Affordable alternatives to studying an MBA programme |

Affordable alternatives to studying an MBA programme

By Laura L

Updated Updated

Everybody has different reasons for studying an MBA whether it’s to build networks, gain industry exposure, fill the gaps in your business knowledge, or all of the above.  

If you’re not ready to invest in a full MBA programme, or you’re looking for lifelong learning or professional certification, there are lots of affordable alternatives to give you the skills and experience you need to accelerate your career.  

Business schools are expanding their traditional degree programmes, including the MBA and EMBA, and to gear up more effectively to offer non-degree education. That’s according to Dan LeClair, CEO of the Global Business School Network and former Executive Vice-President at AACSB International.  

Here’s a rundown of some of the affordable alternatives to an MBA programme:  

Strategy and leadership 

A business leader stands in front of their team

Today’s business leaders are being challenged to adopt new patterns of behaviour and visionary thinking to manage complex environmental and social consequences. Insightful strategic decisions are crucial for successful, sustainable business.  

Strategy and leadership development are key elements within MBA programmes, but there’s a range of valuable degrees and short courses available to upskill in this area too. 

An MSc in Strategic Business Management at the University of Law Business School costs around £9,000-£14,000 for a one-year programme with part-time options. This master’s focuses on developing a critical understanding of strategic business and management in a global context, working with real-world practical models to accelerate your career in a rapidly changing environment.  

If a shorter, condensed programme is more appealing, there are a multitude of diplomas and certificates that focus on a specific element of strategy and leadership.  

At IE Business School, you can take a six-week online programme in Leadership & Strategy in the Age of Disruption for just under £2,000. You’ll learn from top journalists from the Financial Times, who analyse disruptive decisions by world leaders so you can gain the insights and tools to become a visionary leader in your industry.  


Entrepreneurs work together at computer

If you’re looking to develop as a successful entrepreneur – finding innovative ideas with the ability to make them viable – a course in entrepreneurship could give you the skills you need to thrive. 

Compared to the foundational business knowledge and skills provided by an MBA, a master’s in entrepreneurship is designed specifically for those with an entrepreneurial mindset.  

Fernanda Hermanson studied an MSc in Entrepreneurship at Trinity College Dublin, a year-long full-time programme that costs around €15,000 (~£12,685).  

She said: “[It’s been] foundational in understanding why my previous ventures had gone wrong, and how to adapt my clients’ ideas for better success. Understanding how to effectively test the market, find funding, and make the most of your networks have been lifechanging for me.”   

Alternatively, The Wharton School offers a series of entrepreneurial short courses on topics from launching your start-up to financing and profitability. Each course lasts four weeks and costs US$79 (~£66) for online access. The school even offers a programme in How to Build a US$1 Billion+ Unicorn, an executive level certificate that helps business leaders and entrepreneurs discover what it takes to scale companies to $1 billion valuations.  

Finance and accounting 

Colleagues work through financial figures

If you have a more foundational knowledge of business but lack the financial skills to drive profit and investment, a finance and accounting course could be the ideal solution.  

You’ll find financial short courses and certificates in abundance from higher education institutions and private providers, so finding the quality programmes at an affordable rate will be essential.  

Harvard Business School’s Leading with Finance certificate helps students to develop a toolkit for making and understanding financial decisions in business. The six-week online course costs US$1,750 (~£1,463).  

If a more comprehensive programme is what you need, the MSc in Corporate Financial Management at the GISMA Business School in Berlin or the MSc in Finance, Leadership and Management at the University of York could both be great options, offering a more in-depth education in finding effective solutions to complex financial problems.  


A marketing team works on a project

If your business leadership skills are up to scratch, but you’re at a loss when it comes to marketing your company or you struggle to speak the language of marketing experts within your organisation, a specialised course might give you what you need to grow. 

In MBA programmes, marketing is usually an optional module, but a master’s in marketing can provide a more in-depth understanding. They do sometimes come with a high cost for a postgraduate degree, however.  

The Master in Marketing programme at HEC Paris is the top ranked marketing degree in the QS Business Masters Rankings 2022, and comes with a cost of €28,750 (~£24,318). The second ranked programme is the MSc in Marketing Science at Columbia Business School in New York, with a price tag of over US$105,000 (~£87,771) for two semesters.  

That said, there are many short courses and certificates to develop your marketing knowledge without the large investment. At McCombs School of Business in Austin, Texas, you can enrol in a short course on Driving Business Success with Digital Marketing, a two-day programme aimed at developing ground-breaking digital marketing campaigns, for under US$3,000 (~£2,508). 

Data and technology 

Hands point at analytics data on laptop

There is a growing demand for business education that specialises in data and technology, and many MBA programmes have begun to provide core modules in these areas to produce tech savvy business leaders.  

At Oxford Saïd Business School, financial knowledge meets technology with the Oxford Fintech programme, a six-week certificate that aims to navigate the digital transformation of financial services and demonstrate the digitalisation of money. It’ll cost £2,200 to boost your fintech skills.  

In the US, MIT Sloan School of Management, offers an online short course in Digital Business Strategy: Harnessing Our Digital Future that offers the practical skills to implement digital transformation strategy. Meanwhile, Imperial College Business School in London offers a nine-week course in Digital Transformation at an affordable £1,280.  

Alternatively, a master’s in Business Analytics from ESADE Ramon Llull University in Barcelona ranks fifth in the QS World University Rankings for Business Analytics 2022. Students can connect directly with leading data scientist employers around the world like Amazon, Microsoft, Santander and Telefónica. The one-year full-time programme costs €17,600 (~£14,888) with the opportunity for an internship.  

Sustainable business 

A woman speaks on phone surrounded by boxes

As the climate crisis continues to escalate and consumers are choosing more ethical brands, joining the revolution of sustainable business practices is an important part of building a successful and conscious brand.  

An increasing number of business schools are starting to build in sustainability-focused programmes including MBAs, master’s degrees and online certificates.  

At OBS Business School, a Master in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainable Leadership will prepare you to lead organisations on long-term sustainable strategic plans and apply corporate social responsibility in your company, for €7,500 (~£6,344) for 12 months. Or an MSc in Sustainable Management & Eco-Innovation at Rennes School of Business in France will help you to apply sustainability-related knowledge to responsible business practices and ethical management.  

The world-renowned University of Cambridge offers an eight-week course in Business Sustainability Management. For £2,200, the online programme addresses the growing need and prevalence of sustainability practices within business and will provide you with the tools to pioneer meaningful change. Plus, students gain access to a global alumni network of nearly 9,000 business leaders around the world.  


Consider what it is you want to achieve from your business education and how an MBA might compare to some of the alternative options for return on investment.  

CEO of the Global Business School Network and former Executive Vice-President at AACSB International, Dan LeClair, said on lifelong learning: “We need individuals to be able to navigate these learning spaces themselves, to know the opportunities available at schools, through universities, LinkedIn Learning, and other non-degree education providers. It’s about ensuring individuals know enough about themselves to understand their own learning needs.”  

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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