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Choosing between an MBA and a specialized master's

If you’ve already made the decision to go back to school for an advanced degree, choosing your next step can be challenging. Beyond knowing what you want to do after completing another round of school, you’ll have to decide the best path to get there. The good news is that most careers these days offer much more flexibility than they have in the past. (This means that you don’t have to stress. No matter which path you choose, chances are it’s a good one.)

One of the biggest challenges after determining which school is best for the next step of your journey is deciding if an MBA program will be sufficient for your career or if you need a specialized master’s degree. Let’s break it down.

What’s the difference between a master’s and an MBA?

Trick question. An MBA, or Master’s in Business Administration, is actually a specific type of master’s degree. The only reason people treat it as its own category is because its coursework and application range to cover many business topics, making it one of the most versatile graduate degrees. MBA programs are often more standardized so you know what you’re getting into and what the expectations will be as soon as (if not before) you enroll.

Unless you’re looking for a very specialized career (i.e. neurosurgeon, social worker, elementary teacher), almost everyone can find value in MBA coursework and applications. Knowing your industry’s expectations is important; find a mentor or just someone with the career/position you would want and ask for their input. They might be able to tell you how they got there, if they would have done it differently, and if they would recommend an MBA or a specific degree.

So there’s just one kind of MBA?

Nope! Under the MBA umbrella, there are more specialized programs if you have a clear picture of where you’d like to go with your degree. If you’d like a “big picture” degree without focusing on a specific area, you can do that, too! OCU offers programs in Leadership and Healthcare Administration as well as joint programs with OCU Law that provide graduates with a Juris Doctor and an MBA at the same time.

Think of “MBA” as a broad category, kind of like when you chose an undergraduate degree based on what you ultimately wanted to do and ended up with a “bachelor of science” even if your job doesn’t have a lot to do with science. If you do choose an MBA track, your diploma will read “Master’s in Business Administration in Healthcare Administration,” for example.

MBA programs are typically designed to help students gain communication, collaboration, problem solving, technology, and management skills. Courses can span a wide range of business topics including accounting, finance, economics, human resources management, leadership and marketing.

These various tracks within the MBA category help to provide coursework and insight that might be more relevant to your chosen career. More good news: Because these degrees are held to MBA standards, you’ll learn everything you need no matter which track you choose, and you can change tracks if you decide another one would be more beneficial. And if you don’t choose a track and prefer to get a standalone MBA, you’ll still learn everything you need on a broader range of topics. No matter what your specialty, MBA faculty members are there to help YOU succeed.

So why would I want a specialized master’s degree?

Instead of learning about all the topics, a master’s degree in a chosen field will take a deeper dive into your chosen area of study. This means that you’ll already have to know what you want to do after graduation, making it the perfect option for people who have a clear career path and/or are already practicing their careers and need continued education. (IMPORTANT: If your current employer has a continuing education program that will provide financial assistance toward your degree, do NOT let that opportunity pass without fully considering it.)

Additionally, some people don’t have corporate ambitions. If your career doesn’t involve a “business,” chances are you’re not as interested in a “Master’s in Business Administration.” And even if it does, a master’s in another subject will still give you essential business skills, but you’ll have more knowledge and experience in your specific field. When you break down the coursework for a master’s degree, you’ll almost always find at least one essential business class that prepares you for interactions that everyone will have to perform no matter what field you’re in (think interviews, time management, etc.).

Most master’s programs require around 10-15 courses, which translate into course credits depending on workload and difficulty. OCU offers a variety of specialized master’s, as well, including:

Timelines and requirements will vary to fit every student’s needs, including incorporating previous coursework if applicable and various adaptations to class structure. This has never been a more important factor than in the era of COVID-19; your coursework may be offered completely online or with a distance learning option. Make sure you consider all factors before deciding where to invest your time and money.

Whatever you choose, it’s hard to go wrong.

We mean it. Earning an MBA or a specialized master’s degree is a big deal, and you can’t go wrong with more education. However, the jobs you apply for in the future might require a specific degree, which is why it’s important to know what you want to do. If you don’t, that’s OK, too! An MBA might be a good option for you, one that might even help you determine what you’d like to do based on what “clicks” during your courses.

As you’ve probably realized by now, there are lots of options. Although that can be overwhelming, think of it as a “world is your oyster” kind of thing. Every program has its own benefits and merits, and choosing one should be a pleasant experience. If you need help or want to talk through your options, our admissions team is ready to take your questions. Whatever your passion is, there’s a degree that fits. It might just take some consideration to find it!

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