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Online MBA or Masters in Management?


I’ve been shopping for an online master program in business. Everyone talks about the distance MBA. I’ve looked at several online MBA degree programs, but they don’t seem to fit. I’m head of human resources at a mid-sized manufacturing company. My job requires a lot of soft skills: managing, leading, inspiring, with a little budgeting on the side. I’m thinking an online masters in management may be better suited to my career needs. Will I be making a mistake if I don’t earn an MBA?

Omaha, NE

The MBA is the most popular online degree in America. In fact,’s National Survey of Online MBAs reveals that students can select from more than 387 accredited distance MBAs offered by 217 accredited business schools.

MBA mania has definitely hit the academic halls of America.

But the online MBA, while extremely popular, is not the only online masters program available for managers, nor is it the best online business degree for all executives.

From what you’ve said, I’d suggest that the MBA is probably not the best online masters degree for you, either.

First of all, some facts about the MBA:

• Like most masters degrees, it consists of 10 to 12 core courses with 3 to 5 electives. This translates to between 36 and 51 semester credits.
• Traditional core MBA courses include Accounting I, Accounting II, Financial Analysis, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Business Policy, Marketing Strategy, Production and Operations Administration, and Advanced Business Statistics.

• Most MBA programs require work in mathematics to the level of calculus. Algebra and statistics are also required. Admission to a traditional MBA typically requires high scores on the quantitative section of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). 

(The GMAT is the admission exam required by many of America’s Ivy League business schools. Competitive MBA programs often require a score of 600 or above on the GMAT.)

• The MBA typically stresses a quantitative approach to the study of business, rather than a people or leadership approach.

Those employed in careers such as accounting, finance, economics, management of information technology, engineering, operations and logistics, or quality controlall careers that are quantitative or operational in naturewill benefit the most from a traditional MBA program.

If you intend to climb the career ladder at a Fortune 500 corporation where the ability to administer a large bureaucracy will be prized, then the MBA is always an excellent career choice.


But what if you neither need nor want to study higher level math, finance, economics and quantitative management?

What if your approach to business involves not crunching numbers but building an organizational structure that optimizes human performance? In this case, the MBA may not be the best graduate degree for you.

If you’re employed in human resources, training and development, advertising, sales and service or entrepreneurship, you may favor a non-MBA degree. You may find yourself drawn not to understanding a balance sheet but to studies of the way people are motivated to excel within the workplace or the marketplace.

If so, other degrees—such as a masters in management, a masters in human resources (HR) or a masters in leadershipmight better fit your interests and aptitudes.

This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your business career ambitions. Indeed, if your interests lie in the softer side of businessmotivating people and creating innovative work environmentsthis is a great time to be returning to school.

A new breed of online graduate business degrees has been developed within the last decade. These degrees rely less on old-school quantitative analysis and more on teaching leadership and innovation.

The main emphasis of a masters in management is the development of people within an organization. Core master of management courses often include Leadership, Organizational Design and Development, Organizational Troubleshooting, Human Resources Development, Economic Issues in an Organization, Developing a Learning Organization, and Accounting for Managers.

Students can choose to take a course in business statistics if they wish, but higher-level mathematics is not typically a required part of the management degree curriculum.

More good news for those who are math-phobic: management master’s degrees rarely require applicants to take the GMAT or to otherwise demonstrate high proficiency in mathematics.

Leadership is hot. After the MBA, and the masters in management,’s national survey of graduate business degrees show that the masters in leadership is the third most popular online graduate business degree.

Not bad for a degree that virtually did not exist a decade ago.

In the 1990s, small businesses hit Wall Street’s radar. Many Internet and technology start-ups were built not by old-school executives but by visionary leaders. This new generation of e-business leaders may or may not have understood calculus, but they definitely understood how to create corporate cultures that encourage people to excel.

Scores of graduate business schools now offer online master’s and graduate certificates in leadership.

Don’t think of the MBA as your only online degree choice. Think of it as the conservative or traditional option.

The MBA is hands down the blue chip choice of the academic world.

But before enrolling in an online MBA program, consider if you’re the blue chip type.

Many alternative master’s degrees in business and management might better suit your personality and career aspirations.