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An MBA Versus a Master’s: A Matter of Degrees

The more education you earn, the greater the salary you have and the lower the unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But is a graduate degree right for you? Start by understanding the nuances between a master of business administration, known as an MBA, and a master’s degree (M.A. or MS).

The differences are a matter of breadth and depth.

Breadth of an MBA

An MBA exposes you to an overview of business administration, marketing and management, with courses such as finance, leadership, organizational behavior and technology. The MBA is geared toward helping you learn and then hone the general management competencies it takes to get ahead.

An MBA program provides a holistic and analytic framework for dealing with business problems and opportunities. You learn where a company’s money comes and goes by understanding its financial statements, how to best find customers and promote a product by developing a marketing plan, and how to get clear picture of a company’s financial health from an audit report. Understanding your own business’ environment as well as those of other organizations, from vendors or would-be partners to competitors, will help your company be successful.

The universally recognized MBA gives you considerable flexibility, both in how you go about earning the degree and in what you can do with it – from general and specific management positions to consulting. Since it is so valued and recognized, most universities try to offer a rich variety of options for accessing their programs – part-time, full-time, evenings, weekends and online.

Depth of a Master’s Degree

With a master’s degree, you take a deeper dive into coursework covering a particular subject to earn an advanced education in a specialized discipline. There are many different types of master’s degrees, including Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Accountancy, etc.

A Master of Arts (MA) degree is typically granted in psychology, communication studies, history, linguistics, political science, public administration or other fields in social sciences and humanities. An MA degree can also be awarded in a business, math or science subject or a combination of different fields. A Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership, for example, is an interdisciplinary master’s that integrates psychological theories and business principles.

A Master of Science (MS) degree is normally in science, engineering, math and engineering subjects. For example, An MS in Information Technology degree covers curriculum such as Database Systems Management and Information Systems. Like an MA, an MS can also be available in other fields.

Many master’s degree programs are intended as preparation for professional credentials such as the Chartered Financial Analyst or Certified Public Accountant certifications. This is not typically the orientation of MBA coursework.

In the Long Run…

While both degrees have their merits, you may find that one versus the other may be more relevant, or give you a leg up, in a particular business sector. Tap into your industry network to find professionals who will share their perceptions of which degree may have more value in your setting. And research the salary and job descriptions you can expect with either degree once you’re out of school to help with your decision.

But know that both an MBA and a master’s may set you apart from the crowd and potentially give you a nice bump in earnings. Either way, you’ll be ahead.

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