management and leadership is key to the MBA curriculum.

The MBA is taught through a mixture of theoretical learning and practical experiences via company visits, business simulators, and consulting projects. As a class full of experienced professionals, you’ll also have the chance to learn from your classmates and build up a stellar network.

A business master’s degree is usually targeted at recent college graduates, and many programs have no minimum work experience requirement.

Types of business master’s programs include:

Although there are some specialized MBA programs, the traditional MBA degree typically covers all aspects of management from a generalist perspective and programs differ mostly by format: Full-time MBA, Part-time MBA, Online MBA, and Executive MBA.

Business master’s programs, on the other hand, often specialize in a certain areas: Masters of Finance programs specialize in finance, for example, while Masters of Marketing allow students to deep dive into marketing.

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These specialized master’s programs might require expertise in that subject to apply, either through work experience or a related undergraduate degree.

“[These students are] going to be technical specialists; they could well be students who come back later in life for an MBA,” explains Sri Zaheer, dean of the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

The exception is the generalist Master in Management (MiM), which can be seen as equivalent to the MBA but for pre-experience candidates. MiM students typically have 0-2 years’ work experience compared with 2+ years for MBA students.

MBA vs Master’s: Should you specialize?

Do you want to focus on one area, or build a wide range of transferrable skills?

The broad nature of an MBA means you’ll graduate with a more holistic understanding of the various areas of business and better leadership and management skills; perfect if part of your career plan is to move into a generalist management role.

"Strong MBA candidates come from all different backgrounds and industries. What they have in common is a habit of leadership in past and current endeavors, analytical appetite and curiosity, and a penchant for contributing to the success of a community,” says Chad Losee, Harvard Business School’s MBA admissions director.

If your goal is to become an expert in a certain field, you may want to consider a specialized master’s instead. The wide range of master’s options means there is likely to be a specialized master’s available in your chosen area.

If your goal is a career in supply chain for example, a specialized master’s in supply chain management would be your best option to pick up all the relevant knowledge and skills you need—even if you’re new to the topic area.

The key is to work out exactly what your career plan is. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a better idea of how each program fits with your goals, and whether an MBA or business master’s is the right program for you.

Career Planning Guide [mba.com Insider]

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Lastly, you should also consider what is right for you at this moment in your life, as enrolling in an MBA or business master’s requires significant investment of both time and money.

If you’ve recently graduated from an undergraduate program, you might not be ready to commit to another year of studying and may prefer to work for a while. If you’re hesitant about investing your money in a program, you might also want to work for a few years until you’re more financially secure.

Once you’ve decided what you’re capable of doing, there are many different options available including online, part-time, and accelerated or extended programs. A handful of schools are even now offering MBA programs to students with no prior work experience.

Choosing between a business master’s now or an MBA later isn’t an easy decision. But by establishing what you want to achieve, and what you’re capable of doing, you can take the next step in your career.

Our free guide, Finding Your Best Program: A Guide for Undergrads, gives you the expert tips and guidance you need to confidently narrow your options and identify the programs that make the most sense for your needs, preferences, and career goals.


Matt Kefford

Matt Kefford - BusinessBecause

Matt Kefford is a writer for BusinessBecause and mba.com, writing stories and creating social media content covering business education. He's also a contributor to the GMAC Connect Blog.

Matt is an experienced media professional, he’s previously written for national news organizations including The Sunday Times and i News, as well as a number of regional titles. He’s also worked in social media for Sky News.

Matt has a B.A. in History from the University of Leeds and an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Sheffield. He is also a gold standard accredited journalist with the National Council for the Training of Journalists.