MBA vs MSM: Which Degree Should You Choose?

masters in business administrationReady for the next step in your business career? A graduate degree could offer the boost you need. Adding advanced education to your career experience can enhance your skills, extend your knowledge—and turn heads in the hiring office. However, which degree should you choose? There are a wide range of graduate degrees available to business and management professionals—and they’re not all the same.

Definite distinctions exist among Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree programs and Master of Science in Management (MSM) degrees. This article can help you compare and contrast these two degree programs, helping you determine which option fits your needs and experience.

Experience Requirements

First, the experience requirements of an MBA differ from those of an MSM program. In general, most colleges and universities will require MBA applicants to have at least two years of full-time work experience at a high level. For Executive MBA programs, where the student population tends to be over 35, the requirement is often five or more years.

A management master’s degree program usually doesn’t have minimum workplace experience requirements. In theory, you can complete your undergraduate degree and walk straight into an MSM classroom the following semester. That’s probably why the average age of MSM students is in the early 20s, as opposed to the late 20s for MBA programs.[i]

Educational Emphasis

As a result of this difference in experience requirements, MBA and MSM programs have different educational goals. In general, the aim of an MBA program is to produce leaders who also have management skills, while MSM programs are designed to produce managers who also have leadership skills.

MBA programs emphasize practical executive skills for enterprise leadership. There is also usually a heavy financial strategy component to many MBA programs aimed at developing decision-making capabilities. Skills taught in MBA programs generally build on undergraduate-level knowledge in business as well as a student’s professional experience.

As a result, many schools will prefer applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree in business, management, economics, or another related field. Specialization options vary widely, from specific industry focuses such as sports management to particular business functions, such as finance or project management.

For master’s-level management degrees, the educational focus is often more theoretical in nature. Courses will include some financial and quantitative analysis, but the emphasis will often be on organizational, human resource, and process management. Many schools do not require applicants to master’s programs in management to have an undergraduate degree in a related field, as these skills can apply to many disciplines.

MSM degree programs also offer specializations, but these tend to focus entirely on a specific managerial scenario. Examples might include a degree in non-profit management or international management.

Different Professional Goals

As a result of their subtly different audiences and program goals, MBA and MSM degrees also have a different outcome for graduates in the marketplace. Generally speaking, MBA graduates will emerge from their programs ready to pursue executive-level, enterprise-wide leadership roles, or to begin their own businesses. MSM graduates will have the skills necessary to function as high-level managers—and be prepared to earn an MBA or EMBA after several years in the field.