The Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. is a terminal degree that can apply to almost any subject area, while MBA stands for the Master of Business Administration degree and is highly subject-specific. Choosing between an MBA and a Ph.D. in business-related studies often comes down to how much time you wish to spend in school and your career plans after you graduate.
Academic or Business Focus
While a doctorate is often a gateway to careers in academia, master’s degrees and MBAs are generally earned for the purpose of heading out into the working world. Doctoral students often head to colleges and universities after earning their degrees to begin teaching and continue researching in their field, MBA students usually leverage their schooling into executive or management positions in business environments. If you receive an MBA and wish to pursue further education at a later date, you can always enroll in a Ph.D. program then.
Some institutions allow students to use credits toward both doctoral and MBA degrees. Dartmouth, for instance, offers a Ph.D. program, averaging about 5 years, in which you can also take courses that fulfill MBA requirements. Because MBA programs often require experience in the field prior to enrollment, this program allows Ph.D. coursework to count as that experience and integrates the MBA coursework into the Ph.D. program, so students finish with their in-depth doctorate as well as a working understanding of business management in their chosen field. For example, Wake Forest University offers such a comprehensive program, taking between 4 and 6 years.
The Doctor of Philosophy is the most advanced degree available and often requires an in-depth study period of between 4 and 6 years. Although some courses may take less time, the program is a long one, mostly because of the expectation that students will gain total mastery over their subject of study and add to the field in the form of a dissertation. The University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, for instance, offers a Ph.D. program in business that averages 5 years and prepares students to assume faculty positions at institutions of higher learning around the country.
Students earning their Master of Business Administration generally do so in order to move into management positions at corporations or other business settings. The program is usually targeted toward giving students real-life skills to attain high-ranking positions at companies or engage in entrepreneurial work. You can earn an MBA much more quickly than it takes to get a Ph.D; typically master’s degree programs only take between 1 and 2 years to complete. Harvard School of Business, for example, offers a 2-year MBA program focusing on entrepreneurship, learning in practice and competing in a global world.
Sarah Moore has been a writer, editor and blogger since 2006. She holds a master's degree in journalism.