Masters in Business | Top Universities

If you’re considering a postgraduate-level degree in business, there are three main options available to you: MA, MSc or MBA. The core courses of any postgraduate business degree aim to introduce advanced-level topics in areas of business such as accounting, finance, marketing, human resources and operations management. Many programs then offer a wide range of elective courses, although some are specialized in one particular area of interest right from the start.

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) remains a popular choice for business-related studies, both among students and among potential employers (read more about MBAs on our sister site, Nonetheless, there are many reasons why students may choose to opt instead for an MA or MSc in Business (Master of Arts or Master of Science).

Differences between MBAs and other Masters in Business

Some of the key differences between an MBA and other Masters in Business programs are explained below:

Entry requirements

MBAs and other postgraduate business degrees have many similar entry requirements, including GMAT/GRE scores, academic achievements and evidence of language requirements. The most significant difference is that MBA entry requirements also state that applicants must have a minimum amount of professional experience, usually at least two or three years and often more (especially for an Executive MBA).

Other types of Masters in Business instead focus more on requirements such as a good undergraduate academic degree. Some courses ask for subject-specific degrees (such as a bachelor’s in business administration, business management, economics or finance) while others simply require a good undergraduate degree in any subject. Some institutions offer prerequisite or foundational courses in business for students without a strong business background.

So, an MA or MSc in Business is likely to be more relevant than an MBA for those students who are coming straight from undergraduate level, with little or no relevant work experience.

Course content and specializations

Both MBAs and other Masters in Business cover a range of core business topics, and allow students to specialize by choosing from a range of elective courses. Despite this opportunity to specialize, MBAs typically give a comparatively general overview of business, with a larger range of compulsory courses designed to equip students for a wide range of business-related situations and roles.

In contrast, an MA or MSc in Business tends to provide scope for greater specialization, with a precise academic and theoretical framework designed to help students become experts in a specific field. This then allows graduates to apply for more specialized roles after graduation.


While the costs of both MBA and other Masters in Business programs will vary according to institution and country, MBAs are typically more expensive than other business degrees. An MBA can cost from US$60,000 up to as much as US$100,000, while an MA or MSc in Business is likely to cost less than this, in line with the general postgraduate fees charged by the institution.

Teaching methods and assessment

While lectures, seminars and tutorial classes are part of both MBA and other Masters in Business programs, MBAs have a more practical and applied focus while MA and MSc programs may be more theoretical.

MBAs are traditionally dominated by company-related projects and ‘case studies’ – real-world examples of business issues that students are expected to explore, discuss and reflect on in small groups, from the practical perspective of managers. On the other hand, MA and MSc in Business programs use a range of teaching methodologies which are more reminiscent of undergraduate teaching such as presentations and group projects. That said, many Masters in Business programs do also use case studies to simulate real-world situations, but perhaps with more of a focus on the theoretical side, looking at different theories and techniques.

An MA or MSc in Business is also better preparation for a PhD program, due to the focus on management research and the common requirement of a research-based final dissertation. MBA programs usually assess students through a business project presentation, in which they demonstrate what they have learned throughout the program.

Career prospects

While any higher-level degree is likely to improve your career prospects, most MA/MSc in Business graduates will be starting their first job after their degree, thus being only able to apply for entry-level positions. MBA students already have work experience, so upon graduation, they become “experienced hires” for companies, and are able to apply for more advanced jobs including leadership and management positions.

While there are some key differences between Master in Business and MBA, ultimately the choice between the two lies on what you want to get out of your future. Before applying to any program, make sure to assess the quality of the course by checking accreditations and rankings, and by talking to potential employers and to alumni of the program you’re interested in.

MA or MSc in Business?

If you’ve decided that a Masters in Business is the right choice for you, the next choice is between a Master of Arts (MA) in Business and a Master of Science (MSc) in Business. Generally speaking, the second of these is more commonly offered.

Traditionally, the MSc is delivered with a science or technical focus while the MA has a humanities focus. Thus, an MSc in Business may require students with a strong academic background in a business-related subject such as the FAME subjects (financeaccountingmanagement and economics) while an MA in Business may instead accept students from all academic disciplines.

Note that the distinction between the two is defined at the prerogative of the institution, so regardless of whether the program is titled as an MSc or MA, make sure to check the course content before you apply to make sure it suits your preferences and background.

There are a range of business courses available at postgraduate level. Most institutions offer business degrees combined with another subject, or specific to a particular field of business. Some common Masters in Business degree programs you may encounter include: Master of Arts in International Business; Master of Science in Business Analytics; Master of Science in Business Administration; Master of Science in Business Accounting; Master of Science in Business Analytics; Master of Science in International Business Management; Master of Science in Digital Business; Art and Business (MLitt); Master of Science in Business Psychology; Master of Arts in Business & Executive Coaching and MSc Business (Finance & Accounting).

Business specializations

There is certainly no shortage of choice when it comes to business topics. Options include accountancy, business ethics, business models, controlling, corporate reputation management, commerce, corporate social responsibility, economics, emerging economies, finance, healthcare, law, leadership, management, managerial psychology, psychology, public relations, real estate, research methods, shipping, social enterprise, sports, statistics, strategy, strategic marketing, sustainable practice, technology, quantitative methods and the world economy.

When you factor in the immense range of specialized business degrees available – from e-Business Management to Integrative Bioscience with Business – it follows that there must be an even greater range of specializations within these already specialized programs. The following is a short round up of the business topics traditionally covered in a Masters in Business degree, along with some topics that may be covered in a more specialized program:


Accounting involves the measurement, processing and communication of financial information in regards to economic agents. This is an important aspect of business, as it helps track of what a business has done, is doing and hopes to achieve in the future. Specializing in this field means learning how to keep track of numbers (such as recording transactions and bookkeeping) as well as being able to manage databases of customers, vendors, employees, clients, generate reports, and to store and organize all business data in relation to finance and budgeting. You will learn how to use accounting software programs and gain an insight into tax including preparation, laws and liabilities.


Closely related to accounting, finance involves all the sources of funding a business has access to. Businesses need financial support in order to start up, run and expand, and an understanding of finance in business is essential for ensuring success. You’ll learn about different sources of finance and how to create various types of financial records such as trading accounts, cash flow statements, profit and loss accounts and balance sheets. You’ll also study more advanced topics such as how to strategically respond to different market environments, how to use financial information to solve problems and how to analyze and interpret financial information to quantify business processes and transactions, in order achieve business aims.

Information systems

The strategic use of information systems can be a major asset to any organization or business. Information systems involve the entire network of hardware and software that people and organizations use to collect, filter, process, create and distribute data. You’ll learn how information systems support the business and its operations, how to gain a competitive advantage through the strategic and tactical organization, management and use of information, how to set up strong information systems to support and analyze a business’ information and how to manage various enterprises by using technical skills and technology effectively in every aspect of the business process.

International business

An international business focus during your degree can be useful for gaining a global perspective of business. You’ll cover all aspects of international business including looking at the impact of international business on local, regional and global economies, the impact global forces can have on a particular business, and topics such as host and home economies, regionalization versus globalization, free trade, corporate governance and sovereign state. You’ll cover topics such as critical evaluation of international corporations, organizational strategy, international regulations and rules, international management and development, international financial systems, and how to analyze the global market.

Operations research

Also known as operational research, operations research involves using advanced analytical methods to help make better business and managerial decisions. You’ll gain a solid quantitative foundation, learn about statistical and analytical methodologies and skills and practical problem-solving techniques, and gain a good understanding of the decisions-making processes that impact businesses. You’ll learn how to confidently tackle problems and explore specific approaches that can lead to improvements. You’ll also learn about general management of businesses, including project management, supply chain management, logistics and procurement.

Organizational leadership

The study of organizational leadership focuses on helping you develop the knowledge, perspectives and skills that you’ll need to effectively lead people and organizations in culturally diverse teams. You’ll learn about traditional and innovative approaches to management, develop analytical, managerial and interpersonal skills, and cover topics such as emotional and social intelligence, corporate ethics, strategic thinking and communication, corporate social responsibility, approaches to leadership, and how to understand, interpret and use data to improve performance and employee satisfaction.


Entrepreneurship involves identifying and starting a new business venture, including how to source and organize the required resources, and how to identify the risks and rewards associated with the venture. You’ll develop your entrepreneurship skills, such as how to identify opportunities, how to capitalize on prevailing market trends, how to manage cross-cultural business environments, and gain an in-depth knowledge of issues such as international entrepreneurship, intellectual property protection, innovation, the fundamental principles behind entrepreneurship, and develop an arsenal of best business practices.

Other business topics

Other popular business topics include:

  • Marketing: Communicating the value of a product or service to customers in order to sell that product or service. You’ll develop the practical and analytical skills needed to solve business problems in a marketing context, develop a thorough knowledge of key marketing topics (marketing theory, marketing decision analysis, business statistics and forecasting, data mining and marketing research methods), and develop quantitative skills to understand and engage with complex markets and marketing principles in order to give you a competitive business edge.
  • Statistics: Business statistics is similar to operational research and is defined as the science of good decision-making in the face of uncertainty. You’ll use statistical methodology, techniques and skills to analyze, engage with and draw conclusions on large amounts of data. You’ll develop the necessary skills to interpret and use statistical techniques in a variety of business applications, such as statistical study, descriptive statistics, probability, and the binomial and normal distributions, test of hypotheses and confidence intervals, linear regression and correlation.
  • Supply chain management: Abbreviated to SCM, this is the management of the flow of goods within a large business or organization. You’ll cover how to track the movement and storage of raw materials and work-in-process inventory, how to deal with finished goods from point of origin to point of consumption, and how to effectively use interconnected networks, channels and node businesses in order to deliver products and services to end customers in a supply chain.
  • E-commerce: Electronic commerce involves the buying and selling of products over electronic system such as the internet and other computer networks. You’ll draw on technologies such as mobile commerce, electronics fund transfer, SCM, internet marketing and various other topics you’ll come across during your business degree. E-commerce is the sales aspect of the business, and also involves the exchange of data in order to facilitate the finance and payment of business transactions, effectively communicate between businesses and customers and gather demographic data.

Business careers

Business programs are often taught in dedicated business departments within universities – usually referred to as ‘business schools’. Many business schools have strong contacts and partnerships with local, regional, national and even international businesses, and offer placements and other opportunities for students to grow their professional network, get invaluable industry-specific advice, and secure relevant work experience. Some institutions may even offer in-company projects and internships as part of the degree program. This can be useful for students studying an MA or MSc in Business, who are less likely to have existing contacts with the industry compared to MBA students.

Some typical postgraduate business careers include:

Business consultant

business consultant provides specialist business advice based on the application of business theory and knowledge of all areas of business such as marketing, human resources, management and accounting. You’ll work to help improve companies and businesses through assessing weaknesses in business practices and recommending improvements and solutions. You’ll need to meet with the senior member of your client or company, identify what they wish to improve or fix, analyze their existing practices, review financial statements, evaluate competitors and then use this information and your expertise to develop new business models or prepare recommendations to present to the client.

Business analyst

business analyst fills a similar role to a business consultant, but instead of working on a consultancy basis for a client, is more likely to work in a permanent position as an employee of the business or organization. You will still need to be able to identify areas within the business that need updating or improving, and use an understanding of the target market’s needs in order to suggest ways to improve the performance of the business and provide competitive commercial solutions for this purpose. You’ll likely carry out surveys and workshops in order to do this and need strong communication and interpersonal skills. You are likely to work in tandem with the IT department or use IT resources, for example to create an integrated IT system to deal with dispatch, payments, orders and stock control.

Human resource manager

human resource manager works within an organization or business in order to develop, advise on and implement policies that contribute to the effective use of personnel within that organization. You’ll be in charge of making sure the organization you work for employs the right balance of employees, that employees have access to the training and development opportunities, and that employees can air any concerns which are dealt with appropriately and satisfactorily for both parties. You’ll be involved in working practices, recruitment, pay, holiday and leave, negotiation with external agencies, and issues such as equality and diversity and working conditions.


An entrepreneur is able to identify and start a business venture, including being able to source and organize the resources needed to do so. You’ll also be confident in taking risks and knowing when to reap associated rewards. You’ll likely develop a business plan, by reviewing sales reports and financial statistics, and then will be able to pitch this business plan to investors and, if successful, will be able to create a small to medium-sized business. You’ll then need to be able to hire, train and monitor staff for the development of your business, and keep abreast of all the laws that relate to your business and field. Click here to find out how to become an entrepreneur at university.

Key Skills

Common skills gained with a graduate business degree include:

  • Solid understanding of business practices, principles and theory
  • Strong grasp of business models, tools and techniques
  • Strong understanding of business-related statistical techniques
  • Broad knowledge of different fields in business
  • Broad understanding of how organizations operate
  • Strong communication skills (both oral and written)
  • Strong analytical and critical thinking skills
  • Strong problem-solving skills
  • Nuanced entrepreneurship skills
  • Ability to think critically, logically and make sound decisions
  • Ability to be self-aware and self-critical
  • Presentation and report-writing skills
  • Excellent numeracy skills including how to interpret and use financial data
  • Ability to manage time effectively, take initiative and work independently
  • Ability to manage projects and resources effectively
  • Knowledge of global markets and issues relating to business
  • Enhanced research skills – useful for proceeding to a PhD program
  • Computing skills – particularly if taking an IT specialism
  • Leadership skills