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29 July 2023

4 minutes read

MBA vs MS in the USA

Key Takeaways

  • MBAs focus on management, MS on specialized technical skills.
  • MBA graduates usually earn higher initial salaries than MS graduates.
  • MS programs are research-intensive and field-specific.
  • Work experience is crucial for MBA admissions but less so for MS.
  • MBAs lead to leadership roles; MS degrees to specialized positions.

When it comes to graduate education in the USA, the dilemma between pursuing an MBA (Master of Business Administration) and an MS (Master of Science) is a common one. This choice can significantly influence your career trajectory, salary prospects, and personal development.

Whether you aspire to excel in a particular field or aim to acquire broad management skills, understanding the nuances of MBA vs MS degrees is crucial for making an informed decision.

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Understanding MBA and MS Programs

What is an MBA? 

An MBA is a professional postgraduate degree focusing on business and management principles.

Designed for individuals looking to assume leadership roles, an MBA program covers a range of topics including strategic management, marketing, finance, and human resources.

Specializations like healthcare management or international business are available, catering to diverse career goals.

An MBA equips you with a versatile skill set to navigate leadership roles in diverse business environments.

– Harvard Business Review

What is an MS Degree?

Contrastingly, an MS degree provides in-depth knowledge in a specific field, such as engineering, computer science, or biology. It’s tailored for those seeking specialized expertise and often involves a research project or thesis.

The curriculum is more technical and focused compared to the broad scope of an MBA.

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Top Universities for MBA and MS in the USA

UniversityMBA Annual FeesMS Annual Fees (Estimated)
Stanford University$74,706​Varies by program
Harvard University$73,440​Varies by program
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)$80,432​Varies by program
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)$77,168​Varies by program
Yale University$72,350​Varies by program
University of California – Berkeley (Haas)$64,246​Varies by program
New York University (Stern)$76,780​Varies by program
Northwestern University (Kellogg)Estimated $74,871Varies by program
Columbia UniversityEstimated $77,376Varies by program
University of Chicago (Booth)Estimated $73,440Varies by program
specialization and in depth knowledge

Specialization and In-depth Knowledge

  1. MBA Specializations: Offers a range of specializations like Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, Healthcare Management, and International Business, providing a targeted focus within the broader scope of business management.
  2. MS Specializations: Highly specialized in specific fields such as Computer Science, Engineering, Biotechnology, Environmental Science, and Healthcare, focusing on technical and research skills in a particular area.
  3. Depth of Knowledge: MS degrees delve deeply into technical and theoretical aspects, while MBAs provide a comprehensive overview of business and management.
  4. Research Opportunities: MS programs often include significant research components, like a thesis or project, providing in-depth knowledge in a specific subject.
  5. Professional Application: MBA specializations are designed to enhance managerial and leadership skills in various business sectors, whereas MS specializations prepare students for highly technical and specialized roles.

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Career Opportunities and Advancement

Career Paths with an MBA

Industry/SectorTypical RolesDescription
FinanceInvestment Banker, Financial AnalystFocus on financial markets, investment strategies, and financial planning
ConsultingManagement Consultant, Strategy ConsultantProvide expert advice to businesses to improve performance and efficiency
TechnologyProduct Manager, Business Development ManagerManage product development and business strategies in tech companies
HealthcareHealthcare Administrator, Hospital ManagerOversee operations and management in healthcare facilities
MarketingMarketing Manager, Brand ManagerDevelop and implement marketing strategies to promote products or services
Human ResourcesHR Manager, Talent Acquisition SpecialistManage recruitment, training, and employee relations
OperationsOperations Manager, Supply Chain ManagerOversee production, logistics, and supply chain management
EntrepreneurshipFounder, Startup CEOStart and manage new business ventures
career opportunities and advancement

Career Opportunities with an MS

Field of StudyTypical RolesDescription
Computer ScienceSoftware Developer, Data ScientistDesign software, analyze data, and develop algorithms
EngineeringCivil Engineer, Mechanical EngineerDesign, develop, and oversee construction and manufacturing processes
BiotechnologyBiotechnologist, Research ScientistWork in medical research, pharmaceuticals, and genetic engineering
Environmental ScienceEnvironmental Consultant, Conservation ScientistStudy and solve environmental issues
MathematicsStatistician, ActuaryAnalyze data and apply mathematical theories
HealthcareNurse Practitioner, Clinical Research CoordinatorProvide advanced healthcare services and conduct clinical research
PsychologyClinical Psychologist, CounselorOffer mental health services and conduct psychological research
EducationEducational Administrator, Curriculum DesignerManage educational institutions and develop educational content

MS degrees focus on providing in-depth knowledge and technical skills in a specific field, making you an expert in your chosen area.

– Nature Biotechnology


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Eligibility Criteria for MBA Programs

  1. Bachelor’s Degree: A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution is a standard requirement for MBA admission.
  2. Work Experience: Many MBA programs prefer applicants to have 2-5 years of professional work experience, though this can vary by program.
  3. GMAT/GRE Scores: Most MBA programs require GMAT or GRE scores, although some programs may waive this requirement for applicants with substantial work experience or advanced degrees.
  4. English Language Proficiency: For non-native English speakers, proficiency in English is often required, typically demonstrated through TOEFL or IELTS scores.
  5. Letters of Recommendation: Applicants are usually asked to submit letters of recommendation from professional or academic references.
  6. Personal Statement or Essays: Personal statements or essays are commonly part of the application, where candidates express their career goals and reasons for pursuing an MBA.

Did You Know?

The average starting salary for MBA graduates in the USA ranges from $90,000 to $120,000, whereas MS graduates typically start with salaries between $60,000 and $80,000.

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Financial Considerations and ROI

Degree TypeAverage Tuition CostAverage Starting SalaryROI Considerations
MBAVaries widely, generally higher than MS$90,000 – $120,000​Higher salary potential, broad career opportunities
MSTypically lower than the MBA$60,000 – $80,000​Specialized roles, technical expertise


In conclusion, choosing between an MBA and an MS degree hinges on your career aspirations, academic background, and professional experience.

Consider your long-term goals, the type of specialization you seek, and the financial investment required. Both degrees can lead to rewarding careers, but the right choice depends on your objectives and circumstances.

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What is the average duration of MBA and MS programs?

MBA programs typically last 1-2 years, while MS programs generally require 2 years of full-time study.

Can I pursue an MBA without a business-related undergraduate degree?

Yes, you can pursue an MBA with any undergraduate degree, as MBAs are designed to cater to a diverse range of academic backgrounds.

Is work experience mandatory for MS programs?

Unlike MBA programs, work experience is generally not a mandatory requirement for MS programs, though it can be beneficial.

Are there part-time or online options for MBA programs?

Many MBA programs offer part-time, online, or executive MBA options to accommodate working professionals.

What kind of careers can I pursue with an MS degree?

MS degrees lead to specialized roles in fields like technology, engineering, science, and healthcare.

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