business man giving presentation

MSM vs. MBA: Which Degree Is Right for You?

Business Administration

Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Science in Management (MSM) programs both help students cultivate management skills that they can directly apply in their career. However, there are important distinctions between the two degrees. MSM programs often focus on helping students become strong managers within business, as well as learning how to motivate teams and guide organizations to success. While MBA programs also focus on management development, their primary goal is to prepare students to help drive revenue and create monetary and social value across a broader range of business areas. Prospective students should assess the key differences in skills and potential career outcomes that each program offers in order to determine which of these degrees is ideal for their personal career advancement.

Skills Attained in an MSM vs. an MBA

The objectives and requirements of MSM and MBA programs vary by institution, and while each program may cover some overlapping subjects, they tend to emphasize distinctive sets of skills. Both degrees typically teach students how to become effective business leaders, establish professional networks, and develop a foundational knowledge of fundamental business areas, such as leadership, marketing and management. But the outcomes of these two programs are not identical. For instance, MSM students can develop the following distinctive skills during their enrollment:

  • IT systems management. Many MSM programs require students to take courses that teach them to use IT systems to manage various aspects of business planning, such as tracking production schedules, monitoring company resources, and accessing employee files. 
  • Teambuilding and mentorship. Master of Science in Management programs frequently require students to take classes in leadership, communication strategy, and conflict resolution. Some programs offer designated degree specialties in fields such as organizational behavior and human resources.
  • Business strategy development. Programs may include coursework that prepares students to craft needed changes to business plans as a result of new legislation, societal trends, or competitive challenges.
  • Consulting and negotiation. MSM programs frequently offer courses in negotiation and consulting, allowing students to understand how to build relationships and create value for their organizations. Additionally, these courses may prime candidates for future careers as consultants.
  • Creativity. Generally speaking, MSM programs often urge students to recognize the importance of thinking creatively and developing new solutions for the business when confronted with a shifting marketplace, supply line disruption, or talent shortages.

Students in an MBA program can attain the following specific skills, among others:

  • Tactical reasoning. MBA programs often help students sharpen their ability to think strategically, positioning graduates to create and implement initiatives that are significantly beneficial to their employers.
  • Accounting, budgeting and finance. MBA graduates may work in many different areas of business, and with the strong core of advanced coursework in finance-related subjects that MBA programs can offer, they can be prepared to implement a successful business model in their chosen fields.
  • International business development. Coursework in international business or economics educates MBA students about trade-related issues such as embargoes and tariffs, as well as global political developments that may impact a company’s business activities in different regions of the world.
  • Integrity. MBA programs frequently offer courses that focus on the principles of ethical decision-making—both within companies and in the larger context of an organization’s ethical responsibilities within the global business landscape.
  • Supply chain management. Graduate-level business programs often require students to complete supply chain operations management courses to help enhance their understanding of inventory control, cost assessments, and demand estimation. Some schools even offer a supply chain specialty.

While MSM and MBA programs can both offer degree specialties or concentrations, MBA programs can provide a diverse selection of options for students interested in specializing within a certain area of business, such as marketing, strategy, or finance leadership. Choosing to specialize creates an opportunity to develop niche skills that are highly valued in certain jobs. Norwich University’s MBA programs offers various concentrations allowing students to specialize based on personal and professional goals. In addition to a general MBA, Norwich offers the following concentrations within its MBA program:

  • Construction management. This concentration helps prepare students for leading and managing construction projects. Skills that can be learned include project management processes and techniques, navigating contract variables and contractual forms, and risk analysis of traditional and new models of financial arrangements. Courses in this concentration include Project Management Techniques, Tools and Practices; Contracts and Insurance; and Project Finance and Accounting.
  • Energy management. This concentration primes MBA students to help organizations address energy challenges and become more energy efficient. Students can expect to develop skills like project planning, teamwork, and problem solving which can be useful when managing time and resources. Courses include Energy Resources and Markets; Energy Savings and Efficiency Projects; and Managing Corporate Energy Needs.
  • Finance. Students in this concentration learn advanced theory and skills that relate to financial concepts, such as understanding the key differences between multinational business finance and domestic finance, the effect of Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) on international commerce, individual and portfolio securities analysis in short and long-term-focused markets, and incorporating corporate finance and multinational business into investment strategy.  Courses include Multinational Business Finance; Investments and Portfolio Management; and Strategic Management in Finance.
  • Organizational leadership. This concentration helps prepare students to serve as leaders and find solutions to various types of challenges that business organizations regularly face. Choosing this concentration can help to develop skills and knowledge in national and multinational management and leadership, applying conceptual and theoretical change models, using holistic organizational behavior models to impact an organization’s strategic alignment, and strategically evaluating individual and group behavior. Courses include Leading Change in Organizations; Strategic Organizational Behavior; and Strategic Organizational Leadership & Developing a Learning Organization.
  • Project management. This concentration, accredited by the Project Management Institute’s Global Accreditation Center (PMI GAC), facilitates students’ development of project management skills. These can include procurement and planning, understanding the variables that can impact a project’s success, and using leadership techniques to build strong project teams. Courses include Project Management Techniques, Tools and Practices; Project Management Leadership, Communications and Teams; and Strategic Management in Project Management.
  • Supply chain management. Students within this concentration can become skilled at managing supply across various types of organizations by developing knowledge and skills in supply chain drivers and metrics, how warehouse design and capacity management effect supply chain movement, analyzing risk and creating a responsive supply chain, and effectively managing parts, suppliers, and distribution.  Courses include Supply Chain Management Strategy, Planning, and Operations; Supply Chain Management Logistics, Design, and Execution; and Supply Chain Management Assessment, Integration, and Optimization.
  • Technology Management. This concentration provides students with specialized knowledge and skills to help them become capable leaders in technology management. Students can learn skills such as effective supply chain design using data and metrics, demand forecasting, and how to apply technology in product engineering and assembly. Courses include Technology Management Strategy; Supply Chain Management Strategy, Planning and Operations, and Project Management Techniques, Tools and Practices.

Career Opportunities with an MSM vs. an MBA

Due to their common interests in business management, MBA and MSM degree holders may find that there is some crossover in their career paths. While few roles are exclusively available to individuals who hold either degree, the distinctive focal points of MBA and MSM programs can lead graduates of each program to seek different types of occupations.

MSM Career Opportunities

MSM programs often place a heavy emphasis on management skills, theory, and creative and innovative thinking, preparing graduates to lead and inspire teams within their organizations. A few of the common positions MSM degree holders can attain include:

  • Human resources manager. HR managers help employers maintain a balanced and competent workforce by implementing policies and procedures that relate to employees and their experience working within an organization. They are also typically responsible for administering benefits and ensuring compliance with various laws. MSM programs can guide students in developing key HR leadership skills, such as communication, negotiation, leadership, conflict assessment and resolution, and relationship building. According to PayScale, the median salary for human resources managers is about $65,070 per year, but salary ranges vary depending on region, education, experience, and job responsibilities.
  • General operations manager. These professionals ensure that all facilities and personnel have the resources they need to keep the business running smoothly. Responsibilities may include interacting with executives, clients, and customers, as well as leading other initiatives relevant to day-to-day operations. The interpersonal and leadership skills professionals gain through an MSM program can help general operations managers navigate through various challenges when working with such a diverse group of clients and customers who have varying demands and needs. The median salary for the general operations manager role is about $100,410 annually, although earnings can vary considerably by industry and experience, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Team director. People in this role can oversee a group, department, or specific initiative within a particular organization. Team directors are responsible for ensuring that team members are motivated and performing to expectations, and they may also serve as a point of contact for a project. For example, a team director might be responsible for leading a group of designers and analysts throughout the development of a company’s new mobile app, or motivating employees on the team to meet deadlines when developing a real estate project. Because the role of team director relies heavily on management and team motivation, an MSM degree can be particularly helpful in providing graduates with advanced managerial abilities and communication skills. The median salary for a team director is just under $90,000, according to PayScale, but earnings can vary significantly by industry, organization and project complexity.

MBA Career Opportunities

Career opportunities for MBA graduates are often vast, particularly because of the breadth of knowledge and diverse skill sets that students can acquire while earning the degree. Individuals who complete an MBA program can gain experience in finance, economics, and marketing, among other business areas, and may seek advanced positions within these fields. Here are some roles that MBA degree holders might pursue:

  • Financial manager. Financial managers typically help businesses identify financial risks, shape future objectives, and implement strategies to maximize profitability. They may work in a variety of organizations, including corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies. The median salary for this position is $121,750 per year, according to U.S. News and World Report. The advanced finance skills taught in most MBA programs can help financial managers set themselves apart from others in their field and compete for higher positions, such as financial controllers, finance directors, or chief financial officers.
  • Logistics analyst. Individuals in this position evaluate every component of a supply chain—including shipping, distribution, warehousing, and manufacturing capacity—to identify opportunities to maximize efficiency and performance. MBA programs often place a heavy emphasis on supply chain management; some programs, including Norwich University, offer a specialty or concentration in supply chain management. The median salary for a logistic analyst is $55,846, according to PayScale. There is ample opportunity for growth within this field, as logistics analysts may eventually qualify for roles as supply chain analysts, logistics managers, and logistics directors.
  • Chief executive officer (CEO). CEOs are the top decision makers at their organizations. The business and communication skills graduates can gain in an MBA program are essential to professionals undertaking this role, because CEOs have a wide breadth of responsibility. They must have a holistic perspective of the business landscape and be fluent in all areas of business, including marketing, finance, and supply chain management. The median salary for a CEO is $160,193 per year, with some CEOs earning more depending on the size of their organizations and their prior success and experience.

While programs and coursework vary by institution, MSM and MBA degrees can both help individuals cultivate valuable skill sets, increase long-term earning potential, and advance their careers within a variety of business fields. For professionals inclined to pursue an MBA, Norwich University offers a program taught by expert faculty in a convenient, online format, with seven degree concentrations, small class sizes, and multiple start dates throughout the year. The program provides a framework for students to develop advanced leadership skills and an in-depth understanding of business and finance-related concepts, enabling them to seek out a variety of lucrative career opportunities.

Learn More

As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.

Norwich University’s online Master of Business Administration (MBA) program helps create strong leaders well-versed in business management practices. Students can customize the MBA by choosing a concentration in construction management, finance, organizational leadership, project management, supply chain management and logistics, energy management, or technology management.


Recommended Readings

Return to Norwich for Your MBA

5 Key Tactics of Successful Project Managers

Career Outlook: Chief Executive Officer

Should You Get an MBA?, Harvard Business Review

Ask the Experts: Masters in Management 2012, Financial Times

The Rise and Rise of the Masters in Management, Forbes

Human Resources Manager, PayScale

What Separates Great HR Leaders from the Rest, Harvard Business Review

Business Operations Manager, PayScale

General and Operations Managers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Business Operations Manager, U.S. News and World Report

Team Director, PayScale

Finance Leadership & Development, International Federation of Accountants

Financial Manager, U.S. News and World Report

Logistics Analyst, PayScale

Chief Executive Officer, PayScale

Learn More Today

Complete the form on the next page to request more information about our online programs.

Request Info