MBA vs PhD in Business

MBA vs PhD in Business

Key Takeaways

  • An MBA is well-suited for students who are interested in practical work experience, while PhD candidates focus on those interested in research primarily.
  • If you thrive in practical business settings, seek rapid career advancement, and value hands-on experience, pursuing an MBA degree may be a good choice.
  • iI you’re passionate about research, academic pursuits, specialized expertise, and making scholarly contributions, pursuing a PhD in business may align better with your goals.

Students often face the dilemma of whether to pursue a PhD or an MBA. Each program offers unique benefits and challenges. In this article, we explore the similarities and differences between an MBA vs PhD in Business, and share a comprehensive overview to help you make your decision with ease.

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Featured Programs

MBA vs. PhD in Business: A General Overview

What is an MBA?

Master of Business Administration (MBA) is an advanced degree in business administration available to students at the graduate level. Earning an MBA gives you a solid grounding in all things relevant to business.

Most people who pursue an MBA do so to prepare themselves for leadership roles. Individuals holding an MBA can have any of the following designations:

  • Vice President of Finance
  • Accounting Manager
  • Product Manager
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Human Resources Manager
  • Financial Analyst
  • Policy Analyst

What is A PhD?

PhD is the highest level of academic achievement recognized. It is a research degree at the doctorate level and can be earned in many fields, including business. The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is one of the most popular options among those seeking the highest degree in business.

Most people who get a doctorate in business do it because they are really interested in teaching at a university or because they want to study a particular subject in depth. Designations held by individuals holding a doctorate in business include:

  • Financial manager
  • Economist
  • Management analyst
  • Chief executive officer
  • Professor
  • Sales manager
  • Market research analyst
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Comparing MBA and PhD in Business

Many students face the challenge of choosing between an MBA or a PhD in business. Wondering which of these programs would be the right fit for you? Comparing these programs can help you get the answer you’re looking for.


Competitive Admissions

Admission to MBA and PhD programs can be highly competitive due to factors like limited funding, a high number of applicants, and limited available slots. This competitiveness underscores the importance of presenting a strong application that highlights academic achievements, relevant experience, and MBA career aspirations.

Enrollment Requirements

Candidates typically need a bachelor’s degree to apply for MBA programs, although a background in business can bolster their application. PhD programs also typically require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the relevant field.

This prerequisite makes sure that applicants have a foundational understanding of academic principles and are prepared for graduate-level coursework.

Standardized Tests

Prerequisites for MBA programs often include standardized tests such as the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Similarly, some PhD programs may require candidates to take the GRE too.

These tests assess skills in areas like analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning, helping admissions committees evaluate applicants’ readiness for advanced academic studies.

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Work Experience

MBA programs often value applicants with relevant work experience, especially for executive or part-time MBA programs. Professional experience can enhance classroom discussions, bring real-world perspectives to coursework, and contribute to a diverse learning environment.

In contrast, while work experience can be beneficial for PhD applicants, it is generally not a mandatory requirement for admission.

Curriculum Focus

The subjects covered in an MBA program compared to a PhD program are what sets them apart. MBA programs typically provide a comprehensive understanding of business practices, including finance, marketing, operations, and strategy. The curriculum emphasizes practical skills, leadership development, and decision-making in business contexts.

In contrast, PhD programs prioritize research skills, critical thinking, and academic contributions to a specific field of study. Doctoral students dive deep into a chosen area of research, conducting original investigations and contributing new knowledge to their discipline.

For instance, one student might choose to learn about marketing and how it works for small businesses. Instead of trying to be an expert on a bunch of different things, you will focus on one specific area of business and learn about its ins and outs.

Degree Duration

The time commitment required to complete an MBA degree can vary from one institution to another. While there are MBA programs that can be completed in 1-year, two years is the typical duration of a full-time MBA program. If students enroll full-time in an accelerated MBA program, they can finish the degree in eleven to sixteen months.

It could take three to six years to finish a part-time MBA degree. Part-time executive MBA programs typically have a duration of eighteen and twenty-four months.

Generally, it takes students four to six years to finish a PhD program. However, for some, it can take as long as eight years. The duration of the program might differ greatly from one student to another and from one curriculum design to another.

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Distinguishing Factors

Besides the differences mentioned above, there are some major distinguishing factors between an MBA and a PhD in business. Going through them will further help you evaluate the right choice for yourself.

Networking Opportunities

MBA programs offer a diverse and dynamic networking environment, bringing together professionals from various industries and backgrounds. Students in MBA programs can leverage these networking opportunities to build professional connections, exchange ideas, and access career development resources.

On the other hand, a doctorate in business offers very few opportunities for peer coordination, as the focus is primarily on individual research and scholarly pursuits.

Research vs. Practical Experience

A fundamental distinction between MBA and PhD programs is their emphasis on research versus practical experience. Completing a thesis is a necessary requirement for graduation for most master’s degree programs. While some MBA programs emphasize theoretical understanding and research, others prioritize practical experience.

In contrast, doctoral students undergo rigorous testing to demonstrate their expertise. These tests include candidacy and comprehensive exams. Additionally, a dissertation, a detailed exploration and analysis of a specific subject or research area, is mandatory for earning a PhD.

Doctoral candidates carefully select a thesis topic, conduct extensive research, and present their findings. The culmination of their doctoral journey involves defending their dissertation before an advisory committee, showcasing their mastery of the subject and research skills.

Learning Styles

Choosing between an MBA and a PhD in business involves understanding their distinct structures and learning styles. MBA programs follow a structured path with core courses and specialized tracks, emphasizing practical projects and teamwork in business.

On the other hand, PhD programs offer a more individualistic journey, focusing on research and personal exploration within the field.

Both attract students from diverse backgrounds, with MBA programs often catering to working professionals through flexible schedules.

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When can an MBA in business be useful?

So far you’ve learned that even though they serve similar objectives, MBA and PhD are different. Below is a list of plausible ways an MBA can be useful:

  • Career Advancement: An MBA benefits professionals seeking rapid career progression within corporate environments. It equips them with a comprehensive understanding of various business domains, leadership skills, and strategic decision-making capabilities.
  • Leadership Roles: An MBA can benefit individuals aiming for leadership positions such as Vice President of Finance, Chief Financial Officer, or Human Resources Manager. The program hones their managerial and organizational skills, preparing them to lead teams and drive business growth.
  • Industry Transition: MBA programs often attract professionals looking to transition into new industries or roles. The diverse curriculum and networking opportunities MBA programs offer facilitate this transition by providing insights into different sectors and fostering connections with industry experts.
  • Entrepreneurship: Many MBA graduates venture into entrepreneurship, leveraging their business acumen and acquired skills to start and manage their own businesses. The program provides valuable knowledge in areas like marketing, finance, and operations, which are important for entrepreneurial success.
  • Global Opportunities: With globalization shaping modern business landscapes, an MBA focusing on international business can be particularly useful for professionals seeking global career opportunities. It equips them with cross-cultural management skills and an understanding of international trade dynamics.

When can a PhD in business be useful?

A Ph.D. in business is a prestigious and advanced degree that opens doors to a wide range of impactful career paths. Beyond its academic significance, this degree equips individuals with many other skills, making them invaluable assets in various professional domains.

Let’s see where a PhD in Business can be particularly useful.

  • Academic Careers: One of the primary paths for PhD graduates in business is academia. They can pursue careers as professors or researchers in universities, contributing to developing knowledge in their field and mentoring future business leaders.
  • Research Excellence: PhD programs emphasize rigorous research methodologies and critical thinking. Individuals interested in conducting in-depth research on specific business topics, publishing scholarly articles, and advancing the theoretical foundations of business disciplines find PhD programs highly rewarding.
  • Specialized Roles: Some specialized business roles, such as Chief Economist, require a deep understanding of economic theories and their practical applications. A PhD in business focusing on economics or related fields can be instrumental in securing such positions.
  • Consulting and Advisory Roles: PhD holders in business often excel in consulting and advisory roles, offering strategic insights, data-driven recommendations, and innovative solutions to businesses and organizations.
  • Leadership in Research Institutions: PhD graduates can lead research institutions, think tanks, or policy development organizations. Their expertise and research acumen contribute to evidence-based decision-making and the advancement of industry practices.
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Which is better — An MBA or a PhD in business?

The decision between an MBA and a PhD in business ultimately depends on your career aspirations, interests, and desired impact. If you thrive in practical business settings, seek rapid career advancement, and value hands-on experience, an MBA may be better suited.

On the other hand, if you’re passionate about research, academic pursuits, specialized expertise, and making scholarly contributions, a PhD in business may align better with your goals. It’s important to evaluate your priorities, long-term objectives, and preferred learning and work environments when making this decision.

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3 Tips for Choosing Between an MBA and a PhD

Making the choice between the two programs is going to be a tough decision and you’ll need to get all the help you can. So, we’re sharing some tips that can help you assess your priorities, interests, and career trajectory.

Consider these tips when you’re trying to figure out if earning a doctorate will benefit you more or an MBA.

Consult a Professional Guidance Counselor

Consult a career advisor if you are confused about which degree will serve your goals best. They are a great resource for learning about the typical qualifications for your dream job.

You can learn about the requirements of different MBA and PhD programs and assess whether they are a good fit for you.

You can find independent career counselors or take advantage of the free services offered by career guidance counselors at educational institutions.

Find out Each Program’s Commitments

Consider the time and money needed for each program to make sure the one you choose is a beneficial investment for you in the long run. One way to do this is by weighing the time and money spent on the program against the potential gain in income.

Consider Your Preferred Learning Style

Consider your learning style before committing to a degree program since some may place a greater emphasis on certain approaches than others.

Courses that primarily include group work are common in graduate degree programs. In a PhD program, you can be expected to devote the majority of your time to extensive solo research.

Related Questions

Is acquiring a PhD beneficial?

A doctorate in business shows that you are very knowledgeable and skilled in your field. It opens doors to rewarding professions in the public and private sectors, such as consulting, investment banking, and others.

Which MBA is most difficult?

One of the most challenging MBA specializations is operations management.

Is earning a PhD stressful?

Managing a personal life and academics and developing new research can be challenging. Generally, PhD students are known to experience stress and mental health problems along the way.

A study on PhD failure rate concludes that 19.5% of PhD candidates do not pass their final exam, and 16.2% drop out of the program before completion. However, overall 85% of PhD applicants are able to finish the program and earn their degree.


If you thrive on competition and practical challenges, an MBA might be the right choice for you. Alternatively, if you enjoy exploring theoretical frameworks, intellectual growth, and mentorship, a PhD could be ideal. If you’re someone who enjoys both aspects, you could consider going for a dual PhD.

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