Many students looking to apply for a business Masters tend to think the MBA is the best option.  But I wouldn’t always recommend the MBA – and certainly not to all students.  Sometimes, a MiM (Master in Management), other pre-experience Masters or a specialised Masters can be a better choice.  Here’s why.

1.  Who’s Better Qualified: Generalists or Specialists?

Do a quick search online for ‘generalist vs. specialist’.  See how many articles say it’s better to be ‘generalist’ – and how many say the opposite?  So what’s the difference?

Generalists Know a Little About a Lot

Generalists have knowledge and skills in different areas.  They’re flexible and can easily move from one task or project to another.  On the downside, whereas generalists may know something about everything – they may not be experts in anything.

Specialists Know a Lot about a Little

Specialists, on the other hand, usually focus mainly on one area and get to know this extremely well.  When people have a question or want help with something, the specialist is their ‘go-to’ person.  The downside is that specialists may not know much about other areas outside their expertise.

2.   Now You Know, Decide What You Want to Be

To Become a Generalist, Pick an MBA

An MBA is a general business qualification and covers many different subjects, including: leadership, business management, marketing, strategy, accounting, operations, human resources – and more.

Therefore, with a good MBA degree, you’d have preparation in a number of business areas.  This can be very valuable for a managerial or leadership position.

Generalist or Specialist: Choose Your Future

If You Want Expertise, Pick a specialised Masters

I would recommend a specialised Masters if you need expertise to work in a specific field.  A specialised Masters is usually focused on one subject area or niche.  This doesn’t mean that 100% of your modules will be on that subject – you may be able to choose additional options if they add to your learning.

For example, if you choose a Masters in Marketing, you will take traditional marketing modules.  In addition, you might study modules on business strategy or corporate social responsibility. Strictly speaking, these aren’t marketing modules, but they’re related and relevant to your subject.

3.  Or Should You Pick a Specialised MBA Instead?

There are other options though.  Some business schools offer ‘Specialised MBA’ programmes and the number of this type of programme has increased in recent year.  Specialised MBAs are like regular MBA programmes but they allow you to specialise in a specific area.

Here are a few examples of the types of the specialisations available (there are more out there):

  • MBA for the Music & Creative Industries
  • MBA in Aviation Management
  • MBA for the Public Sector
  • MBA in Healthcare Management
  • MBA in Biotechnology
  • MBA in International Marketing
  • MBA in Project Management

4.  Why a Specialised MBA Is A Good Choice

Business schools that offer specialised MBAs say, if you have previous experience and/or future career plans in a specific area, a specialised MBA gives you better preparation.  For example, an ‘MBA in Marketing’ or ‘MBA in Project Management’ gives you knowledge and skills that are specific to these fields.

Moreover, some business sectors or industries have specific challenges and needs and therefore need a different approach to leadership and management.  This is why a number of specialised MBA programmes are designed for the public and healthcare sectors, and the aviation or music industries. 

MBA to specialise or not to specialise

5.  Why a Specialised MBA a Bad Choice

Yet, not everyone is convinced that there’s a need for specialised MBAs.  After all, isn’t the whole idea of an MBA that you learn about ALL areas of business management?

The critics say, a specialised MBA is too narrow and limits your options from the start.   They also remind us that on a regular MBA, you can still specialise in one area, even if your MBA course title doesn’t mention that specialisation.  So to them, specialised MBAs aren’t really necessary.

I kind of agree and disagree. A general MBA is great if you want to keep your options open. But, if you work in a field or sector for which reputable, specialised MBA programmes do exist, I personally would prefer this option as it’s going to  be a lot more targeted and relevant.

6.  Do You Know What Businesses Want?

Whether you have an MBA, a specialised MBA, MiM or specialised Masters, what employers care about most is this: will you be able to do the job they’re hiring you for?

Employers want real-world experience. They want you to have a good understanding of their sector and needs, and to contribute to or play an important part in the meeting of their corporate / organisation objectives.

The MBA is still seen as a very prestigious qualification, but employer attitudes can really vary. Some will actively look to recruit MBA graduates from top business schools. Others complain that MBA graduates ‘feel entitled’ to get a job or higher pay.

I always recommend that you do some research into what’s wanted for the role you want to apply for – before you decide on what type of programme to do.

MBA employment skills

7.  Will It Give You the Skills You Need?

Do you know what skills employers say they most want in their team members? Leadership skills? Technical skills? It might surprise you, but in employer surveys, communication skills often come top.  That’s your ability to express yourself clearly and succinctly, to listen and understand, and to write decent papers and reports. Employers also want you to fit in and work well in a team, as well as be able to adapt to change.

People often use ‘adaptability’ to argue that general MBA programmes are better: a broad qualification gives your employer more flexibility to assign you to new projects or roles when their business needs change.

But in my view, you don’t need a special degree to be adaptable. The ability to adapt is as much a skill that can be learned as it is a personal quality.  And for all the talk about adaptability, companies simply couldn’t function without specialists on their teams.

8.  Do You Meet the MBA Entry Requirements?

I’ve left the obvious thing to almost the end, that is, the entry requirements will also determine what type of programme is best for you.

How Long Have You Worked Full-Time?

In the UK, accredited MBA programmes ask for at least three years of work experience – full-time and since you’ve graduated – before you can enrol.

There are ‘pre-experience’ MBA programmes but I’ve only seen them offered by lower ranked business schools. In the UK, they’re not usually considered any better than a pre-experience MiM degree. In fact, often you can be better off doing a MiM or specialised Masters at a reputable business school instead.

But attitudes may be different in your country or the country where you plan to work.  Or, you may disagree with me – I’d love to hear your views on this, so do post them below or send me a message.

What Are Your Grades and GMAT Score?

On the whole, MBA programmes, especially the reputable ones, can be more selective than other Masters programmes. The academic and English language requirements for MBA programmes are often higher than for MiM and specialised Masters – though not always.   Another difference is, top  MBA programmes will always ask for GMAT and you can expect to have an interview as part of the admissions process.

9.  Have You Had a Look at the Tuition Fees?

Last but not least, when considering what type of course is the better option for you, you can’t ignore cost.

Table of MBA International Tuition Fees UK 2015

By cost, I don’t mean just the tuition fees – there are your living expenses, too.  MBA tuition fees are usually higher – in some cases much higher – than those of many Masters degrees. On top of that, a few MBA programmes last 18 months or longer.  This adds up to your living expenses – and don’t forget, you’ll be losing out on a full-time salary for the length of your degree.

Final Thoughts

Whether you decide to apply for an MBA, a specialised MBA, a MiM or specialised Masters programme, there are convincing arguments for and advantages to all of them.

Personally, I would choose on the basis of my work experience.  Anyone who has at least three years full-time work experience at a decent level (including managerial responsibilities) should strongly consider an MBA or a specialised MBA.

I’m not in favour of pre-experience MBAs for applicants who are fresh out of university.  The reason is that the best MBA programmes are designed for you to draw on your work experience and to create a link between what you learn in the classroom and what you do in the work place.  Without a solid work experience, you simply won’t benefit from the MBA in the same way.  In my view a pre-experience MBA is no better than a good MiM or specialised Masters from a reputable business school.

But, as always, think about your own circumstances and future plans.  Attitudes, especially outside the UK, may be very different.  I know for example that in a number of countries pre-experience MBAs are not only perfectly acceptable but also the norm.

What do you think, are MBAs always the better option?  Post your comments below or let’s chat about it in our private Facebook Group.

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