Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA: Which Degree is Right for You?

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A master’s degree is a competitive way to take the next step in your career. As a current or prospective engineering professional, you have several degree options to consider. Explore the differences between a master’s in engineering management vs. an MBA today to see which degree is right for you. Compare coursework, career pathways, cost, and related opportunities to find the best graduate program for your personal situation.

Understanding the Master’s in Engineering Management and the MBA

Both master’s degree options have their own strengths, weaknesses, and specializations. Before making your choice between a master’s in engineering management vs. an MBA, be sure to review the specific features of each degree. These graduate degrees are both highly regarded in the industry, and both can prepare you for leadership opportunities in your field.

What Is a Master’s in Engineering Management?

A master’s degree in engineering management is a specialized degree designed to prepare engineers for leadership positions. The management principles and leadership lessons you’ll learn in a master’s of engineering management program are specific to STEM careers.

Thanks to its specialization in the field of engineering, a master’s in engineering management degree typically includes additional technical knowledge. These programs offer students advanced research strategies in engineering alongside leadership principles. Many students complete a master’s in engineering management in two years. Accelerated programs are also available to earn your degree in as little as one year.

What Is an MBA?

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program also offers a competitive option for advancing your engineering career. Rather than specializing in engineering-specific topics, however, an MBA offers a more generalized overview of leadership and management principles. Most MBA programs also cover economic principles, finance, and other areas of business administration.

This makes an MBA a great option if you’re looking for more experience in a broader range of business topics. Many MBA programs also offer more elective opportunities for you to tailor your program to your specific set of interests related to business, finance, leadership, and engineering.

Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA: Key Similarities and Differences

While there are important distinctions between these graduate degrees, they also share many features and benefits. Reviewing the similarities and differences can help you better understand which degree may be a better fit for your situation before you explore specific programs at your chosen universities.

Key Similarities

Both a master’s in engineering management and an MBA provide you with a graduate-level degree. They also cover many of the same knowledge areas, including management, supply change management, finance, and decision-making strategies for leaders. Graduates of either degree program can apply to a Ph.D. program related to their research goals.

After completing either degree, you’ll receive the knowledge and training you need to make data-driven decisions as a manager in the engineering field. While the specific program features can vary based on your school of choice, both degree programs typically include both classroom and hands-on experiences to practice leadership strategies first hand.

Key Differences

While there are minor differences between programs from various universities, the key differences to consider are your career path and any specialization you wish to pursue. As a graduate of a master’s in engineering management program, you may be better qualified to pursue a position as a lead engineer, engineering manager, or director of an engineering program. These positions are all possible for MBA graduates, but an MBA’s more generalized nature may be better suited to management positions that lead both engineering and non-engineering roles.

Both degrees also offer specialization opportunities. As part of your MBA program, you can specialize in many areas. Here are a few example specializations:

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Business analytics
  • Consulting
  • Accounting
  • International management

Master’s in engineering management programs also offer specializations for students to refine their studies and professional goals. While degree programs from each university may offer slightly different specialization tracks, here are some ones generally available:

  • Business
  • Supply chain
  • Analytics
  • Systems development

Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA: Salary and Job Outlook Comparison

Diving into advanced skills and knowledge about your career can be highly rewarding. Many students, however, enroll in graduate degree programs to advance their careers and/or increase their salary. If you’re considering a master’s in engineering management vs. an MBA to increase your salary or job outlook, be sure to review the expectations of each.

Master’s in Engineering Management Salary and Job Outlook

Professionals with a Master of Engineering Management degree earn a median annual salary of approximately $101,000 as of November 2023, according to PayScale. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data expects the number of architectural and engineering managers to increase by about 4% between 2022 and 2032.

MBA Salary and Job Outlook

According to PayScale, the median salary for MBA degree holders is about $96,000 per year as of December 2023. While BLS data doesn’t track professionals who hold MBA degrees specifically, it does estimate that the number of top executives is expected to grow by 3% between 2022 and 2032, which is about as fast as the national job growth outlook.

Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA: Educational Pathways and Curriculum

The specific pathways and curriculum of both degrees vary depending on the university offering the degree. In general, however, there are important distinctions between these degrees. Review the core subjects taught in each and the relevant skills acquired as you explore your graduate program options.

Master’s in Engineering Management Pathway and Curriculum

A master’s in engineering management degree is designed specifically for engineers seeking leadership and management positions. While there are different specializations available, the core subjects taught in this degree program are tailored to this specific career pathway. Review these common core subjects taught in an engineering management degree program:

  • Project management
  • Legal issues
  • Managing people
  • Analytics
  • Strategic decision-making

Many programs also require a hands-on project. Some are group-based, while others are individual projects designed to learn and practice the skills needed to lead a team of engineers. The focused nature of an engineering management master’s degree means you’ll receive more industry-specific experience, which may not translate as easily to another area of business.

To apply to a master’s in engineering management, you typically must have earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Some programs also require work experience in an engineering or technology role.

MBA Pathway and Curriculum

Courses in an MBA can be relevant to an engineering management role, but they’re designed to assist professionals across a broad range of industries to become qualified and skilled leaders. Compared to the specialized nature of an engineering management master’s degree, an MBA offers more breadth of knowledge through these and other courses:

  • Finance
  • Human resources
  • Marketing
  • Supply chain management
  • Managerial statistics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Microeconomics

As you can see, there are similarities and differences between the typical curriculum offerings of both programs. MBA degrees can also include a practical project component to explore real-world situations. An MBA is a competitive option if you wish to become an engineering manager but still wish to keep your options open to transition into a management position in another area of business.

Enrolling in an MBA program requires a bachelor’s degree in a related field, but you can apply even if you haven’t earned a bachelor’s in engineering. Many MBA programs require you to take the GMAT or other standardized tests, but many universities offer options for an online MBA program that doesn’t require the GMAT.

Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA: Accreditation and Quality Standards

Accreditation is the process of ensuring educational institutions meet external standards for quality of education. An accredited program promotes peace of mind as you apply to new jobs and seek advancement in your career. You’ll find accredited programs for both degree options, but the accreditation received is different for each program.

Accreditation for Master’s in Engineering Management Programs

The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the primary accrediting body for master’s degrees in engineering management. An ABET-accredited engineering degree follows the quality standards outlined by the board, including a well-structured curriculum, a plan for continuous improvement, and sufficient resources to train students.

Accreditation for MBA Programs

Institutions offering MBA programs have three different options for highly rated accrediting agencies:

  • The International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE)
  • The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (AACSB)
  • The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)

The specific steps vary between the accrediting bodies, but they all include a process of reviewing the quality of education, continuous improvement plans, and adequate resources for students to succeed.

Career Trajectories: Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA

Another way to compare master’s degree options is to reflect on your chosen career path. Are you preparing to become a director of an engineering department, the CEO of a company, or a manager of a team of engineers? Your choice of career trajectory can guide you toward one of these degrees.

Career Opportunities with a Master’s in Engineering Management

Compete for leadership positions in the field of engineering with the help of a master’s degree in engineering management. Management and top-level executive positions typically require years of experience in addition to a degree, but here are some career pathways that can benefit from earning a master’s in engineering management degree:

  • Product engineer: Develop products and oversee teams of engineers working in design and technology areas. As a type of mechanical engineer, product engineers can also evaluate risks in current products and prototype new designs.
  • Engineering manager: Train, oversee, and inspire fellow engineers in a management position. Engineering managers can set schedules, work with budgeting departments, and explore new ways to improve workplace processes.
  • Director of engineering: Lead an entire engineering department by preparing budgets, developing projects, and hiring team members as a director of engineering.
  • Chief technical officer: Technical operations all fall under the leadership of a chief technical officer (CFO). The CFO not only guides the engineering department but manages relationships with customers and outside vendors.

Career Opportunities with an MBA

You can still qualify for the above roles with engineering experience and an MBA. Instead of focusing specifically on engineering management career pathways, however, an MBA can also improve your application for the following positions:

  • Engineering analyst: Analysts review the operational efficiency of processes within an organization. They work alongside engineers and other professionals to improve production methods and product quality.
  • Manager: Whether overseeing engineers, accountants, sales team members, or other professionals, managers are responsible for clearly communicating goals and training employees to reach those goals.
  • Director of a department: Professionals with an MBA and relevant experience can apply to become a director in a relevant department. This can include engineering, finance, and other departments in an organization.
  • Chief financial officer: These top-level officers oversee financial operations and make key strategic decisions on the direction of the organization’s finance and accounting teams.

Making the Decision: Tips for Choosing Between a Master’s in Engineering Management and an MBA

Choosing a master’s in engineering management vs. an MBA is a personal decision. The best degree depends on your particular strengths, interests, and career goals, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons carefully. If you’re still having difficulties choosing a degree, use these tips to help you make a decision:

  • Compare technical vs. general: Consider whether you wish to focus specifically on management roles in engineering or if you are willing to explore leadership opportunities in other areas of business.
  • Review your past experience: Some master’s of engineering management degree programs require two or more years of engineering experience. You don’t have to have professional experience specifically in the engineering field to apply for an MBA degree program.
  • Explore course options: Does a particular course or specialization stand out to you? Being passionate about a particular area of focus in a degree program can be helpful in making your decision.
  • Research the program: Research faculty members of a particular program that stands out to you to see if they’re teaching style and/or research background match your career goals.

Master’s in Engineering Management vs. MBA FAQs

Is it better to get a master’s in engineering management or an MBA?

Both graduate degrees offer their own advantages, so consider your career goals and personal interests to find the best option for you. A master’s in engineering management degree program tends to be more specialized and focuses on technical knowledge, whereas an MBA offers leadership and management principles that can be more easily generalized to other fields.

Are master’s degrees worth it for engineers?

A graduate degree is a competitive career step for engineers. Consider a graduate degree if you wish to move into management positions or further your expertise in your field.

What can you do with a master’s in engineering management?

Many leadership positions in the field of engineering either require or strongly recommend a graduate-level degree. A master’s in engineering management equips students with the specialized knowledge and hands-on experience to be confident in leadership positions.

Compare Master’s Degrees for Your Career

After reviewing the pros and cons of a master’s in engineering management vs. an MBA, it’s important to carefully research quality institutions offering these degrees. Learn more about each degree and where it’s offered to find the best path forward for your career goals. Explore your degree options carefully as you review universities offering online and on-campus graduate degrees related to your career.

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