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MBA vs. certificate programs: Which is right for you?

At a glance

  • Both an MBA and a business certificate program can develop skills important for career enhancement, switching professions or helping a small business thrive.
  • An MBA generally takes longer and costs more than a business certificate program, but it also confers more advanced skills.
  • In 2021, 91% of employers planned on hiring more MBA graduates, according to a survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council.
  • Learn more about the online MBA programs and business certificate options at University of Phoenix!

Your success in business hinges on your ability to keep up with trends in leadership, management, technology and operations. This is why many mid-level business professionals choose to advance their education with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or an online business certificate. These educational opportunities can help professionals to:

So, you might be wondering, which path is a better fit for you — certificate or degree? Is earning an MBA worth it or are your time and money better spent on a business certificate? While an MBA can potentially prepare graduates for higher-level positions, the degree can take longer and cost more than a business certificate. The best option for you depends on your career aspirations and what you decide is the best return on your investment.

Why choose an online MBA program?

In 2021, 91% of surveyed employers planned on hiring more MBA graduates, according to a survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council. That’s a promising statistic on the return side of things, but what about the process of actually earning a graduate degree? That’s where the online option shines. Earning your MBA in a digital classroom translates to flexible schedules, networking opportunities, affordability and convenience.

Here’s a closer look at the advantages of an online MBA: 


An online MBA program gives students the flexibility to study anytime, anywhere. You can plan your school schedule around your daily responsibilities, from submitting an assignment during your lunch break to writing a paper after the kids go to bed.


Accreditation conveys to future employers that you have attended a school or program that meets or exceeds a certain threshold of quality. Be sure to look for an online MBA program that’s accredited by a reputable MBA accrediting body, such as:

Job opportunities

The comprehensive business education you get with an MBA can help prepare you for new career opportunities. Some of the job opportunities an MBA can prepare you for are:

  • General manager
  • Business manager
  • Operations director
  • Administrative director

Higher earning potential

An MBA can potentially make a more substantial impact to your current and future earning potential than a business certificate. For example, research from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that more than 12 million Americans are working in the business industry, but only 25% of them have an advanced degree.


Almost half of surveyed businesses claim that their best hires came from employee referrals, according to recruitment research conducted by Zippia. In other words, growing your network is one way to help improve your job opportunities. And an MBA program, whether in person or online, is an opportunity to do just that.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to connect with classmates from a variety of backgrounds and with even more diverse goals. These connections can lead to lifelong networks where you can tap into employment opportunities throughout your career.

What are the disadvantages of an online MBA program?

While earning an MBA online has many advantages, it’s important to be aware of the disadvantages as well. As a working student, you will likely be studying on your own, which requires a strong sense of motivation, discipline and time management. And while you might save on tuition, you could possibly incur technology costs such as purchasing a new laptop or upgrading your internet connection.

Let’s explore a few more disadvantages you might experience in an online MBA program.

Limited interaction

Critics of online programs often claim that students miss out on face-to-face interactions with classmates and instructors. Some people find it more challenging to make connections and build relationships in a digital space. That being said, most online programs offer discussion forums and live, online discussions that can be just as lively — if not more so — than in on-campus classes.


In online programs, students must rely on their own motivation and discipline to complete assignments. Without in-person guidance, some students struggle with procrastination, missing tests and assignments. It’s no surprise then that there are MBA candidates who feel that they’re more disciplined in on-campus programs. A quality online program, however, will offer student support and resources to help you stay on track.

Time commitment

Even though online programs allow students to study at their own pace, there may be a time commitment disadvantage for some. The flexibility is a benefit, but it can also be challenging to figure out how much time you need to devote to your coursework. Some students in online MBA programs take longer to complete their degrees than those who attend on-campus programs. To succeed in an online MBA program, students must be willing to work on creating strong time management skills.

Why choose a business certificate?

For those who are already established in a career but want to hone specific skills, an online business certificate program could be the right fit. While most certificates for business lack the breadth of learning of an MBA program, they do explore specialized skills that can help with career enhancement. A business certificate can help professionals:

  • Build specific business knowledge and skills
  • Enhance credibility
  • Increase earning potential
  • Stand out in a competitive job market

In addition to the potential career benefits, a business certificate offers other advantages, such as cost, duration and flexibility.


Business administration certificate programs usually cost significantly less than MBA degree programs. The cost per credit hour is usually lower, and since there are fewer credits required for completion, the overall program cost is lower too. For example, the average graduate tuition was $19,749 in 2020–2021, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While certificate programs costs vary, you can view certificate costs at University of Phoenix online. For example, the average cost of a business certificate is $10,500.

Time commitment

Many MBA online programs last 12 to 24 months, though students may take longer if they go at their own pace or work while going to school. In addition, MBA programs often have more admissions requirements, including taking the Graduate Management Admission Test. This could translate to months or even a year before you can begin your MBA program.

A business certificate program, on the other hand, doesn’t usually require a lengthy application process. In addition, the course itself is shorter. Some certificate programs last a few weeks or several months — rarely does it take longer than a year to earn a certificate for business.


Online business certificate programs are designed for working professionals and therefore can be conveniently flexible. Many are self-paced with options for interactivity, like discussion forums and online chats. Like an MBA, online business certificate programs enable students to work on their certification anytime, anywhere.

What are the disadvantages of a business certificate?

With its affordability, flexibility and quick turnaround, a business certificate is often the right step for business professionals who want to learn more skills and enhance their careers.

That said, there are some disadvantages to a business certificate program that are important to consider.

Lower earning potential

Certificates generally have less earning potential than an MBA or a business management degree. While having a certificate on your resumé may improve your negotiating power, there’s no guarantee a current or future employer will offer a higher salary.

Limited job opportunities

Certificates can be a great way to focus on a specific skill set that impacts your job performance and prospects, but they may not open the door to certain positions that require an MBA candidate.  

How to choose the right program for you

While both MBAs and business certificate programs have their advantages and disadvantages, choosing the right path comes down to understanding your own career goals.

To build skills for business management, you must think carefully about your career development plan, your free time and the return on investment. Deciding between an MBA or a business certificate is much easier when you’ve thought through these important questions.

Consider your career goals

Where do you hope to be professionally in the next year? What about the next five years? How about 10 years? Look at the skills and requirements for the position you want in the future and research which kind of business degree or certificate program will get you there.

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How to find career advancement opportunities

Consider your schedule

What does your free time look like right now? How heavy is your workload? What are your family responsibilities, and how might they change in the next few years? Set yourself up for success in whichever path you choose by understanding what your schedule allows. If you sign up for a program that is too time intensive, you could find yourself struggling to keep up.

Consider the cost

Make sure you’re comfortable covering the fees and tuition costs before you enroll in an MBA or business certificate program. Think about how long it will take you to complete the program and the costs you might accrue over time. Are these costs reasonable and affordable? Also, think about your education as an investment. Will the cost of the program you choose end up resulting in a high enough salary to justify the expense?

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In short, an MBA can help you prepare for the next level in your career. For those who want to quickly strengthen their skills in a specific area, a business certificate may be the fastest way to open new doors.

Pursue a business degree from University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix offers several business degrees that prepare students with skills to succeed in a variety of career paths. Whether you’re looking to build the fundamentals or advance your skill set, there’s a degree program for you.

Online business certificates — From analytics to entrepreneurship, a business certificate can give you enhanced skills to prepare for opportunities in a preferred business field.

Master of Business Administration For those looking to elevate their business skills and take on greater leadership roles, this program is for you. Learn how to develop strategies to foster innovation and facilitate change in a dynamic business environment.

Master of Business Administration (Competency Based-CB) This new competency-based MBA program equips you with advanced skills such as strategic planning, decision-making, management, leadership and more.

Master of Management From communication and leadership skills to operations and strategic planning, the lessons learned in this program are important for running a complex business operation.

Doctor of Business Administration It’s one thing to succeed in business, it’s another to push the field into new territory. Advance your understanding of business administration with this online doctoral program.


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