While the successful history of the MBA degree is known to many, it is no longer the only popular choice for aspiring managers and future business leaders. Business Masters programmes have become an equal counterpart to the MBA in the world of business education.

Recent studies of the higher education market have also been documenting an increasing demand for non-MBA graduate programmes. While regional differences are shifting and the industry is becoming more globalised by the year, some tendencies prevail. For example, it seems that Master in Management programmes are especially predominant in some parts of Europe compared to the preferences recorded in the US. An article by The Economist points out that the renowned French institution ESSEC enrolled 83 students on its MBA programme in 2017. In comparison, more than 800 students joined its Master in Management course. The numbers are striking in other schools as well – at Durham Business School (UK), Master in Management participants outnumber MBAs nearly four to one.

There may be several explanations for the student demand in graduate business programmes in Europe and elsewhere around the world.

Benefits of Masters programmes

They are affordable

Masters programmes in business and management are gaining traction in the global education arena for a reason. There are multiple benefits that win over thousands of prospective applicants ev­ery year – and one of them is the costs associated with a Masters degree. Even the most elite Masters programmes of­fered in world-renowned universities are significantly more affordable than most traditional MBA degrees. Take London Business School (UK) as an example. While their MBA programme costs GBP 78,500, the Master in Management at the same institution costs less than half the price – around GBP 31,400.

Learn more about MBA programmes at London Business School by taking a look at this handy profile.

Read: Is a Masters Worth It?

Still, it is not just the fact that Masters programmes require more humble tuition fees. Usually, they are also shorter than their business education counterparts, making them a more cost-effective en­deavour in the long run. Most internation­al Masters programmes are one year in duration and although one-year MBA for­mats have also become a popular choice in the past decade, the US is still predomi­nantly a two-year MBA market.

They require less experience

A decisive attribute for many people who choose to enrol in a Masters programme is that having prior professional experience is usually not a strict or not at all an admission requirement. This is one of the main factors distinguishing Masters study programmes from MBA degrees. “Unlike the MBA, which has historically focused on candidates with three to five years of professional experience who are looking to advance their career, the Master in Management is focused primarily on recent graduates and young professionals with a year or less of work experience,” explains Chioma Isiadinso, former Harvard Business School (US) admissions officer.

The payoff comes early in your career

In connection with the affordability and less strict work experience requirement of international Masters programmes, graduate studies in fields such as Finance and Management feature a greater return on investment (ROI) for alumni. Admittedly, your starting salary may be lower compared to that of an MBA graduate, but education experts claim that you can put your learning into practice right away, allowing you to quickly move up in your career. In comparison, senior professionals who completed their Master of Business Administration need significantly more time to achieve the ROI of their programme.

At the same time, a Masters degree is in no way inferior to the MBA. Programmes such as the Master in Management and the Master in Finance serve their own purpose for young business professionals and aspiring thought leaders by enabling them to stand out from the graduate pool. “Over the past five years, the job market has tightened and a Master in Finance is a way to show you’re better than the next candidate,” confirms Tom Robinson, president and CEO of the accreditation body AACSB International.

They offer a variety of specialisations

When people look into the merits of the Masters degree, what they usually come across is the many niche specialisations available to prospective students. While undergraduate studies build up the basis of one’s academic and professional development, Masters studies are designed to go in-depth in a particular field. Nowadays, there are plenty of options to choose from. Hult International Business School (US) offers a Masters specialisation in Disruptive Innovation; Fordham University Gabelli School of Business (US) has a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership; while in 2018, EU Business School announced seven new programmes in fields ranging from Management to Fashion & Luxury Business.

Check out: Your Guide to Choosing the Right Field of Study

Opportunities are virtually endless – in what seems to be yet another turn in the right direction for universities around the world. As Andrew Crisp, founder of the education market research provider CarringtonCrisp, notes, the increasing variety of specialisations will allow “individual institutions to carve out a focus” for themselves, while simultaneously diversifying the “choices available to students.”

A different degree for each stage of your career

Having discussed the benefits of doing a Masters degree, the same could easily be done for the MBA. The main point here is simple: international Masters programmes have their own audience, just like MBA programmes. What some prospective students fail to realise, however, is that the two degrees are not mutually exclusive. It is not about having to choose one and giving up the other, but rather about knowing how each programme can be of most use at a specific point in your career.

Experts in academia believe that the strengths of the Masters degree will not overpower or replace the MBA in any way. As Scott DeRue, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business (US), recently told the Financial Times, MBA and Master in Management programmes are developing a “fluid rela­tionship” which encourages students to refresh their business school studies at several key points in their careers. This thought is echoed by Stefano Caselli, dean for International Affairs at Bocconi University (Italy), who discusses the seg­mentation seen in the business education market in recent years. “The MBA is still valid for someone with work experience,” says Mr Caselli, “but if you are a young high-flyer, the Masters in Management is a gateway to giving your career a boost quickly.”

The notion that MBA and Masters de­grees can be complementary and can strengthen different stages of one’s pro­fessional growth is reflected in GMAC’s 2017 Prospective Students Survey Re­port. It reiterates the idea that the two types of programmes attract distinct can­didate pools and that “for many, a non- MBA business Masters degree is not the end of their business education.”

While 22% of prospective graduate busi­ness school applicants currently hold a Masters degree, three in four of those applicants are considering enrolling in an MBA programme. According to Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC, the business Masters degree is a great way to develop an essential technical skill set in fields such as Finance and Account­ing. The MBA format becomes especially necessary at a later stage for those who head back to the applicant pool for a sec­ond degree.

So if you are in a position where you need to decide the next steps for your educa­tion and your career, consider your aca­demic background so far as well as where you want to see yourself in the near fu­ture. With a pinch of ambition and a clear purpose to guide you, you will be able to gain indispensable knowledge both from a Masters and from an MBA.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2018-2019 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “A Pinch of Ambition”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.