Difference Between an MBA and an MS for Teachers


A Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Science (MS) degree in business may seem like odd choices for teachers but there’s more overlap than you might think. In fact, according to the Quacquarelli Symonds MBA Applications and Aspirations Report 2018, close to one in 10 MBA applicants is thinking about a career in teaching. If you choose this route, which degree will fit your goals the best? Let’s take a look.

First, the Similarities

MBAs and MS degrees share a number of similarities — both are both graduate-level, meaning the material will be more challenging than at the undergraduate level. Most degrees of this type also have a greater focus on individualized research and allow students to tailor their educational experience to a degree. Many will also require a major thesis or a final project that wraps up the learning experience and tells the faculty that you’ve mastered the curriculum. 

For elements they share, that’s about it. MBAs and MS degrees are quite different when it comes to admissions requirements, focus and cost.

Admissions Requirements for MS and MBA Degrees

Every business school has different admissions requirements but, in a general sense, both of these program choices may ask for undergraduate transcripts (often with a minimum GPA), resumes and letters of recommendation from professors and employers.

MBA programs might ask candidates to have 3-5 years of business work experience under their belts to be considered, while MS programs typically require little to no previous work experience.

MBA programs often ask for a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT); many MS programs waive this requirement. 

On the whole, master of science programs can be difficult to get into but MBA programs are notoriously selective. So, for easier admission, MS degrees get the edge here. 

Focus of MBA and MS programs

To borrow a business term, MBA programs take a 30,000-foot view, offering a curriculum that hits on general business theories, practices and skills. Coursework might cover diverse foundational concepts in finance, accounting, communication, business law, entrepreneurship, operations and marketing. 

Conversely, MS degrees are much more focused on one area of business. They typically offer more specialization areas as well, allowing students to focus their studies almost exclusively on areas like accounting, organizational leadership, marketing or supply chain management.

If your goal is to teach general business at a more foundational level, an MBA might be the better choice. With it (and a teaching license, of course), you’ll be able to teach in high schools and community colleges, where general business topics are more commonly taught. 

If one area of business floats your boat more than another and you want to share your passion for it, an MS could be a better fit. It’s important to note, though, that specialized business topics may only be taught at 4-year and graduate universities and teaching at that level will require a doctoral degree. 

For this reason, the MBA has a slight advantage over the MS for aspiring teachers when it comes to focus.

Length of MS and MBA Programs

Since both of these degrees are typically designed for working professionals with full lives, the length of time it’ll take to graduate is a big consideration. 

A master of science in business may include anywhere from 36 to 60 credits and usually takes about 2 years to complete.

MBA programs are often much more flexible and offer accelerated programs that can be completed in as little as a year. 

For flexibility and length, the MBA is a clear winner, especially for adult professionals with spouses and children. 

Tuition for MS and MBA Degrees

For most, the cost of a master’s degree is the deciding factor. It can be difficult to pin down tuition for these degrees because it can depend on where you go, what financial aid you qualify for and how quickly you complete your degree. 

For instance, the average price for a 2-year MBA is between $50,000 and $80,000. However, if you go to one of the top 25 MBA programs in the country, your price tag is going to be in the six-digits — the average tuition at these schools is $119,000, with some top programs charging north of $150,000. 

By comparison, the average tuition for a master’s degree at a public institution is $30,000 and a master’s at a private school might set you back $40,000. With wise program selection, financial aid and a little scrimping, many can knock out a master’s for around $20,000. 

Return on Investment (ROI) for MBAs and MS Degrees

When you look at the return on investment — the cost of the degree versus potential salaries, an MBA typically wins handily. MBA grads see relatively high starting salaries, better growth and even signing bonuses on Wall Street. However, for aspiring teachers who will be teaching on Main Street, this metric isn’t as important. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2018 that all postsecondary teachers (those at the college level) had a median salary of $78,470. Business teachers at the postsecondary level did even better, taking home $83,960 per year. High school teachers made median salaries of $60,320.

Job outlook might also factor into ROI. After all, you’ll only get a salary if you land a job after graduation. The BLS’s numbers are encouraging in this regard. The country is expected to add 38,200 high school teachers to our schools between 2018 and 2028, which represents a growth rate of 4%. 

The outlook for postsecondary teachers is even sunnier. The BLS’s data show that 15,900 new teachers will be hired between 2018 and 2028. That’s a jump of 15%, which is significantly higher than the average for all occupations (5%). 

Ultimately, the decision will come down to your career goals, the time you can invest in getting a degree and the amount of money you’re willing to spend. Keep in mind that, for either degree, if you want to teach, you’ll need to complete a teacher training program and fulfill your state’s education and licensure requirements.


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