An MBA may be one of the highest-paying master’s degrees, but it’s not the only graduate-level business degree you might consider. In addition to the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, there are numerous Master of Science (M.S.), Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) and specialized master’s degrees in the field. The biggest differences between MBA programs and other business master’s degrees are the focus of the curriculum and the level of experience expected from applicants.
Types of Master’s Degrees in Business
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A non-MBA business master’s isn’t one degree but rather a collection of different degree options. There are specialized master’s programs like Masters of Accountancy (MAcc) and Master of Finance (MFin) degrees. Many non-MBA graduate degrees are Master of Science programs, often offered in business subject areas such as business analytics, supply chain management, finance, economics, marketing and sports management.
Master of Arts programs in business are less common but may be the best fit for topics like business communication. Business-related Master of Professional Studies programs are often highly specialized, including degree programs such as the business of art and design, the business of fashion and enterprise architecture and business transformation. Occasionally, graduate students will find a program with the title Master of Science in Business Administration, but these programs are generally very different from a traditional MBA program.
Some Master of Science in Business Administration programs are for current MBA holders, building on the studies they already completed with specialized coursework. Other Master of Science in Business Administration programs prepare students for doctoral study.
An Emphasis on Breadth Rather Than Depth
What mainly distinguishes MBA programs from other graduate-level business programs is the scope of the curriculum. A Master of Business Administration program typically includes coursework in all aspects of business administration, while non-MBA business master’s degrees are generally more specialized.
Most MBA programs include core coursework in strategic business management, operations management, organizational leadership, economics, finance, accounting and marketing. MBA students also build out expertise in one or more areas of concentration through additional coursework in chosen areas of specialization. Possible specializations may include any major area of business studies or, at certain business schools, niche areas of study like sports administration, fashion merchandizing and energy and sustainability.
A non-MBA master’s in business program will specialize in one subject area and focus on allowing the student to develop a depth of knowledge in that area. For example, in a Master of Accountancy program, you might take classes in advanced financial reporting, analysis of financial statements, advanced federal taxation, advanced auditing and assurance, data analytics in accounting and issues in accounting practice. Master of Finance students take core coursework in areas like corporate financial accounting, modern finance foundations, corporate finance, financial markets, investment management, investment banking and finance analytics.
Students of specialized business master’s degree programs can tailor their education through elective coursework. For example, Master of Finance students might study mergers and acquisitions, financial engineering, consumer finance and healthcare finance.
The Amount of Experience Required for Admission
Another important difference between an MBA and a business master’s degree is the required work experience. Each business school and degree program set their own admissions requirements and preferences. However, MBA programs generally expect applicants to have more work experience than other types of business master’s degree programs. For admission into most MBA programs, having between three and five years of work experience is ideal, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Students in non-MBA business master’s degree programs often have a less extensive work history. In many cases, you can get into other types of master’s degree programs in business with between one and three years of work experience, or even no full-time professional work experience at all. Of course, that doesn’t mean that only early-career professionals can apply to master’s degree programs in business. While the youngest business master’s students are as young as 21 years old, it’s not out of the question for students in the program to be in their mid-thirties or older.
In comparison, the average age of MBA students accepted into graduate school in 2020 was 26 and a half years old, according to U.S. News & World Report. Among students in top-ranked executive MBA (EMBA) programs, which are intended for working professionals who are further along in their careers, the average age was considerably higher, at 37 years old, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Some MBA programs accept early-career professionals, including those with no full-time work experience.