Exploring Alternative Business Master's Programs: Beyond the MBA

Get an overview into hand-picked alternatives to the traditional MBA.

As the world grows increasingly complex, business schools have kept pace by introducing more programs focused on specific aspects of management. No longer is an MBA the only degree offered by business schools. One can now become a master of finance, a master of marketing or even a master of supply chain management.

Many of these programs are shorter, tighter and more focused than a traditional MBA, which could take up to two years to complete. Alternative master’s degrees in business can be completed in 12 to 18 months. In some cases, these non-MBA business degrees might be more desirable for students who know which career they want to pursue after graduating.

Here are some of the most popular alternative business master’s programs and what students can expect from the curriculum.


Master’s in Management Studies

For fresh grads with no work experience

Newly minted undergraduates who just earned a college degree are often disappointed to learn they lack the work experience to apply for an MBA. Enter the master’s in management studies. These programs are specifically designed for students who just graduated from college and have no experience in business. In fact, many students apply while they’re still undergraduates. Examples of these programs include the ones at Cambridge, Duke and Yale.

The curriculum teaches many of the basic concepts you might learn in an MBA. The method of teaching is also similar, heavily focused on case studies and group projects, along with career and skills coaching. The programs are especially keen to have students with unconventional backgrounds, such as science, engineering and the arts. The idea is for the program to help augment their existing knowledge with a business perspective so that they can enter careers in their specialized field armed with management frameworks.


Master’s in Financial Analysis

For students hoping to break into buy-side or sell-side finance

If you’re set on pursuing a career in finance, a full-fledged MBA may not be the most efficient use of your time. Consider a master’s in financial analysis. The program might be offered under a different name depending on the school. At UChicago, it’s called the Master in Finance; at Columbia, it’s the Master of Science in Financial Economics; and at London Business School, you’ll find it as ​​the Masters in Financial Analysis.

Whatever you call it, the program teaches a mix of corporate finance, accounting, asset management and data analysis. Whereas corporate finance and accounting might only be covered in one or two courses of an MBA, these subjects are covered extensively and with more depth in a master’s in financial analysis. This means if you’re already set on pursuing buy-side or sell-side opportunities, this master’s program might prepare you with the foundational skills to hit the ground running more quickly than with an MBA.


Master’s in Business Analytics

For students who aspire to be data analysts or business consultants

Like the master’s in management studies, the master’s in business analytics is a popular option for recent graduates with no work experience. In fact, many students tend to enroll straight out of undergrad.

The program is especially good at preparing students to become data analysts or business consultants because the courses teach a mix of data science, management and communication skills that are useful in careers that require scrutinizing business operations and financials. Students learn technical skills such as coding in Python, SQL and R, as well as statistics and business intelligence research, but they also might take courses that teach them how to synthesize and communicate their findings to their target audience. All of these skills are applicable to a career in consulting and data analysis.


Master’s in Marketing

For would-be advertisers, marketing strategists and branding experts

Another popular specialized business program is the master’s in marketing, which prepares students to work in advertising, marketing, public relations or branding. Whereas marketing might be one course in an MBA, a master’s in marketing program will go much more in-depth, teaching specific skills such as analyzing social media data, managing an ad campaign or performing market research in order to prepare students to become marketing specialists. The program might fall under various names: integrated marketing communications, strategic marketing or global marketing management. Some prefer applicants with some years of work experience, but most welcome students who just graduated from college.


Master’s in Risk Management

For students seeking a career in risk management

Risk management master’s programs are relatively new, and not every university offers the program, but those who take it can go on to a rewarding career. All organizations have risk, whether it’s risk of financial losses, operational losses or security breaches. That’s why companies have dedicated staff to analyze and mitigate risks. Business schools increasingly see the value of preparing students for this particular field and have created programs to teach risk management, including Columbia, the London School of Economics and Political Science and Imperial College London. Students of risk management might go on to become risk managers, compliance officers or actuaries.


Master’s in Real Estate

For students interested in managing or selling property

An often overlooked degree, a master’s in real estate offers a valuable pathway into a lucrative industry. Real estate is one of the biggest sectors of most economies in the world, and demand is high for roles such as property manager, sales agent and investment manager. A master’s in real estate program teaches students fundamental skills such as valuing property, managing development projects and navigating legal frameworks. Most programs are small, only accepting about a dozen students each year, and are located in big cities like Hong Kong, New York and London, offering opportunities for students to intern and practice what they learn in the classroom.


Master’s in Supply Chain Management

For students interested in working in a vital part of the global economy

Few people thought of supply chain management until the Covid-19 pandemic, when the coronavirus disrupted the flow of goods around the world and brought logistics to a halt. Supply chains came into public focus for the vital role they play in the global economy. Universities from Rutgers to MIT have recognized this for years and offered programs that teach students how to manage logistics and get goods from point A to point B. Graduates go on to work for a variety of industries, including pharmaceuticals, ecommerce and consulting.

If you’re interested in honing your application and choosing the right program, Crimson can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to one of Crimson’s expert advisors. We can’t wait to meet you!

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