MBA or Specialized Business Master’s? Which Degree Is Right for You?

Jan 7, 2013
Tags: B-School, Choosing the Right School, Masters of Finance, MBA

JMcQuaidSubmitted by Jana P. McQuaid, Assistant Dean, Masters Programs, Virginia Commonwealth University 

You are interested in pursuing an advanced business degree but are not sure which is right for you, an MBA or a specialized masters degree. What factors should be considered when exploring options? 

An MBA is a professional degree that focuses on developing functional business skills such as accounting, finance, and statistics, etc. and then applying these skills in business applications. Most MBA programs require some work experience prior to enrollment as classmates often learn from one another’s professional experience. MBA programs also emphasize the other skills needed as a manager such as effective communication, negotiation, and collaboration. Many programs do offer concentration areas within the MBA program such as supply chain, finance, and marketing, however these tend to be a small percentage of the course requirements. 

In contrast, specialized degrees contain coursework that is typically isolated to that particular area of study. For example, a Master of Science in finance program will focus primarily on advanced financial skills and tends to be more theoretical in nature. Master of Science degrees often require an undergraduate degree in a similar academic area and/or required prerequisite courses.

How to decide? First, focus on your career objectives. If you are interested in moving up within management ranks in an organization or if you have an undergraduate degree in another discipline and are looking to learn the functional business skills, the MBA would be a good choice. However, if you would like to go deeper into a discipline and become a specialist you should consider a specialized masters degree. For example the Master of Science in Finance might be a better option for a student interested in achieving a Chartered Financial Analyst designation. In addition, a specialized degree might be the right option for those interested in a PhD in that same discipline. 

Second, determine your eligibility for the MBA. Do you have the required work experience? If you are just graduating with your undergraduate degree you may want to consider pursuing a specialized program or working for a few years and then enrolling in an MBA program. Many students do both! 

The important thing is to do your homework. Evaluate your career goals and determine the educational path that will best help you achieve these goals. Research the requirements for positions you aspire to reach and talk to those in the field of interest about what program they chose and why. There is no one right answer, however through this process you should be able to narrow down the best option for you. 

At the VCU School of Business we offer an MBA with or without concentration and nine specialized masters programs that cover most business disciplines. We also offer dual degrees with the MBA in Master of Science in Information Systems and Sport Leadership. Learn more here.