PhD or MBA—Choosing the Right Graduate Degree for You

Updated on December 14, 2017

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. Some MBA programs now also accept GRE scores.

Questions & Answers

  • What is a GRE exam?

    The Graduate Record Examinations is a standardized test that is an admissions requirement for most graduate schools in the United States.

  • I have an MBA. what Ph.d program would naturally follow?

    It depends on what field you are interested in researching and working in. Most people choose their Ph.D. based on their undergraduate degree and their research interests. However, an MBA can be a helpful step on the way to a Ph.D. in a business-related field: management, marketing, finance, etc. These are usually offered through business schools, and lead to jobs working at a business school, and teaching future MBAs.


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    • profile image


      10 months ago

      I’m finish mba hr how can join phd

    • profile image


      14 months ago

      Fully furnished..You're doing a great work by helping for those who are in a illusion on approaching what we've to pruse next.It helped me a lot to select what to move my next step..Thanks a lot for that.

    • profile image

      Neha pal 

      22 months ago

      Great knowledge I get form this site ...not expected !! I'll get best knowledge form this site ...stay keeping up knowledge for us...thank u alot to help me out

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Hi, I feel like am kind of a jack of all trade. I get bored easily but I do love teaching. I want to get into Leadership Development. Which path should I take between PhD and MBA?

    • a1studycenter profile image

      Andrew Bell 

      8 years ago from Worldwide

      Love to learn great thing from your HUB.. keep writing information like this. going to follow you too.

    • juliebooly profile image


      9 years ago

      I think a big part of it also has to do with personality as well. Many MBAs really enjoy "the pursuit of learning," but the research-focused career path of the PhD may not be a great match for many extroverted MBAs. A great test for me as a former MBA - ask yourself if you love a subject so much that you're willing to do lots and LOTS of research on it - many times by yourself - or you're more energized by working on projects with lots of people on a day to day basis. That can help you to determine which way to go!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      hi, i found your article truly researched. but i am still on the threshold of deciding between the 2. As a writer with 10 years experience a PhD is what should do, but as I want to try my hand at marketing, an MBA is what i should do. So any advice?

    • profile image

      Accredited MBA Programs 

      9 years ago

      As you point out in your article a PhD tends to be more for people who want to go into teaching themselves. This is especially true for the US. In Europe many business students pursuing a PhD degree or shall we say doctorate do so because just like an MBA it raises your starting salary in the private sector and equips you with the privileges of a "title".

    • sligobay profile image


      9 years ago from east of the equator

      A well-reasoned article about career choices, I must say. It will be helpful to those who are starting their careers, but less so to those of us approaching retirement. Cheers.

    • profile image

      Mergia Bayissa 

      10 years ago

      I am a man of 35 years old and hold BA degree from Haramaya university with great distinction.I that to persue MBA if I may get a chance of scholarship.I am looking forward to hear from you soon.



    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      10 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Very good advice. I ended up on the MS track instead of the MBA track. I was accepted to both. Looking back, I might have been better off on the PhD fast track, skipping the MS thesis and starting on my dissertation right away. I have no regrets about passing on the MBA; that degree seems a little diluted to me.


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