master’s in organizational leadership vs. master’s in business administration

MSOL vs. MBA Degree: Which is Right for You?

Why do so many people decide to earn a master’s degree in business, leadership, and management? Simply put, a master’s degree often leads to new job opportunities, executive positions in upper management, and higher salary potential. Specifically, a master’s in business administration (MBA) and a master’s in organizational leadership (MSOL) are two professional degree options that can level-up your career in today’s competitive job market.

The MBA was first introduced to the world in 1900, making the degree over 120 years old today. While professionals are still finding value in the MBA, they are increasingly leaning into other specialized business leadership programs, such as the MSOL. These degrees are similar in many ways, and prepare graduates for advanced management positions. However, the two degrees differ in terms of their philosophical approach, and therefore teach distinct skill sets for aspiring business leaders.

According to a recent survey, in 2021, 50 percent of U.S. applicants to business master’s programs said that the main motivating factor behind their application was a general “lack [of] required skills and/or degree to be competitive.” They recognized that the need for to stand out in this market, to advance up the executive ladder, and to qualify for their dream job, was reliant on a master’s degree. For many advanced positions, a master’s degree is highly beneficial. In fact, a 2019 Statista report shows that, in the United States, the top in-demand job functions, where a business-related master’s degree will be most helpful, are Strategy and Innovation, Marketing, Finance, and Business Intelligence and Analytics.

Perhaps that is why you are here. You understand that earning a master’s degree is an important milestone in your professional journey. However, you may be unsure which path to take. Should you earn the traditional master’s in business administration (MBA), or set your sights on the interdisciplinary master’s in organizational leadership (MSOL)? You may be asking, “What are the differences between an MSOL vs. MBA degree, and which is the best path for me?”

While the oft-used token of advice, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” might have taken a hit over 2020, when office employees paired blazers with sweatpants while working from home, the sentiment is still applicable today. Seek a master’s degree for the job that you want. The MBA and MSOL degrees have distinct strengths, and depending on your personal career goals, one may be a better fit for you than the other. Ask yourself where you would like to go in your professional journey. Then, consider this answer against the curriculum of both an MBA and MSOL program. Which program better aligns with your career goals? To help you answer this question, we’ve provided a breakdown of the two master’s programs below.

Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) Degree

Traditionally, MBA programs provide in-depth coursework on the inner workings of a business. Topics covered include finance, economics, statistics, information systems, and legal studies, such as business law and ethics. Therefore, an MBA student is particularly well-suited for a finance or administrative role. Strategic integration is another important takeaway for MBA students, which ultimately helps business managers demonstrate their value. For example, overseeing mergers and acquisitions or company scalability projections are complex business ventures that an MBA graduate would be able to tackle more successfully than a colleague who has not accomplished advanced business studies. MBA programs are grounded in business theory, practice, and principle, which ensure that graduates are prepared to solve challenging business problems.

However, recent studies report that MBA graduates are lacking the soft skills that employers desire. Though they are well-prepared for tactical business operations, many MBA graduates are not fully-equipped with experiential learning, critical-thinking skills, ethical decision-making skills, or the problem-solving skills needed to be a successful leader. However, still more than 100,000 MBAs continue to be earned annually, worldwide, showing that the demand for MBA degree holders is still high.

What can you do with an MBA degree, exactly? MBA graduates often are a great fit for corporate or government settings. As noted above, they are also well-fit for advanced positions in finance and accounting, as well as technical areas of business like marketing and sales, information technology, business operations, consulting, and general management. According to U.S. News, common titles you can assume with an MBA in hand are:

  • Marketing Manager
  • Medical and Health Services Manager
  • Financial Manager
  • Management Consultant
  • Business Operations Manager

Do these potential career outcomes align with your professional goals?

Master’s in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) Degree

MSOL programs are multi-dimensional by nature. In contrast to the MBA, the MSOL investigates philosophy and psychology, as related to an organization and leading its employees. The MSOL curriculum encapsulates organizational strategy and change-making leadership techniques, such as negotiation and conflict response. These skills are essential for today’s leaders, and useful across all job areas within a business or organization. Since the MSOL is designed for leadership skill development, talent and performance management are key topics. The study of ethics is also fundamental to this degree, as contemporary leaders increasingly must handle tough ethical business conundrums in today’s socio-political climate.

Because this degree focuses on the human aspects of organizations and businesses, MSOL graduates are expected to be change-makers who understand people deeply. With an MSOL degree, you can qualify to work in a variety of industries and organizations. Not only can an MSOL degree be useful in the corporate world, but also non-profit, government, education, and manufacturing industries. With an MSOL, you may achieve titles such as (but not limited to):

  • Human Resources Manager
  • C-Level Executive
  • Health Services Manager
  • Higher Education Administrator
  • Director of a Non-Profit Organization
  • Sales Manager

Are you looking to lead people and take an organization to the next level? An MSOL may be for you.

MBA vs. MSOL: Which Path Will You Take?

When weighing the master’s in organizational leadership vs. MBA option, one thing to keep in mind is the history of each program. While MBA programs were developed to fill a void for workforce managers during the Industrial Revolution, MSOL programs were developed to prepare aspiring business leaders with the soft skills and people skills that some business professionals are missing. Without soft skills like critical thinking and ethical decision-making, managers will be less effective in the 21st century workplace. Peter Drucker, an incredibly influential management consultant, author, educator, and writer, anticipated the leap of society from muscle to mind back in 1959. He declared that management education’s greatest influence on modern society was understanding the key to increasing the productivity of “knowledge workers,” a term he coined for employees whose main capital is – you guessed it – knowledge.

A knowledge worker is essentially a modern worker: someone who plans, studies, acquires, analyzes, organizes, distributes, or programs information, often in the technology, academic, systems, or programming fields. The MSOL specifically focuses on the leadership of knowledge workers within business organizations. Therefore, in many ways, the MSOL is a continuation of Mr. Drucker’s legacy in understanding and teaching leadership for a new millennium. In pursuing an MSOL degree, students grow their critical thinking, ethical management, future-thinking, risk-calculation, and change-making potential, and are able to apply those skills to an ever-evolving marketplace. For someone interested in an in-depth dive into the subject of leadership, and most importantly, its application in the workforce, an MSOL degree would be the right choice for the future.

As you can see, there are benefits to achieving either an MBA or an MSOL degree, though the coursework and fundamental approach to learning about business management and leadership vary greatly. Perhaps changing priorities of the modern business are demanding a different kind of leader than the traditional MBA holder. For instance, Forbes has reported that the top ten business schools in the U.S. – schools that typically have hopeful future CEOs and CFOs pounding on their front doors – experienced a sharp decline in MBA applications for both 2018 and 2019. Is the reason the cost for programs? Economic influences? It’s hard to say, and even harder to predict the impact that 2020 and 2021 will have on the MBA market, but one thing is for sure: A master’s degree is proving to be the new bachelor’s degree. 33 percent of employers are hiring workers with master’s degrees for positions that had previously been held by bachelor’s degree holders.

With that in mind, here is some advice. Consider enrolling in an affordable, online master’s program like an MSOL, that has the same pay-bump benefits as an on-campus MBA, but without astronomical tuition rates. It is possible to save money on education and reap the same salary benefits. According to the 2021 Winter Salary Survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, in the United States, 2020 master’s degree graduates were making on average $75,461 annually, while bachelor’s in business degree holders were making $57,939 annually. The financial outlook is clearly brighter for people with master’s degree in their dedicated profession.

To learn more about how a master’s of science in organizational leadership could change your career journey, or how the MBA and MSOL degree compares, visit Goodwin University online, or call 800-889-3282 to speak with an admissions representative today.