The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is "by far, the most popular master's degree for both men and women" (CBS News). Ever since its beginnings at the Harvard University Graduate School of Administration over 100 years ago, the MBA has been a popular choice for professionals in a wide variety of industries.
In 2008-2009, about one in four men and one in ten women who pursued a master's degree chose to earn an MBA. That gender gap is closing: Time reports that over the last decade, the percentage of women in leading MBA programs has increased to 41.2 percent, up from 31.8 percent in 2011.
A master's in engineering management might be less familiar to many outside the world of engineering. The MEM (or MSEM; Master of Science in Engineering Management), focuses on engineering management principles like product design, operations, data analytics, machine learning, and supply chain management. It's less ubiquitous than its better-known, all-business cousin; even so, with the explosion of technology and data-driven businesses, the master’s in engineering management degree’s popularity is on the rise.
If you’re wondering should I get an MBA or master’s in engineering management, this piece can help to clarify matters. It also addresses the following:
Engineers are the professionals businesses hire to design structures of all kinds. They apply a STEM perspective to systems, data, and statistics to make decisions for problem-solving and design. Engineering managers support engineering teams and apply their management skills to business and human resource structure and organization. An MEM or MSEM program integrates technology and business management principles so that graduates can leverage both in making comprehensive and data-driven business decisions.
But when comparing an MEM to an MBA, we shouldn’t solely focus on technology—there is more to consider. While the MEM training in technical skills is certainly valuable in our increasingly tech-centered business world, the MBA has broad appeal. Master of Business Administration holders are in an easy position to pivot from one industry to another since the degree is not engineering-specific. MBA holders can apply their skills and training to positions in pretty much any industry.
The MBA and the MEM are both professional management master's degrees; each has its unique take on management. MBAs are offered at business schools, while MEM programs are provided by engineering schools.
An MBA focuses on teaching students how to make informed decisions that will impact a business's productivity and success. The MEM applies management skills to tech and the people who practice it, bridging the gap between business management and operations and the engineering and technology that support them.
While the two programs differ in fundamental ways, they have a lot in common. Both focus on leadership skills, problem-solving, and project management—and even share core courses in marketing, finance, intellectual property, operations, business law, and accounting. The curriculum for both degrees is designed to emphasize data-driven decision making, analytical skills, and strong management skills and relies on the same foundational management principles.
The Master of Business Administration was developed in response to global industrialization and the need to organize and manage business operations scientifically. The MBA is a professional degree with a generalized program that offers electives and concentrations in areas like human resources, accounting, marketing, and finance.
The MBA program provides a strong working knowledge of the functions of management and the analytical skills that support it. Instruction includes work with both theory and practice and involves an in-depth study of organizational behavior.
Classes include core coursework in human resources, operations management, leadership roles, economics, finance, marketing, business statistics, and supply chain analytics. Business ethics and social responsibility also are emphasized.
Hard and soft skills are important in any managerial role, especially in leadership positions. Instruction includes the business skills and leadership skills necessary for the management of both business practices and the people who facilitate them. Beyond the hard skills needed for data analysis and project management, the MBA also teaches soft skills in areas like communication, problem-solving, negotiation, innovation, organization, and creative thinking.
MBA students can take a number of routes to complete their degree. Because these degree programs are designed for working professionals, many programs build in flexibility to allow for students’ busy schedules. Many business schools offer online MBA programs.
Students can attend a traditional full-time, in-person MBA program, which takes two years to complete. This timeline is designed primarily for students who have a recent bachelor's degree and are just launching their careers. Programs also are offered part-time for students who are pursuing an MBA degree while also gaining work experience (and earning a living). A part-time program typically takes more than three years. Some schools may also offer a five-year option for students who are working toward an MBA while completing a bachelor's degree.
As well, there are accelerated programs like the Executive MBA, which is structured for corporate executives with extensive experience and provides a condensed and intensive program that may only take 12 to 18 months.
Earning your MBA can set you up for success in high-level management in any industry. According to US News & World Report, "MBA graduates who finished their degrees in 2021 and got job offers typically received six-figure salaries." MBA graduates earned a median starting salary of $115,000 in 2021.
Because of the degree's broad design, MBA grads can work in a wide range of management positions in fields like marketing, finance, human resources, and medical and health services.
The MEM/MSEM is a professional graduate degree that prepares professionals for work in both team and systems management. MEM students are trained in technical work and managing teams of people and MEM graduates will be prepared to excel at both.
The Master of Engineering Management integrates the technology and business curricula so that graduates can leverage management skills in both areas. The curriculum covers data analytics, supply chain management, operations research, engineering project management, machine learning, database and information systems, product management, and financial management in areas like accounting, performance, and operations.
MEM degree students can choose from specializations in mechanical engineering, healthcare systems, structural engineering, environmental systems, managerial analytics, economics and accounting, entrepreneurship, and systems engineering—depending on their career goals.
Any high-level management career requires both technical and personal skills, and the MEM emphasizes both. Technical skills include strong foundations in risk management, data analysis, and project management, and soft skills are taught in areas like decision making, communication, problem-solving, negotiation, innovation, organization, and creative thinking. Programs also promote ethical considerations in marketing and manufacturing in the engineering field.
The timeline for earning an MEM is similar to that of the MBA track and, as always, these answers are program-specific. Most schools offer traditional full-time, on-campus, two-year programs, but others follow a unique program design. Accelerated schedules can take as little as 18 months, while a part-time program may take three years to complete.
Time is one variable in researching your best program option, but there are other considerations too. Dartmouth requires at least three academic terms of residency for their master's in engineering management degree, while Stevens Institute of Technology's Master of Engineering in Engineering Management is taught as an entirely online masters program.
MEM graduates are prepared to apply their engineering skills and principles to both technical projects and the people who work on them. This puts them in a unique and specialized position in the job market.
Engineering management graduates can find jobs in research and development and in manufacturing and design as systems analysts, IT project managers, mechanical and systems engineers, industrial engineers, civil engineers—all in a salary range well over six-figures. Senior-level managers like senior systems engineers and engineering managers can make $150,000 or more.
So which do you choose: the MBA or the MEM/MSEM?
If you see yourself sticking to the engineering world where technology rules, you’ll probably opt for the MEM or MSEM degree. The training is robust for the business of engineering, so you'll be able to continue to focus on business systems and the people who work in them.
If you want to advance your standing in a traditional business career, the MBA will allow you to pursue opportunities in practically any field you choose.
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