How do I decide between an MBA and Other Masters?

Oct 10, 2011
Tags: B-School, Career, Choosing the Right School, MBA, MBA, School Selection

Written by Debra Gonda, Associate Director, Argyros School of Business and Economics, Chapman University

With the burgeoning number of MS programs, the question often arises as to whether you should pursue the MBA degree or instead go for the MS.   The MS requires fewer years of work experience for admission and, generally, is only a one year program whereas most MBA programs require at least two years of work experience and take 1 & 1/2 to 2 years to complete.  But, do they really get you to the same place?  The answer is, not really. 

The MS degree is designed to give you a set of highly focused skills which you can take into the workforce as a technician.   MS programs provide students with a great depth of knowledge in one specialty area, preparing graduates to go out into the workforce with true expertise in that area and do very well.    But, what happens a few years out when you want to move into a more managerial role?  That is when the advantages of the MBA become apparent.  Since the MS program lacks the management and leadership focus of an MBA, many MS graduates will find themselves ultimately returning to get an MBA later in their careers.  In fact, because the MS programs are shorter and require less experience to get admission, some students will use the MS degree as a stepping stone to the MBA – using it to position themselves to gain admission into a top MBA program. 

By contrast, the MBA degree is one of great breadth.  I like to say it is the broadest degree out there.  It prepares students to work in every type of industry and every size organization  - from profit to non-profit,  banking to high-tech, the largest corporation to one’s own start-up venture.  The MBA program exposes students to all the functional areas of business and then allows the students to concentrate in the area in which they have the most interest.   It generally does not provide the depth in the chosen area that the MS does, but there is the benefit of learning to integrate all of the areas of business and take a more strategic approach.  Further, the leadership and management skills gained in an MBA program follow you throughout your career.  The MBA degree prepares you for your long term career, not just the first five years – in fact, in many ways the differences become more crucial as you rise in your organization, and as the employment market changes.   Statistics show that individuals entering the workforce now will change jobs/careers more than 10 times over their work lives.  The MBA with its broad base of business skills and focus on leadership prepares you to change and adapt as you move through those many years of your career.