What's the Difference Between an MBA and a Specialized Master's Degree?
Published on Feb 14, 2022 by Bridgette Cude
Here are some things to consider when you're looking for the graduate degree that's right for you.
If you're looking to stand out in the job market, make the next big step in your career, or branch out into a new field, you may be considering a master's degree. One popular option is to earn an MBA, or Master of Business Administration, but in recent years, students are also turning to a specialized master's degree as an option.
We talked with Full Sail University’s Director of Graduate Studies, Heather Torres, to cover some of the key differences between the two to help you decide which master's degree is right for you, using examples from the business programs offered at Full Sail University.
The biggest difference between an MBA and a specialized master's degree is just that, specialization. An MBA will give you a broader education with a variety of business courses. They might touch on administration, accounting, leadership, legal issues, and other areas of business that could be applicable to a number of careers. This may be a good choice if you're still deciding on your ultimate career goals and want to leave your options open.
“I can speak from experience firsthand,” says Heather, “I went through a traditional MBA program, and I'm glad that I have my MBA. I'm grateful that I had that experience and it prepared me to go on to get my doctorate in business administration that I'm actually working on right now. MBAs are geared more towards general business,” she explains.
A specialized master's degree focuses on deepening your knowledge in a particular area of business. This will give you more hard skills in your chosen area and can help you level up your career in that particular field. Of course the skills you learn in a specialized master's may be applicable to a variety of careers in business, but if you know what you want to do and where you want your career to go, this could be an appropriate degree path for you.
For example, Full Sail's Digital Marketing master's degree dives deep into the things that matter most to a modern marketer. Instead of spending time in courses that may not apply to your goals, such as accounting or finance, your courses focus on topics like advanced search engine optimization or digital analytics and optimization.
“The closest thing we have at Full Sail to an MBA program would be our Entertainment Business master's program,” says Heather. However, this general business program focuses solely on the entertainment industry.
“The students that go through that program are learning not just about marketing, but how to market artists, how to market entertainment products. They're learning about finance as it relates to entertainment industries,” she explains. “Every aspect of those courses is geared towards entertainment, so it's even more specialized than what you would get from your traditional MBA.”
Although both MBAs and specialized master's programs will have students at many different stages of their careers, in general, MBA students tend to have had more career experience before starting their graduate degree.
Heather says, “The people that would be enrolling in those type of MBA programs would be someone who is interested in either expanding their current knowledge of business, or maybe they have an unrelated degree, and they're looking to learn more about business and just general business marketing law.”
Students joining a specialized master's degree program may have just earned their undergraduate degree or they may be looking to enter into a new field of study or break into a new industry. But these are not hard and fast rules.
At Full Sail, the Innovation & Entrepreneurship master's degree could apply to students who have been working in their field for a long time as well as those who want to take a chance on a big idea. This degree is designed for people who have a business idea they would like to take from concept to reality. Courses take you through the ins and outs of product design and development, business venture research, and marketing strategies for entrepreneurs.
Most MBAs require two years to earn your degree, while a specialized master's may only take one year. This is a good option if you're looking to jumpstart your career in a particular area more quickly post-graduation.
“Full Sail does things differently,” says Heather. “Full Sail is an accelerated school, so you're going to be getting what would normally be a two-year degree in only 12 months.”
And at Full Sail, working professionals with at least five years of management and/or leadership experience may be eligible for Full Sail's credit by examination program. This option allows students to test out of up to five courses for most specialized business master's degrees.
That includes our Business Intelligence master of science degree. This program covers the most up-to-date strategies for collecting and analyzing big data, as well as data mining, visualization, and pattern recognition.
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