Figures recently released by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) document a steady rise in the importance of post-baccalaureate degrees in business that are not the traditional MBA. GMAC’s Applications Trends Survey showed an increase of 3.2% in the number of applications to specialized master’s programs in business, versus a 6.5% decrease in applications to the traditional MBA degree in 2022 over 2021.
As college graduation looms ever closer on the horizon, students think ahead to the conclusion of this stage of life and the beginning of a career. But perhaps they don’t feel quite prepared to join the work force. They’re not sure what industry is best for them. Or maybe they are indeed convinced of their direction and would like their first job to be a cut above an absolutely entry-level position. Students who are not or not yet positioned for an MBA are increasingly applying for a master’s degree in a specialized field of business.
More and more business schools are catering to young professionals by expanding their offerings beyond the traditional one- or two-year MBA. An increasing array of master’s degrees prepare recent college grads for specific jobs. The well-established degrees considered in the GMAC survey are the Master in Management, Master of Finance and Master of Data Analytics.
Advantages of a Non-MBA Master’s Degree in Business
Employment prospects for graduates are impressive. Career services are a key advantage, as they can help a master’s student get that all-important first job. Top programs regularly report placement rates of over 90% immediately following graduation.
GMAT or GRE scores may not be required, making it easier for busy college seniors to skip this often laborious and time-consuming step.
Little or no work experience is required. Unlike traditional MBA programs, which typically expect about five years of work experience, most master’s programs are designed for students just graduating from college. In fact, some programs limit the number of years a student can have worked before applying.
Master’s programs are considerably less expensive than pursuing an MBA. Compare, for example, two programs at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. The Ross master of management course is ranked #1 in the U.S. by QS World University Rankings 2023. The cost of tuition, fees, food, housing and incidentals for the intensive 10-month master’s in management is approximately $90,000. In contrast, a two-year Ross MBA costs about $210,000. The opportunity cost of being out of the work force for one year just after college is also considerably less than that of taking two years off work at a presumably higher rank and salary. Of course, the investment costs are only half the story! It’s important to remember that the returns are also higher for an MBA..
Finally, some programs even allow alumni to return later for an MBA at their school—and apply the credit for relevant master’s courses to the MBA. An example is the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.
An Increasingly Popular Choice
Data recently published by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) for 2022 documents the shift to specialized master’s degrees. MBA programs continue to attract applications from the largest share of aspiring post-baccalaureate students. One-year MBA programs are slightly up and account for 22% of students who applied last year. Two-year MBA programs attracted 20% of the total number of applicants. Together, one- and two-year programs accounted for a hefty 42% of prospective graduate-level business students.
In contrast, applications to master’s programs did not rises above 10% per specialized degree. The master of finance ranks highest, accounting for 9% of the total number of applicants. Master of data science programs attracted 6% of the students. Percentages fall steadily after that: master in management and master of international management, 4% each; master of marketing, 3%; and master of accounting, 2%.
These single-digit percentages might seem minor, until you add up the total percentage of students applying to non-MBA master’s programs. The surprising fact is that, when taken together, applications to non-MBA master’s programs account for 29% of the total number of applications to graduate degree programs in business.This is substantially more than the percentage of applications to either one-year (22%) or two-year (20%) MBA programs, considered separately.
Though still considerably less than the 42% of full-time one- and two-year MBA applications taken together, master’s applications, at 29%, nevertheless make up a respectable—and rising—percentage of the total.
The MBA continues to dominate the graduate business degree market, but specialized master’s degrees in business are gaining in importance.