difference between an ms and mbaAs you begin to think about higher education for a business career, a few questions will typically emerge right away. What do I want to do? How much time do I have? What will a potential employer look for? Which degree will set me on the right career path?

Some degrees seem similar at first glance, but deliver completely different experiences. Such is the case with the Master of Science degree (MS) and the Master of Business Administration (MBA).

The Differences Between an MBA and an MS Degree

The difference between an MBA and an MS degree boils down to “breadth vs. depth.”  MS degree holders are largely considered experts in their field, and they bring that knowledge to a specific profession.

Students in a MS program study a specific aspect of business, such as finance, accounting or marketing, in great depth. Instruction is more academic, theoretical and conceptual. Students are among peers who share their high level of interest in the subject. In some MS programs, students prepare for exams to receive certification.

An MBA, meanwhile, covers a wide range of subjects to give students a high-level view of business. Classes cover the spectrum of business activity, from operations management to accounting to human resources. Many programs allow for specialization through elective classes, however students typically do not study toward a certification exam.

An MBA has the advantage of flexibility. It’s a well-known and widely accepted degree that is familiar to hiring managers, and applicable to a wide variety of positions. It is also a management degree, which has value for graduates seeking leadership positions.

Many students can complete a specialized MS degree in 12 to 16 months, as opposed to the 24-month timeframe of a traditional, full-time MBA program. Students often enter into an MS degree program straight out of undergraduate studies, whereas students in MBA programs may have a few years of professional experience under their belts.

Which Degree Should you Choose?

Think about what kind of academic experience you desire, how committed you are to a single area of study and how much flexibility you have over the next two or more years.

Students in specialized degree programs “really want to focus and deepen their knowledge in a specific subject area,” Paula Steisel Goldfarb, executive director of MBA and executive MBA admissions and financial aid for New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, told U.S. News World & Report.

MBA students, meanwhile, are looking at “broad-based skills,” Goldfarb said. “They want to get all their functional knowledge within multiple areas within business.”

When deciding on a graduate program, examine your goals. Are you looking for the broad overview that an MBA offers, or do you want to focus in on a certain area, as an MS program would allow you to do?  No matter what you choose, either of these degrees can help lead to a lucrative and fulfilling career.

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