The degree for practicing or aspiring managers

Both the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) and the Master of Business Administration (MBA) have become popular degree options for managers seeking to move up the career ladder. In 2008, the Graduate Management Admission Council estimated there were more than 250,000 students enrolled in MBA programs and more than 100,000 MBA degrees awarded annually. (“MBA Share in the U.S. Graduate Management Education Market,” Marina Murray.) However, one-third of students pursuing graduate business-related degrees are opting for something other than an MBA. Why? What’s the difference between the MSOL (and similar degrees) and the MBA?

The Education Advisory Board (EAB), in cooperation with Burning Glass Technologies, identified the top skills and attributes that organizations seek of potential employees with a professional/graduate degree in management-related fields. As shown in the table below, many of the skills sought by industry are those that the MSOL is specifically designed to develop – e.g., collaboration, mentoring, performance management, leadership development, business planning, and decision-making.

Chart showing the top skills organizations seek for master's level org leadership professionals

MBA coursework typically emphasizes the functional areas of business – e.g., marketing, accounting, finance, HR, operations management, etc. Courses in economics and statistics are also quite common among MBA curricula, and there is usually some coursework in organizational behavior, leadership, and/or strategy. Given the emphasis on business functions, an MBA degree has always seemed especially well-suited for those trying to launch a career in a functional area (e.g., marketing or accounting or finance) or for those pursuing or holding positions responsible for the full range of business functions (e.g., the role of an entrepreneur).

But many people have already launched successful careers and established their technical know-how in a particular field (e.g. biology, history, or marketing). Their challenge is to move beyond their technical expertise to assume increasing levels of managerial responsibility and to demonstrate greater leadership in an organization. This is where the MSOL degree excels – by emphasizing high-demand, “soft skills” in management, leadership, communication, and the like, as illustrated in the table above.