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Devolution of the MBA: Why a one-year master’s degree is a faster, better, and more affordable alternative

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Obtaining an MBA is assumed to be a career-enhancing option for young professionals.  Particularly if someone majored in the liberal arts or mathematics, traditional wisdom is that an MBA can enhance exposure to the multiple facets of business as well as provide career flexibility.

MBA programs, however, cost upwards of $100,000—sometimes nearly $200,000, depending on the institution. In addition, the full-time nature of these programs requires students to trade the office for the classroom for two years. The costs, in both time and money, mean that some individuals might be better off considering alternatives to business school.

Fortunately shorter, more flexible options exist without compromising the quality and prestige of a traditional MBA. In response to student demand for these types of alternative programs, schools are enhancing offerings in specialized areas—from science of management to international finance. These specialty programs, which usually are 12 months long, often include elements of the typical MBA curriculum (such as classes in finance or advanced mathematics skills), but cut through the clutter of an MBA by focusing more on the technical and less on the general managerial skills.

Specialized business degrees offer entrance to students with just a year or two years of experience. There is an array of degrees for those set on a specific career path.  These programs, which are a deep dive into subject areas, are a fast-track to a successful career. You won’t get marketing or strategy, but you may get all finance, all the time.  In terms of quantitative finance skills and the shorter time period, it wins. You learn finance at a detailed level you couldn’t get in a typical MBA program.  And employers are seeking experts in a field, not generalists.

Grad school is expensive.  But you don’t have to pay so much to further your education. While MBA tuition averages $140,000 and can run as high as $200,000, a one-year master’s will set you back, on average, only about $30,000. And since you’re able to jump back into the marketplace a year earlier, your extra earnings are a huge win.

When it comes to finding a job post-graduation, these specialized business degrees can offer an advantage. For specialized jobs, like business-specific analyst positions, recruiters will often eschew two-year MBA students and look specifically for specialty program graduates. The same is true for jobs like international banking, investment management and financial mathematics positions. Graduates from these programs have specific knowledge—you know, for example, how investment management is done versus just understanding how general business is done.

The advantages of the one-year specialty master’s programs are clear, with a lower opportunity cost and a shorter completion time. Students examining specialty option schools see the opportunity to get a brand-name school on their resume for a fraction of the price of an MBA without having to give up employment a few years into their career. That’s a very compelling business case!

I'm a professor of finance at Gordon College and lead the school's Master of Science in Financial Analysis program. I'm addition I'm a Board Member for fintech and financial services companies. Which means I'm transforming, accelerating, and advising businesses that students I'm educating want to work for.

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