You need to take a number of factors into account before choosing between Master’s or MBA.
Traditional Master’s or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees add substantial value in the eyes of employers. They are not, however, your golden ticket to success. Studying at such a high level requires serious commitment as the courses move away from the more passive nature of Bachelor’s degrees, where lectures are generally the focus, to collaborative studying where success is measured by one’s own will and motivation to learn and contribute.
This move allows for a more hands-on approach to learning through increased critical discussion amongst peers and the constructive criticism that this brings about. It is the last stage where communicative teaching is of great prominence, since at the PhD level, students’ studying patterns become more insular and research focused. So before you get to that stage, which one, if either, is right for you?
Ideally, a candidate for an MBA degree should have sufficient experience in a field that will provide them with a good knowledge base which they can build on. This is in part due to the format of the MBA programme, which is generally collaborative. Professors serve a more supplementary role to the group activities than in Master’s programmes where they usually lecture students on the specifics of a subject. For a candidate to be considered for an MBA programme, they must demonstrate that they have the relevant experience managing others, or the propensity to do so. This leads to networking amongst MBA students, which is essential for their development as they require both qualitative and quantitative relationships to prosper in business, according to the Chief Executive of the London School of Business , Professor Maurits van Rooijen. This process allows for quality relationships to flourish amongst like-minded individuals with similar backgrounds.
Master’s courses on the other hand do not require any previous work experience, just a graduate willing and able to develop ideas and drive the field forward. If you are looking to get into a career in business but don’t have the relevant work experience, then a Master’s degree in a subject such as economics or finance (which often includes many of the core modules of the MBA programme) is an equally valid alternative. The Master’s will also give you a decisive edge over candidates holding a BA or a BSc. Master’s degrees can be viewed as an extension of the Bachelor’s programme and, as such, require some sort of academic background related to the field of study. Practical experience is not a must for most Master’s programmes even though this can give candidates a better chance of being chosen to partake in the course. This is because it demonstrates a keen interest in, and a reason for, the study — two things that you will need to write about in your motivation letter in any case. In a traditional Master’s course, hard skills are the main focus. In the MBA, students are expected to have adequate hard skills, so soft skills are instead the focus.
Due to the experience needed to join an MBA course, the average age of students enrolled in MBA courses is 27-28 years old. This puts the MBA midway between the traditional Master’s degree and the EMBA (Executive Master of Business Administration) in terms of the age of students on the course. The average work experience of MBA graduates at Oxford University last year was 5.5 years and most of the applicants had achieved a significant amount in their professional life. The MBA requires a more mature, autonomous approach to learning, aided by the guidance of faculty staff. The traditional Master’s degree programmes, which incorporate students with a median age of 24, still require students to learn through autodidactic means such as classroom discussion, but not to the same extent as the MBA.
The MBA focuses on furthering a student’s aptitude for their previously established practical abilities, as well as teaching them how to adopt management and leadership roles. MBAs are very useful for driven business professionals who want to take the next step up the corporate ladder or who want to branch out in a different direction. Tentatively speaking, MBA students are restricted in their progressive potential only by the actual information pertaining to their field, which is limited in comparison to the Master’s equivalent of the subject because of the assumption that an MBA student already possesses the hard skills and knowledge in their professional field. Some executives such as Gary Garber, an HR professional of a finance company in Chicago, see this as a negative factor in the MBA programme, emphasising the importance of in-depth knowledge at Master’s level. Others such as Mattan Griffel, the founder of The Front Labs technical marketing company, feel that in-depth knowledge is unnecessary in a Master’s programme revolving around business studies, such as the MBA.
If however, you are seeking another route to success, one that entails exceptional hard skills and profound knowledge of a subject area, then a traditional Master’s degree could prove to be the better choice. Although considered an extension of the Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree is in fact a standalone programme, which aims to confer specialised knowledge. Marketing is a good example. Let’s say a student has pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing Communications. A classic Master’s route would be to specialise in Branding, PR, or Advertising, all of which are part of Marketing Communications, but large enough areas to be practised individually for a lifetime. The Master’s degree shatters huge areas of knowledge into pieces and gifts students a lone shard in order to transform them into exceptional specialists. If the Master’s was a person, it would be a profession coach, teaching you all the tips and tricks of the trade, so that upon entering the work force, you can practise that profession as if you have years of work experience behind you.
This dilemma represents the core difference between the Master’s and the MBA. Because of the existence of, or lack of, previous work and management experience, age discrepancy, and different career starting points, the two degrees cater to entirely different groups of students. Candidates contemplating which route to take must understand that they are dealing with two options, rather than a single choice between the two. How to make the right decision? Consider where you stand in your personal and professional development, and where you want to arrive with the help of education, and you will have a better answer than any author, book or coach can ever give you.
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