Master’s in Engineering Management vs MBA - A Comparative Review

You are considering pursuing an MBA or a Master's in Engineering Management (MEM). You are likely considering a career in engineering leadership. The two degree programs could provide similar outcomes, but they have key differences we believe are important for you to consider before committing to a path. Let’s get started.

Elements of Engineering Management

Engineering management combines the technical and problem-solving skills of engineering with the organization, planning, and administrative roles of management. Engineering managers are responsible for overseeing the operational performance of engineering enterprises.

Engineering management allows for professionals in STEM careers to advance into managerial positions while still working in technical functional areas they specialized in during their earlier careers.

Your roles and responsibilities as an engineering manager may include:

  • Cooperating with other managerial, production, and marketing staff to discuss different project procedures and specifications

  • Coordinating and directing technical projects to meet the set goals

  • Analyzing resource and technology needs and assessing the feasibility of various projects

  • Communicating directly with clients during different stages of their projects; you will consult with clients on project specifications, present proposals, reports, and findings, and negotiate with clients.

  • Administrative tasks such as supervising employees, preparing budgets, reports, delegating tasks, conflict resolution, and collaborating with other departments.

  • Creating designs and plans for new projects

  • Reviewing technical documents such as manuals and technical drawings

  • Designing project budgets and schedules

Successful engineering managers have certain skill sets that set them apart in their jobs. These skills are crucial for sustained engineering leadership, and you must consider whether you have or could cultivate them when pursuing an advanced degree such as a master’s in engineering management or an MBA. A sampling of these skills include:

  • Math skills are critical when computing mathematical problems in budgeting, project cost estimations, and measuring different aspects of a project

  • Organization skills: successful project management requires refined organization skills to help you direct a project successfully from start to finish, stick to the budget and keep your team engaged and motivated throughout the project.

  • Strong verbal and written communication as you will be communicating with team members, other managerial staff, and clients.

  • Problem-solving skills to help you address issues that arise in the course of completing a project

  • Project management skills

  • Strong mechanical skills

While not table stakes, it is beneficial to secure an advanced degree such as a master’s degree in engineering management or an MBA. The coursework for these degree programs varies depending on the University.

However, all institutions offering MEM programs seek to build upon the technical skills you gained in your undergraduate studies and combine these skills with leadership and management skills. You can expect to receive graduate-level engineering education and management education through a set of mandatory and elective courses.

These courses cover different areas of engineering management including:

  • Leadership and organizational management

  • Operations management, operations research, and supply chain management

  • Management of technology

  • New product development

  • Product engineering

  • Systems engineering

  • Industrial engineering

  • Management science

  • Engineering design management

  • Accounting

  • Economics

  • Finance

  • Project management

  • Quality control and six sigma

  • Industrial psychology

  • Industrial safety and health

  • Mathematical modeling

  • Human resources management

  • Strategic management

  • Data science

  • Entrepreneurship

The Differences Between a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management and an MBA

An engineering professional wanting to bolster their expertise through an advanced degree can pursue either a master’s degree in engineering management or an MBA. These programs can each lead to advanced career and job opportunities but the programs are quite different.

MBA in Engineering Management

The goal of a master in business administration program over the years has been to produce professionals who would serve as business professionals and leaders. An MBA curriculum primarily focuses on core areas such as accounting, management, economics, finance, and marketing. MBA programs focus on skills that help in leadership in various areas of business.

You can pursue an MBA after an undergraduate in any degree including engineering, humanities, business, etc. assuming you meet the admission and professional requirements. A full-time MBA program usually takes two years to complete.

The benefits of an MBA with an emphasis in Engineering Management include:

  • An MBA helps you grow in your career and attract a higher income. As you gain more experience as an engineering manager, you continue to earn more compared to entry-level managers.

  • An MBA allows you to develop a deeper understanding of various aspects of a business. Your education will equip you with the skills to handle complex and dynamic business environments and deal with problems that arise in the course of work.

  • An MBA could be ideal when you want to pursue a less engineering- or technical-oriented managerial role.

Master’s in Engineering Management

Graduate programs seeking to develop managers suited for the technical and engineering fields began in the 1960s, and today, master’s of engineering management programs are held with high esteem amongst employers.

An MEM degree is suitable for graduate students with a background in engineering and technical fields. These MEM programs allow students to apply their technical or engineering knowledge in making critical managerial decisions including staff recruitment, project management, and client communications.

The curriculum of an MEM focuses on applying management principles in engineering and technical fields, to prepare learners to take on leadership roles in science, technology, and engineering organizations including emerging fields such as artificial intelligence if you already have an AI degree.

The core areas covered in engineering management include core management areas such as accounting, economics, finance, quality control, operations research and management, and human resource management.

In addition to these business skills, a master's program in engineering management incorporates advanced knowledge in technical areas such as industrial engineering, management science, management information systems, mathematical modeling, and systems engineering. As an MBA, a full-time master's program in engineering management likely takes two years to complete though accelerated programs may be available.

The major benefit of taking an MEM is that it allows you to develop managerial expertise in a chosen field of specialization such as mechanical or environmental engineering. Therefore, if your career goals are to remain in an engineering field, then an MEM offers the best career satisfaction and job recognition.

Other benefits of an MEM include:

  • Better industry-specific skills and managerial skills

Admissions Requirements for Master’s Degree in Engineering Management vs. an MBA?

Admission requirements are also different for an MBA and a master’s degree in engineering management. The academic background and your academic performance will determine the program whose entry requirements you meet.

The requirements for an MBA include:

  • A bachelor’s degree

  • Professional working experience for a minimum number of years

  • GMAT or GRE (these requirements depend on the University and some waive the exam requirement in favor of work experience)

  • GPA of around 3.0 in your undergraduate (based on the institution)

  • A personal statement

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Application essays

The entry requirements for a master’s degree in engineering management include:

  • A bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field from an ABET-accredited institution

  • A GPA of at least 3.0

  • Possibly GMAT or GRE (these requirements depend on the University and some waive the exam requirement in favor of work experience)

  • Your resume or CV

  • Statement of purpose

  • Admissions essays

  • A letter of recommendation

The application process for an MEM degree, an MBA, and an MSEM degree can take some time. Universities have different requirements and deadlines (including a set number of years practicing in your career). Therefore, you need to start comparing different reputable programs early so you can choose and start sending applications to those whose requirements you meet.

Starting early is also important especially if you are considering business school, as the application process could take as long as two years to finalize.

It also makes sense to review different programs from various institutions to see what they offer. For example, if you are keen on marrying business principles and engineering concepts in your career you can go for programs such as a graduate degree in business engineering.

You should also remember to check the area you intend to specialize in both an MBA and an MEM degree offer a lot of choices and specialization, with different requirements. Some of the concentrations for an MBA include general management, international management, corporate strategy, finance, data analytics, and entrepreneurship.

How to Determine Whether You Should Pursue an MBA or Engineering Management?

Your educational journey is critical for your career in engineering and related fields. So when considering your graduate studies, should you pursue an MBA or should you take an engineering management master's? Here are some tips to help you pick the right path for you:

  • Determine what your career goals and interests are: what you want with your career will determine the path you choose. For example, engineers who seek to transition into more business-related and less technical fields can choose an MBA while those who want a managerial position in a technical field should pursue an MEM degree.

  • The opportunities available for each career path: both an MBA and an MEM degree enable you for career growth. However, you must evaluate the opportunities available to see whether they fit your goals. Check some of the careers you can do with a traditional MBA and whether you can combine your technical skills and master's education to level-up. The compensation you are likely to earn from pursuing the degree also matters.

  • Your educational background: when pursuing an engineering management degree, it is highly like that you must possess a STEM undergraduate degree such as engineering, computer science, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc. You can pursue an MBA with an undergraduate for a business or non-technical field.

  • Work experience requirements: when you are looking to pursue a master's right after your undergraduate, you can find an engineering management program that does not require many years of work experience. For an MBA however, more often than not, you must demonstrate a professional work experience of at least two to three years. In some cases, you can go for an advanced degree such as an executive MBA if you are already in a managerial position. Such an executive MBA program may offer in-depth training in technology management, human resources, operational marketing, organizational behavior, strategic management, and more.

  • The duration and cost of the program: MEM programs are often less expensive than MBAs although the time frame varies based on the specialization. Fees for an MEM degree range between $50,000 and $60,000 while a full-time MBA can be over $100,000.

Investing time to understand your options before pursuing an MBA or an MEM degree can make a considerable difference in your career satisfaction and return on investment of the degree program. Before choosing the program, evaluate the career growth opportunities, your career goals, and the duration and cost of the program.