PhD or MBA - Choosing the Right Graduate Degree for You
There are lots of good reasons to go to graduate school: A higher degree usually means higher earnings over time. A graduate education lets you dig deeper into a subject that you’re passionate about. You can make valuable connections in graduate school that will help you build a strong network and a successful career.
When I was deciding what kind of graduate degree I wanted to pursue it came down to a PhD or MBA. I had the following questions:
- Which degree would help me more in my career?
- What is it like to a PhD or MBA student?
- Which degree would cost more time and money?
- What are the requirements to earn a PhD or MBA?
PhD or MBA: Career Prospects
MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. MBA programs are designed to teach you how to work in the world of business, including finance, consulting, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Some MBA programs have more focused tracks, such as non-profit management or media management.
MBA programs attract people with all kinds of goals. Some want to work for Fortune 500 companies, some want to start their own business, and some just want to be more attractive to employers in the business world. If your dream is to get a top job in the world of business, the biggest factor is the reputation of your MBA program. Top MBA programs have such an impressive network of alumni and internship partners that it’s completely achievable to get a career-track position with one of the world’s biggest multinational corporations.
A PhD degree sets you up for a very different career path. A PhD is the requirement for teaching at the university level. If you want to become a college professor, a PhD is a must.
However, there are also many PhDs in non-academic jobs. A PhD in a science field, for example, makes you a very attractive candidate for research positions in a variety of science-related industries and government labs. A PhD in social studies or humanities (as well as science) can be quite useful in the world of consulting and many consulting companies actively recruit PhDs.
PhD or MBA: A Day in the Life
The life of a PhD and MBA student are really quite different. Figuring out which degree would be more interesting for you really depends on how and what you enjoy learning.
MBA programs are rather structured. There are certain core courses that everyone takes in the first semester or two, and then students are encouraged to specialize a bit more depending on their career goals. Most MBA classes are lecture style, with smaller assignments and group projects throughout the term, and a big group project at the end. Group work is usually emphasized in MBA courses because teamwork is an essential part of the business world. Most projects are fairly practical, with a clear real-world application. You may be asked to come up with a marketing campaign, write a business plan, or calculate a budget for an imaginary company. Most MBA students complete an internship at some point during their studies, and this helps them further hone their career goals and gain experience.
PhD programs tend to be somewhat less structured. A PhD is a research degree that is often different for each student depending on his or her interests. The degree usually starts with a year or two of coursework that is intended to solidify your foundation in your chosen subject. The focus is on developing a personal research agenda that expands and complements the existing research. As such, a PhD is a very individualistic degree (although science PhDs may spend a lot of their time working in groups and collaborating on projects).
Both PhD and MBA programs attract people from all disciplines and working backgrounds. Many MBA programs offer part-time as well as full-time programs to accommodate those that work on the side. PhD programs are generally full-time.
PhD or MBA: Time and Money
A PhD degree usually takes longer than an MBA. Most MBA programs require 2 years of full-time study, though some schools offer accelerated 1 years programs. PhD programs take at least 3 years, though the total time commitment depends on how quickly the student completes his/her dissertation.
In terms of cost, PhD programs can be cheaper because scholarships are often available. Most major universities will offer graduate assistantships for outstanding applicants. These scholarships cover the total cost of tuition and provide a monthly living stipend. In exchange, the student will work part-time as a teaching or research assistant for the university.
MBA programs do offer some scholarships, and some employers subsidize earning an MBA degree. However, the total cost is undeniably quite high. Most MBA students see this as an investment in their career, as MBAs do stand to earn a lot in their future employment.
PhD or MBA: Requirements
Requirements vary by school and by country. In the US, all PhD programs require that you have at least a Bachelor degree and have taken the GRE exam. An MBA also requires a Bachelor degree and the GMAT exam.
If you're thinking about getting a PhD, I suggest you check out my article on deciding to go to graduate school.