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Differences Between an MS & an MBA in Human Resources Management

by Kevin Wandrei

Human resources is a broad and interdisciplinary field that offers its students many types of careers and positions. In the case of a master's degree, two of the most popular paths for a human resources professional are the Master of Science and the Master of Business Administration. While the two degrees study the same subject, they offer very different perspectives and goals to their students.

Admissions Procedures

Because of the different focuses of the M.S. and M.B.A. programs, the two degrees attract different types of students and thus have different admissions procedures. While both degrees will typically require transcripts, recommendations and a personal essay, the two will vary in the type of standardized test score they request. In general, an M.B.A. program will want a GMAT score, while M.S. programs will accept either the GRE or the GMAT. Pace University's Lubin School, for example, accepts either score for its M.S. program. In addition, the more professional focus of the M.B.A. degree means that work experience will generally be a requirement, while M.S. degrees will consider but usually not require such experience. Exceptions do exist, however.

Program Goals

It is in the goals of the two programs that they differ most fundamentally. Specifically, the M.B.A. more generally is geared toward a professional and applied study of human resources with the explicit intent of helping students secure a job in the field. While an M.S. degree will certainly encourage its students to work in a human resources field, many Master of Science recipients actually go on to work in academia studying human resources at a more theoretical level. For students considering a Ph.D., an M.S. degree is the more logical choice.

M.S. vs. M.B.A. Curricula

Varying degree program goals lead to different curricular offerings. New York University's M.S. program reflects the academic nature of that degree, with courses in topics like quantitative modeling, information technology, and research process and methodology. An M.B.A. program in human resources at Franklin Pierce University, on the other hand, is a much more applied program, with classes in topics like compensation and benefits, labor relations and employment law. That being said, the two programs overlap considerably, with both requiring some quantitative technique course and a series in management. Significantly, however, the M.S. program offers its students the option of completing an academic thesis, while the M.B.A. does not. This reflects the academic approach of the Master of Science.

Graduate Outcomes

The outcomes of graduates are one significant point that should be considered when deciding between an M.B.A. and an M.S. In general, the M.B.A. is considered the more "prestigious" degree and may be more attractive to competitive employers. The M.B.A. also has the benefit of being a broader degree, so students do not need to work only in the human resources field and sometimes transition to other aspects of business. Master's students, on the other hand, have a degree focused more closely on human resources and thus often find transitioning to another field more difficult. They are, however, better qualified for Ph.D. programs and jobs in the academic study of human resources.

About the Author

Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.

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