MBA vs. Specialized Master’s Degree Programs | ApplyMBA Blog | Apply MBA

MBA vs. Specialized Master’s Degree Programs | ApplyMBA Blog

MBA vs Other masters program

London Business School recently launched a Master’s in Financial Analysis (MFA) program for students with little or no work experience. This program is another addition to a growing number of specialized master’s degree programs launched by business schools in recent years.

What value does a specialized master’s degree program add as compared to that of a full-time MBA program? What key factors should you consider while choosing such program? What are the eligibility criteria for getting admissions into these programs? This section attempts to answer some of these questions.

In the past, full-time general MBA was the most common business degree. Even though MBA programs offer specialization courses during the second half of the course, it does not necessarily lead to students choosing a career related to their specialized field. This may be one of the factors why specialized master’s degree programs are gaining ground on MBAs in recent years.

Specialized master’s degree programs are designed for students who wish to enter in a particular business field only, for example, a master’s degree in accounting, marketing, finance, data analytics and numerous other fields.  

Similarly, there are a number of programs dedicated to building a career in fashion management, luxury brand management, healthcare, industrial engineering and so on. A conservative estimate would put the total number of such programs on different subjects at fifty or more.

Before deciding whether you need to get a specialized master’s degree, you must answer whether you need training in multiple business fields or in a single field only.

If you are convinced that you want to build expertise in a specific field only, there is no reason to avoid specialized master’s degree relevant to that particular subject. The expertise and the network you develop in these programs are of great value and help you kick-start your career.

Specialized master’s degree programs are much narrower and much more focused program than an MBA. It gives good knowledge of the area you choose and is more specific or technical in nature. Once you complete the program, you get a job in your area of expertise. So, for example, if you are clear that investment banking is for you, Master in Finance program can be a more suitable option for you.

An MBA, on the other hand, is a flexible program and it gives you training in multiple fields – thus enabling you to explore different career options. Companies, typically, prefer an MBA while recruiting for managerial roles.

Interestingly, candidates who complete specialized master’s degree program go on to pursue an MBA after four to five years of work experience.

Some of the leading specialized master’s degree programs offered by business schools are:

London Business School – Master in Finance
Columbia Business School – Master in Marketing Science
The University of Pennsylvania – Master in Accounting
MIT Sloan – Master of Business Analytics
Bocconi – Master in Green Management, Energy, and Corporate Social Responsibility                  

The above list can be expanded by including master’s degree program offered by Berkeley, Kellogg, Harvard, Chicago, Oxford and other leading schools. There are many courses on offer which serve as an alternative to an MBA program.

It must be noted, however, that if you wish to pursue training in multiple fields or become a general manager, an MBA will be a more suitable option.


Master’s degree program gives you a “deeper dive” into a subject and at a lower cost than an MBA. If you are clear that you want to build a career in a particular field, these courses can be more suitable for you.

Many of the master’s degree programs can be completed in 12 months than a two-year MBA.

A major attraction of specialized master’s degree program is that they can be completed straight after an undergraduate degree. This is unlike an MBA, which requires at least two years of work experience and necessitating a career break.

In the US, many of the master’s degree programs can be classified as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) qualifications. Courses with this classification can offer non-US students an additional 24 months on their visas to remain in the country.

Economic and political uncertainties and increased competition have caused greater demand among employers for “well-rounded” employees who have deep knowledge of a particular field. Specialized master’s degree programs provide students an intellectual maturity and independence to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

For a country like China and India, where students face intense competition in the job market, having a specialized master’s degree offered by schools in the US and in Europe give them a great advantage over their peers. 


According to GMAC’s 2016 Application Trends Survey Report, Master in Finance continues to be the most popular specialized master’s degree program. For the second year in a row, a majority of the Master in Finance programs reported growing application volumes.

Top schools providing specialized master’s degree program are helped by a rise in applications from emerging markets, particularly India and China. In 2016, about 50 percent of all international students in the Financial Times’ ranking of global master’s in finance programs is from China.

One of the newest programs in the master’s degree space – Master in Business Analytics – has seen growing demand in recent years. As per the GMAC report, more than 90% of the schools offering business analytics program reported growing application volume.


Unlike MBA where we have dozens of top global MBA ranking, we don’t have a similar ranking system for the majority of specialized master’s degree programs. The absence of such ranking makes it difficult to get a complete picture of the program that is the best fit for you.

Financial Times does come out with a yearly global ranking of top Master in Finance courses. For other degree programs such as Master in Accounting, Marketing or Business Analytics, we rarely have a good global ranking data.

In order to choose a specialized master’s degree program, you must consider following factors:

Location of your target organization: Identify the location of the companies that you want to work at and look for the schools in that region.  If you want to get into the finance industry, for example, look for the Master in Finance courses offered in the financial cities of the world such as London or New York.

Market demand for the specialized field: Skill shortages in a particular industry can mean job opportunities. In recent years, business analytics industry has great demand for specialist skill sets. Choosing a program in this field increases your chance of getting a job soon after completing the program.


The majority of the specialized master’s degree program does not require any work experience. They are essentially for fresher and student with no or less than two years of work experience. In fact, they put a cap of maximum 4 - 5 years of work experience if someone with work experience wants to get admissions into these programs.

The minimum admission requirement for these programs is an undergraduate degree in a closely related field and an acceptable score on the GRE or GMAT.

ALSO READ: Kellogg's MMM Vs MBA Program


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