6 December 2019 Share

Master mba

Is a specialist Master’s degree or an MBA better?

There’s no answer that’s right for everyone. Before deciding, it’s good to always take two key factors into consideration: one’s professional experience and the objective to be achieved


Finding your bearings in the midst of a vast educational offering like that represented by Masters’ degrees can be daunting. Especially if you don’t have a clear understanding of the premises on which Master’s degrees themselves are based, and if you don’t have a clear idea of the objective you want to achieve. Sometimes there are doubts about choosing between two paths, both valid but very different from each other: specialist Master’s degrees and MBAs. How to choose between them?

Your curriculum makes the difference

It’s a question to which Greta Maiocchi, Head of Marketing & Recruitment at MiP-Politecnico di Milano, answers: «The first big difference is given by one’s professional expertise. The specialist Master’s degree is similar to the Master of Science, that is to the specialist degree and therefore, is mainly for those who have just finished a three-year university programme or who has recently started to work. To be eligible for an MBA programme it is instead necessary to have at least three years of work experience».

And it is precisely those who have more experience who, at times, make an error in assessment: «An increasing number of people who have even four or five years of seniority ask us to enrol in a specialist Master’s programme. The problem is that they come to the classroom with a much higher level of knowledge than other participants. These are situations we try to avoid», explains Maiocchi.

A vertical and a horizontal Master’s degree

The second big difference instead, involves the subjects addressed. The specialist Master’s degree has a vertical approach, explains Maiocchi: «It can be on luxury, on supply chains, on energy management, on big data. In short, it develops skills thanks to which one can become skilled in a specific environment or function. Generally, it is chosen by young people who want to specialize». It’s quite different for MBAs, which have a generalist approach and cover all the subject matters useful for learning those skills that can then be applied in a strategic context. «The goal in this case – explains Maiocchi – is to provide an overview of how an organization works, to be able to prepare for a high-level management position. A participant in one of our MBAs in 2009 is today vice president of an important financial institution. He had just four years of work experience at the time».

Soft skills above all

Because among the main objectives of the MBA are the ability to manage change and people, soft skills take on a predominant weight, already in the selection phase. «In addition to four written tests, in which we verify the analytical skills, we also carry out long interviews in which we evaluate the candidate’s aptitude for problem solving, to be proactive, to manage stress. Empathetic and communicative skills are important: in MBA programmes you learn a lot from others. Somebody who has nothing to offer to their classmates isn’t our ideal candidate. But they’re also not the ideal candidate of any company, if their goal is to become a leader».

An ideal candidate, instead, may be one who also has creative qualities: «Lately we have had participants who stand out from an artistic point of view, people with a degree in economics who, for example, went on to become video makers. They had an incredible ability to visualize results and objectives. For this reason, we also look with great interest at the creative and innovative part».

As Maiocchi reiterates, it then becomes extremely important to develop those skills that make the difference for companies: «You need to know how to adapt to change and to stimulate it. The world moves quickly, and it offers constantly evolving opportunities and challenges. The job of a good leader also involves guiding their team through these processes. Lastly, it’s essential to know how to work for projects. The entire MBA is structured for projects: more than a discipline, it’s a real methodology that can be applied to a number of sectors».


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