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You have decided to work towards a graduate degree, in one of the world’s top universities. Fantastic!

But it’s never quite as simple as that. When you look more closely at the words “graduate degree”, you are not sure whether you should opt for an MBA or an MS or an MA or…the list goes on.

In our latest Jamboree feature, we bring you a detailed analysis that will help you decide, and provide a fact based way to settle the eternal MBA v/s Master’s degree debate. As with many such questions, there is no correct answer that is applicable for every single person: you will need to look at a short list of key parameters, determine where your grad degrees of interest score on each of them, and how you match up to their requirements, and then make a choice, with the help of experts. If done systematically, it is surprisingly easy. Let’s get started!

  • First, you need to answer a few high level career questions for yourself

Before answering the MBA v/s Master’s question for yourself, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions. First, what is your career priority? If a comfortable lifestyle for yourself and your family is priority #1, then a lucrative career is the first aim. In that case, if you have some aptitude for a career in business management and relevant experience, you might lean towards an MBA.

If, on the other hand, your priority is satisfaction at work, and if the line of work that will keep you happy has nothing to do with leading businesses or people, you could probably consider advanced studies in your undergraduate field of study, or in a field you have shown interest and aptitude in (the latter is important, as it will help you qualify for grad school). For example, if you have worked in and been successful at robotics, choosing an MBA even if you do not have any management aptitude / experience / interest may not be wise.

After opening your own eyes to your true career priorities, you need to realize that not all grad school options will be open to you, and try to match your qualifications and skills to a realistic set of options that you can aspire towards. You will want to aim for a highly ranked school in a country abroad with high level universities, as far as possible. If your course of choice is such that you will not qualify for such a school in such a geography (always check with career counsellors and grad school experts first!) it might make sense to look at a different Master’s or MBA course.

  • If, after answering the questions above, you still have a specific Master’s course and an MBA as realistic options for yourself, use these steps to decide

Imagine that you have two great options in front of you, both of which you can follow given the correct preparation and application. Also, let us assume that you have equal interest in and aptitude to succeed at both. One is an MBA degree – the magic seal of approval that millions worldwide work towards every year. One is a Master’s degree in a field you have expertise in – final proof of excellence in your chosen career. Doing both is an option, yes – but in a swiftly moving world, it is always difficult to invest two additional years in a second graduate degree. Therefore, you will need to choose one. Here are the parameters on which you should base your prioritization:

How good are the exit options?

The #1 reason anyone invests in a graduate degree is to secure one’s long term future and provide the best career options. To this end, you must first look at the placement and research recruitment options for your MBA and your grad school paths. If the median salary, the top 50% of companies recruiting, and the research institutes / PhD exit options are all top notch and respected names in the field, you can be sure that the exit options are top tier. You must do this not only for the MBA and for your chosen Master’s stream, but also for your realistic target colleges within each – you will be applying to colleges, and not to the programs as a whole.

In general, top MBA programs worldwide have more diverse and more lucrative exit options than most other Master’s programs, but super specialized Master’s programs (a few in law, a few in cutting edge science, etc) can also be very lucrative. The only way to know for sure is to crunch the numbers for your exact fields of interest!

How many places are available for you in your career paths of interest?

This is a subtle point that many miss. If you follow the path of a blue chip MBA, you have management positions open in pretty much any company worldwide. If you get an advanced Master’s degree in a specialized field, you have strong job / research prospects open in that field, but the number of positions is much lower, of course.

What you need to find out in the latter case is: are your target colleges likely to put you in a strong place to ensure that you can get one of those few positions? If yes, that degree is a good investment. When there are fewer slots open, you have to double check that you can definitely occupy some of those slots. Better safe than sorry!

What is the profile of the last 2-3 cohorts admitted?

Even if your test scores seem to be in the range that will get you into either an MBA or into a different Master’s degree of your interest, that does not guarantee admission. It is always useful to deep dive into some of the profiles of students admitted to each program, and to look at what percentage of them are from your geography, and have a similar work experience / professional / research experience spectrum. This will give you an idea of the level of competition involved – it is always easier to get into a program where your profile is not over-represented in the applicants involved.

A useful follow up to this activity is to connect with 5-10 current students in the programs of interest, and to ask them questions about their admits, about the daily workload and campus / student life, and about professional options (internships, industrial exposure, research exposure, and career options). This will give you real time information on the points that really differentiate one from the other, and make sure that your data is more practical than theoretical.

The bottom line: you need to look only at Return on Investment in either case. The MBA degree will likely be 10%-30% more expensive, but that difference will probably be paid off in a year’s work. Focus heavily on your career options post degree to decide on an MS v/s an MBA.

  • Even if you are sure about a graduate degree in Management, an MBA is not the obvious answer nowadays

In case a graduate degree in Management is what you have been working towards for the past few years, you might think that an MBA is your only option. However, that is not true in every single case: depending on your undergraduate specialization and your past work experience, you might want to look at a Master’s in Engineering Management (MEM) degree, or at a Master in Management (MIM) / Master of Management degree.

How does the MEM degree differ from the MBA degree?

Here’s the executive summary: an MEM degree can usually be completed in less than 15 months, as compared to 2 years for most top MBAs. An MEM degree is a way for technology professionals to leverage considerable experience in the engineering field quickly, if they are sure they want to stay in tech. An MEM degree can cost 30-50% less than an MBA, due to the lower duration primarily. Finally, an MBA degree does have a larger number of general business courses, and does open more doors for your career in fields outside technology management. However, for professionals who are sure that they want to be technocrats or that they want to work in supply chain / high tech, the MEM degree is emerging as an interesting cost effective option!

Should you choose an MBA or an MiM?

Once again, the answer depends…on where you are in your career, primarily. For the world’s top MBA programs, the median number of years of work experience of professionals entering any cohort is between 4 and 7. However, people entering an MiM program are usually much younger, and usually have fewer than two years of work experience, if at all. The investment in an MiM degree is also much lower than that needed for an MBA program. However, an MiM degree is definitely not a “replacement” for an MBA degree: the MBA still reigns supreme when it comes to senior management positions. An MiM is seen as an interesting early career option for many undergraduates who want to pursue further studies in management in the short term, rather than work in junior positions in the industry, or who want to move laterally into the business field right away.

To sum up the debate on MBA versus other business Master’s degree: if you’re already a few years into your career, an MBA is the best option. If you’re just starting out, you could look at Master’s courses in management as well!

From the extensive analysis above, it will be clear to you that the Master’s v/s MBA question is not one that has a single simple answer for everyone out there. If you want to craft your customized career strategy, our experts at Jamboree can help you. Book an appointment at today!

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