Business Administration

What Is an MBA in Supply Chain Management?

What Is an MBA in Supply Chain Management?
Supply chain managers make the kinds of tough financial, procurement, and production decisions that can make or break a business. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry April 27, 2020

Part business degree, part deep dive into SCM, the MBA in Supply Chain Management can help you climb the supply chain ladder more quickly.

MBA/Business and Supply Chain Management Programs You Should Consider

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Supply chain management, or SCM, involves nearly everything that happens behind the scenes to get products into the hands of people, from purchasing to manufacturing to logistics. All the raw materials, component parts, processes, funds, and other resources that go into making and selling the stuff we buy are a part of the supply chain. Even human resources are a part of this incredibly complex system.

SCM can be a fast-paced, stressful field. Supply chain managers make the kinds of tough financial, procurement, and production decisions that can make or break a business. Given that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many employers are looking for SCM professionals with master’s degrees, nor that 48 percent of supply chain managers have them.

If you want to work in supply chain management, the question you should be asking isn’t “Is a master’s in supply chain worth it?” but rather “Which SCM degree should I pursue?” You have two options: the Master of Science in Supply Chain Management or the MBA in Supply Chain Management. The former is a great choice if you want to spend your career optimizing supply chain management operating practices. If, however, your long-term goals include advancing to a c-suite position, a supply chain MBA program could be the better option.

In this article, we answer the question What is an MBA in supply chain management? and cover:

  • Who is most likely to choose this MBA concentration?
  • What are the prerequisites I’ll need to meet to enroll in an SCM MBA program?
  • What kinds of coursework will I complete in a supply chain MBA program?
  • How long does it take to earn an MBA in supply chain management?
  • How much do SCM MBA programs typically cost?
  • Where can I find the best MBA in supply chain management programs?
  • What careers do people with an MBA in supply chain management pursue?
  • How does a supply chain MBA compare to a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management?

Who is most likely to choose this MBA concentration?

Supply chain management MBAs are business-focused master’s-level degree programs that combine a general business administration curriculum with a specialized SCM track. These programs are typically designed for experienced supply chain professionals who want to advance to senior positions or for professionals in different fields who want to transition into SCM careers without starting at the bottom.

A supply chain professional can certainly get a lot out of a general MBA program. Even so, there are some compelling reasons to opt for an SCM-focused MBA over a more traditional non-specialized program. First, MBA in Supply Chain Management programs typically teach advanced business concepts in the context of supply chain management, so students get an in-depth business education plus targeted management experience. That can enable them to advance in this field more quickly. Additionally, working professionals in supply chain logistics often opt for specialized SCM MBAs because these programs are often designed with flexibility in mind. A lot of specialized MBA programs can be completed in a year or two years by part-time students.

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What are the prerequisites I’ll need to meet to enroll in an SCM MBA program?

You’ll need to have at least a four-year bachelor’s degree to apply for this degree, though you probably won’t have to have earned an undergraduate degree in supply chain logistics. While schools like Embry – Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach, Michigan State University, and Arizona State University have undergraduate degrees in supply chain management, it’s also possible to enroll in supply chain MBA programs with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, accounting, finance, engineering, and technology.

Most SCM MBA programs require applicants to submit GMAT or GRE scores less than five years old as part of the application process. However, there are some colleges and universities that don’t, or that will waive this requirement for experienced professionals. Almost all MBA in Supply Chain Management programs ask students for transcripts, an application essay or statement of purpose, an up-to-date resume, and letters of recommendation from professional contacts. Some programs only accept applicants with significant professional experience in supply chain operations or logistics or even, like the University of Southern California‘s Marshall School of Business, have very specific work requirements that applicants must meet. The takeaway: different SCM MBA programs have widely varying application requirements.

What kinds of coursework will I complete in a supply chain MBA program?

What you’ll study when pursuing an MBA in Supply Chain Management will depend on which program you choose. Some programs devote more time to core business concepts, while others have a more pronounced SCM focus. Ideally, the program you select will cover purchasing, transportation logistics, scheduling, supply chain analysis, operations, and customer service, as well as tools, software applications, and information systems commonly used in SCM, like Minitab, SPSS, and Excel Solver.

Core MBA classes might include:

  • Business Analytics
  • Business Skills Development
  • Competitive Strategy
  • Economics
  • Financial Accounting
  • Financial Management
  • Leadership Development
  • Marketing
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Statistics

Courses in SCM MBA programs related to supply chain management might include:

  • Data Management and Warehousing
  • Decision Modeling
  • Demand Management
  • Integrated Logistics Systems
  • International Supply Chain Management
  • Manufacturing Design and Analysis
  • Network Integration
  • Operations Management
  • Optimization and Simulation Modeling
  • Optimization Roles for Operations
  • Research and Negotiation
  • Service Supply Chains
  • Strategic Procurement
  • Supply Chain Analytics
  • Supply Chain Tools
  • Total Quality Management

Many MBA in Supply Chain Management programs require students to complete one or more internships, real-world consulting projects, and/or an international business excursion designed to give students hands-on supply chain management experience before graduation.

How long does it take to earn an MBA in supply chain management?

The majority of supply chain MBA programs take two years of full-time study to complete. Students in these traditional programs typically complete 36 to 45 credit hours of work, whether they’re enrolled in online MBA programs, on-campus programs, or hybrid programs that include both distance learning and on-campus classes.

There are, however, some accelerated supply chain MBA programs that can be completed in 16 to 18 months. The Haslam College of Business at The University of Tennessee – Knoxville, for example, offers a 16-month full-time supply chain MBA that gives students hands-on learning experiences, one-on-one career management, and access to hundreds of industry professionals through the school’s Supply Chain Forum.

Be aware, however, that programs like these are intensive, and typically not the best choice for students who need to continue working while studying or have a long list of personal obligations. If you can’t take the kind of sabbatical that’s often required to complete an accelerated full-time MBA program, there are also plenty of part-time MBA in Supply Chain Management programs at schools like Rutgers University – Newark.

How much do SCM MBA programs typically cost?

The price of MBA in Supply Chain Management programs varies substantially, and it’s not clear that having this degree can give SCM professionals the kind of salary boost that makes taking out student loans worthwhile. Tuition for SCM MBA programs tends to fall somewhere between $30,000 and $70,000. However, keep in mind that students in these programs also pay for books and classroom materials, university fees, and in some cases, on-campus housing. There are less expensive MBA programs for supply chain management professionals, though you won’t find them at the most prestigious schools for supply chain logistics.

According to Salary.com, the salary increase associated with getting a supply chain MBA is negligible—just about $1,000. That may assume, however, that graduates don’t have supply chain management certifications or are staying in hands-on mid-level management roles and not advancing to higher-paid executives positions like director, vice president, or chief supply chain officer. Or it may be that having an MBA is less important than experience or certifications in supply chain logistics. Given this uncertainty, think carefully before taking out loans to fund an expensive full-time SCM MBA at a highly ranked university. You may end up getting more out of a part-time program that allows you to continue working and pay out of pocket.

Where can I find the best MBA in supply chain management programs?

According to US News and World Report, the top supply chain MBA programs can be found at the following colleges and universities:

The programs at these institutions are offered by some of the top-ranked business schools in the US, and the students who attend them tend to find well-paid positions in supply chain logistics and operations soon after graduation. The average base salary of graduates of the Haslam College of Business’ MBA in Supply Chain Management program, for instance, is about $99,000.

What careers do people with an MBA in supply chain management pursue?

A lot of people assume that supply chain management is a manufacturing discipline, but the reality is that there are also supply chain jobs in sectors like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, technology, e-commerce, and retail. You also need to understand that SCM is a category that covers a wide range of roles related to supply chain logistics. That means that getting an SCM MBA can open a lot of different doors, including the doors behind which you can find the highest-paying positions in supply chain management. These include:

You might not be qualified to step into these positions immediately after graduating from an MBA in Supply Chain Management program, but having an MBA can definitely help you advance more quickly in your career.

How does a supply chain MBA compare to a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management?

At first glance, these two graduate degrees for supply chain professionals can look very similar. In fact, there can be a lot of overlap between these programs. The most significant difference between them is focus. Most Master of Science in Supply Chain Management programs are designed for students who want to spend their careers solving supply chain and logistics problems. They want to advance, but they don’t want to climb so high up the ladder that they’re no longer in the thick of supply chain operations. MSSCM curricula are laser-focused on supply chain, logistics, and operations optimization.

The SCM MBA, on the other hand, is a business degree with a supply chain bent. Many programs assume that students have a firm grounding in SCM fundamentals, and so they focus more attention on the kind of advanced business concepts that can help a supply chain professional advance to higher-level management roles. If your passion is supply chain operations and you have executive ambitions, this is probably the best degree for you.

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