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What is the difference between MBA and Masters in a specific subject of Business studies like, master in Management?

What will be a better option for one if he intends to be a researcher in future? And does MBA degree specialize a specific subject of business studies?

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An MBA is a professional degree designed for students who will go to work in industry and not pursue further graduate study or research. Students in MBA programs typically all take the same courses in lock step with very few electives or options. It generally isn't possible to specialize in a particular area in an MBA program. In that sense, an MBA program is very much like medical school or law school and totally unlike graduate study in engineering and the arts and sciences. Students in MBA programs usually have several years of full time experience working in low level corporate jobs after completing a bachelors degree. Because they have had some exposure to the corporate/business world, the courses that they take draw on that experience.

In comparison, the Master's in Management is a professionally oriented degree program aimed primarily at students who have just completed a bachelor's degree. These programs tend to be more theoretical simply because students have less practical experience to draw on. Many business schools also offer professionally oriented masters degrees in more specialized technical areas (e.g. a Master's degree in mathematical finance or operations research or analytics.)

PhD programs in business schools are typically very separate from MBA programs and the students in the PhD program will typically take very few if any courses with the MBA students. PhD students take more theoretical course work, take advanced courses in an area of specialization (e.g. accounting, finance, marketing, etc.) take course work in research methods, and then conduct research and write a dissertation.

If you're just completing a bachelor's degree and want to get a masters and go to work in industry, than a Masters in Management is the typical path. If you're just completing a bachelor's degree and want to become a business school professor then a PhD program would be appropriate. If you've had several years of experience in business and want to move up in management, then an MBA would be the typical path for you.

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  • At first, Thank you MR Bochers for your fine suggestion.I want to be a professor of business school in future.I am going to complete my bachelor's degree in Human resource management soon.So what should I do-masters and after that PhD,or is there available opportunity to enroll in PhD directly just after completing Bachelor degree? – GoodboY Oct 2 '15 at 11:20
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    In the US system a student with your goals would typically try to go straight into a PhD program in Management. – Brian Borchers Oct 2 '15 at 16:33
  • @ Brian Borchers But for international students in USA, will it be easier to go straight into Ph.D program after completing Bachelor program? To make the resume strong and get experience, is it wise to complete a Master's program first? – GoodboY Jul 6 '16 at 16:54
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    @GoodboY for most foreign students the issue will be lack of financial support for graduate students in MS and MBA programs in business schools. Since graduates of these programs can command high salaries in industry, the expectation is that they'll be able to pay for their education, typically by taking out loans. There are some research and teaching assistantships avaialble to PhD students in business, although not as many as you would find in the sciences and engineering. – Brian Borchers Jul 7 '16 at 1:05
  • @ Brian Borchers: So, in this case would it be wise for international students to complete thesis based MS from home or foreign country and apply for Ph.D candidacy then in US? – GoodboY Jul 9 '16 at 18:26
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In addition to the nice answer by @BrianBorchers (+1), I would like to clarify several aspects that you are interested in (stated in your question), but he hasn't touched upon (if I haven't missed it).

Firstly, I would say that the biggest difference between MBA and master's degree in a business subject is that the former is a general degree, whereas the latter implies some specialization or, at least, focus. Considering this aspect, one could expect that typically an MBA graduate is potentially a more well-rounded business professional than a graduate with a specialized master's degree.

Secondly, I would say that, if you are not absolutely certain about what area of research you want to specialize in, the optimal approach would be to go the MBA route. That would allow you to be exposed to a wider variety of disciplines and areas of study, thus, increasing your chances to find areas of research that best fit your interests, goals and/or personality. An additional positive side effect of this approach is that, should, for some reasons, you decide later to pivot (temporarily or otherwise) and work in a managerial role, you would, in my opinion, have better career options and flexibility being an MBA graduate rather than one with a specialized master's degree.

Thirdly, in regard to MBA specialization, there are indeed many different specialized MBA full programs (or specializations within a general program, also referred to as tracks), in addition to standard general MBA programs. For example, consider this list of MBA specializations at NYU Stern School of Business.

Finally, I agree with Brian Borchers in that you should target enrolling in a Ph.D. program, if you want to become a researcher in business-related areas of study. Such programs are typically offered through universities' business schools (for example, see this program by Stanford GSB).

Some schools also offer a relatively similar degree of Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). Personally, I am not a big fan of this route, since not only the abbreviation can lead to you being confused with a database administrator :-), but, on a more serious note, Ph.D. programs are often more rigorous and, thus, more respectable and valuable than similar DBA programs (though, it depends on institution, as some top universities also offer DBA degrees - in any way, DBA is typically a more applied degree than Ph.D.). In addition to standard DBA programs, there are also specialized DBA programs, like this one, as well as executive DBA programs, like this one.

You might also find useful to read my answer to a related (MBA vs. Master of Science) question.

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