Master’s in Management vs. MBA: Which Is Better?

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Thinking about pursuing an advanced business degree? Here's the difference between a master's in management and MBA.

Three business school students sit on wooden steps in the foreground, with two more students sitting in the background, chatting and smiling in two separate groups as they refer to laptops and books in front of them.

Both a master’s in management and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) are advanced business degrees that some professionals seek in an effort to propel their careers forward.

An MBA degree program will focus on broad-level business leadership and managerial skills. Typically, these programs are designed for individuals with a few years of professional experience who are looking to advance their careers. Programs will likely cover a wide range of business topics through a core curriculum, such as management, strategy, and finance, and will give students the opportunity to specialize in areas such as business analytics or accounting.

A master’s in management, or a Master of Science in Management (MSM), focuses on the particular area of business management. It is one type of master’s degree in business, alongside options such as finance, data analytics, or marketing. Programs may offer some general business courses, however the majority of the coursework will concentrate on management.

Read more: MBA vs. MS: Choosing Which Is Better for You

What is the difference between a master’s in management and MBA?

The key differences between a master’s in management and MBA stem from the expected business experience of an incoming student. The program structure and post-graduation career path align with that level of experience.

Here is a quick comparison:

Master’s in managementMBA
FocusFoundational business knowledge with a focus on managementAdvanced business topics with the ability to specialize
Professional experienceBest for those coming from a bachelor's program or with a few years of professional experience [1]Best for those with several years of business experience [1]
Typical program length1 year2 years
Average salary$55,000 [2]$115,000 [2]

Master's in management vs. MBA student profile

The biggest difference between the average MSM student and MBA candidate is their professional experience. MSM programs are typically designed for students with less professional experience who want to develop business skills. MBA programs tend to require several years of professional work experience and are designed for business professionals looking to advance their careers.

According to a 2020 survey of mostly US-based prospective business students, 30 percent of MSM applicants had no work experience, and 54 percent had less than three years of work experience. On the other hand, 58 percent of full-time, two-year MBA applicants had more than three years of work experience, with 32 percent of applicants falling in the six to 10 year range [1].

Master's in management vs. MBA program comparison

MSM and MBA programs are designed with varying levels of experience in mind.

MSM programs are designed for individuals who are preparing for entry-level positions on a management track. Generally, that includes people who have recently earned their undergraduate degree or are working toward a career change. These programs typically take one year of full-time commitment, with an intensive focus on management skills.

MBA programs assume a certain level of established business acumen. Candidates may already hold leadership positions or are looking to advance into management or executive-level positions. Full-time MBA programs are generally a two-year commitment and will explore how various business departments interact within a company.

In addition to classes on management, MBA programs may also include core courses in areas such as: 

  • Strategy

  • Finance

  • Marketing

  • Ethics

  • Communications

Many MBA programs also offer further opportunities to specialize in a variety of areas, including:

  • Accounting

  • Business analytics

  • Entrepreneurship

  • Health care management

Because MSM programs are shorter, the total cost will likely be less than the total cost of an MBA program.

Online MSM and MBA degrees

Online MSM and MBA programs can offer some flexibility should you prefer a part-time schedule. These programs can also be less expensive, as there are fewer campus and housing fees associated with attendance.

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Master's in management vs. MBA salary and career opportunities

Because MSM graduates tend to be closer to the beginning of their careers while MBA graduates tend to be moving toward mid- or upper-level positions, it’s hard to do a direct comparison of salary outcomes.

In 2021, one survey estimated that the median salary for MBA graduates was $115,000. For MSM graduates the median salary was $55,000 [2]. This salary disparity is likely more a reflection of experience level than value of the degree, as MBA candidates typically have more than a few years of work experience, while MSM graduates are closer to entry-level.

Whether you choose to pursue an MSM or MBA, you may find yourself in demand. The same survey reported that 91 percent of companies surveyed globally anticipated hiring MBA graduates, and 54 percent anticipated hiring MSM graduates [2]. Hiring projections for MSM graduates were particularly high in the technology, health care, and consulting industries.

Read more: Is an Online MBA Worth It? The Return on Your Investment

Which is better: Master’s in management or MBA?

When it comes to comparing MSM degrees to MBA degrees, neither is necessarily better than the other—but one may be better aligned with your immediate career goals. If you are looking to further develop your leadership skills, depending on where you are in your career, either an MSM or MBA can help you do that.

Both degrees are designed to develop the business skills necessary to ultimately move toward management positions. Generally, a recent graduate or someone looking to make a career shift into business may find an MSM more helpful, while a professional a few years into their career may find an MBA more relevant.

For a more specific comparison, take a look at the iMBA and iMSM programs at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business, both available on Coursera.

Master of Business AdministrationMaster of Science in Management
Degree typeMBAMS
Total tuition$23,040$11,052
Total credit hours72 (18 courses plus 3 capstone projects)36 (9 courses)
Time to complete2-3 yearsAbout 1 year
Required core areasLeadership and management, managerial economics and business analysis, value chain management, financial managementMarketing, strategic business management, leadership, process management, global business, communicating with data, and finance
SpecializationsStrategic leadership and management, managerial economics and business analytics, value chain management, financial management, global challenges in business, entrepreneurship and strategic innovation, digital marketing, business analytics, mergers and aquisitions(Informal) Business value and project management, global business challenges, business data management and communication

Furthering your business education

If you’re thinking about pursuing your MSM or MBA, research the various business degree programs that interest you to determine the next steps toward your career goals.

Want to get started today? Through the University of Illinois Gies College of Business, learners can earn either their Master of Science in Management or MBA completely online. Enroll in an open course any time to help decide if an advanced business degree is right for you.

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Article sources

1. Graduate Management Admission Council. "The Global Demand for Graduate Management Education: Application Trends Survey 2020, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/admissions-and-application-trends/2020_app_trends_survey_report_final.pdf." Accessed December 3, 2021.

2. Graduate Management Admission Council. "Demand of Graduate Management Talent: 2021 Hiring Projections and Salary Trends, https://www.gmac.com/-/media/files/gmac/research/employment-outlook/2021_crs-demand-of-gm-talent.pdf." Accessed December 3, 2021.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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