DBA degree and the MBA: Differences

Published: 3 January 2020 | by Thomas Graf

The two degrees DBA and MBA sound pretty similar. And some companies indeed treat both an MBA and a doctoral program as equally valuable qualification of an employee. There are, however, important differences between a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).

DBA and MBA: Content

The MBA is a general management degree with a strong practical approach. It provides an overview on the most important managerial functions and trains you in solving practical business problems. Full-time programs often include leadership seminars as well as practical periods such as business plan development, in-company projects, or internships, and your primary source of information is case studies.

  • In an MBA program, you are building up knowledge that is already there - and you receive that knowledge through books, lectures, case studies, or interaction with professors, classmates or businesses.

In a professional business doctorate you read academic journals

In contrast, the DBA is a research program where you read academic journals. You become trained not in solving managerial problems but in becoming a researcher who is able to publish in academic journals some day. You are reading about the theories behind what is taught in the MBA and you learn the methodological tools necessary to generate knowledge as an academic.

  • In a professional business doctorate, you build up knowledge that is already there only in the course period. After that you become a researcher and you generate new knowledge.

A concrete example

  • As an MBA student you learn how to generate profits. You may "read" a case study where you put yourself in the shoes of a sales manager who faces a serious drop-down of his sales and after reading he case you try to solve his problem.
  • As a DBA student you may rather try to understand where profits (or more sales) come from in general and "create" a case study. You may want to develop a model that explains conditions when sales are sensitive to demand fluctuations and when not, for instance. And you may want to test your model by empirically analyzing hundreds of sales managers and publish your results in your dissertation. Or you may analyze a specific business process in your own company and conduct a case study that may be applied in other companies as well.

Target groups

MBA full-time and part-time students typically are business professionals who want to develop their career in business. The core reasons for doing an MBA degree program are: increase your career options inside and outside your current employer; qualify for a leadership position; acquire managerial knowledge, for instance after you have become promoted; and acquiring knowledge and building a network for developing your own business. Compared to professional business doctorate students, MBA full-time and part-time students usually are younger and have less work experience.

Executive MBA students come closer to the typical DBA student in terms of age and work experience. Still, the motivation and career goals for doing an Executive MBA (EMBA) are different from doing a professional business doctorate degree. Similar to full-time or part-time MBA students, EMBA students look for gaining new knowledge and developing new capabilities that help them become better and more successful in their businesses. Also, building a network to other Executives through an EMBA program often is a strong motivation for doing this type of degree program.

DBA students, in contrast, are business professionals who look for a personal challenge and want to acquire the qualification as a researcher. They already have a successful business career behind them and may already have acquired an MBA - now they want to complement their knowledge as a practitioner by becoming a scholar and move between the business and the academic world. They are rather broadening and extending their capability profile than deepening their existing knowledge base.

MBA or DBA degree - what is better?

This question is risen in some internet forums and therefore seems to play a role for some people. In essence, the question is misleading, however, because MBA and DBA fulfill different purposes and hence are not interchangeable. By obtaining a doctoral degree in business, professionals learn how to do research whereas in the MBA they learn to become a better manager. Now the question is up to you: What do you need right now? Research knowledge or skills to be successful in business?

Tuition fees

As for the tuition fees: Prices for Executive Masters of Business Administration and professional doctorate in management degrees differ a lot. The Executive MBAs of the most renowned institutions take easily EUR 100,000 and more. The INSEAD EMBA, for instance, takes about EUR 100,000 - the Wharton Executive MBA takes $ 178,000. By contrast, a doctorate in business administration for professionals at a very renowned institution takes about EUR 67,000 (Cranfield School of Management) or even $ 105,000 (Olin Business School).

Further MBA and Doctor of Business Administration information

Specialized Masters

In addition to MBA and Master in Management programs, business schools also offer specialized Masters, with a specific focus, e.g.:

By Thomas Graf