Who are Master’s Students?

MSc Programmes Draw a Diverse Crowd

April 1st, 2014

The market for specialised master’s programmes in accounting, management, finance and a number of other business disciplines has never been stronger. Schools are striving to develop new programmes to meet the needs of a new generation of students. However, there are some clear differences between specialised Master’s and MBA candidates.

According to the 2012 survey of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), applications to specialised Master's programmes in the US increased by 12% in one year and a whopping 86% from five years before.

In the 2011 Application Trends Survey Report of the GMAC, large majorities of applicants to management (72%), accounting (75%) and finance (76%) programmes were 25 years of age or younger, and they generally had less work experience. In addition, specialised programmes appear to be attracting more women and ─ except for accounting programmes ─ more international students.

The most popular specialised Master's programmes, according to GMAC, are those in accounting, finance and business or management, but schools are also expanding to other fields such as data analytics, information technology, supply chain management and others.

Specialised Master's degrees are becoming more and more popular everywhere, and there are several factors driving this surge in applications.

Attractive to undergraduates

The most common factor is that many applicants simply cannot afford the three or five years of work experience required for an MBA degree, and so they turn to a specialised Master's where there is no requirement for professional experience.

Specialised Master’s programmes are particularly attractive to undergraduates who can continue their education for a fifth year so as to enhance or deepen their technical skills and their knowledge in a specific field. A specialised Master’s also helps add a business aspect to a more technical undergrad major. For example, quantitative skills are more thoroughly developed in a finance master’s degree than in an MBA, which helps students with no previous finance education, while also enhancing their chances of a career change.

A more focused vs. a training approach

The increasing array of disciplines also makes specialised Master’s attractive to young candidates. In comparison with an MBA, a specialised Master’s could possibly be of better use to someone interested in corporate technical positions rather than management, as the curricula of specialised Master’s programmes provide options for focused study versus a more training approach in MBA programmes.   


Specialised Master’s programmes offer an excellent opportunity for candidates who have already started their careers to take a break and do a one-year specialised post-graduate study course abroad, in order to enhance their chances of a promotion or employability back home without the possible career disruption that two years in an MBA programme could cause.

Alternatively, more than a few students choose to do two specialised Master’s programmes simultaneously, thus acquiring an even greater edge on the job market. Similarly, one has the option of choosing a specialised Master’s programme combining two areas of expertise such as the Master of Science in Information System Audit and Control at Georgia State University, as quoted by GMAC’s website. This particular degree combines accounting and information systems, which is a particularly attractive combination in many markets throughout the world.

A career advantage

An MS programme provides specialised knowledge that the new generation of candidates find very appealing in an extremely competitive world where they strive to distinguish themselves from their peers, and where a bachelor’s degree is no longer enough. In addition, having a specialised Master's degree in your pocket would result in a boost to your salary and at a more affordable price.

In Europe in particular, the value of a specialised Master’s has long been recognised and appreciated by all stakeholders: universities, students and the business world. Few employers in Europe would question one’s choice to go for a specialised Master’s degree instead of an MBA.

However, specialised Master’s degrees are also growing in popularity overseas, with an increase of 63% in applications to Master of Management programmes and 53% to other graduate management Master’s courses back in 2009. This trend has been steady ever since, with universities working to develop more and more versatile programmes year after year.

A path to an MBA

One more way in which specialised Master’s programmes are appealing to both candidates and universities is how they add up to the knowledge required for admission to an MBA programme, as well as what value having both degrees holds for both alumni and employers.

For holders of a specialised Master’s diploma, the step to an MBA is just a few years of experience away. This is a common move and one more reason for universities across the world to continue supporting, developing and enhancing their specialised Master’s programmes. 

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