An MBA is one of the most highly respected and sought-after qualifications in the business world, and deservedly so. However, it’s important not to let the success of the MBA overshadow the incredible diversity of options available to you if you want to boost your career. The MBA has brand power on its side, and the title itself carries a great deal of weight, but as with all great brands there are always alternatives available that can be just as effective. A Master of Science (MSc) degree in business or management, for example, can be almost identical in all but name, and in some cases might even prove to be a better choice depending on your goals.
If you are torn about which route to take, or you are just beginning to explore your options for career-shaping further education, this article should help. We will take a look at MBAs and MScs in business, compare the two, and hopefully help with your decision-making process.
The difference between an MBA and MSc
The MBA badge is instantly recognisable on courses and programmes around the world, attracting candidates to some of the top universities and business schools. For most education providers, the MBA is a flagship programme due to its ability to attract excellent talent and command relatively high prices. These high prices are not usually too much of a barrier-to-entry for potential candidates, given that the ideal time to do an MBA is when you have already got a few years of industry experience under your belt. Some of you may even qualify for funding, scholarships or have an employer willing to invest in your future.
MBAs get a lot of glory, and with good reason, but that does not mean MSc options can’t be just as viable. MScs come in a variety of forms and might have different names in different places. Some education providers may refer to them as MAs or diplomas, but all business degrees will have a suffix, such as MSc in International Management or MSc in Business Management. Speaking from personal experience, when I did part of my MBA at SDA Bocconi, there was a course called MSc in Economics and Management, which was strikingly similar to an MBA but shorter in length. It was also cheaper and had a much younger candidate pool. All told, there are probably three times as many MScs in business than there are MBAs, providing younger candidates with more choice and flexibility in where – and what – they study.
In terms of scholarly output and benefits, there’s surprisingly little difference between an MSc and an MBA. MScs might not enjoy the ‘catch-all’ popular title of an MBA, and are often overlooked because of their diverse titles, but they often have remarkably similar content and leverage the same educational resources. For some of you, the MSc may even prove to be a superior choice. We’ll come onto that in the sections below.
The engineering management MSc
There are also specific options for those that wish to pursue an engineering career. Engineers are often the biggest single group participating in an MBA – which is testament to how good the combination of engineering and business is – but there are other options for those who don’t wish to pursue a broader career in business. After all, much of the content of an MBA is incidental to a career managing technical teams or processes.
Engineering management MScs tend to cover operations management, project management, leadership, and technical management. These convey skills on how to optimise operational environments, sometimes including manufacturing, and whilst they will also include a general business element, they tend to focus more on the technical and people management aspects of an engineering division of a company.
The question of affordability
As I mentioned earlier, the MBA is often pitched as a flagship programme at business schools. That’s because they are extremely lucrative and command high tuition fees, and they are in high demand. With an MBA, not only are you paying for a fantastic learning experience, you are also paying for a brand that has been cultivated over many decades. This is certainly worthwhile if you have already got some career experience and can afford it, but if you are at the very beginning of your career journey, it’s probably not the best move.
In fact, you could argue that an MSc is better value for money if you are just starting out in your career or want to start a business. After all, you are gaining access to the same faculty and business school brand for less money. MScs also tend to run over a slightly shorter period of time which is helpful if you want to get your business career going quickly. If you put in the work, MScs will not leave you any less prepared for the world of business. In some cases, an MSc might even be more advantageous, for example, if you are looking to pursue a specific area of business, because the subject matter will be covered in great depth.
Let’s take a look at the difference in costs between MBAs and MScs in business. Currently, an MBA at Oxford University would set you back £63,000, Cambridge charges £59,000 and at Manchester University it would cost £44,000. To study an MSc in business at these universities would cost you £46,800, £38,400, and £14,500, respectively. These are significant price differences!
Which should you choose?
This obviously depends on your personal circumstances and goals, but there are a few key things to bear in mind. Remember, an MBA is designed for people who have already had some industry experience. If you take an MBA, you will be expected to draw on this experience and share it with classmates, using it as a springboard to develop your understanding of business. MBAs are usually longer than MScs and, as we have discussed, are more expensive. This makes an MBA a solid choice for someone with industry experience and the financial resources be that personal financing, a scholarship, or a supportive employer. In exceptional circumstances, a fresh university graduate might be able to leap straight onto an MBA, but it’s rare and not usually recommended.
MScs may not have the same awareness as an MBA, but what they lack in branding they more than make up for in the diversity of subjects and affordability. If you’re in your early twenties or at an early stage in your career, an MSc in business can set you up for a career in business, whether you want to work for a blue-chip or become an entrepreneur.
To summarise, an MBA is not the only route to success in business and management. Don’t discount a variety of MScs in business from excellent schools and universities just because they don’t carry the MBA brand, or you’ll miss out on some terrific opportunities to study at some of the best educational establishments. MScs in business and administration topics are usually shorter, more affordable and, crucially, more suitable for those at an early stage in their career. If that sounds like you, consider an MSc to develop your business skills and acumen.
David Falzani MBE is President of Engineers in Business Fellowship and a Professor of Practice in Sustainable Wealth Creation at Nottingham University.
Photo credit: Delmaine Donson