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The MBA vs PhD Debate

Grace M.
MBA vs PhD

If there’s one question that seems to get business university professors flinching at, it’s the all-to-often “what’s better – an MBA or a PhD?

The reason for this is clear – asking such a question seems to suggest that the result of obtaining an MBA or PhD is the same. This couldn’t be any further from the truth.

MBA vs PhD

Let us first quickly break down what an MBA and a PhD is.

MBA is short for Master of Business Administration, while PhD is short for Doctor of Philosophy. Just from the first word of both types of degrees, we can already see that there’s an obvious difference between the two, but let’s proceed.

In terms of the required time commitment, an MBA will usually take two years to complete full time. On the other hand, getting a PhD can take four years (unless you decide to undertake it part time or enrol into an accelerated online PhD degree programme). So if time is your primary concern, then an MBA would be the obvious path for you.

As an MBA student, you’ll find that much of the learning curriculum is closely related to a professional environment. In fact, this is why some universities mandate at least one year of actual work experience as an entry requirement. As a result of the masters degree being so closely related to business in practice, an MBA student will usually research a broad range of subjects. Each of these subjects would focus on a unique business aspect such as accounting, consulting, economics, marketing, finance, leadership, management, ethics and trading.

On the other hand, a Business PhD student will only focus on one subject and do so in much greater detail. On top of this, the PhD student will usually also be expected to support lecturers with teaching classes and leading tutorial sessions.

The reason for this difference is because a doctorate is an advanced degree which aims to make you an expert in a specialised field. Because of this, a PhD is regarded as the higher professional qualification of the two.

MBA vs PhD Entrance Requirements

Due to the amount of funding available, a high number of applicants and a few available positions, the competition for entry into MBA and PhD programmes can be very high.

The specific requirements depend on the country you intend to study in; however, most MBA programmes require you to sit Graduate Management Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Regardless of whether you need to undertake a pre-qualification exam or not, most universities prioritise applicants who already have a level of professional experience.

The reverse is true for PhD programmes. For PhDs, you will require a relevant undergraduate or postgraduate degree (usually with a 2:1 or 1st), but you will not be expected to sit any pre-entrance exams nor will you be expected to have working experience. As a result, most students who do a business PhD are younger than those who do an MBA.

Earning your MBA or Doctorate Online

MBA after PhD - Online Joint Degrees

As if the MBA or PhD debate wasn’t enough, the online versions of these degrees are starting to get thrown into the comparisons. With the fast-developing rate of the internet and a general trend towards online global connectivity, higher education is experiencing a significant transformation.

Not only is it possible to get a doctorate online, MBA programmes and Masters in Project Management are also much more widely available online from top-ranking universities compared to several years ago.

While online learning may not be for everyone, many adult students, including myself, favour online degrees due to the flexibility they provide to on-campus or distant learning programmes. As someone who used to dedicate several hours a night on a university campus in a neighbouring area, take it from me, being able to study from your home office isn’t only easier, it’s much less stressful.

MBA vs PhD Career Options

So what gives a better return on investment in terms of career options, an MBA or a PhD?

The MBA is a specialised business degree, and as such, anyone who holds it is a valuable asset for any business. Industries are all about using employee abilities to the organisation’s benefit, and an MBA isn’t something an organisation should or will ignore.

Having a Masters in Business Administration is usually associated with greater career prospects. This is reflected in the speed that an MBA degree holder can climb the corporate ranks compared to an individual who doesn’t hold the specialised degree. Not only can they progress faster, but MBA holders typically also achieve higher positions during their career. This can include highly sought after positions such as associate directors and senior executives (assuming the student is ambitious and dedicated enough). Another benefit of getting an MBA is surrounding earning potential. It’s not unusual for those with an MBA from the London Business School, Oxford University or Imperial College London to receive starting salaries in excess of £50,000 a year.

In comparison, most business PhD holders won’t follow the same path as their MBA colleagues. Instead, most PhD graduates will enter into either a research or academic career. Because of this significant difference in the typical career path, which of the two types of degrees is better suited for you will depend on exactly what it is you want to do after completing your studies.

Find Your PhD, Fast

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

PhD after MBA

Hopefully, it should be clear by now that an MBA and a PhD are two very different degrees, and because of that, it should also start to become clearer regarding which degree is for you.

If this isn’t the case, it may be useful to know that some business students, after completing their undergraduate degree, obtain an MBA and then move onto a PhD. This actually makes a lot of sense since the two forms of professional qualifications cover different stages of a student’s learning, and on that basis, there’s no reason why you couldn’t do both.

In fact, a few universities offer programmes that combine both degrees as a PhD-MBA dual degree. They are better known as PhD-MBA Integrated Degrees (or PhD-MBA Joint Degrees in US Graduate Schools) and can be the perfect option for anyone who wants to get the best of both qualifications. You don’t necessarily need an MBA for PhD eligibility, but they can prove beneficial as the transition from MBA to PhD will usually be less arduous than from Bachelors to PhD.

So what’s Better, a PhD or MBA?

PhD vs MBA - What's better?

The final answer depends on you. If you’re an individual who enjoys going up against others or the market, then an MBA will probably be the right option for you. On the other hand, if you prefer the realms of researching business theories, challenging yourself mentally and being able to pass on knowledge to others, then a PhD could be the better option. If both options sound interesting to you, then you may find a PhD-MBA dual degree of interest.

In the end, then, the question isn’t about whether an MBA is better than a PhD, but which one is personally better for you.

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