Young professionals need to expand their knowledge of business in an academic setting, but recent graduates may find that traditional accredited MBA programs, which require applicants to have years of work experience, are not an option. This is particularly the case in China, where most MBA applicants are younger and less experienced than their Western counterparts.
As a result, a wide array of unaccredited programs with relaxed entrance requirements have sprung up to fill the gap in the market. But there are no shortcuts to success. For one thing, employers are highly aware of brands when it comes to MBA degrees, and are unlikely to be impressed by a degree from a school they have never heard of.
"There are lots of programs that call themselves MBA programs but require little or no work experience; these are not worth the paper they are written on," said Stuart Archbound, director of Kingston Business School. "It is better to wait to further your studies until you have gained work experience making you eligible for accredited MBA programs. Being in a programme where the other students have the scope and range of experience makes all the difference."
For those who lack the experience to enter an accredited MBA program, yet want to learn more about business in an academic setting before entering the workforce, there are other more theory-based business degrees worth considering. Admission to masters programs in accounting, for example, is more dependent on qualitative and analytical skill than real-world experience.
Margareth Danielsen, information and marketing coordinator at BI Norwegian School of Management, believes that such programs have the benefit of providing students who do not posses prior experience with an in-depth knowledge of a specific aspect of business.
"An MBA usually gives a broader view, while during an MSc program you will specialize more in one area of business," she said. "Such area-specific programs are great if you know what area of work in. If you know you want to end up in marketing, then it makes much more sense to study such a specialization program than do an MBA."
Fudan University, for example, now offers a specialized masters degree in "Chinese Business Law," open to students with a variety of academic backgrounds. Program director Lingyun Gao underlines that this is a law degree, not a business degree, but argues that this type of program opens up possibilities for working within corporations, not just law firms.
"Knowing business may not make a person a lawyer, but knowing business law may qualify a person to seek both a legal job and a business job because law is more and more important for international corporations," said Gao.
Archbound believes that MBAs and specialized degrees are complementary. With an increasingly competitive labour market, education qualifications are inflated. "Employers are expecting and are able to get much more from their employees," he said.
Although large companies still value MBAs, this is not always enough. Specialized business focused degrees may therefore be a good way to supplement your future MBA.
However, these degrees are not necessarily mere staging posts to an MBA: They are both useful and in demand on their own merits. MBAs are about general management, but corporations are not composed entirely of managers, nor do all managers hold MBAs. If a student is specifically interested in marketing, law, or accounting, a masters degree in the subject may be all they need.