MBA vs. Master’s in Communication: What’s the Difference?
Going back to school for a graduate degree is an important decision worth burning a lot of mental calories on. What will you learn from your prospective program? What does the workload look like? What are the job outcomes? Those are all questions I asked before ultimately deciding to go back to school for both an MS in Communication and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) – both from Purdue. And, before we go any further, I’ll point out the elephant in the room – yes, I took on a hefty financial commitment to pursue the two degrees.
You might be thinking that by pursuing two graduate degrees, I have aspirations of becoming a career academic. I don’t. I believe that the MBA and MS in Communication provide a complimentary set of skills to each other, and that personally, I would like to master them both before I begin shaping young professionals and managing brands.
MS in Communications:
The MS Communication exposed me to a great deal of social science applications. I’m a marketer by trade, so I was able to learn how to more effectively communicate with my stakeholders and to understand the intricate details that must be accounted for when communicating about different subject matter across various cultures. I also was exposed to qualitative research methods, public relations principles, and best practices for social media. As you might expect, I learned a lot about the act of communicating with people and determining the best ways to strategize communication plans.
In my MBA program, I have been exposed to more rigid disciplines that lend to making strategic business decisions. To this point I’ve taken courses in economics, accounting, finance, and human resources. There are far more numbers-based courses in the MBA with finite ways to solve for problems. In my career, this has been immensely beneficial when managing budgets or coming up with strategic implementation of products/programs. It also provides me with a very nuts and bolts understanding of how business decisions are made.
To oversimplify a key difference between the skills both programs offer – the MS Communication provided me with the skills to effectively communicate with colleagues, subordinates, and customers, a skill that is crucial in my line of work. The MBA is preparing me to make key organizational decisions using an approach to fundamentally understand how it will impact the business.
Whichever program you’re in, the workload is going to be considerable, given you are in a graduate program. Depending on the level of expectations you’ve set for yourself, it can vary, but if you want to optimize your time and money spent on earning your degree, you’re going to put in work.
MS in Communications:
In the MS Communication program, I never took a quiz or a test. There was no cramming for a final or sweaty palms thinking about not preparing enough. Having said that, you’re required to read… a lot. And, you’re required to write… a lot. As part of a student community, you are also taking part in online discussions on a weekly basis. Over the course of a year and a half, it is a grind. You also have to constantly think critically if your expectations are for you to impress your professor enough to get high grades.
The MBA is a different type of beast when it comes to workload. In the Purdue Weekend MBA program, you work in groups, which seems to be standard procedure for a lot of MBA programs (shout out to my group, Team Planet). With there being a variety of different disciplines that fall under the “business” umbrella, you’ll find that many of your classmates are much more fluent in certain areas. There are a considerable number of writing assignments, a lot of readings and in-class lectures, and there are exams. Additionally, the MBA is a competitive program where you compete against your classmates for grades in many of the classes. Like in athletics, a job, or any other competitive area of life, it’s incumbent upon you to work harder than your peers and to earn your grade. For some of the quantitative classes, that meant putting in double the time for me to fully grasp the material.
I’m sure no one cares about that trivial thing called return on investment, so I’ll just briefly cover it and try to give you some tools to find more (sarcasm obviously).
MS in Communications:
There isn’t a lot of information available to show just what the average salary or positions are for an MS Communication at this point. Depending on where you look, salaries can range anywhere from the $40,000 range to the upper $90,000’s for positions that are obtained with an MS Communication. Again, this information is tough to vet as there are a lot of variables. I don’t believe it is a reach to say that you could potentially land a leadership role in marketing, communications, public relations, or organizational development with the degree.
An MBA offers a broad variety of career outcomes that, similar to the MS Communication, can result in a leadership role. Because business school rankings are such big business, there is a lot more reporting data on salaries coming out of business schools. For instance, Purdue’s Krannert School of Management graduates earn an average of $92,546, according to U.S. News’ ranking of Best Business Schools.
As with anything, you can expect to get out of either program what you put in. The same can be true of the job outcomes, as well. Through enhancing your reputation in your workplace and effectively networking, you can likely move up the ladder to your desired destination with the right combination of hard work, persistence, and a little luck.
With my own financial resources at stake, I thought that the MS in Communication and the MBA from Purdue were both degrees that were well worth the investment to enhance myself as a professional. I strongly believe that if you are choosing a program, there are a few things that you need to look at. What is the cachet of the university? Do I expect this to be a sound financial investment? Will this improve me in ways as a professional that I likely otherwise would not have? For me, both of Purdue’s programs checked all of the boxes for me and I feel very strongly about my investment of time and money.
Tom Felgar is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.
*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.