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MBA vs. Master’s Degree: Which is a Better Career Option?

Whereas a Master’s degree transforms the graduate into a professional in a specific sphere of learning, the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree provides the candidate with knowledge and skills to manage a wide variety of businesses and other kinds of organisations.

The differences between an MBA and a Master’s degree may look insignificant, but those distinctions sure do have wide-ranging and far-reaching implications that would impact massively on the career path you may want to pursue.

Which degree would suit you better, which would enhance your career projections, and which one would provide a better income for you?

Let’s dive in and see who wins in this MBA vs Master’s Degree tug-of-war!

What is an MBA?

The Master of Business Administration Degree is an advanced programme that is designed to equip and prepare people for leadership and managerial positions.

For two years or thereabouts (depending on the institution), the candidate would study advanced modules in subjects like finance, Human Resources, Technology, Management, Operations and Supply Chain, among others.

This set of broad knowledge gleaned from multiple case studies and coursework is then capped with the submission of a research dissertation. In the end, the candidate gets awarded the MBA certificate.

The skills acquired from such rigorous training subsequently transforms the candidate into a leader that should be able to function in any organisation, lead others effectively, and manage the resources of the organisation very effectively.

Want to know more about what an MBA is? Click here!

What is a Master’s Degree?

A Master’s degree is the qualification awarded at a post-graduate level to a candidate that has successfully demonstrated high-level proficiency and capability at an advanced stage of a specific field of knowledge.

Master’s degree graduates typically focus on a body of applied, technical, and theoretical details of a specific subject area, researching deep into its history and present state, as well as proposing what the future of that specialised field should become.

They are called professionals in that subject area because of the advanced techniques and skills they must have picked up along the way in the course of their study.

A Master’s degree is also a straight path towards a doctorate which would, in turn, transform the candidate from being just a professional into a subject-matter expert in that particular field of knowledge.

Industry Relevance: Should I Pursue an MBA or Shoot for a Master’s Degree?

The choice between an MBA and a Master’s Degree would largely depend on the industry or business sector you plan to choose as a career.

For instance, while an MBA graduate would be able to function in a managerial and leadership role in almost any industry on Earth, a Master’s Degree holder would be more relevant in the operations of specific tasks.

A Master of Science Degree (MSc) holder in Metallurgy, 3D Printing Technology, Laboratory Science, Credit Management, Medicine, Pharmaceutics, and such other fields where an in-depth knowledge of the subject-matter is critical would serve the candidate better.

On the other hand, an MBA holder would be a better manager of a chain of hospitals, do excellently well managing a mining business, be in a better position to lead innovators in a 3D engineering firm, and help steer a bank or credit institution better than the single-subject-matter professionals with a Master’s Degree.

The difference is clear: business organisations require specialists with a Master’s Degree in specific fields to bring about daily results owing to their in-depth knowledge in that field of study.

Conversely, the same business organisation would rely on the services of an MBA graduate to oversee, make long-term plans, and drive the organisation towards achieving its set goals.

While a Master’s Degree provides depth and focuses on a particular field of study, an MBA offers breadth and a broader scope of knowledge.


Nominally, a Master’s degree is not as costly as an MBA.

The reason for that is evident and straightforward: an MBA comprises of a minimum of 12 modules containing broad knowledge in various fields of studies.

Each of those courses is unique even though interrelated and interconnected with the others.

MBA students are instructed in lessons drawn from liberal art subjects like Leadership and Management, technical courses like Finance, Technology, and Operations, as well as studies in core human-relations (Humanities) modules like Economics and Strategic Human Resource Management.

This wide range of knowledge makes such candidates particularly suited to understand business and how it relates to daily work and global trade/politics holistically.

A Master’s degree, on the other hand, is industry-focused, meaning that the candidate is only building on what he or she has learnt at the undergraduate level, thereby adding more theoretical and practical contexts to a foundation already built.

Therefore, such skills and in-depth knowledge are concentrated; meaning that a Master’s degree does not necessarily require the candidate to know much about other subject-matters outside his or her forte.

As such, an MBA is slightly more costly than an ordinary Master’s degree – depending, of course, on the country and school awarding both degrees.

In South Africa, the cost of acquiring an MBA range between R100,000 and R280,000 depending on the institution, its faculty, alumni, and course contents (which combine to determine the worth of the degree).

Whereas a Master’s degree in Engineering, MSc (Eng.), from The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, costs between R79,150-R83,780  (2018-19 fees), an MBA degree from Regenesys Business School located at the heart of Sandton City in Gauteng Province costs R299,000, three times the price. However, you can download newly reduced online fees for MBA here.

Why; you may ask.

A premium MBA education doesn’t come cheap, especially from a world-class institution with multiple accreditations, robust ICT-learning infrastructure, seasoned industry experts and academics, as well as well-distributed alumni scattered in diverse sectors ready to help new graduates find their feet quickly.

An MBA degree is generally priced based on its worth in the job market. This ‘worth factor’ is what employers/HR practitioners consider before offering employment contracts to potential employees – especially when there are many applicants from different institutions jostling for the same role.

Thus, where you get your MBA from is as important as why you choose an MBA over a Master’s degree.

Read more: How Much Does an MBA Cost in South Africa?

Salary: Who Earns Better – an MBA Holder or a Master’s Degree Graduate?

There is no doubting the fact that most people – if not everyone – that pursues an advanced degree do so to enhance their worth, grow in their career, and earn a better salary.

Since that truism is universal and incontestable, it becomes evident that no one would be happy to spend so much time, energy, and money to acquire a degree that would not translate to a better life.

Think about it: it takes about two years to obtain a Master’s degree just as it does to get an MBA. It takes about the same time to start and finish both.

Be that as it may, why does an MBA holder earn far more than a professional Master’s degree holder?

The secret is in the course content!

As seen above, an MBA is universally recognised and all-embracing as far as business management and people-leadership are concerned.

On the other hand, a Master’s degree is industry-focused, which means the contents of the modules are designed to suit the particular country’s needs and expectations (even if the programme in question is science-based which should be universal).

Similarly, such a skillset may not function appropriately in another industry. For instance, imaging a Master’s degree holder in Pasture and Range Management, leading a team of accountant in a Tax firm – odd, right?

Conversely, an MBA graduate can lead a team in a Pasture and Range management business or switch over to a Tax firm as the head of strategy and planning and lead comfortably.

Furthermore, the managerial component of an MBA makes it more superior to a Master’s degree. While the former is trained to be a leader of men and women as well as a mid- or senior-level manager of resources, the latter is trained to work on specific projects and not necessarily to lead.

An MBA earns better because the candidate is equipped with strong leadership skills that help him or her become astute with strategic planning and formulating future-focused business direction – as well as coordinating others to ensure that those plans are translated into business success.

This combination of skills and broad training is not the case with a professional master’s degree holder.

Let’s take a look at the difference in their earning power.


Source: Payscale

The chart above is quite explanatory and very instructive too.

It shows that even though a graduate of Finance who also holds a Master’s degree in Finance is considered a professional in that field, he or she still earns lesser than an MBA graduate.

This disparity is real since an MBA graduate has received training in Strategic Financial Management which doesn’t just speak to the financial details of a company alone but expatiates on broader financial-planning theories and practices that are long-term, holistic, and strategic.

Also, the MBA graduate understands, better, how the Finance department links with Human Resources, Supply Chain Management, and other crucial structures that make a business run smoothly and profitably.

This factor distinguishes him or her from the Master of Finance graduate, and that explains why the latter earns more.

Source: Payscale

Similar to the chart above, this graphical representation shows that an MBA holder receives more in salary than a Master’s degree holder even though the latter is a professional manager.

The disparity stems from the fact that MBA candidates have trained in the art of leadership and not just management like in the case of a Master’s degree programme.

Furthermore, an MBA degree holder in South Africa can earn as much as R2,400,000 a year depending on his/her years of experience, the specific industry, the institution that awarded the MBA, among other related variables.

It is no wonder, then, that blue-chip companies, conglomerates, and many other multinational businesses and organisations commonly list an MBA degree as a primary requirement for applying to roles like Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, as well as several mid-and senior managerial positions.

Why You Should Choose an MBA over a Master’s Degree

The world is rapidly changing and the challenges to turn weaknesses and threats into strengths and opportunities, respectively, are at the core of all business organisations (and governments too).

As the future becomes more interconnected and interdependent thanks to 5G, cheaper internet cost, big data, artificial intelligence, and automation, only those who can work dynamically and seamlessly would get the best jobs and most rewarding salaries.

To survive and thrive in an aggressively competitive world, business owners, executives, and shareholders are demanding only the best and brightest talents trained at the highest levels to manage their business concerns.

Important: MBA-entry requirements in South Africa

An MBA graduate is strategically suited for those roles considering their holistic training in the art of management and leadership.

Conclusion: …and the winner is…

While there is absolutely nothing wrong in studying for a professional Master’s degree in any field at all, having an MBA trumps that ambition, if the salary differences, broad relevance, and opportunity to work in virtually any sector is put into consideration.

In the end, the MBA is king!

Want to kickstart your managerial and leadership career. Click to apply for South Africa’s top MBA programme.

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Regenesys Business School

Regenesys Business School

Author Regenesys Business School

Regenesys Business School

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