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MBA or MS? Tips to Help You Decide.

If you’ve found yourself debating MBA vs MS, you’re not alone. As of late, graduate schools across the globe have observed an undeniable shift as more and more students opt for MS degrees over MBAs. But does this mean you ought to follow suit?

Honestly, it depends.

Neither the MBA or MS degree is objectively better. Now, we know this isn’t the black and white answer you were probably looking for, but here’s the good news: Once you have a clear idea of your personal goals and desires, choosing between these two programs should be fairly simple.

Oftentimes, determining what is best for you is the real struggle… so let’s start there.

Some tips to help you decide:

→ Do your research.

If you aren’t on LinkedIn already, there’s your first problem. In case you’ve been living under a rock, LinkedIn is a social media network designed specifically with business professionals in mind. Not only will this online platform help you network throughout your education and career, it can be used as a tool to help you make big decisions.

Do you have any career role models? If so, the route they took to their current position may also be the best one for you. If you’re wondering how to learn the steps they took, LinkedIn is your answer. The majority of LinkedIn profiles share a person’s education history as well as previous job experience. Using their past as a guide may be the key to determining your future.

You can also do a search for individuals with job titles or companies you’re interested in and see their educational background. Did they get an MBA or an MS before landing that job? Which program did they go to? This not only tells you the path others took to where you want to go, but which schools your target companies recruit from.

→ Take time to self-reflect.

When you imagine yourself furthering your education, what does it look like to you?

Are you working on a team tackling group projects? Are you polishing your networking skills and thriving in an environment surrounded by other students? Or are you working in solitude? If you prefer to fly solo, you may be better suited for an MS degree. MBA programs tend to be heavily focused on teamwork, while Master of Science programs focus more on the individual.

→ Think about your future.

What type of training do you need to complete your goals?

Perhaps you have a defined area of interest and are looking to expand your opportunities in that field. If so, an MS degree will likely be the better option to propel you forward. On the other hand, a less specialized education will be more beneficial for those looking to climb the business ladder as their education will provide more flexibility and a wider breadth of knowledge.

If walking in another’s footsteps or evaluating your own preferences still hasn’t helped you decide, it’s time to take a page out of Joey and Chandler’s book… Open a blank Google Sheet and let’s make an old-fashioned pros and cons list.

The Pros and Cons of Getting a Specialized Masters

Pros of a Specialized Master’s Degree

→ Takes less time. While the two years required to complete an MBA is a fairly short amount of time when you consider the powerful way it will boost your career, an MS program is even shorter. Getting a specialized master’s degree takes just a year or less, meaning you’ll be able to get back to work sooner and your tuition will be less expensive.

→ Acts as a jump start. For many, a specialized master’s degree isn’t necessarily the end of the road. Many use this fast-paced program to help them take the next leap forward in their career, and some go on to complete an MBA once they are more seasoned.

→ Requires less work experience. It’s best to have four to five years of work experience under your belt when applying for an MBA. This isn’t the case for an MS degree. Master of Science programs are often targeted at recent undergraduates who are looking to differentiate themselves from their peers. MS degrees are also a great option for those seeking an early-mid career boost.

→ Greater impact in a specific field. As a rule, specialized master’s degrees are the most beneficial for anyone who knows where they want to make a difference. By pursuing a degree in a focused discipline, those with MS degrees are often better candidates for defined roles, giving them a leg up as a job applicant.

Cons of a Specialized Master’s Degree

→ Lower salary. This is a big one. We’ll get straight to the point: Starting salaries for graduates of MS programs are around $20k lower than starting salaries for MBA graduates. So while a specialized master’s degree may cost less up front, it may cost you way more in lower wages.

→ No internship. While it may be desirable to be in a shorter program, this also means there is less opportunity for internships. Because it takes only one year to get a specialized master’s degree, summer internships are hard to come by. Not only does this allow for less real-life experience, it could make it more challenging to secure a job post-graduation.

→ More arduous. If you are going for your MS degree, be prepared for a challenge. This is especially true if you plan to attend a top-ranked business school. Because the specialized master’s program is shorter, it tends to be more fast paced and demanding. Those getting a Master of Science degree tend to take more credit hours per semester than MBA students, making the program significantly more rigorous.

→ Gamble on quality. Because MS programs are in high demand, many universities are creating programs in order to keep up and cash in. Because of this, not all programs are created equal. In fact, even top schools are hurrying to create Master of Science programs that aren’t thoughtfully designed.

MBA with a Concentration

If you still can’t decide between an MBA and MS degree, you may want to consider an MBA with a formal concentration in an industry that most interests you. Choosing a specific discipline essentially combines the pros of the MS degree with the benefits of an MBA. By narrowing your focus, you will tailor your MBA experience, boost your knowledge of a specific skill set (therefore boosting your resume), and exhibit greater interest in a particular field.

There are many areas of concentration available including:

  • Accounting

  • Supply Chain Management

  • Finance

  • Operations Management

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Computer Sciences

  • International Business

  • Marketing

  • Economics

While this process can often feel overwhelming, remember that you always know what is best for you. Do your research, trust your gut, and take the next best step forward.

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