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5 Things You Won't Get From An MBA

An MBA will give you general management skills, a salary boost, and access to top jobs. But what does an MBA not give you? When might an alternative business master's program be a better fit?

By  Cara Skikne

Tue Oct 13 2020


When it comes to choosing a graduate business school degree, MBAs remain the most popular qualification. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 61% of business school candidates place the MBA at the top of their wish list.

Despite the prominence of the MBA, it’s not the only program on offer. If business school is on the cards for you, it makes sense to consider other programs that might be a better fit for your goals like specialized master's degrees in management, finance, or business analytics.

No program can guarantee career success, but some might be better than an MBA at equipping you for a specific role or helping you meet specific objectives. 

To help you work out which type of program is right for you, here are a few things that an MBA can’t give you— that other business school programs can.  

1. T-shaped Skills

People with T-shaped skills have a broad base of knowledge, but one central area of deep expertise. Some business school students already have this deep expertise, and use an MBA to broaden their more general business knowledge.

For others, a program that combines the MBA with another specialization could be more beneficial than a generalist MBA on its own. For example, the University of Oxford’s Saïd business school offers a 1+1 MBA program, which also gives you a masters from a partner department at the University of Oxford.

These include the Master of Public Policy, the MSc in Computer Science, the MSc in International Health and Tropical Medicine and, the MSc in Environmental Change and Management. 1+1 students then complete their MBA at Saïd in their second year. 

Joint or Dual MBA programs allow you to combine expertise and business acumen to develop a unique and complex combination of skills, as do specialized MBAs like the Tech MBAs on offer at IE Business School and NYU Stern.


Oxford’s Saïd business school offers dual degree programs so you can specialize as well as study a more general MBA © Oxford’Saïd via Facebook

2. Deep, specialized knowledge

In terms of curriculum, the MBA is known for breadth rather than depth.

While you’ll graduate with a broad understanding of many business topics, there is little room to take a focused, deep-dive into any one area of specialty. 

For those who aim to assume a leadership role in specific functional areas such as a chief financial officer, for example, a specialized master's program could be more suitable. 

Check out the world's best Master's in Finance programs

3. Business fundamentals to launch your career

The MBA is generally considered a mid-career qualification. 

On the other hand, a Master’s in Management (MiM) is designed for those with little or no work experience. While the MBA focuses more on leadership and management, the MiM is known as a more comprehensive introduction to the business world, and a perfect way to set your career up for success from the start. 

The MiM would suit those looking to get a comprehensive set of management skills from the get-go.

4. Curriculum to match your company’s needs

Many business schools have an executive education arm, which co-creates custom courses to help organizations overcome specific hurdles, or meet strategic objectives. 

Unlike an MBA, these courses are tailor-made to your company's unique challenges. The experts who build these programs act as part educator, part consultant.

For companies looking to get various stakeholders involved in solving an organizational problem or unlocking opportunities, this option can make a lot of sense. 

If you want to create transformational leadership or culture change programs across an organization, this option can act as a catalyst for real change. 

Also, if you're a more experienced candidate, an Executive MBA may be a better option. Executive MBAs are part-time programs for senior business leaders which allow you to study while you work and apply your knowledge on the job. 

Top EMBA programs can be found at schools like IESE Business School and Chicago Booth, and there are top-ranked joint EMBA programs offered by multiple schools in collaboration like TIEMBA and the TRIUM EMBA.

5. Academic clout

While an MBA offers broad business acumen, it will not set you up for a career in academia. 

If this is your goal, a Doctoral degree or PhD gives you the chance to contribute to the advancement of business with a piece of original research. 

In general, the Doctor of Business Administration offers greater emphasis on the application of theory than the PhD. Both are designed for those launching a career as a scholar-practitioner or academic.

These two qualifications are not mutually exclusive, either. You may find that you can benefit from different degrees at different stages of your career. Think about what you are trying to achieve before doing your research into what the different types of programs offer. 

It is also a good idea to think about your short, medium, and long-term career goals, and find out how these qualifications are regarded in your field.

If an MBA still sounds right for you, be sure to check out the specializations that different programs offer, to see if a more specialized or more general MBA makes sense for you. 

You can also look into the different clubs, electives and opportunities available at the business school. As much as possible, you’ll want to customize your course to suit your interests and goals. 

Read more about alternative business masters programs and Executive MBAs