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Graduate Business Admissions at The Ohio State University | Fisher College of Business

The difference between a specialized master's degree and an MBA is ..?

Posted by Rob C and Alison M on Sep 19, 2016 3:07:59 PM

If you’re looking to pursue a graduate degree in business, you may automatically think about an "MBA." This may be all you know about graduate business degree options.

You may not be aware of specialized graduate business degree options - these advanced graduate degrees in business provide you with deeper exposure, education, and training in a specific area of business. Specialized graduate degree programs in business are numerous - you'll find programs that provide specialization in subjects such as accounting, finance, human resources, logistics, management, data analytics, etc. The list is long. Because there are differences within each type of degree program, note that the differences listed below are generalizations for full-time programs and may not always be true in every single instance. 

What's the difference between the MBA and other graduate business degrees?


 Content - what is IN the program?

  • An MBA is designed to be a general business graduate degree, although many MBA programs enable you to take courses towards a specialization. You will gain exposure to each of the functional areas of business (e.g. strategy, operations, marketing, etc.) while also focusing on the development of skills that will prepare you to take on managerial and leadership roles.
  • A specialized business program has, at its core, a specific area of business as the principal field of study. For example, a master of accounting program will tend to focus its content on accounting. Other topics may be included in the curriculum (e.g. strategy, management, etc.) but accounting is the core.

Work experience - do you need work experience to be considered for admission?

  • Most MBA programs put emphasis on prior post-baccalaureate work experience as part of their admission decisions.
  • Most specialized business programs see post-baccalaureate work experience as an added bonus if an applicant has it – but definitely not a detriment if s/he does not have it at time of application.

Prerequisite knowledge - are my odds for admission affected by my major and/or courses I am taking?

  • Most MBA programs do not have formal prerequisite knowledge required for successful applicants.
  • Specialized business programs have may or may not have varying levels of prerequisite knowledge as pre-conditions to successful applications.

There are exceptions to the differences outlined above. Do your research on programs before you apply. For example, some MAcc programs (including the one at Fisher/Ohio State) require some - but not a lot - of accounting coursework prior to admission whereas others will only review applications from undergraduate accounting majors. Some MAcc programs curricula may consist of 100% accounting courses whereas others will have a lower percentage. (For example, the Fisher/Ohio State MAcc program allows you to complete up to 50% of their curriculum in areas outside of accounting.) The master of finance program at Ohio State does not require someone to have prior finance experience nor does it require only finance majors to apply. Also, the Fisher human resources program ("MHRM") has no prerequisite major or coursework required from successful applicants.


Just as the MBA is not the same as a specialized business program, each MBA is not the same as another and each specialized business program is not the same as another specialized business program. Do your due diligence and you will find the best program to suit your personal and professional goals.

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Topics: SMF, FTMBA, MHRM, MAcc

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