Engineering Graduate School: MSc or MBA?

As an engineer, what kind of graduate school program would be better for me, an MSc or an MBA?

What is an MSc? What is an MBA?

An MSc is a Master’s of Science degree. Normally it is focused towards the technical part of a discipline. In other words, it is, to some point, a continuation of your undergraduate education. However, it tends to focus in a more particular area or branch. Usually, for an engineering MSc you need full-time disposition, since the subjects and courses tend to be very demanding. Therefore, combining study and work is frequently not recommended.

An MBA is a Master’s of Business Administration degree. Usually it is focused towards management skills. Having an engineering background, you will find a whole new perspective and a totally different paradigm compared to the subjects and lectures you are used to. In an MBA, study and work are commonly combined. As a matter of fact, it is normally encouraged (sometimes even required), since previous work and employment experience tend to complement and enrich the knowledge you acquire in class.

MSc or MBA?

The question here is, which one should I choose? Well, the answer might not be so simple.

I believe that a good starting point would be having a more or less clear overview of your professional future on the middle/long term. What kind of job are you aiming for 5 or 10 years from now? It may look a bit distant at first, but considering that a master’s degree normally takes between 1.5 and 2 years, it is not that much.

An MSc will give you a deeper understanding of the technical side. Therefore, it would fit better in a job where you actually require to have a more profound, solid engineering background (either theoretical or practical). If you are considering getting a higher academic degree in you same undergraduate-studies field in the future (e.g., PhD, professorship), an MSc is definitely the best choice for you. Not only will it give you a better understanding of your specific field, but it will also allow you to learn and/or improve the skills needed for the academic world. These can rage from stating your own hypothesis all the way to the writing abilities needed to write your own original thesis.

However, consider that an MSc is, most of the times, deeper knowledge about a very specific field. If you are thinking in moving away from this field in the future, an MSc of a particular subject might prove to be more a con than a pro.

On the other hand, an MBA will provide you with tools that are highly desirable in the corporate and business world in general. Besides, the knowledge you acquire might prove as valuable in industry A as in industry B. With an MBA, your knowledge might not be as profound, but it will give you much more flexibility on where you can actually apply that knowledge. If you are an entrepreneur and you are considering starting you own business, an MBA might be the best for you, regardless of its nature. Management skills are most of the times the cornerstone of start-ups (yes, maybe even more than engineering skills, I am afraid).

Although MBA programs are usually recognized as a major step in obtaining higher positions, most of the times these tend to be executive- or management-related. What you might need to ponder is if you really are interested in these type of jobs considering you chose an engineering subject as an undergraduate on the first place.

Closing comments

I think that the trick here is to find the point that matches your expectations, your experience, and your needs (current and future, both). Your long-term professional focus plays a very important role here. I just finished my BSc in Biomedical Engineering and now I am going for an MSc in the same field. Personally, I am very fond of the technical part of engineering. Besides, I would like to develop a career in the academic world. Therefore, an MSc is a no-brainer. However, most of my engineering colleagues that I know that are going to graduate school are preferring an MBA instead.

Finally, remember that one degree doesn’t exclude the other. The fact that you choose an MSc today doesn’t mean that in the future you are not allowed to study an MBA (and viceversa). Who knows, you might even end up having more than one master’s degrees 😉 .

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