DBA vs. MBA: What Are the Differences?

DBA and/or MBA student raising hand in classroom

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) degree programs appear similar at first glance, but they are actually different degrees that aim at different career goals. Understanding the differences between a DBA vs. MBA can help you decide which degree program might be right for you.

In This Article:

Key Takeaways: An Overview of DBA and MBA Programs

No matter which graduate degree you choose, you’re making an important investment in your education and your future. Both an MBA and DBA program may help you build a foundation from which to position yourself to potentially pursue career advancement. However, consider these key differences:

  • Unlike MBAs, DBAs are terminal degrees.
  • DBA students conduct original research, whereas MBA students examine established knowledge.
  • DBA graduates tend to pursue the highest level of roles in an organization: the C-suite.1

Similarities Between an MBA and DBA Program

Before diving into the differences between an MBA vs. DBA program, let’s take a look at the similarities. Both of these are graduate-level programs that confer a degree rather than a graduate certificate. Both are designed to teach skills and applicable knowledge that can allow professionals to potentially pursue career advancement in their fields, and both programs may be available with a specialization or concentration in a particular area, such as marketing.

Differences Between an MBA and DBA Program

Next, let’s consider some of the key differences between a DBA and MBA program.

DBA vs. MBA: Primary Purpose of the Program

The differences between the MBA and DBA start with the goals and foundations of each degree. Graduates of an MBA program will explore the essential competencies of business. The MBA at GCU’s Colangelo College of Business teaches enhanced skills in transformational leadership, effective communication, ethical decision-making, critical thinking and productive networking.

The DBA from GCU’s College of Doctoral Studies focuses on enhancing these skills, but doctorate programs can also be research degrees. Graduates are expected to conduct their own original research that adds to the body of knowledge in their field.

Career Opportunities for MBA vs. DBA Graduates

The careers that MBA and DBA graduates qualify for can be different, though degree holders from both programs may pursue high-level roles.

Job Opportunities With an MBA 

Job titles can vary from one company and industry to the next. In general, however, some career possibilities for MBA graduates include:2

  • Health center manager
  • Marketing manager
  • Logistics manager
  • Sales manager
  • Consultant
  • Investment banker
  • Business operations manager
  • Human resources manager
  • Budget or financial analyst
  • Project manager

MBA graduates can work in a variety of industries, subfields and roles, working on everything from project management to human resources to marketing.

Job Opportunities With a DBA

Since the DBA is a terminal degree, earning it represents the highest level of academic achievement in a given field. Correspondingly, people who enroll in a DBA program are generally those who wish to pursue the highest level of professional achievement in their field. Some examples of job opportunities that may be aligned with a DBA degree include the following:3

  • Chief executive officer (CEO)
  • Chief financial officer (CFO)
  • Chief operating officer (COO)
  • Executive vice president
  • Vice president

C-suite executives are responsible for establishing the overall mission, vision and goals of an organization, and for developing programs, initiatives or services that other professionals are to implement for the organization. In addition to pursuing a career in the C-suite, a graduate with a DBA might consider becoming a management analyst or market research analyst.3

Specific opportunities will vary based on degree. Different emphases offered in each degree will develop different areas of expertise. It is clear that DBA graduates have broad opportunities in C-level or other organization leadership roles. Other learners in a DBA program lean toward the academic focus of their degree, and this can lead to administrative careers in research and education.

Graduates of an MBA may also be qualified for high-level careers. MBA graduates working in companies with high upward mobility could potentially fill in some of the same roles a DBA graduate could, but DBA graduates are specifically trained for high-level leadership.

Professional Experience of DBA vs. MBA Learners

The amount of experience varies between the type of degree and the opportunities that individual learners pursue. Because many DBA graduates already have an MBA, it follows that most MBA graduates may have limited professional experience.

DBA graduates are typically well-established in their industry and desire to broaden their knowledge and innovate or lead change. The different range of experience helps reveal the focus of each degree. MBA learners may be unfamiliar with the concepts that DBA learners already actively apply.

Time to Completion for DBA and MBA Programs

Every university and individual degree program may be a little different. In general, however, it may take longer to complete a DBA program due to a required dissertation compared to an MBA program.

DBA vs. MBA Frequently Asked Questions

You may have additional questions about earning your DBA or MBA, how they fit into your schedule, and if you should pursue one or both degrees. This FAQ section will attempt to give you some information regarding your concerns.

Can You Get a DBA Without an MBA?

It depends on the university and the program you select. Some universities may require DBA applicants to have a completed MBA or other master’s degree, whereas others will accept DBA applicants without an MBA but with demonstrated professional experience.

Should You Get an MBA or a DBA — or Both?

It all depends on your intended career outcomes and commitment to pursuing higher education. If you currently feel stymied in your career trajectory, an MBA may help you to reach for the next level in your career. If you already have an MBA and are looking to position yourself for a potential top-level job, then a DBA could be a good choice for you.

For some learners, it may make sense to do both an MBA and DBA. Even if your university doesn’t strictly require an MBA in order to apply to a DBA program, completing an MBA may help prepare you for the academic challenges of the DBA program.

Earn Your DBA or MBA Online at Grand Canyon University

Are you interested in gaining the skills to help become an industry leader? At Grand Canyon University, the College of Doctoral Studies offers DBAs in data analytics, management, marketing and innovation. To learn more about these and other programs, complete the form on the page to speak to a university counselor.

1Find A PhD. (n.d.). The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) Degree – A Guide. Retrieved Jan. 22, 2024. 

2Indeed. (2023, July 31). 20 best MBA degree jobs that pay well. Retrieved Dec. 19, 2023. 

3Morris, C. (2021, Aug. 4). What can I do with a DBA? Great Business Schools. Retrieved Dec.19, 2023. 

Approved by the dean of the College of Doctoral Studies on Jan. 22, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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