The MBA Isn’t The Only Hot Business Degree Right Now

students on campus

Applications to the world’s top MBA programs look set to reach record levels over the next year, with many schools already reporting double-digit growth as they extended final round deadlines in the spring and summer. Wharton has seen a 21% increase for the incoming class, making it the largest entering cohort in the school’s history. And, after pushing its final application deadline back by a whole 51 days, Columbia has reported an increase of 18%, breaking a two-year slide in applications. Looking beyond the U.S., INSEAD saw a 57% jump in R2 applications back in May 2020, while Switzerland’s IMD Business School extended its own application deadline for the January 2021 intake with the intention of enrolling its largest ever MBA class.

While there’s no doubt that an MBA from one of the world’s top business schools is in high demand right now, it’s not the only graduate business degree that’s seen a surge in popularity. Pre-experience masters programs have been on the up-and-up for years. More affordable than an MBA, at an earlier career stage and with a greater capacity for following specialist study, the Masters in Management provides graduates with invaluable industry experience before they enter the job market – ideal for catching the eye of the corporate recruiters. 

The Masters in Finance has maintained its appeal because the employability of MFin graduates has always been so strong. In 2020, ESCP Business School was one of seven institutions in the Financial Times‘ Masters in Finance ranking where 100% of the graduating class were employed within three months of graduation.


And then there is the explosive growth in demand for the Masters in Business Analytics, tailor-made for a world of big data.  A growing number of business schools in the U.S. and Europe are developing a specialized degree that nobody had heard of ten years ago, to prepare students with the predictive and prescriptive analytical skills that are in such high demand and providing graduates with stellar job prospects.

The CentreCourt Specialized Masters Festival on October 13 & 14 is the chance for college seniors and recent graduates to find out more about the world’s leading MiMs, MFins and MSBAs with Admissions Directors and Careers Services Directors from MIT Sloan, Imperial College Business School, Northwestern, INSEAD, Emory Goizueta, London Business School, CMU Tepper, HEC Paris, Northwestern, ESCP, UVA’s McIntire and many other leading schools. 

According to the annual GMAC Applicant Survey 2019, two in three (67%) candidates consider a business master’s program when applying, with the most popular among them being the Masters in Finance (24%), followed by Masters in Data Analytics (14%), and Masters in Management or Global Management (14%). This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to many – the Master in Management (MiM) has long been a flagship program for many of Europe’s top institutions (see the Poets&Quants Directory of Specialized Masters Degrees in Business).


Nick Barniville, associate dean of ESMT Berlin

The COVID-19 recession has created a challenging job market for professionals at all stages of their careers and is proving to be the driving force for record-breaking levels of MBA admissions. But will we see these numbers creep higher for MSc programs over the coming years, as younger professionals look to make the best out of challenging professional circumstances?

INSEAD has joined the likes of LBS, HEC Paris, ESCP, Imperial, Michigan Ross, Kellogg, and other leading business schools with the launch of a Masters in Management, welcoming the first intake this month with more than 80 students from 20 countries. Expect those numbers to grow – fast! When ESMT Berlin launched their MiM in 2014 they received 182 applications in the first year for a class of 32 participants. Five years later, applications had grown more than four-fold to more than 800 and the latest class size is 148. 

For Associate Dean Nick Barniville, the MiM is proving to be so popular because of its suitability for early careers in different business areas. “The ESMT MIM provides students with a very practical set of analytical skills combined with a general business and management overview. While most students have limited professional experience before joining the program, students practice using a variety of tools that can be used from day one in a job.”


The experience gained from applying these tools in both the internship and the social impact project means that employers can get value from a MIM graduate right from the beginning. “Employers tell us that they are willing to pay most for the analytical skills that MIMs bring to tackle business problems in a variety of contexts right from the day they join the organization.”

Trinity Business School in the Republic of Ireland has also witnessed a surge in applications to its MiM in recent years. The Dublin-based institution has undergone a period of substantial growth since welcoming Professor Andrew Burke as dean in 2015 and unveiling a state-of-the-art building as well as other new facilities, boosting the quality of its MiM offering. External factors such as the Irish government’s Third Level Graduate Scheme, which allows non-EU students studying MSc programs in Ireland to remain and work for 24 months after graduation, has made studying at Trinity an attractive offer for many overseas applicants.

Despite the challenges that many now face around travel, according to Natasha Evers, program director of the MSc in Management, this shouldn’t deter students from gaining a valuable international study experience. “Employers will recognize that the 2020-21 class are people who tackled a challenge in uncertain times. In essence, a cohort identified by resilience, courage, perseverance, and adaptability.  These are the traits that companies seek. So I think this distinctiveness of 2021 graduates means they are destined to be highly attractive to employers both in the short term and throughout their careers.” 


Heidi Pickett, assistant dean of the MIT Sloan Master of Finance

While Trinity’s MiM boasts the opportunity for foreign students to stick around and take advantage of the career opportunities in Dublin’s thriving technology sector, for those looking to break into the finance industry, a Masters in Finance (MFin) is – unsurprisingly – often the program of choice for applicants looking to secure an edge in the graduate job market. 

Heidi Pickett, assistant dean of the MIT Sloan Master of Finance, says that the degree provides the deep and rigorous training necessary to produce highly trained finance professionals sought after by the finance industry in both financial hubs as well as developing countries.  “The global demand for an MFin has been increasing due to the opportunities presented by industry and also from innovation in newer areas like fintech and crypto.  An advanced finance degree provides many different career paths making it an attractive option for students.”

Heidi describes finance as the backbone of both established and developing economies. “Finance is global and has no boundaries, making advanced finance skills necessary across all sectors in both private and public markets.   Additionally, the advancement of technology, innovation, and globalization has made finance more complex and markets continue to changing rapidly.”


Many of the MFin programs at the CentreCourt Specialized Masters Festival cater to a growing desire for career-specific qualifications, by providing a gateway for students to achieve additional credentials such as the prestigious Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification. 

The MSc in Finance at France’s Edhec Business School has been a CFA Programme Partner for over 10 years. Its curriculum, opened to graduate students without prior training in finance follows the CFA level 1 exam curriculum, which makes it easier for students to take the exam while ensuring their training matches the best global standards. 

“The designation Chartered Financial Analyst is renowned worldwide,” says Professor Daniel Haguet, associate professor specialized in behavioral finance at Edhec’s campus in Nice. “Holding this credential opens the doors to a network of over 167 000 professionals worldwide.” 


Beyond highly networked and lucrative careers, Heidi Pickett at MIT Sloan also sees the chance for MFin graduates to make a difference tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges. “Finance is key in helping to solve world problems such as COVID-19 and global warming through innovative ways to fund drug development, climate finance projects or other solutions.  

Perhaps the fastest growing master’s program on the planet right now is the MSc Business or Data Analytics. With thousands of applications for both the full-time and the online track, Imperial College Business School’s MSc in Business Analytics is one of the most exclusive graduate business degrees on the planet. For the September 2020 intake of the program, Imperial saw a record of almost 4,000 applications with, and half of them vying for one of just 87 spots on the full-time track of the school’s top-ranked MSc in Business Analytics. The sheer popularity of this program is understandable when realizing that by 2027, global market revenue for Big Data is set to be around $103 billion. Not to mention that, according to Forbes, by 2025 around 150 trillion gigabytes of data will need to be analyzed. 

For many business school applicants, with the future of data analytics looking particularly bright, enrolling on a specialized master’s in business or data analytics seems to be the obvious choice over the MBA. 


“Our applications are up by more than 60% compared to last year,” says Wolfram Wiesemann, academic director of the Imperial MSc in Business Analytics. “Students are attracted to our program because of the curriculum that combines methodological rigor with real-world applicability, taught by world-leading academics, and this is reflected in our employment numbers. On average, 95% of our MSc Business Analytics students accept a job offer within three months of graduation, with over 60% going to work in the tech or consulting sectors.”

For Ramnath K. Chellappa, associate dean and director of the MSBA at Emory’s Goizueta Business School, the program does not merely see business analytics as a set of solution techniques but believes it helps ask the right question. “The Emory MSBA program creates business data scientists.  We are as technical as a computer science program, as quantitative as a data science program … but never forgetting that we are first a business program!  Our students learn to solve business problems by shaping them into data problems and presenting the data solutions for business decisions.”

This ability to cut through the noise was part of the appeal for Wen Chang, a Goizueta 18MSBA and now a senior analyst at Home Depot. “Buzzwords come and go every year: O2O, blockchain, VR, machine learning, big data, cloud computing, AI, and more. However, no matter how fancy they sound, it comes down to the business data scientists utilizing these technologies and correctly collecting and processing data to create real business impact. This is what the Master of Science in Business Analytics program at Goizueta prepares us for.”


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