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MBAs may be the obvious choice when it comes to business education, but given their cost in terms of time, fees and forgone salary, it can sometimes be worth exploring other options.

Why should I consider the alternatives to an MBA?
“MBAs are really good ways for individuals to improve their general management capabilities,” says Michael Stanford, executive director of Partnership Programmes at IMD. “But you may only be interested in one area such as leadership or marketing.”

Equally, you may be unable to take the year or two off work required to do an MBA. Others simply might not need large chunks of MBAs; for example, many bankers will already know much of the financial component.

Alternative programmes broadly fall into two categories – degree and non-degree courses. Those looking to do a degree course could consider a Masters in Finance or Marketing or even, at Warwick Business School, a Masters in Public Administration.

Non-degree courses tend to be shorter (although they can still last several months) and may focus on one or two areas or be a kind of concentrated or taster MBA.

What sort of people take them?
Candidates for shorter business courses may be those who took an MBA 15 years ago and want a refresher. Or they might be individuals in their 20s who want the highlights of an MBA without the huge commitment. “It’s a portfolio approach to executive education,” says Paul Ingram, professor at Columbia Business School. “A case of what you need when you need it.”

Some courses, such as the four-week Columbia Senior Executive Program (which costs $46,500), focus on things such as leadership and strategy and are tailored for people with more business experience. “Candidates tend to be 45 to 50 and CEOs or aspiring CEOs,” says Prof Ingram.

Marie Mookini, director of the Sloan Master’s Programme at Stanford University (which earns you an MS in Management and costs $107,475) says: “Sloans are far more likely to be people with considerable operating experience. In the US people often go straight from their undergraduate degree to business school. It’s a very different environment.”

Are there any other benefits?
Whereas degrees tend to be about building individual capabilities, Mr Stanford says custom courses designed to fit the needs of candidates from a single company can focus on building organisational capabilities. This can allow candidates to build networks across disciplines and functions within companies. “Sending people from your company on these courses builds bonds. If you have 30 people in a three-week programme, it builds a good community.”

What are the drawbacks?
Obviously non-degree courses do not give you the letters to put after your name and the cachet that goes with them. Other degrees may not have the instant brand recognition that you get with an MBA. That said, as MBAs are so ubiquitous in some areas these days, this could play in your favour.

Rhymer Rigby

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