A Question of Degree: Will an MS or an MBA Do?

By Gail Whitaker, DM, Former University Dean of Business and Management

CTU Business and Management Degree - MS or MBA?There’s a lot of confusion among students over the difference between an MBA and an MS in business management. There’s even more confusion when it comes to answering the question of: “But what’s right for me?”

The first matter is simple. It comes down to one advanced degree that is more general and one that is more specialized.

The MBA is designed to equip the individual with an overall core knowledge of business, with courses in finance, economics, marketing, accounting, strategy and leadership. An MBA provides a balance, giving preparation for general management positions in most businesses. The degree gives the individual exposure to a good understanding of all of the key functions necessary to running a business – but not a deep dive into any of them.

The MS, on the other hand, offers deep dives into coursework that is aligned with a specialized, or more directed career path. While the student pursuing an MS will take some core business courses, most will be related to the specialty.

Typically, the MBA student will have a concentration in a particular discipline, versus the MS student’s specialization. Here’s the difference.  For the MBA in, say, project management, the student will take only three or four classes about project management. Almost all the courses for the MS specialty, however, will be about project management.

While the MBA is generally considered the “gold standard” for business master’s degrees, it is the MS that has shown the most growth in applications since 2009, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council. That could partially be a function of the growing complexity of today’s business world, translating into more specialized educational programs to meet businesses’ and students’ needs.

In the end, getting a master’s degree – of whatever stripe – is a huge accomplishment. It’s how well you leverage what you’ve learned that’s going to count over time.

Do you still have questions? Gail recently hosted a live Facebook chat where she answered questions about advanced degrees and other business related topics. And stay tuned for a follow-up blog post with tips on how to determine if an MS or MBA is right for you.

Image credit: Flickr/ Paro for Peace