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The MBA (Masters of Business Administration) is probably the best known of graduate business degrees. The core courses of an MBA program are intended to introduce students to the various areas of business, for example, accounting, finance, marketing, human resources, etc. Students in MBA programs usually have the option of taking general business courses or selecting an area to focus on.
Since the first MBA programs were offered a century ago in the United States, the degree has spread across the globe, receiving a great deal of attention — both favourable and unfavourable — as it has progressed. In recent years, however, it has faced challenges from a number of other graduate business degrees.
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For some years leading European business schools and universities have offered an alternative to the MBA, which is often called a Masters in Management. This is meant for those with little or no experience, and could be either a one-year or two-year program. Some programs are lockstep, with all students taking the same courses, whereas others offer some choice of courses, even to the point of offering one or more concentrations in various specialties .
French programs have traditionally been the market leaders in Europe, but they now face stiff competition from leading British masters programs, Dutch programs, and ones from other countries. And, finally, several leading American universities — including Duke University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Rochester — now offer such programs. It is worth noting that the French programs, along with many other continental European programs are two years in length, whereas the British, Dutch, and American programs are one year long. Also, a plethora of big-name schools now offer programs, including HEC Paris, the London School of Economics, and London Business School.
It remains to be seen whether these degrees will function as MBAs for the young — i.e., with graduates not needing or seeking additional formal education — or if they’ll be career starters, with graduates eventually seeking additional training through an MBA or specialised masters degree (such as a Masters in Finance) later in their careers.
Another major competitor to an MBA is the Masters in Finance. One reason for its popularity is that graduates of the leading programs have commanded MBA-like salaries, which is not generally the case for graduates of other specialised masters programs (see below). Another reason is that its specialised nature appeals to those who are, or wish to become, specialists, without a need for the general management underpinnings of an MBA. Thus, much of the MBA first year core — from operations management to marketing — may be of little value to someone who will trade currencies for most of his or her career.
Some Masters in Finance programs, usually with titles such as “financial engineering,” are extremely mathematical in nature and geared to producing “quants” — the financial engineers meant to design new derivatives and other immensely complicated products for Wall Street and The City (of London) to sell. These programs are often found at highly prestigious universities (including Cambridge, Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, etc). Competition to get into these institutions is fierce, and predictably, their graduates have commanded high salaries from the leading finance firms in the world.
More traditional programs continue to focus on turning out traditional financial analysts, corporate finance specialists, and the like. Some of these programmes are geared to a specific industry, such as insurance or health care. Although quantitative in nature, they are no match for the rocket science taught in the financial engineering programs. Similarly, their graduates tend not to command salaries equal to those offered to MBA graduates.
Most Masters in Finance programs are one year long. Unsurprisingly, given the concentration of modern financial activities in London and New York, many of the leading programs are in the UK and US. And given their appeal to practitioners, many programs offer part-time options. Even those courses elsewhere in the world that were once taught largely or partially in languages other than English are switching their courses to English because it is definitively the international language of finance.
Here is a selection of institutions in the US, UK and mainland Europe that offer leading programs:
Cass (City), Cranfield, Imperial, Judge (Cambridge), London Business School, London School of Economics, Manchester, Said (Oxford), Warwick.
Bocconi (Milan), ESSEC (Paris), HEC (Paris), IE (Spain), Rotterdam.
Anderson (UCLA), Columbia, Haas (UC Berkeley), Princeton, Simon (Rochester), Sloan (MIT), Stanford, Stern (NYU), Tepper (Carnegie Mellon), and Rotman (Toronto).
Other graduate business degree options
If you are interested in developing your skills in essentially one area only, you can do a specialised masters degree in accounting, information systems, marketing, real estate, supply chain management, or any of a dozen other business fields (eg Masters in Finance discussed above). However, these specialised degrees are not suitable for those who wish to receive training in the usual core courses of an MBA program, pursue advanced training in multiple fields, or become general managers. In these cases, either an MBA or a Masters in Management is likely to be more appropriate.
The specialised degree programs differ in many important regards. In some fields, such as accounting, the norm is for students to enter shortly after graduating from college. In others, such as supply chain management, most programs are open only to those with substantial experience. In some fields the best programs are offered only on a full-time basis, whereas in others the best ones are offered on either a full-time or part-time, or even only part-time basis.
In fields such as information systems, American universities offer very strong programs at the masters level. In many fields, however, no leading American school offers a masters program, in fact it is extremely hard to find a Masters in Marketing at one of America’s top dozen universities. This is by no means the case in Europe — in fact those looking for a specialist masters degree in a subject ignored by top American schools are advised to consider Europe’s leading universities, for example the London School of Economics, HEC (Paris), or any of two dozen others.