The differences between a master’s and an MBA

If you’re trying to decide whether to do a master’s or MBA, there are a lot of factors to take into account. It’s important to first be aware of the differences between the two types of programs. To learn more, we spoke to Kateryna Skytalinska, who is the International Admissions Manager at Geneva Business School.

“At a glance, the difference might seem really simple,” she says. “The master’s degree is mostly designed for young graduates, for students who have just finished their bachelor’s degree. Maybe they’ve done an internship, or maybe they just graduated a few months ago.” (01:08)

Conversely, “An MBA is mostly designed for professionals who have at least two years work experience – sometimes three. An MBA focuses on leadership and management skills that a candidate would obtain upon completing the degree.” (01:33)

MBA programs provide students with an overview of the business fundamentals (HR, marketing, finance) as well as leadership and management skills. On the other hand, Kateryna says that master’s programs are more specialized. While an MBA might contain a finance module, it does not explore the topic in the same detail that a master’s in finance would. 

“A [business] master’s degree mostly focuses on one specific area, for example, accounting, human resources, marketing. It focuses on the expertise of that chosen area from a more technical, practical point of view,” Kateryna explains. (02:40)

The similarities between a master’s and an MBA

Although the programs tend to differ in terms of content and class profile, they share more similarities than differences. According to Kateryna, one shared feature of both a business master’s and an MBA is the amount of group work during each program.

“Both master’s and MBA degrees contain a lot of group projects, which would comprise three or four people working on a specific business challenge together. So there is a lot of group work [in both degrees,” she explains. (11:40)

Another similarity between the two is the work required. Kateryna says that the master’s and MBA programs at Geneva Business School tend to have a similar workload for students.

“At Geneva Business School, the workloads for the master’s degree and MBA degree are the same,” she states. “Even the study hours are the same, so all of our students tend to combine some professional experience (internship, part-time job) with their studies.” (11:15)

Is an MBA more prestigious than a master’s?

From a student’s perspective, MBAs are certainly more popular. According to a recent GMAC survey, 80% of business school applicants are considering applying for an MBA program, compared to just 20% for a business master’s. However, Kateryna highlights a few instances where employers may favor an applicant holding a master’s degree over an MBA.

“A lot of recruiters are aware that a wide range of subjects are being covered in an MBA degree. But, for example, if a candidate is applying for a human resources-related job then the recruiter might be more interested in somebody with a master’s in that specific area. But it really depends on the role that the company is looking for,” she says. (07:59)

Ultimately, Kateryna says that there are too many factors at play to say that one degree is more prestigious than the other.

“It depends on the university, the business school that the candidate graduated from – the ranking and the prestige. But I would say both of them (master’s and MBA) are equally prestigious.” (08:35)

How to choose between a master’s or MBA

So, how do you decide between a master’s or an MBA? Instead of trying to choose based on the perceived prestige of each one, try looking at it from your personal perspective. Think about your own career goals and how each degree would help you achieve them.

“If you have doubts whether a master’s or MBA is more suitable for you, I suggest you, first of all, define what your goal is: why you’re looking for a master’s or MBA, what you would do with it, how it would benefit you,” Kateryna advises. (12:47)

“I would also encourage you to get in touch directly with the admissions managers of your institutions,” she adds. “Most of them would be delighted to schedule a call with you to understand your background and to tell you more about their specific program.” (13:04)

The key to this decision is which one is right for you. If, for example, you’re hoping to launch a career in data analytics, then a master’s in business analytics could be best for you. However, if you’re aiming to land a management or leadership position, an MBA is probably the better choice. Whichever program is the missing link between you and your career goals, that’s the right one for you.