MBA versus specialist programs

 | June 27,2011 10:28 am IST

Despite over 100 years of existence in some form or another, the MBA continues to be one of the most high profile graduate degrees of all time. Ever since its beginning, prospective candidates have considered non-MBA options but have mostly settled for nothing short of the MBA.

But, the traditional full-time two year MBA is increasingly facing competition from other options both on-campus and off-campus. Although the MBA has gained in relevance over the last several decades, more recent years have seen several other options have gained credence as their alumni base has grown.

Here are some programs that are options for those who are seeking specialist rather than general qualifications.

MS or MSc. degrees tend to offer specialisation in specific areas e.g. marketing, information systems, accounts, finance, hospitality, etc. The emphasis is on specialization rather than general management that drives the typical MBA, at least initially. These programs are usually shorter in duration and are often run by business schools themselves.


Some of the more famous programs in the finance area are the Masters in Finance (MiF) program offered by the London Business School and the MS in Computational Finance offered by Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School or the hospitality programs run by NYU or Cornell.

Mid-career MBA programs
Programs like the Sloan Fellowship at Stanford, MIT and LBS, as well as HBS’ General Management Program are shorter duration programs designed to target an audience that doesn’t exactly fit into the flagship full-time MBA profile and does not see the merit of doing the part-time executive MBA. These are programs that cater to those who have over 7 to 10 years of experience and are usually taking a break from their well-established career. Although more expensive when compared on a like-for-like basis with the traditional MBA, these programs are highly targeted and assume a certain degree of business understanding. Recruitment support is almost zero and you are expected to manage your career yourself.


Off-Campus Alternatives
One of the most touted examples of this has been the CFA which has become the de rigueur in the investment management business. With no need for a full-time commitment and a relatively low cost outlay, it has seen its popularity soar. It is not uncommon to find MBA students building their CFA qualification simultaneously while at business school.

Unlike the CFA, the US CPA is a general accountancy qualification akin to the chartered accountancy qualification in India. Again, this can be gained without a full-time commitment and is often a mid-career option for many who have originally qualified as cost accountants or company secretaries.

Choosing the right alternative
Once you have successfully laid out your objectives, you should focus on identifying which programs are best suited for your needs. Lay out your financial considerations, familial circumstances, opportunity costs, career goals, etc. to evaluate your alternatives.

While specialist programs offer a lure in terms of their ability to give you exactly what you are looking for and the lower opportunity and financial costs, they still lack the recruitment power that the more mainstream MBA programs offer. What makes them even harder to assess is that they do not have the level the critical analysis that full-time MBA programs are subject to across the web and print media.






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Saleem on 07/05/11 at 11:09 am

Very nice interpretation of different programs available in the market. I also believe that MBA leads to you better career in terms of position and return on investment. Average salaries of MBA graduates from top 20 Elite schools is much more than average salaries of Specialized programs.

If I analyse CFA vs MBA, CFA have an edge in terms of its acceptance in Financial market...but again, at certain stage of your need to go back to School for MBA....MBA can only help you understand different functions of organisation and then how you can lead. CFA qualified Head of Department or Company may not be able to handle daily functions as MBA Graduate can handle tactfully. MBA teaches you how to lead...CFA/Specialized Masters helps to strengthen your core career.

Last point, Full time MBA helps you to have experience of classroom and discussions, projects, presentations etc etc. But CFA not lets you to experience these areas for successful career. CFA Professionals are mostly focus on their core area but lacks leadership qualities.