Many graduate from MBA programs—the generalist business degree can help students launch management careers across a whole host of sectors. Others enroll in specialized degrees focused on key areas such as finance, marketing, business analytics, or accountancy.
With both generalist and specialist degrees providing a valuable boost for your career, it can be tricky to decide which is best for you. Here’s what you need to know to decide between an MBA or specialized master’s.
Different degrees teach different skills
MBAs offer a comprehensive training in the fundamentals of business. Enrolling in a top program, such as the Nanyang MBA at Nanyang Business School (NBS), ensures you will gain a well-rounded business acumen.
Providing an interdisciplinary curriculum covering key areas such as marketing, accounting, and human resources, as well as future-ready skills to help students become impactful leaders, the Nanyang MBA is one of the first in Asia to offer a tailored 'Sustainability and Innovation' track.
Typically aimed at experienced students—the Nanyang MBA has a minimum requirement of two years’ work experience—the program has a key focus on leadership, with emphasis on developing students' cultural intelligence, negotiation skills, and ability to manage diverse teams.
Studying an MBA that offers such a broad curriculum can therefore put you on the fast-track to a leadership position and prepare you to manage effectively with a holistic understanding of business.
While an MBA provides you with a broad knowledge base without delving too far into any specific topic, enrolling in a specialized master’s degree will see you deep diving into one subject.
For example, the MSc in Financial Engineering (MFE) teaches advanced financial knowledge and skills, with modules such as Asset Pricing Theory, Derivative Securities, and Advanced Statistical Modelling.
Specialized degrees in other subjects such as business analytics, marketing science, and accountancy offer similarly technical, specialist knowledge. For Sean Koh, graduate of the MFE, the specialist nature of the program made it the right choice for his desired career path.
“I wanted a course that was quantitative in nature and included some form of technology in its curriculum,” he explains. “The program combines finance, math, and programming together—in today’s highly digital world being a technologist with programming skills is highly desirable.”
Both provide the business school experience
While differences in the curriculum ensure you can develop alternative skill sets, some elements of the business school experience remain the same for both students enrolled in MBA degrees and specialized master’s.
Studying on campus ensures you gain access to the wide variety of resources business schools have to offer. For example, you can attend social events throughout the year and join a club or association that’s affiliated with the business school.
Business degrees of all kinds typically balance a focus on theory with practical learning experiences. This means both MBA and specialized master’s students typically get the chance to take part in business simulators, guest lectures, and networking events.
There’s also the valuable prospect of working with the school career service. At NBS, the Graduate Studies Career Development Office (GSCDO) provides all students with career counselling, resume and interview workshops, and opportunities to connect with top recruiters and alumni working with world-renowned companies.
For Sean, connecting with alumni played an integral role in helping him land a top job in the financial sector after graduation.
“We had alumni coming back to share with us their experiences working in banks as well as audit firms,” he says. “I was then able to see the importance of what I was learning and draw links to the kind of career that I wanted to pursue.”
As an MBA student, Laura Lutao had a similar experience after gaining access to a wealth of cross-industry alumni during her studies. Nanyang MBA alumni typically work in a variety of sectors, with some of the most popular being technology, consulting, finance, manufacturing, and consumer products.
“The alumni affairs office is very proactive when it comes to setting up a platform for us to be able to engage with alumni,” she explains. “I think being able to interact with these people solidified what path I envisioned for myself going forward.”
Both degrees are valuable for your career
Having graduated from their degrees at NBS, both Sean and Laura have gone on to make exciting career moves. While Sean launched his career at Glencore, working as a risk manager, Laura is currently a sales operations lead at fintech firm, Xendit.
The combination of knowledge acquired during their degrees and the extensive access to career support at the business school was integral in helping both grads take the next steps in their careers.
For Laura, however, arguably the most important factor were the soft skills she developed during her MBA. With a greater focus on leadership and interpersonal abilities, the MBA helped her grow both professionally and personally, she feels.
“The skills that I really value and were new to me when I came into the program were the non-technical ones, like cultural intelligence, ethics, or negotiation. Things you don’t discuss using a textbook."
Since leaving the program, Laura decided not to return to her home country of the Philippines and has instead remained in Singapore, working in a role that has involved leading a sales team across 11 different markets in the APAC region.
Taking on a regional focus while living and working outside of her home country has required much of the cultural learning she gained during the program, she says.
"An understanding of how to problem solve and to find a middle ground with people who have different ideas and different work ethics are the most important things that I was able to apply in a regional role."
On the other hand, enhancing his technical skills was an essential step for Sean in achieving his goals upon completing the program.
“Through the program I was able to further sharpen my programming skills as well as understand the importance of risk management,” he says. “In my current role I have to do derivatives pricing as well as managing risks, the skills required for this were imparted during the program.”
How to choose your business school degree
Faced with a choice between an MBA or specialized master’s, it’s therefore clear that you must understand what skills are required for your chosen career path.
If you’re aiming to enter a specialist industry that requires technical knowledge, a specialized master’s can provide you with the expertise to excel.
If your goal is to gain a more well-rounded business acumen and enhance your leadership abilities, an MBA can provide you with the soft skills necessary to become an effective manager.
Whichever path you choose, enrolling at business school opens up a wealth of opportunities both immediately after graduation and as you progress throughout your career.