Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Abound MBA.

What Is the Difference Between an MBA and a Master’s Degree

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: MBA »

The difference between an MBA and a Master of Science degree is simple. A Master of Business (MBA) is just one type of master’s degree, one that covers the ins and outs of general business administration. Most MBA programs feature core classes that help students grasp skills in management, economics, and finance within the broader context of business administration. A master’s degree, on the other hand, is any graduate program in a specific field, including such common areas as education, accounting, engineering, and finance.

What isn’t so simple is figuring out which of the two advanced degrees to pursue. If you are struggling to decide which path is best for you, consider your personal and professional goals, your educational and professional background, and the time and money you are able to devote to your education.

MBA Concentration vs. Master of Science

MBA programs are becoming increasingly customizable so that students can hone their skills for specific business sectors. Common concentrations include accounting, business analytics, entrepreneurship, human resources, management, marketing, project management, and finance, among others. But not all business-related degrees are Masters of Business Administration.

For example, Sacred Heart University offers an MBA with a concentration in Business Analytics as well as a Master of Science in Business Analytics. With the former degree, the bulk of the curriculum covers the broad business functions associated with business administration with elective courses that delve deeper into business analytics. Conversely, the Master of Science in business analytics will focus solely on preparing graduates to collect, analyze, and interpret data.

Think of the MBA with a concentration as a general education in business supplemented by courses in a specific sector, whereas a master’s focuses solely on a specific field.

Consider your personal and professional goals.

Knowing that an advanced degree in business can take so many forms, you should first get a good idea of why you are pursuing an advanced degree in the first place. Do you want to be a role model for your children? Do you want to earn more money? Do you want to move up the ladder in a specific industry? A master’s might be beneficial if you’re looking to advance further in your current industry, while an MBA might better support you if you are looking to lead in business. The answers to these questions can help you decide which route is best for you.

Consider your educational and professional background.

MBA and master’s programs all have unique requirements that vary depending on the degree, and even depending on the school itself. Some programs require entrance exams, letters of recommendation, previous work experience, or strongly encourage a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Generally, MBA programs are likely to accept students who have strong work experience but do not hold a business-related undergraduate degree, while a master’s in business typically requires students to have a bachelor’s in business.

When thinking about what program is right for you, consider where you are in your life and career. Are you prepared to take a GRE or GMAT exam? Do you have the work experience needed to be a competitive MBA student? Some students find that a master’s degree in their field is more beneficial to their career than a general MBA would be. Others find the opposite to be true; an MBA with a concentration gives them a competitive edge while honing their skills.

Consider the time and money.

An important factor to consider is how much time and money you can realistically devote to getting a degree. Master’s degrees and MBA programs usually take about 2-4 years to complete; however, MBA’s are becoming increasingly more flexible with online options and accelerated, hybrid, and other part-time formats. Because of the nature of the core/foundational curriculum, more professors are available, thus making the courses available in more locations and/or modalities.

A master’s degree generally follows a more traditional format that requires students to devote more of their time on campus, which could interfere with one’s existing work and personal obligations.

Every school and every program is different, so be sure the degree you’re considering will fit your current schedule. For example, if you’re interested in attending Mercer University for business, you can pursue an MBA at its Atlanta campus, Macon campus, or online. But if you want a fully focused degree in Business Analytics, your only option would be out of its Atlanta campus.

Another factor to consider is affordability. While both pathways are sound investments in your future, it is important to consider the cost of each program. There are many ways to make a graduate degree affordable. Look for programs that offer employment reimbursement/deferment or programs with discounted tuition or online classes

So what’s the right choice?

The choice between an MBA and a master’s degree can be confusing. While they share many similarities, the important distinction is that an MBA is simply a type of master’s degree in general business administration, while a master’s degree in business involves more concentrated study in areas like accounting, business analytics, or human resources.

If you are a business professional looking to enhance your acumen to better lead your team or take on new responsibilities, an MBA is a great option. If you have those goals as well as an added interest in a specific niche, you might want to pursue an MBA with a concentration in a certain area. And if you’re a Human Resources whiz looking to hone your expertise, a Master of Science in Human Resource Management might benefit you more than a general MBA with a concentration in HR.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. Seeking an advanced degree, regardless of the type and format, is a challenging and inspiring endeavor, and the rewards you reap will positively impact your career and life. As you decide which path is best for you, keep your personal and professional goals, your educational background, and the time and money you can devote to your degree in mind. We’re here to help. Abound: MBA narrows down your options and gets you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.

Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Abound MBA.