What is the Difference Between a Certificate and an MBA?


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Many business schools across the nation offer MBA programs and graduate certificates, allowing students to gain an education and expertise in business management. While certificate programs are shorter and narrower in focus, MBA programs provide more comprehensive business education and demand more significant investment.

Deciding Between an MBA and Graduate Certificate

capstone choice

All applicants for entry into a Graduate Certificate or an MBA program are expected to have already completed an undergraduate degree. These programs offer similar concentrations but are very different in outcomes and expectations.

An Overview of the Graduate Certificate

Most students applying to a certificate program in business are expected to hold an undergraduate degree, but they are not typically expected to take the GMAT. While some programs permit a self-designed curriculum, most require students to choose a specific concentration like leadership, accounting, finance, or business analytics. These programs may consist of twelve to nineteen credits designed to be completed in less than a year. Knowing that their students have professional and personal obligations, some schools allow students to take up to three years to satisfy all program requirements. Credits accumulated during a certificate program are often later applied toward the credit requirements of an MBA.

An Overview of the MBA

To apply for a traditional or online MBA, candidates must hold an undergraduate degree and have competitive GMAT or GRE scores. Most b-schools expect students to have proven their leadership qualities, analytical abilities, and interest in community engagement to show themselves as well-rounded students. Many MBAs require between thirty and forty credits and take one or two years to complete. In addition to the included core coursework, graduate students can focus on many emphases, including healthcare management, marketing, finance, analytics, accounting, supply chain management, and human resource management.

Standard MBA and Graduate Certificate Specialties

Most Graduate Certificate programs narrow their focus to a particular business area. While the typical MBA curriculum requires core coursework that covers various business disciplines, students often specialize in an area like one of the following:

Financial Management


Financial management courses are designed to train students to compete in global financial markets. They reinforce student understanding of finance, including credit analysis, markets, investing, valuation, and financial instruments. Coursework in finance concentrations usually covers the practical application of economic theory.

Human Resource Management

Focusing on human resources trains business leaders to comprehend and interpret workplace behavior while establishing a healthy corporate culture. Classes explore the issues that affect individual employees on a micro level and organizational structure on a macro scale. Some classes include lessons on staffing and compensation, inspiring innovation, leadership, and employee relations.


A marketing concentration equips students with the skills they need to analyze customer needs, develop competitive marketing strategies, and create strategic branding. Some focus areas include digital marketing, new product development, data analytics, and marketing in the service sector. This specialization typically involves developing skills in big-picture analysis and research methodologies.

Business Analytics

business analytics omba

MBA students concentrating in business analytics develop the conceptual understanding to gather, manage, and mine data utilizing technology and meaningful visuals. Coursework focuses on applying data analytics to influence business outcomes effectively. This enables graduate students to build on business fundamentals while making data-driven business decisions.

Strategic Management

A strategic management concentration centers on operations management from a top-level perspective. It includes mission statements and goals. MBA students often analyze legal, environmental, economic, and technological trends while identifying industry risks and opportunities. They develop the concepts and tools needed to improve performance in all workplace settings.

Career Impact of an MBA vs. a Graduate Certificate

Graduate certificates are good choices for business professionals who have already found a way into the workforce and are interested in enhancing their careers. Classes are usually found online or in the evenings, and they allow students to explore elements of an MBA without making the total commitment.

Individuals pursuing an MBA can choose between part and full-time study. These business professionals are prepared to move straight into high-level management roles like senior executives, investment bankers, management consultants, and marketing managers upon graduation.

Graduate students who have applied for or have been accepted into an MBA program may think they are set for the next two years. However, MBAs across the nation have an essential decision to make: whether to specialize their MBA by choosing a concentration.

What is important to know about MBA concentrations?

Think of a concentration or specialization like you would a college major. They usually contain courses that a graduate student takes in a specific topic in addition to the core MBA curriculum. Concentrations have grown in popularity recently in the United States. Some schools, such as Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology, require MBA students to choose a specialization.

Like the University of Chicago Business School and Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, other schools don’t require concentrations, but their enrolled students typically pursue one. Some schools, like Saunders, allow graduate students to design their concentrations, which include taking courses from other graduate school departments if they have interdisciplinary interests.

Other business schools offer specializations under different names. Wharton calls concentrations “majors.” Like Stanford Graduate School of Business, some business schools don’t offer concentrations but allow students to take electives in various subjects during their second year.

It is common for business schools not to list students’ concentrations on their diplomas, but concentrations will appear on official transcripts.

Action Plans


-Deciding on an MBA concentration or specialization:

Concentrations and specializations are excellent choices for students who know what they want from their careers. A concentration can help a resume stand out from the competition of applications that hiring organizations receive annually from MBA graduates.

-Pick a concentration before or after applying for an MBA:

Most MBA students focus on the core curriculum during their first year and then move to concentration requirements during their second year. At some schools, like Boston University’s Questrom School of Business and California State University, Fullerton, MBA students declare their intent to pursue a specialization by their first or second semester.

While a graduate certificate and an online MBA concentration are different in nature and purpose, both serve graduate students well in their separate ways. If you are interested in finding out more about these resources, reach out to business school representatives, as they are an excellent resource for program information.

Related Resources:

Top Online Healthcare MBA Programs
Top Online MBA Programs

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