Earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) vs. a Masters in Management (MSM) Degree

The first Master of Business Administration (MBA) was introduced over a century ago, and while it has become the de-facto career enhancer for many professionals, the Master of Science in Management (MSM) started giving it competition in the early 2000s. Yet, in spite of name and curriculum similarities, the MBA and Masters in Management degrees address two distinct groups of business professionals and, in turn, deliver separate outcomes.

As you think about entering a new stage of your career, here are some of the key differences and similarities between the MBA and the Masters in Management.

The General Differences Between an MBA and a Masters in Management

According to a 2019 report from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), while more graduate business applicants consider an MBA, demand for Masters in Management degrees has increased 5.4 percent year over year.

Yet, more applications could correlate with awareness: roughly 20 years ago, European universities introduced the MiM as a leadership-emphasizing alternative to the more function-oriented MBA, and since then, its popularity spread to the other side of the Atlantic where it is more commonly referred to as an MSM. For professionals weighing their options for advancement, the MBA has been—and still is—geared toward individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree in a business discipline and have spent multiple years in the workforce. Their career trajectory has extended from entry- to mid-level roles and, perhaps through mentorship, networking, or experience, are being considered for a management position. An MBA puts them on par, if not above, their competition.

The Masters in Management benefits professionals with a somewhat different profile. These individuals recently finished a bachelor’s degree—perhaps in business but often a humanities or liberal arts field—and have spent no more than two or three years in the workforce. Although they’ve gained a foothold, they’re considering a more business-related role. The MSM, in turn, supplements their bachelor’s degree and on-the-job knowledge with a general understanding of business, leadership, and management concepts.

These differences, then, influence how MBA and MSM candidates apply to their respective programs:

  • Although requirements aren’t always uniform, MBA programs frequently expect professionals to have at least three years of related business experience. MSM degrees, meanwhile, don’t stress this requirement or are angled specifically to recent college graduates.
  • In terms of test scores, most MBA programs require GMAT results. MSM programs, meanwhile, don’t always specify standardized tests, although GRE scores may be sufficient.

Post graduation, the Masters in Management helps professionals with a few years of experience transition into an entry-level business role or move up to a higher-level position within their existing organization—one requiring more management and business skills. MBA graduates, already on the track to advancement, clear this hurdle, often transitioning from a lower- or mid-level finance role to a department head or management personnel.

That said, the choice isn’t an either-or scenario. The MSM degree often catalyzes a professional’s career, helping them assume more responsibilities within an organization. Within a few years, if they continue along that path, returning to school to earn an MBA—utilizing some of their MSM credits to shorten the timeframe—may assist with reaching that next stage.

As a result of these differences, the average Masters in Management student is usually 23 years old, while the typical MBA candidate is in their late 20s or early 30s.

Masters in Management vs. MBA Course Content and Structure

The framework detailed above shapes the structure and content of MBA and Masters in Management programs.

In general, MBA programs focus on functional business disciplines and allow students to select a concentration. The result combines a comprehensive overview of higher-level business knowledge with an area of specialization geared toward their current or desired career path. Woven within are leadership, management, and organizational skills that set the candidate up for an advanced, supervisory role in their existing workplace.

Although MBA curricula varies between schools, formats, and concentrations, programs cover advanced accounting, marketing, economics, operations, strategy, and finance concepts, offering insight into all key organizational operations. On the job, these professionals then understand how each department functions and the effects of particular business decisions.

MSM degrees spend less time on the functional subjects, although they’re not written out completely, and emphasize the leadership and management aspects. These programs aim to graduate professionals ready to lead and effectively manage teams in a range of organizations and environments, no matter if the student stays in their current field or branches off into business. Even through marketing and finance courses, Masters in Management students refine their communication, team-building, and decision-making skills and learn to become effective, transformational leaders.

Building off these differences, schools like Wake Forest University structure the MBA with a cohort model, no matter if courses are held on-campus during the day, online, or in the evenings after work. This format encourages relationship building, helping students connect with their professors and classmates and build their networks. This factor, too, allows MBA students to learn from their collective professional success and continue expanding their knowledge. 

The Length of MBA and Masters in Management Programs

Several variables need to be taken into account, including if a student wants to attend full time or earn a degree around their existing employment. In the latter scenario, more MBA programs offer a part-time or online format; in the case of Wake Forest’s on-site MBA, courses are held in the evenings or on Saturday. Because schools expect more recent graduates to apply to the MSM, those  programs offer less flexibility.

In comparing full-time on-site programs, the MBA is structured to take roughly two years to complete, while the MSM is designed as a one-year course of study. The number of credits a student needs to take reflect these differences: MBA programs sometimes have double the credits, some of which go toward the concentration.

Based on these factors, students evaluating both choices should ask themselves how much time they can afford to take off from the workforce. If you can’t take two full years off, consider earning a Masters in Management or opt for a part-time evening or online MBA program. Because of this duration, MBA programs aren’t always recommended for recent Bachelor’s in Business graduates; instead, gaining experience is more likely to benefit your career. Because Masters in Management programs typically last a year, recent graduates simply compound their bachelor’s with a business-centric credential.

Evaluate Your Career Goals

For mid-career business professionals, a Masters in Management could end up being redundant. Through your bachelor’s and work experience, you have already gained a general, if not more nuanced, understanding of business.

On the other hand, students who graduated with an English, history, or mathematics degree may find this information helpful, especially if they’ve only spent one or two years in the workforce. Expanding upon their specialized knowledge often increases their marketability and opens up additional career paths.

The MBA degree proves to be more of an asset for mid-career business professionals for a few reasons. One, coursework builds off their past education and work experiences, and two, the additional knowledge gained prepares them for more on-the-job responsibilities. For these professionals, their years in the workforce and advanced degree go hand-in-hand in terms of advancing their career.

As a result, the MBA validates a candidate’s business acumen and helps them move into a role where they manage multiple people, teams, or departments.

Both degrees end up giving professionals a boost. Based on figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, management professionals will see 7% more demand between 2018 and 2028. The MBA and MSM prepare employees to take advantage of these opportunities. GMAC’s 2019 survey found that 90 percent of Fortune Global 100 and 500 companies seek out MBA talent, offering an annual base salary of $115,000. With a Masters in Management degree, candidates often see an $80,000 base salary.

Advance Your Career with a Masters in Management or an MBA from Wake Forest University

Whether a Masters in Management or an MBA is a better fit for your career goals, Wake Forest University helps you reach the next level with top-ranked programs and flexible on-site options. The Economist ranked our MSM third in the nation, while US News & World Report considers our MBA degree the best part-time program in North Carolina. Interested in taking the next step? Request more information today.