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MBA Vs Specialized Masters: 3 Important Differences

Choosing between an MBA and specialized master’s program is a tricky decision—here’s what you need to know about each qualification

With hundreds of business schools offering thousands of graduate programs, finding the perfect course for you can be a huge challenge.

Before you look into specific schools and programs, you’ll need to answer one important question: is an MBA or a specialized master’s— such as the Master's in management, Marketing, or Finance— the right option for you?

BusinessBecause asked Dr Kathleen Boies and Dr Sandra Betton, two associate deans at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University, how you can find the best fit for you.

Here are the three key differences between MBAs and specialized master’s programs:

1. Theory vs Practice

According to Sandra, MBAs feature a more practical curriculum than specialized master’s programs. 

“Students in the MBA program at John Molson have a number of opportunities to interact with the business world in real life,” she explains.

One popular example of this learning approach is the international case competition held at John Molson every year. During the event, competitors are given real business issues, and present their solutions directly to the company.

The competition includes a live case, presented by a real company. Recent attendees include Spanish beauty company, Beauty & Go, logistics company, McGill St Laurent, and office space provider WeWork.

MBA students at John Molson also have the option to expand their work experience by undertaking a co-op internship program, sourced by the university. Students with an interest in non-profit and government roles can also take on a specific community service internship.

Meanwhile, specialized master’s programs encourage students to deepen their theoretical understanding in one specific area.

For Kathleen (pictured), these qualifications are best suited for candidates who already have a very clear idea of where their interests lie.


At John Molson, she explains, four business-related MSc programs are on offer: marketing, finance, supply chain, and management. 

“Our specialized master’s are very research-oriented,” she says. “If you already know what topic you’re interested in, and really want to dig deep, I would recommend an MSc.” 

Elsewhere, there are dozens more options to choose from, including: analytics and management, business analytics, finance, international business, disruptive innovation, and more.

2. Different Students


MBAs and specialized master’s programs tend to attract slightly different participants.

Most MBA programs require their students to have a few years’ work experience behind them, while specialized master’s programs can be studied right after a bachelor’s degree, or later on in a person’s career.

“At John Molson, the minimum requirement for our MBA program is two years’ work experience, and the average is five,” Sandra explains. 

With its broad curriculum, the MBA is suitable for professionals from a diverse array of backgrounds, provided they have the right level of experience.

At John Molson alone, students have included engineers, a jazz singer, an actress, an acrobat, and a cordon bleu chef.

Specialized master’s programs tend to draw from a less varied pool of applicants in terms of academic background.

For highly technical courses, students must have a specific knowledge base to work from. This often means having a science, economics, or business degree—but not always. 

At John Molson, for instance, the MSc programs in marketing and management are open to graduates from all disciplines, provided they have a strong track record and are motivated to learn.

3. Breadth vs depth


On a specialized master’s program, students have the chance to thoroughly delve into the topic that most interests them.

This means more core modules, and fewer elective modules than an MBA curriculum, to ensure participants graduate with the technical knowledge they need to excel in their chosen field.

“If you’re doing an MSc in finance, we want to make sure that by the time you graduate you have the financial knowledge that will make you a good analyst, for instance” Kathleen explains.

Despite this specialization, students studying a business master’s at John Molson do have a lot of control over their final research project.

In recent years, projects have varied in scope from CFO behavior, to pet influencers on Instagram, to sustainability strategy, demonstrating the flexibility on offer.

With an MBA, students study a wider range of topics in less depth. 

At John Molson, for instance, MBA students study everything from financial management to managerial analytics. They’re also required to take a module in responsible management, which covers ethics in business.

Along with these core courses, students choose five electives, Sandra explains. Currently, the most popular modules are consulting, project management, and social media marketing. 

With these diverse courses, MBA students graduate with a broad understanding of multiple topics, rather than a deep understanding of a few specific subject areas.

“The MBA at John Molson is for people who want to explore,” Sandra summarizes. “It’s a collaborative, supportive program.”

On the other hand, specialized master’s programs are ideal for students who want to delve deep into a topic alongside like-minded individuals.

Student Reviews

Concordia University: John Molson School of Business




On Campus

Educational advancement

My time at Concordia College has been set apart by huge self-awareness. The steady instructors and staff have assisted me with fostering my abilities and information. The college offers a scope of administrations and extracurricular exercises, giving various open doors to understudies to reach out. In general, my involvement with Concordia has been positive and improving.




On Campus

My growth

"My time at Concordia University has been marked by significant personal growth. The supportive teachers and staff have helped me to develop my skills and knowledge. The university offers a range of services and extracurricular activities, providing numerous opportunities for students to get involved. Overall, my experience at Concordia has been positive and enriching.




On Campus

Communications and Culture Studies

I am currently enrolled in my first year in the Communication and Culture studies program. I have met so many incredible people and have already acquired skills that I will serve me in my professional career. The courses are dynamic, engaging and intellectually stimulating. I am happy to be a student at this university and look forward to the next 2 years here!




On Campus

Significant advancements

Having attended Concordia University, I can confidently state that I have seen significant advancements in my skills. The faculty and staff demonstrate great thoughtfulness and provide effective support. Additionally, the university offers an abundance of student clubs and services.




On Campus

Master of Quality Systems Engineering

I completed my Master's in Quality Systems Engineering at Concordia University, where I gained a comprehensive understanding of quality management principles and methodologies. The program provided a mix of theoretical knowledge and practical applications, including coursework in statistical process control, Six Sigma, and Lean principles. I engaged in hands-on projects addressing real-world quality challenges, collaborated with experienced faculty, and conducted independent research. This experience has equipped me with the skills and expertise needed to contribute effectively to organizations seeking to enhance their quality control processes and achieve operational excellence.

Amber Lee



On Campus


The Communication program at Concordia University will prepare you for the future. The program is divided in two blocks: one more theoretical, from which you learn the concept of communications through the perspective of philosophy, history and social studies; another completely hands-on in which you learn how to produce media choosing from three streams; sound, moving images, intermedia. What I love about the communication program at Concordia is that the teachers are clever, up to date, and exited about putting the future in the hands of students. Not only there is so much to learn in the communication program, but there are also so many opportunities!




On Campus

Concordia is best

Concordia university is one of the top listed universities not just in Canada but worldwide. The most amazing thing about this university is it is a standalone English speaking university in Montreal that allows non francophone students to enrol and study efficiently. My program is beautifully designed with access to high quality classrooms and faculty members that are available every time to attend your queries. The huge campus of the University including the library allows students to indulge in group work and research programs. The administration staff is super supportive and polite in their conversations. I have had the most amazing experience studying at Concordia so far.




On Campus

Entrepreneurship and Marketing

I had the privilege of being a part of Ryerson University's Entrepreneurship and Marketing program, and it was an outstanding experience. The program's curriculum was well-designed, providing a perfect balance of theoretical knowledge and hands-on practical application. The faculty members were highly knowledgeable and supportive, creating an engaging learning environment. The program's emphasis on industry connections and experiential learning opened doors to valuable internships and co-op opportunities. The resources and facilities dedicated to the program were top-notch, allowing me to explore my passion and excel in my studies. I am grateful for the real-world skills and industry connections I gained through the program. Ryerson University's Entrepreneurship and Marketing truly prepared me for a successful career in the business world. I highly recommend this program to anyone looking for a transformative educational experience.





Integrated Student Life

Concordia University has done a fantastic job at providing on-campus activities and workshops for students to feel connected and less lonely in stressful times. My program, Human Relations highlights this perfectly as a human relations student to be able to see the effects these workshops have on our beings and our mental and physical health as well. The student Life at Concordia has allowed our school to feel more like a community than a school.




On Campus

Study review

As a graduate student in the doctoral program in chemical engineering at Concordia University, I would rate the program as highly commendable. Although, the academic experience has been rigorous, challenging, and intellectually stimulating, providing a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of chemical engineering principles. However, my ongoing program has been equally rewarding and has equipped me with the skills and knowledge needed for a successful career in academia and industry.




On Campus


In general, I love my university. It's a true representation of diversity, with students from all around the world. The system is incredibly organized, with everything functioning seamlessly, from the structure to the services.




On Campus

Great range of classes - Political Science program

- I would definitely recommend this university. Concordia offers a great range of various classes for Political Science program. Offered courses are interesting and well-taught. - My campus is located in downtown, and I have no problem to drive there and park, as university offers two big parkings for students - Teachers are nice and comprehensive. If students obtain a bad grade, there is always a possibility to discuss and do something with that - University has an amazing student life. There are various help-centers and crews who are always willing to help students