MBA vs. Master’s Degree: What Are the Differences?

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at AIU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

If you’re considering graduate school, you might be researching the differences between an MBA and a master’s degree. To start with, "MBA" is short for "Master of Business Administration" and is a type of master’s degree. Master’s degrees can be earned in a wide array of subjects in almost any field you can think of, such as accounting, finance, mathematics, the arts, or communications, to name just a handful.

But are there additional differences between an MBA and other master’s degrees? Could there be advantages to earning an MBA vs. a master’s in another field? Exploring the answers to these questions could help inform your decision about whether an MBA or master’s in another subject is right for you.

MBA vs. Master’s Degrees in Other Fields

An MBA is an advanced degree in general business; in other words, it is a specific type of master’s degree. People may choose to pursue an MBA for different reasons, such as wanting to gain new skills and knowledge about business, acquire greater access to job opportunities, get access to a strong business network, increase their salary, or make positive change in the world.1 Although holding an MBA isn’t necessarily a requirement for pursuing a business career in all fields, it is viewed as "absolutely essential" to enter certain ones, such as hedge fund and private equity firms or strategic planning.2

To pursue either an MBA or a master’s in a different field, you must first possess a bachelor’s degree. For MBA programs, that BA can be in any subject—you do not need to major in business as an undergrad in order to pursue an MBA. And MBA degree programs, including online MBA programs, often offer students the option to choose a particular specialization, such as marketing or healthcare management, for example, so even though your "major" is business, you could still opt to focus your studies in another area. When debating whether to pursue an MBA vs. a master’s in another subject area, you might want to evaluate your own work experience, as the average MBA student isn’t fresh out of college but instead typically possesses 3–5 years of professional experience.3 For a number of students, the flexibility of earning an MBA online could allow these individuals to continue their careers while pursuing their degree.

Most other master’s degrees, although offered in almost any subject you can think of, usually require that students already possess a bachelor’s in the same subject. For example, say you’re weighing whether to pursue an MBA vs. a master’s in accounting—if you don’t already possess a bachelor’s in accounting, then pursuing a master’s in that field is likely not a realistic option. So one possible advantage of an MBA program is that it could give students the opportunity to specialize in certain fields as part of their graduate business curriculum even if they lack a bachelor’s in that field. Someone with a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering might even be considering the pros and cons of pursuing an MBS vs. a master’s in one of the sciences, as an MBS (Master of Business and Science) is a combination degree comprised of an MS and MBA. Another difference is that, generally, for non-MBA master’s programs that require entrance exams, applicants normally take the GRE and not the GMAT, as the GMAT is typically taken by those who want to enroll in a master’s program in business administration.

Other Considerations for Your Graduate Degree

As you’re weighing the benefits of different advanced degrees, be it an MBA or an MBS vs. a master’s in another subject area, you should try to assess whether full-time, part-time, on-campus, or online MBA programs are best suited to your personal situation. Traditional programs tend to require in-person class attendance, which may not fit your needs if you plan on continuing your career while studying for your degree. Online MBAs can be hybrid or completely online, and that in-person component required by some programs could be a deal-breaker for students whose personal circumstances require a fully online distance learning experience.

AIU’s online MBA program is available 100 percent online and offers various specializations so that students can choose to focus their business studies on a particular area. And another potential benefit of this program is that AIU’s online MBA can be earned in one year or less. AIU offers MBA specializations in:

Still weighing an MBA vs. a different master’s? Learn more about AIU’s online MBA program here..


1. 2019 MBA Applicant Survey, Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC), available for download at http://aigac.org/for-media/application-survey/ (visited November 8, 2019).
2. Julia Kagan, ed., “Master of Business Administration (MBA),” Investopedia, available at https://www.investopedia.com/terms/m/mba.asp (visited September 3, 2019).
3. Brian Burnsed, “Get Into Business School: Work Experience,” U.S. News and World Report, available at https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/applying/articles/2010/12/17/get-into-business-school-work-experience (visited September 3, 2019).

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