Young professionals and recent college grads who wish to advance their careers often look upon a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree as a means for achieving their professional goals. While there are exceptions, MBA programs are generally two-year commitments that may instill training and knowledge in specific fields (information technology, finance, etc.). as well as management skills that require soft and intangible skill sets (teamwork, leadership, negotiation).
The latter approach attempts to enhance managerial skills with the aim of progressing the professional's career, which comes with added responsibilities, expectations and a larger scope of assignment. In other words, many young professionals pursue an MBA in order to better position themselves for a vice president, CFO or CEO job in the future.
It is possible, however, to attain higher levels of responsibility and visibility within your organization by pursuing an advanced degree in business that is not an MBA. The academic universe offers a variety of programs that are tailored to individual goals and circumstances.
An MBA program generally emphasizes a case study approach as it develops and molds future business leaders out of class participants possessing varied educational backgrounds, work experiences, career goals and skill levels. (For background reading, see The Real Cost Of An MBA.)
An MBA is a one-size-fits-all product, instilling just enough functional knowledge (in statistics, accounting, finance, etc.), while equipping and molding students with business skills that may be utilized in a whole host of future situations and settings.
Real world case studies can involve finding the optimal debt-to-equity mix for a publicly-traded company, solving logistical scheduling problems for a transportation company, or coming up with a differentiated and innovative marketing campaign for a brand new product.
Most MBA programs push students to secure a summer internship with a company and/or an ongoing consulting/CO-OP project with an organization, as part of the emphasis on grooming future generalist managers.
While popular media may be heavily skewed in its coverage towards the one-size fits all approach of a MBA, young professionals – given their career interests and personal goals – may instead be more suited to either a more specialized and technical program or a more research-intensive, academic program. (For some other options, check out Alternatives To Business School.)
Alternative Master's Programs in Business
There is a broad array of advanced programs being offered by colleges and universities across the United States. For instance, a professional can obtain a graduate degree in the following fields:
- Master of Accounting
- Master of Taxation
- Master of Finance
- Master of Statistics
- Master of Actuarial Science
- Master of Risk Management / Insurance
- Master of Organizational Behavior
- Master of Economics
More Flexible Than an MBA?
Programs within specific functions of a company or organization, such as the above, can typically range from one-year to three-year programs. An applicant without a spouse or family can opt for a shorter and more intensive one-year or two-year program. However, those who want to keep earning a salary and/or have family obligations to attend to, can often request the dean of the program to extend the duration of his or her program, in order to pursue a part-time schedule.
Universities are motivated to attract talented candidates into their master's programs for positioning and ranking purposes, therefore, they can offer flexibility for those they are confident have the ability to complete the requirements of the advanced degree.
An MBA is not typically required to make partner at a CPA firm, so it may make sense for a degreed accountant or CPA to invest his or her time and money in a master's degree in accounting or taxation instead. This allows him or her to focus on priority areas or interests such as regulatory compliance, estate planning or financial reporting.
Clients of the CPA firm can spend hundreds of dollars for each hour of the CPA's time, and they will want practical, immediate and effective solutions to their accounting or tax problem. A research or consulting firm may also want similar expertise from a credited statistician or an economist. (To learn more, see CPA, CFA Or CFP – Pick Your Abbreviation Carefully.)
Should a professional decide to become a specialist in his or her field and work on cutting-edge issues or advances, a graduate level degree (such as a master's or PhD) with guidance, can provide the opportunity to conduct research in emerging issues and areas deemed important either by industry, the government or the academic community. Generating new findings in your field can be an exciting way to contribute and shape initial impressions on new areas.
A summer internship at an investment bank or Fortune 500 company, after your first year in the MBA program, won't get you there. You'll probably be working on a cookie-cutter process improvement project or product analysis assignment. (For more, see The Designation For Your Financial Education: CFA, MBA Or Both?)
The Bottom Line
If you want to become a generalist manager, CFO or division president, an MBA may be the right tool for you. However, if you enjoy being a subject matter expert, such as an economist, estate planner, tax accountant, statistician, risk management consultant or an actuary, you may want to consider an advanced degree in your field. (For more, read Business Grads, Land Your Dream Job.)
ProfessionalsWhen adding up tuition, books, rent and foregone salary, an MBA can cost as much as a house. Is it worth it?
EntrepreneurshipBeing a CFA charterholder can take your career in many different directions. Find out what your option are.
ProfessionalsFind out how to fast track with a double major, and give you career the edge it needs.
Personal FinanceLanding a job as a financial analyst takes study, strategy and a lot of hard work. Here's how to hone your competitive edge.
Personal FinanceIf you're deciding whether to get a degree abroad, first do your research and talk to alumni who have completed the same program.
SavingsTuition and room and board are big expenses, yes, but the cost of textbooks and supplies can add up, too, unless you strategize.
Credit & LoansU.S. students place 27th in math and 20th in science out of 34 countries. The United States must reform its education system or harm future economic productivity and global trade competitiveness.
Home & AutoChoosing the right roommate is key to not risking and ruining your credit history. Some simple precautions can save you from a financial nightmare.
Personal FinanceChoose your college major wisely to justify the rising cost of higher education. Here are 8 majors that lead to good jobs and high salaries.
Credit & LoansHousing will be your biggest budget challenge as a student in Paris, but the city offers lots of ways for students to save money, too.
An auto insurance policy discount available to young drivers ...
A graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University ...
The form that must be completed in order to qualify for any type ...
Money owed on a loan taken out to pay for educational expenses. ...
Under certain circumstances, federally backed student loans – ...
A professional designation awarded by the Certified Commercial ...
If you are older than 59.5 and have been contributing to your IRA for more than five years, you may withdraw funds to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
You can use your IRA to pay for college tuition even before you reach retirement age. In fact, your retirement savings can ... Read Full Answer >>
If you are over 59.5, or separate from your plan-sponsoring employer after age 55, you are free to use your 401(k) to pay ... Read Full Answer >>
Opinions vary based on which publications you consult, but the best MBA programs for a career in corporate finance are at ... Read Full Answer >>
Having a magna cum laude degree is most important for jobs in the fields of finance, management consulting and engineering. ... Read Full Answer >>
Using private and federal student loans to finance a college education is a common funding strategy, but students are often ... Read Full Answer >>