Business Administration

What’s the Difference Between an MBA and an MSBA?

What’s the Difference Between an MBA and an MSBA?
Developed as a way for students to hone their skills in accounting and bookkeeping, as master's degrees in business administration have evolved, they've also exploded in popularity. Image from Unsplash
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Noodle Staff February 14, 2018

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Understanding the Difference Between an MBA and an MSBA

Deciding to get your master’s degree is an exciting step—but with all the possible programs to choose from, the process can quickly become overwhelming.

Before settling on a degree in business, you need to understand the difference between a Master’s of Business Analytics and a Master’s of Business Administration. This article breaks them each down, so you can confidently decide which degree to pursue.



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What can you do with an MBA versus an MSBA?

Developed as a way for students to hone their skills in accounting and bookkeeping, as master’s degrees in business administration have evolved, they’ve also exploded in popularity. This competitive, much sought-after curriculum now offers multiple areas of study (and specialization).

With a master’s degree in business, you’ll be more valuable to potential employers, can command a higher salary, and will ultimately be better-poised for success in all aspects of business—particularly as an entrepreneur.

What’s the difference between the MSBA curriculum and the MBA curriculum?

The MSBA and the MBA curriculum are both rooted in core business basics, but from there the two degrees vary greatly. The time it takes to obtain these degrees, the required courses, and the admissions process are different.

The Master of Business Administration (MBA), is a generalized program that teaches students business management. Over the course of two years, full-time MBA candidates will receive the foundational knowledge of economic theory, updated to meet today’s the fast-paced business needs. These courses lay the groundwork for how to be successful in business management or administration.

Between 45 to 55 credit hours are typically required to complete an MBA. First-year MBA candidates tackle leadership, accounting, and business statistics. In their second year, MBA candidates begin courses more specific to entrepreneurship, finance, or real estate. Electives vary by university, so before choosing an MBA program it is important to review the specializations offered by each potential school.

The Master of Science in Business Administration (MSBA), is a much more specialized degree. In this one-year program, students focus on an area specific to their needs or ambitions, with the goal being to become an expert in that field.

The MSBA degree combines data science, computer science, statistics, business intelligence, and information theory—all of which are focused on commercial applications. Because of this specialization, it is often recommended that students complete their MBA prior to earning an MSBA—but an MBA is not required.

Because MSBA courses are much more personalized, each curriculum ranges greatly. An MSBA can include classes similar to those found while earning a Master of Economics, Master of Finance, Master of Accountancy, Master of Science in Marketing and Master of Science in Management.

In order to graduate, MSBA students are often required to complete a field research study or project directly related to the area they are pursuing.

What are the admissions requirements for an MS in Business Analytics vs an MBA?

Beyond determining your level of interest, and how that might guide the degree you decide to pursue, you also need to know how the admissions requirements for an MS Business Analytics differs from an MBA. Both programs require a bachelor’s degree—but as it relates to undergraduate GPA, work experience, and test scores, each program has its own set of benchmarks.

If you want to earn an MSBA and your bachelor’s degree is in an unrelated area, you may be expected to complete certain proficiencies before being accepted into an MSBA program. Regardless of when or where you earned bachelor’s degree, it should always be from an accredited university.

The MSBA application process also requires passing certain general competency exams. Ssome programs accept work experience or prior academic performance in lieu of testing, which is almost always granted on an individual basis.

Applicants for any MSBA program need to exhibit leadership skills, excellent communication, and strong academic performance.

The requirements for an MBA are similar. Like the MSBA, an MBA also requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. An applicant’s undergraduate GPA and test scores are also considered, usually with a minimum passing level.

MBA applicants are almost always required to submit an admissions essay, and might also need to provide references to verify work experience. The culmination of all these factors are what determines admission into an MBA program.

What jobs are available for MSBA grads vs MBA grads?

Many MBA graduates find careers banking, education, real estate, healthcare, and finance. That said, both the MBA and the MSBA are valuable assets to employers.

While most careers for MBA and MSBA grads fall under the “business administration” umbrella, this does not mean MBA and MSBA degree-holders are limited to this industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for careers in finance is booming—and one potential career option with a master’s degree in business is a financial analyst. Financial analysts provide guidance to individuals and companies that are looking to invest. Financial analysts look for trends in stocks, bonds, and equities to guide their clients’ investments.

If finance isn’t your forte—perhaps you prefer a management role—another common route for MBA grads is to become a project manager. Project managers oversee the strategic movements of a company, play-by-play, ensuring each step is completed as efficiently as possible. A project manager must know what is going on at all times, from a high level—while also being aware of the details involved. People who enjoy breaking large challenges into actionable steps without losing sight of the big picture often gravitate toward this type of career.

Many a master’s degree in business set their sights on becoming a chief financial officer (CFO). As the title implies, a CFO works in finance—but not on the investor level like a financial analyst. A CFO keeps records of a company’s finances, including expenditures and assets, and often guide many of a company’s marketing and budgeting portfolios. They partner with chief executive officers, or CEOs, and others in leadership positions within the company or corporate boards.

Keep in mind that the above positions are just a fraction of the job opportunities available with an MBA or an MSBA.

What can you expect your starting salary to be once you’ve earned your MBA or MSBA?

Business touches every corner in the world, and a such the possibilities are endless. A good business administrator drives a company’s financial success, and most businesses understand this.

With an MBA or an MSBA, salaries are often competitive and usually range in the six-figures. Titles and compensation will depend on many factors—including where you live, and your area of focus. Below are just a few of the roles you can find with a master’s degree in business, with a ballpark average annual salary. Remember: total compensation (especially at the leadership level available to those with an MBA or MSBA) often includes equity and bonus payments.

Financial focus:

  • Chief financial officers, averaging $168,000 annually
  • Finance directors, averaging $151,000 annually
  • Senior financial analysts, averaging $85,600 annually

Marketing focus:

  • Marketing directors, averaging $133,000 annually
  • Business development managers, averaging $105,000 annually
  • Marketing manager, averaging $102,000 annually

Accounting focus:

  • Chief financial officer, averaging $125,000 annually
  • Financial controllers, averaging $90,500 annually
  • Senior accountants; averaging $60,800 annually

Is an MBA or an MSBA right for you?

Whether you’re interested in earning an MBA or an MSBA, there are multiple avenues available to obtain your degree. Many MBAs and MSBAs can be pursued online or on campus, part time or full time. Once you’ve determined which degree to pursue, your next step to is to narrow how (and where) you want to continue your education.


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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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