An MBA degree is guaranteed to give you an edge for the next career step. But an MBA is not the right option for everyone - especially if you lack money, do not have the time or are looking for different ways of educating yourself to get ahead in your job.
Luckily, there are many other options which you can pursue. Each of them come with their unique advantages and disadvantages. So - what else can you do instead of an MBA degree? Let’s explore the alternatives:
An MBA degree carries a lot of prestige, but it’s often expensive. So here’s a secret: Many larger universities and business schools also offer specialised Masters of Sciences or Masters of Arts at lower tuition fees, and these degrees often share a lot of courses with the more expensive MBA degrees.
Generally, MSc or MA programmes can be more theoretical and less hands-on. That can be a good thing if you’re still at an early stage of your career, and want to develop your knowledge and skills in a specific area. In that situation, an MSc or MA might be the better choice over an MBA, depending on your personal plans and aspirations.
Specialised Business Masters degrees usually come with a specific subject focus in one of three areas:
Many business schools offer degrees they call Masters in Management, or MIM / MiM for short. They are placed somewhere between the classical MBA and the specialised Masters:
However, the differences between MIM’s and MBA’s or MIM’s and MSc’s can be slight and confusing. For example, the Financial Times regularly publishes its “Masters in Management” ranking; but the list also includes MA and MSc degrees in Management. It’s important that you have a look at the university’s reputation and also at the course content to be sure that the degree matches your career requirements.
Much like an MBA, a highly reputed professional certification is guaranteed to boost your career. Popular ones are the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), CPA (Certified Public Accountant) or its local equivalents, or CIMA (the certification issued by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants).
In terms of content, professional certifications are usually closer to a specialised MSc or MA than they are to a “general management” MBA. There are fees, but these are much lower than a typical MBA.
These professional qualifications usually require a lot of learning leading up to exams. Learning material is provided by the certification body, and there are third-party books and materials you can buy as well. You will be able to study on your own and wherever you like - an upside for those who have a high level of self-discipline. But be prepared to invest a lot of time! Don’t be fooled to think it would be easy doing this while working full-time.
Similar to an MBA degree, you can usually attach the degree to your name on your business card. This will indicate to your contacts that you are a specialist in whatever that degree covers. “Emilia Henderson, CFA” - sounds nice, doesn’t it?
The Master of Public Administration is the public service equivalent to an MBA degree. In an MPA study programme, the focus lies on public affairs and government. A variant of this is the MPP degree, Master of Public Policy.
Like an MBA degree, universities commonly offer MPA or MPP programmes as on-campus degrees that run for one or two years. You will also find MPA programmes tailored to either graduates from undergraduate programmes, or to students who already have a few years of work experience. Unlike an MBA degree, there are not too many schools or universities offering MPA or MPP degrees. Depending on your preferred location and your financial constraints, your options might be limited.
If you plan a career in public service or government, an MPA or MPP is probably a much better choice than an MBA. That’s especially true in consulting: Firms like McKinsey or EY, with large public sector departments, welcome MPA and MPP graduates with open arms.
We’ve explored academic alternatives to an MBA - but perhaps you don’t want to go back to university and hit the books, all while you’re paying tuition fees without earning a salary. Well, work experience is another option, if you are smart about it! Obviously, cleaning the floors at your local grocery store is not the work experience you should be after. But here are a few ideas:
Work in consulting: Many young graduates like to go into consulting because it allows them to gain experience in many different companies and industries in a short time, through project-based work. Consulting companies often attract some of the smartest people of their fields, which means you get to learn from the best. Not to mention that some of those firms also offer support for further academic study. So you might end up getting that MBA, after all!
Join a company’s graduate programme: Following the appeal of consulting companies, many large corporations offer graduate schemes in which job starters rotate through several departments. That way you get to know the ins and outs of several different business functions. Many successful managers have started out in such programmes. This is also a great option if you are not yet sure in which direction you want to take your career, as you will encounter many different roles in a graduate trainee programme.
Start your own company: Entrepreneurs are faced with a host of challenges - and they have to learn fast to adapt and succeed. In many ways, startup founders gain valuable hands-on experience that could never be taught in a business school classroom. You don’t have a business idea of your own? Then you could actively seek out early-stage startups in your area. In a startup, you will attain much more responsibility much more quickly than in any other position. And even if the company fails, it’s a big plus on your CV: Recruiters will value the courage it took to try and make it with a startup.
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