Masters or MBA Course?

Masters or MBA Course?

One of the most popular questions on TopMBA.com’s online forums is “Should I do an MBA or a Masters degree?” An MBA, Masters in Finance, and MSc in management all have their advantages, but the right decision ultimately depends on your needs as an MBA applicant.

When making a decision as to which qualification is right for you, think about your strengths, where you want to go and what style of course suits you best.

MBA or Masters in Finance?


  • is a ‘post-experience’ qualification in general management
  • It usually requires three or more years of work experience, although it most common for MBA students to have four to eight years.
  • Executive MBA (EMBA) courses, are targeted at those with executive experience, usually ten or more years.

Although some business schools offer specialist MBA courses, the vast majority of MBA courses stress the general nature of education, in order to give students a holistic overview of how businesses work.

As a result, an MBA graduate will emerge from their program with knowledge of several core subjects including: marketing, strategy, leadership, entrepreneurship, operations, and human resources.

David Bach, Associate Dean of the MBA and Professor of Strategy at Instituto de Empresa (IE) Business School in Spain, says that about 25% of MBA class time is devoted to finance and accounting, compared with a Finance MA which consists of 90% finance.

Bach also states that MBA programs “[train] young professionals in general areas of management and also emphasize personal communication, leadership and management skills that cover all areas.”

Professor Bach explains that MBA courses offer students a very firm grounding in other core skills such as operations, HR and organizational behaviour. This he believes, differs from a master’s, which equips students with more specialist knowledge.

Simon Stockley, director of full-time MBA Programs at Imperial College Business School, London, agrees: “The Masters in Finance is a more quantitative degree featuring a lot of pure maths to equip graduates for corporate finance and investment banking jobs.

"It’s a direct response to requests we have from the city. Virtually all of these graduates get careers in financial institutions.”

MBA or MSc in Management?

Results from the QS TopMBA.com Applicant Survey 2009, have shown that the number of young people interested in a business education is increasing, especially in the developing economies of Asia.

Business schools have responded to this trend, by creating courses designed for those with less professional experience. Masters courses are targeted at immediate graduates and those who do not necessarily have work experience.

Stockley says that Imperial College has responded to the trend of younger people who want to get into business schools straight out of university, by offering an MSc in Management program.

The probability of MBA programs accept students with less than three years work experience, however, rare according to IE's Professor Bach: “We require five years [experience] at IE Business School; however we do sometimes take candidates with less experience if they have a brilliant trajectory because we value diversity in our classrooms.”

One of the main differences between an MBA and a master's, says Stockley, is that although a master's does introduce graduates to general management, it is done in a different way to an MBA.

“Some [master's] cover the same material as parts of the MBA but are more didactic in manner with fewer case studies, less debate and a different style of teaching that is more lecture-based.”

MBA courses, in contrast, tend to focus on teamwork, lots of contribution in class, learning from peers and networking and communication skills.

In this sense the professor often takes a hands-off approach, encouraging students’ debates, guiding them towards problems rather than providing conclusions. Thus, allowing students to make and then more importantly, learn from their own mistakes.

MBA or Masters: Specialize or generalize?

Many graduates want to start focusing early.  For instance, if maths is their strongest area, they may not interested in marketing or HR.

The business world needs very strong accountants or HR or operations or people with other specializations, so in that respect, a specialist master's can prove to be the best option for many.

This allows the graduate to get straight into education again, without necessarily having to go into a management position for a few years in preparation for an MBA.

In terms of salary, the MBA is perceived to have a slight edge; however the difference between an MBA and a Masters graduate with four years’ postgraduate experience in a specialization is small.

For those wanting to specialize, the MBA may be too general, and you may feel ready to start studying very soon. Likewise, if you are not yet ready for an MBA, Masters in Management courses are designed for you.

However, an MBA is still rightfully considered a major business qualification, particularly, as Simon Stockley says, if it is from one of the top business schools.

“Reputation is important and people should do as much research as they can to find the school that has the best fit for them.”

Written by QS Blogger
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