Graduate Certificate Vs MBA

Sep 11, 2019

Numerous schools offer MBAs or Graduate Certificates, allowing students to gain expertise in business management. Certificate programs are typically shorter and more narrowly focused, while MBA programs provide a more complete education - and demand a greater investment.

Choosing Between a Graduate Certificate and an MBA

To apply for entry into either a Graduate Certificate or an MBA program, students are expected to hold a bachelor's degree. These programs offer similar specialties, but vary greatly in terms of expectations and outcomes.

Graduate Certificate Overview

Students applying to certificate programs in business are expected to hold a bachelor's degree, but are not typically required to take the GMAT. While some programs allow for a self-designed curriculum, most require choosing a particular concentration such as accounting, finance, business analytics or leadership. These programs can consist of 12-19 credits, completed usually in less than a year, but some schools may allow students to take courses for up to three years. Credits earned during a certificate program can often later be applied toward an MBA.

MBA Overview

To apply for an MBA, students are not only expected to hold a bachelor's degree, but should also have competitive GRE or GMAT scores. Some schools may expect students to have leadership qualities, analytical abilities and an interest in community engagement as well. An MBA typically requires around 40 credits, and takes one to two years to complete. In addition to core coursework, students can focus on specialties including marketing, finance, operations and strategic management.

Common MBA or Graduate Certificate Specialties:

Most Graduate Certificate programs limit coursework to a particular business specialty. While the typical MBA curriculum requires core coursework that spans a variety of disciplines, students also often specialize in an area such as one of the following:

Financial Management

Classes in financial management can train students to compete in global financial markets. They strengthen student understanding of finance, including markets, investing, financial instruments, valuation and credit analysis. Coursework usually covers both financial theory and its practical application.

Human Resource Management

A human resource focus trains business leaders to understand workplace behavior and establish a healthy corporate culture. Classes explore issues affecting individual workers on a micro level, as well as organizational structure on a macro scale. Some class topics include inspiring innovation, leadership, employee relations, staffing and compensation.


A marketing specialty teaches students to analyze customer needs, develop a competitive marketing strategy and create strategic branding. Some areas of focus include new product development, marketing in the service sector, data analytics and digital marketing. This focus typically involves developing skills in both research methodologies and big-picture analysis.

Business Analytics

Students focusing in business analytics develop the conceptual understanding to analyze, manage and mine data using technology and meaningful visuals. Coursework can focus on applying data analytics to effectively improve business outcomes. This enables students to build on business fundamentals to make data-driven financial decisions.

Strategic Management

A strategic management specialization looks at operations management from a top-level perspective, including mission statements and goals. Students often analyze environmental, economic, legal and technological trends to identify industry opportunities and risks. They develop the tools and concepts necessary to improve performance in a variety of workplace settings.

Career Impact of a Graduate Certificate vs an MBA

Typically, a Graduate Certificate is designed for business professionals who have already found a foothold in the workforce, and are looking to enhance their careers. Classes are usually offered online or in the evenings, and allow students to explore the potential of completing an MBA without making the full commitment.

In contrast, people pursuing an MBA can choose between full-time or part-time study. Upon graduation, they often move straight into high-level management positions such as that of a senior executive, investment banker, management consultant or marketing manager.

Many institutions offer both Graduate Certificates and MBAs for students looking to pursue a career in business management and administration. Certificate programs have fewer prerequisites and often serve professionals seeking a promotion, while MBA programs require a greater commitment and can launch a new career.

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