Business Master’s Degree Is Not a Substitute for an MBA

New report shows that many candidates with a prior business master’s degree are considering an MBA.

May 16, 2017

New GMAC Research

Prospective business school student from India

New findings presented in the 2017 GMAC Prospective Students Survey Report reveal that among candidates who already hold a prior business master’s degree, a majority are considering application to an MBA program—meaning their master’s degree was just a steppingstone on the road to earning an MBA. 

Globally, 1 in 5 prospective graduate business school candidates—or 22 percent of the individuals who responded to the Prospective Students Survey between February and December 2016—currently holds a master’s degree earned in a business or other field. Half of these candidates (47 percent) have an existing master’s degree in a business-related field, 26 percent hold an engineering master’s, and 1 in 10 holds a science (10 percent) or social science (8 percent) master’s.

Most of these prior master’s degree-holders are considering MBA programs (74 percent) although 31 percent are considering a business (non-MBA) master’s degree. The majority of candidates who have a prior business master’s degree (61 percent) are considering an MBA program, as are 86 percent of candidates who have a nonbusiness master’s degree.

These survey results show that among all the graduate business programs available MBA programs remain the predominant program format that prospective students consider and prefer in their pursuit of their professional career goals.

Globally, among all 11,617 prospective graduate business students who completed the prospective students survey in 2016, 3 in 4, or 77 percent, are considering an MBA program compared with 49 percent of candidates who are considering a non-MBA business program (e.g., Master of Finance or Master of Accounting).

Trends in Program Preferences

Despite the preponderance of candidates who intend to pursue MBA degrees, however, growing candidate demand continues to fuel the proliferation of non-MBA business master’s programs. Globally, the percentage of candidates considering only business master’s degrees, such as Master in Management or Master of Data Analytics, has increased from 15 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in 2016. This rise in interest has been especially strong among candidate from East and Southeast Asia and Western Europe, where now more than 2 in 5 candidates report considering only these program formats. 

In contrast, nearly half (49 percent) of prospective students surveyed in 2016 consider only MBA programs, down slightly from 52 percent in 2009. Across all program types that prospective students contemplate for their graduate business studies, full-time two-year MBA and full-time one-year MBA programs are considered by the greatest share of prospective students (40 percent and 39 percent, respectively.)

Distinct Candidate Pools

With the rising popularity of business master’s programs, some business school professionals may be concerned that these programs are becoming a substitute or replacement for an MBA. A demographic analysis of candidates by program preference, however, shows that these different programs formats attract distinct pools of candidates, much as they have in the past. 

Candidates looking at business master’s programs tend to skew younger, have little to no prior work experience, and are more interested in acquiring technical quantitative skills, such as those taught through finance and accounting programs, for example. Individuals pursuing MBA programs generally are older, have accumulated more years of work experience, and are seeking to develop their managerial and leadership skills in order to make more of an impact in their current careers. 

Report Analyzes Impact of Economy, Global Politics, and Costs on Candidates Educational Goals

GMAC researchers who conducted the Prospective Students Survey last year gathered data from registrants not only about intended program choices for application to graduate business school, but also about their career goals, financing plans for paying for school, and the top destinations for the growing pool of candidates who wish to study and work internationally. These findings and more can be found in the full survey report, which is available for download at Schools that use the GMAT exam for admission to one or more of their programs can also use this web link to gain exclusive access to an Interactive Data Report, an online tool that accompanies the survey, which allows school professionals to explore the full range of survey responses by various candidate demographic characteristics. Login is required for schools to access this report.