Written by Andrew Shanahan, February 2009
If you want to get ahead in business, an MBA is not your only option, as Graduate Prospects discovered.
M, B and A are often the only three letters on people’s lips when it comes to thinking about postgraduate courses in Business and Management. With around 2,400 MBA programmes on offer around the world it’s clear that the Masters in Business Administration is one of the most popular courses available in this subject area, but it is by no means the only one.
‘There have certainly been a lot of courses brought in over the last few years and what we’ve found is that in many ways the market for courses like the MSc in Management has been saturated,’ explains Professor Steve Bradley from Lancaster University Management School (LUMS). Fortunately, for undergraduates trying to make sense of it all there are some easy distinctions to draw between the courses. The first distinction is that some courses will state that they are looking for students with real-world work experience. This is because they often utilise the students’ experiences to inform lessons.
According to Julian Baring who did the one-year MBA at the Oxford Saïd Business School, it pays to heed this advice regarding experience.
You should definitely have real-world experience before you go and do your MBA.Julian BaringMBA student
‘You should definitely have real-world experience before you go and do your MBA. I’ve always felt that you learn as much from your peers as you do from the course itself and from that point of view the students I was surrounded by were invaluable. We had an incredibly diverse group of people studying on the course, so one session you might be sitting next to somebody who had run an NGO in Rwanda and at the next you’d be next to someone who’d run a trading desk at a city bank, or a doctor. Working with all these people who brought very different experiences to the challenges and questions we faced was very interesting and taught me so much.’
The next distinction for potential postgrads is whether their chosen course will be generalist or specialist. ‘Increasingly, what’s happening is that there are specialised courses appearing within those general areas,’ explains Professor Bradley. ‘For example, at LUMS we’ve just introduced an MSc in Management and Marketing which aims to fill a slightly different segment in the marketplace for those who want to specialise in marketing, as opposed to the straight MSc in Management, where individuals are mostly coming in without any business experience.
‘Beyond that you find even more specialised business programmes such as the MSc in Information Technology Management and Organisational Change, so the potential is there for students to really narrow down what they study. If you’ve got clearly focused career ideas I would say go for a specialist degree. But the general courses give students a chance to pick up the terminology and the current issues in the management field.’
For LUMS graduate Rebecca Heron, who took the MSc in Management course, she found having a first degree in Law meant that she was losing out to Business Studies graduates when it came to interviews and wanted to gain some practical knowledge about management.
It gives you some work experience as part of the course, a theoretical background and because the job market is so competitive now, it’s an essential way of gaining an advantage.Rebecca HeronMSc Management graduate
‘I think in some ways people do look at these Masters courses as a sort of conversion course for people who have no grounding in business to get a start in the area,’ says Rebecca. ‘It’s ideal for that because it gives you some work experience as part of the course, a theoretical background and because the job market is so competitive now, it’s an essential way of gaining an advantage.’
‘There were immediate returns for me after completing the course,’ agrees Julian. ‘Before the course I was pretty disillusioned after I was involved in two ventures - a dotcom and a big project with Vodafone - where I felt that I didn’t necessarily have all the tools to do those jobs. Going to do the MBA gave me much broader insights into how organisations were run, how to make decisions, how to build organisations, and since I left I’ve had three different projects and they’ve all had varying degrees of success. I find that I’ve approached them with much more enthusiasm and excitement and a deeper understanding of what I was trying to do. One thing I would say though, is don’t expect your salary to double as soon as you get your degree, that does come but it happens over time.’
With all of the potential benefits to be gained from studying in this area the only aspect that remains is how to choose which course you can pick from. Fortunately, there are many different criteria available to students. ‘When you’re choosing a course you should firstly look at the external validations that different schools have received,’ says Professor Bradley. ‘There’s the Research Assessment Exercise which will tell you whether the academics are at the forefront of their discipline. Next I’d look at the various other league tables available. In this subject area you sometimes find league tables for specific courses, such as MBAs and MSc in Management. Then there are other broader department criteria which are reviewed by something called the periodic quality review. Finally, I think student satisfaction surveys are useful because it gives you an idea of what the consumer thinks of the course.’
With the What Do Postgraduates Do? survey revealing that over 55% of Business and Management graduates are working in management positions six months after graduation, it seems likely that you’ll find a lot of satisfied customers.
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