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Wondering how to climb the corporate ladder in the field of business? A return to the classroom may be worth exploring.

You may have thought you were closing your books for good after completing a bachelor’s degree, but with increasing job competition and an unstable economic climate, enrolling in a graduate program may help you stand out to employers from the crowd of job applicants.

“In today’s increasingly competitive job market, having just a bachelor’s degree is no longer enough. Having a Master of Science (MS) degree can give you the specialized knowledge to stay competitive while also advancing in your field. It can make for an easier transition into more senior roles or allow for a career pivot, which in turn can increase your earning potential and job satisfaction,” said Dan Spacher, MS Programs Assistant Director at Columbia Business School.

Columbia Business School offers both an MS and MBA degree to provide students with the education needed to advance their careers. We asked Spacher to share the unique factors of Columbia Business School’s MS program to help students make an informed decision about which business-focused graduate program may be right for them.  

*This article is sponsored by Columbia Business School

MS vs. MBA

Before enrolling in a graduate program, it’s important to research the curriculum and course content to ensure it will align with your professional goals. Working towards a graduate degree will require substantial time and financial commitments. Make sure you’re getting the best return on your investment by understanding the differences in each degree offered.

“An MS degree offers a more specialized and focused area of study, while an MBA program offers more breadth in the curriculum. With an MS degree, you become a master or specialized expert in your selected area of study, whereas with an MBA, you become an expert in seeing the ‘big picture’ of an organization. When deciding between both programs, it is important to consider what your career goals are and what you hope to achieve when utilizing your degree post-graduation.”  

Spacher noted that the MS programs offered by Columbia Business School allow students the option to enroll in industry-specific programs, including Financial Economics, Marketing Science and Accounting and Fundamental Analysis. These programs are designed to give students a specialization within the business world — a unique trait of the program.

Why enroll in an MS program?

“I was looking for an MS in Marketing that would give me a technical foundation and a strong hands-on business exposure,” said Sofia Cattaneo, a graduate student earning an MS in Marketing Science from Columbia Business School.

As an international student, Cattaneo found additional benefits of the MS program—including a faster time frame for completion, smaller class sizes, and an Optional Practical Training (OPT) extension especially appealing. 

A couple of factors played a role in the decision to pursue an MS over an MBA. First, the program lasts only one year compared to the traditional MBA which spans two years. This meant I could gain most of the skills of an MBA student in half the time. At the same time, I would also differentiate myself from an MBA student thanks to the PhD component of the degree. Considering that each year nearly 200,000 students graduate with an MBA in the U.S., it is fundamental to find time-effective ways to stand out in such a large undifferentiated pool,” she added.

Cattaneo also noted how the MS program would prepare her to join “a job market that was pivoting more and more towards data understanding and analysis.” She explained how the decision to select a degree with a concentrated focus has enhanced her understanding of technical skills needed to gain a competitive advantage. 

“There are different ways in which the MS in Marketing Science is preparing me for my career. Technically, I gained extensive data analysis and programming skills, through code-heavy courses such as Machine Learning and Marketing Models, as well as market research and digital marketing skills. In terms of soft skills, teamwork is constantly stimulated through required group projects. On the business acumen side, management, problem solving, and planning are trained through case-based learning and company-sponsored consulting projects. Lastly, the possibility to work with real companies in-class and to attend weekly networking events out-of-class allows me to be constantly updated on the latest industry trends and opportunities.”

Who enrolls in an MS program?

Earning an MS degree can help students with limited professional experience carve out a career path or transition to a new field. 

“At Columbia Business School, our MS programs primarily attract two different audiences: early career students with zero to three years of experience and career switchers looking to specialize in a specific area. The majority of applicants we welcome join us with less than three years of experience, but with relevant internship or work experience and a clear goal of what they wish to pursue post-graduation,” said Spacher.

Ultimately, the journey to obtaining a graduate degree needs to lead the student down the right path to further their career. While an MBA will provide a well-rounded, business-centric education, students will still receive some of the same technical skills through the coursework of an MS program.

“An MS program can also be complementary to an MBA. For example, this year we have an MBA coming into the MS program in Marketing Science, and some MS graduates go on to earn a PhD, MBA, or Executive MBA once they are further along in their careers and want additional credentials.”

“Coming out of the [MS] program, you will gain transferable skills and become a better problem solver that employers look for in a job candidate. Additionally, it will allow students to stand out in a crowded marketplace with exposure to the world’s largest and most successful companies. Finally, it will provide students with a lifelong alumni network and trusted brand that they will be able to leverage for their entire career. In today’s competitive economic climate, a Columbia Business School MS degree will be the bridge towards advancement and acceleration in one’s career.”

Need help finding the right graduate program for you? Check out Peterson’s Grad School search tool.