MBA vs PhD – Which advanced degree is better?

In the ever-evolving professional landscape, the pursuit of higher education remains a popular route to advance your career.

But with numerous options available, how do you choose between an MBA and a PhD?

In this blog post, we dive into the unique benefits and opportunities that each of these advanced degrees offers.

From the practical business acumen and leadership skills gained in an MBA program to the deep expertise and research contributions made by PhD holders, the choice ultimately hinges on your long-term goals and personal ambitions.

We’ll explore these two distinct paths, and learn how to make the best decision for your future success.

MBA VS PHD – the debate

A quick summary of a PhD vs MBA:

Duration1-2 yearsSeveral years
FocusPractical skills and business acumenOriginal research and advancing knowledge in the field
Career outcomesBusiness, finance, marketing, consultingAcademia, research, subject matter expert
Typical environmentBusiness schoolUniversity or research institution
Key skills developedTeamwork, ethics, entrepreneurshipData analysis, research methodology, discipline-specific expertise
Admission requirementsBachelor’s degree, work experience (optional)Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, research experience
Degree typeMaster’sDoctoral
Ideal forIndividuals seeking career advancement in businessIndividuals pursuing careers in research or academia

What Does a PhD Get You? Pros and Cons

A PhD, the highest academic degree achievable, can open numerous doors in the job market, enabling graduates to advance in their careers.

Unlike an MBA, which primarily focuses on corporate and management aspects, a PhD offers expertise in a specific field through rigorous research and study.

As a PhD student, your goal is to contribute new knowledge to your field, be it economics, finance, accounting, or any other discipline, by crafting a thesis that contains original research.

Through the PhD program, you not only earn a valuable qualification but also gain opportunities to publish your work and present at conferences.

These activities can enhance your reputation, making you more desirable to potential employers. The salary of a PhD holder often surpasses that of someone with only an undergraduate degree, as their expertise is in high demand.

From my personal experience, obtaining a PhD can be challenging yet rewarding. It allowed me to explore my chosen field, chemistry, in depth and opened up new avenues for career growth.

However, it is crucial to consider the potential drawbacks before embarking on this journey.

Pursuing a PhD entails a significant time commitment, typically around 3-4 years, and can be quite expensive, as tuition fees for these programs can be steep.

Acquiring a PhD can provide numerous benefits, including expert knowledge, a higher salary, and opportunities for advancement in your field. However, carefully weighing the pros and cons is necessary to determine if it’s the right path for you.

Should you earn an MBA instead for the business world?

Choosing between an MBA and a PhD is a crucial decision that depends on your career goals and personal preferences. While both are advanced degrees, they offer significantly different paths.

I asked an MBA graduate and this is what they said:

Having experienced the MBA program myself, I can vouch for its practical benefits. An MBA focuses on business acumen and managerial skills, enabling you to climb the corporate ladder more quickly than a PhD. With a two-year duration, it’s a faster route to increasing your earning potential and offers a significant return on investment. Business schools emphasize teamwork, entrepreneurship, and ethics, providing graduates with a well-rounded skill set for the business world.

On the other hand, a PhD, such as a PhD in economics or any other discipline, is ideal for those passionate about research and academia. It requires several years of dedicated study, with graduates becoming experts in their niche.

PhD holders often pursue careers as researchers, professors, or consultants.

When considering whether to pursue an MBA or a PhD, weigh the pros and cons of each degree and reflect on your long-term career aspirations. Both options can be rewarding, but they cater to different ambitions and provide distinct opportunities in the professional world.

Is an MBA equal to a PhD and doctorate?

An MBA and a PhD are both advanced degrees, but they are not equal due to their differing purposes and career outcomes.

As someone who has interacted with both MBA and PhD graduates, I’ve seen firsthand the unique benefits of each degree.

An MBA is a professional degree, taking one to two years to complete, and equips students with practical business skills.

This degree is popular among those aiming to climb the corporate ladder in industries like finance, marketing, or consulting.

On the other hand, a PhD is a research-focused degree, requiring several years of dedication and original research contributions.

A PhD in economics or other fields often leads to careers in academia or research. PhD programs are highly competitive and demand an intense commitment to writing a dissertation and advancing knowledge in the discipline.

The debate between MBA vs. PhD highlights the significant differences in their focus and career paths.

While both degrees can be obtained at a business school, they cater to different ambitions and provide distinct opportunities. The choice between an MBA or a PhD depends on one’s end goal, work experience, and personal preferences.

So What’s Better, a PhD or MBA?

When considering whether to pursue a PhD or an MBA, it’s essential to evaluate your:

  • personal interests,
  • career goals,
  • time and
  • financial commitment involved in each degree.

A PhD offers the opportunity to deeply explore a specific subject, contribute to the advancement of knowledge in that field, and establish yourself as an expert.

However, the process is often lengthy and demanding, taking up to five or six years of intense research and dedication.

The payoff might not always be immediate in terms of career prospects, as academia and research can be fiercely competitive arenas.

On the other hand, an MBA equips you with practical business skills and knowledge, often leading to a broader range of job opportunities and potentially higher salaries.

The program’s duration is considerably shorter, usually taking one to two years to complete, and offers a faster return on investment.

An MBA is particularly well-suited for those seeking to climb the corporate ladder, transition into a managerial role, or even launch their own startups.

It’s important to note that some individuals choose to pursue both degrees, combining their research expertise with practical business acumen to excel in various fields.

Does anyone earn both a PhD and an MBA? Why?

Yes, there are indeed individuals who choose to earn both a PhD and an MBA, although this path is less common.

Combining the two degrees can create a unique skill set that is valuable in various fields.

For instance, a PhD holder in a specialized discipline may opt for an MBA to gain practical business skills and a broader understanding of the corporate world, which can be valuable in leadership roles or entrepreneurial endeavors.

Pursuing both degrees also allows for building diverse networks, connecting with professionals in academia and the business world.

Despite the significant time and effort required to obtain both degrees, those who undertake this ambitious path often find themselves well-equipped to navigate multiple career paths and excel in their chosen fields.

MBA vs PhD Career Options

Both advanced degrees can lead to successful careers, but they differ significantly in terms of their focus and job prospects.

An MBA degree, with its emphasis on business administration, prepares graduates for roles such as:

  • management consultant,
  • marketing manager, or
  • finance director.

MBA holders are more likely to climb the corporate ladder quickly and enjoy higher salaries. The MBA program equips students with practical business skills, making them suitable for leadership positions in a wide range of industries.

In contrast, PhDs are more likely to become professors or researchers, with a focus on deepening their expertise in their chosen field. In science that is a very common career goal. 

While the earning potential for PhD holders may not be as high as for those with an MBA, they often find fulfillment in their academic pursuits.

Getting an MBA might be the better option for those eager to advance quickly in the corporate world and who possess a strong passion for business. 

On the other hand, getting a PhD might be more suitable for those who wish to delve into research and contribute to academia.

Wrapping Up

The decision between pursuing an MBA or a PhD is a highly personal one, hinging on individual career goals, personal interests, and the level of time and financial commitment one is willing to make. Both advanced degrees offer unique benefits and opportunities, but they cater to different career paths and ambitions.

An MBA is an ideal choice for those seeking to climb the corporate ladder swiftly, transition into management roles, or launch their own businesses. With a focus on practical business skills, MBA graduates find themselves well-prepared for leadership positions across various industries.

On the other hand, a PhD is geared towards those passionate about research and academia, providing an opportunity to become an expert in a specific field and contribute to the advancement of knowledge. While the journey may be more demanding and time-consuming, the satisfaction of making an impact in one’s chosen discipline can be deeply rewarding.

The best choice depends on your long-term goals, professional aspirations, and personal preferences. Reflecting on these factors, researching each degree thoroughly, and seeking advice from professionals and peers can help you make an informed decision that aligns with your ambitions and aspirations. Whichever path you choose, both an MBA and a PhD can be instrumental in unlocking a world of possibilities and shaping your future career.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.