1. Different types of business degree

Business degree is a general term mentioning all types of degrees that, during the process, students will absorb knowledge and skill sets that are applicable in the real business environment.  

Normally, those courses will cover classes about accounting, finance, supply chain, marketing, human management, etc. Recently, entrepreneurship has become a more and more popular course across schools. 

A student can get a bachelor degree in business or, further, a master of business management, depending on his or her need and work.

In this article, we will focus on MBA programs as the decision making process there involves more non-financial factors, plus a significant financial investment. The other programs will be mentioned in the introduction so that you can have a full picture about available business degrees. 

1.1. Bachelor

Business is more of a broad field rather than a specialization. Students aspiring Business-related degrees will have to cover fundamental courses of Economics, Accounting, Marketing, etc. of elementary level. Joint degree, or double degree are also good options, as those programs can cover both general knowledge and specialization. 

1.2. Master 

Specialized Master programs

Don’t mistake specialized master programs with MBA as the class dynamics and requirements are quite different.

Simply speaking, those programs are the more advanced version of the bachelor program and prior working experience is not requested for a candidate to join. Even some schools only want to focus on candidates who work less than 3 years.

As they are all specialized degrees, covered subjects will be skewed toward certain areas. For example: Master of Finance will focus more on Accounting, Corporate Finance and Finance Management in an organization.   

Because of the requirement, the cohort in specialized master programs are much younger than an MBA program, in which candidates should have 3-5 years of working experience. The pedagogical approach is also more academic while a lot of MBA programs conduct case methods to boost participation and discussion.  

Full-time MBA

Master of Business Administration (MBA) is also a business degree but shifts the focus of the program on managerial and leadership skills. Technical knowledge will be covered but is not the core of the MBA.  

What makes an MBA different is that MBA often requires more autonomy from students when case methods are applied. Fundamental knowledge is taught but real business case study will be presented and all the students will join the discussion, possibly in group or individually. 

MBA students also join real world projects at the end of the course to strengthen their skill set and apply what they learnt in the business environment. 

Normally, to join an MBA, you should have 3-5 years of working experience. Furthermore, the whole application process is also more complex: GMAT or GRE is required, along with several essays tailored by each school. IELTS or TOEFL is also required for students who did not join an undergrad course that was taught solely by English. 

Duration wise, there are two kinds of MBA: 2-year and 1-year program. 2-year programs are still more popular while 1-year programs are offered mostly by European business schools. However, 1-year MBA programs are getting more attention as an economical option. Ít total opportunity cost –  including tuition, living cost and income loss – is lower than that of 2-year curriculums. 

Full-time MBA is often appreciated because of the quality of pedagogy, the people of the cohort, and the alumni network that a student can get within that 1-2 years.

Part-time MBA

Part-time MBA is an alternative to full-time MBA and suitable for candidates who don’t want to quit their full-time job while being able to get a higher degree. The class often happens at night or during the weekend to accommodate students’ working schedules. 

Requirements of working experience for a part-time MBA student will not be too different from those of a Full-time MBA. Not many scholarships and fellowships are available for part-time MBA because their job security is not at risk. Duration of the program is also a differentiating factor. A part-time MBA can last from 2-3 years depending on the speed of that student. 

Part-time MBA programs are not as competitive as their full-time counterparts because it will require lower criteria.

Online MBA

Recently, thanks to the rising of MOOC (massive opening online courses) platforms such as Coursera, EdX, etc, more and more people are registering for online MBA courses because of the vivid benefits that those courses bring on the table compared to both Full-time and Part-time MBA programs. 

  • Tuition fee is much cheaper than a full-time MBA. A prestige full-time MBA can cost around $100K a year for tuition fee while an online MBA will cost around $30-40K. 
  • Blurring the geography challenge between student’s and school’s location: A student who stays in Asia can get an American master degree without traveling to the USA. 
  • Students can decide their own study pace and can review lectures by replaying videos several times. 

There are also some drawbacks in terms of networking activities and connection among the student body. Participants of those online MBAs locate in different parts of the world and conference calls seem to be the only way for them to talk to each other. Without an in-person interaction, the connection among students will not be as tight as a part-time and a full-time MBA’s one

Executive MBA (EMBA)

Executive MBA is similar to a part-time MBA but for people who have more managerial skill in companies. The program will focus on core courses while there are less elective courses. 

EMBA holds all the characteristics of a part-time MBA: schedule, duration, and intensiveness. Some slight difference is that EMBA students are often fully or partially sponsored by their companies while normal Part time MBA students can use their personal savings to fund the program. Tuition fee of an EMBA is often higher than that of the part-time program. 

2. Is a business degree worth it?

From the introduction, it is clear that a full-time MBA will involve different opportunity costs, including tuition fee, living expense and income loss in that 1-2 years. Moreover, to get into a prestigious MBA program, candidates have to spend time studying for the GMAT or GRE, which normally takes them another 9-12 months to prepare. Due to all the preparation and investment, we will discuss this question for the MBA only in this session. 

20 years ago, the answer for this question was: Yes, absolutely. However, the current answer will be: it depends. An MBA program is still valuable in certain fields while without this degree, some people still can reach their objectives and achieve success.

2.1 What makes it worth?

Here we would like to share some reasons that make an MBA still valuable in this changing business environment. 

If you obtain a degree from a respectable b-school

Not all MBA programs are appreciated equally. Most universities now offer an MBA program, which makes this space too crowded. In the US alone, there are more than 150 business schools and there are several more in Europe, Asia and Australia. Therefore, if you cannot get into a respectable program, the return on investment will not be that high and the outcome won’t be as expected. 

Any prestige MBA program itself is an attraction, thanks to the network that it can offer. Intellectual discussions with talents around the globe, learning from their experience, challenging each other’s  point of view, solving conflicts, establishing your network, etc. Those are benefits that other alternatives can’t offer as a full-time MBA did, the unique selling point of this Master program.

If you want to be involved in management position

A large proportion of the MBA course would focus on managerial skills and leadership. Top MBA students are expected to be the world’s future leaders, excellent entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, essentially people with major impacts. So it’s best for professionals aspiring C-suit positions, or aiming for a business of their own in the future.

Skill sets acquired from those full time MBA programs will be beneficial in long term for leadership positions. Those are positions that still need plenty of human touch and it is hard to automate as it requires emotional intelligence, human skill and experiences.  

If you want to change your industry and your geography

If you are an engineer in a heavy industry but want to pivot to tech, if your background is purely from CPG but want to land a job in healthcare, then MBA possibly an option for you. Of course, without an MBA, people are able to change their industries but it will involve more networking. Meanwhile, that same individual can leverage the school’s network and alumni network to land a job in their desired field. 

Changing your current geography or aiming at Regional/Global position in companies is also another motivation for an MBA degree. You can just search for a manager position in regional hubs, such as London, HongKong, Singapore, NewYork, etc, and count how many times this sentence “Master Degree or MBA is preferred” appears in those job posts. I did it myself and the output is 100%.  

2.2. What makes it not worth?

If you want to specialize in your technical field. 

I will not recommend a technical guy who doesn’t aim for any management position to go for an MBA program. It will waste his time and money. Instead, he can invest them in his field and sharpen his expertise. 

This is a typical case that an MBA can’t help that person much. The rising of technology also accommodates this change. An excellent program developer doesn’t have to own high EQ to deal with people, human interaction is also limited as they spend most of the day communicating to machines. The nature of work, the personal direction self dilutes all the benefits of MBAs.   

Start-ups may not prefer MBA as much as corporates. 

Start-up is also another case that MBA won’t be preferred, however, it is not absolute.  Degree is not what start-up founders are looking for, they are keen on people who can think on their feet, be out-of-the-box while being able to execute a completely new practice in the market. Start-ups and small-scoped organizations like boutique banks or small hedge funds might favor people investing more time in technical skills and hands-on experience, rather than people chasing this traditional path of MBA for promotions. 

Final words

Giving an answer for this question now is not as easy as it was 20 years ago given all the dynamics. However, for each individual, it is not that hard to say yes or no, because if you know where you want to head, you already know what your answer is. 

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