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MS in Organizational Leadership or MBA: What’s the Difference?

02 Nov
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Designed for students aspiring to advance into positions of management, entrepreneurship or executive leadership, Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs typically take an analytical approach to management. They focus on areas such as finance, marketing, accounting and strategy, emphasizing leadership and management skill. While many MBA programs offer a concentration in organizational leadership, their primary goal is to instill a comprehensive understanding of business operations.

In contrast, Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) programs pursue understanding of the organization of people rather than business issues. Drawing on other disciplines, including social sciences and the humanities, MSOL programs are dedicated to coursework in the field. Classes typically center on the human elements of business, such as communication techniques, leadership theory, multicultural workplace dynamics and team development. They focus on more individualized, creative approaches to management, enabling students to work with each person’s emotional intelligence and guide people to reach their full potential.

This post will highlight some key similarities and distinctions between MS in Organizational Leadership and MBA programs.

Admissions Requirements and Program Structure

Admissions requirements for MSOL and MBA programs are very similar, calling for an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university and one to three years of professional experience. Some programs also require GRE or GMAT scores. With a high enough undergraduate GPA, an existing graduate degree and/or sufficient work experience, however, students may find that the test-score requirement can be waived.

While MSOL and MBA programs vary from one university to the next, they’ll also look similar in structure, which can be divided into four areas:

  • Core courses are designed to build on foundational areas of undergraduate study
  • Electives focus on specific areas, within the field of study, that core courses have touched on but not emphasized
  • Internships or Residencies offer on-site training and provide students the opportunity to work with seasoned professionals
  • A capstone course often calls upon students to respond to a real-world workplace problem, using the skills and knowledge they have gained through their studies

Credits and Timelines

Most online master’s programs in organizational leadership comprise 30 to 36 credits, requiring 18-24 months to complete. Some universities offer accelerated programs that students can complete in fewer than 18 months.1

Online MBA programs usually comprise at least 36 credits, with some including 70 or more. Typically, they take two to three years to complete, although there are accelerated programs that students can finish in 18-21 months.2

The William & Mary Online MBA program includes 49 credits in 12 courses (7.5 weeks each), with one weekend-long residency, currently held online. Students can complete the degree in 24 months.

Resource Guide to MBA Programs and Careers

MBA programs cover a broad scope of subject matter and provide a diversified business education. Core courses and electives will include study of:

  • Business analytics
  • Financial and managerial accounting
  • Global managerial economics
  • Integrated technology
  • Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Organizational behavior
  • Strategy

For further insight into this degree and the wide range of professional options it can foster, visit these resources on our site:

MS in Organizational Leadership Curricula

MSOL programs build the understanding of how organizations run by focusing on human elements of leadership. Core courses will likely include topics such as:

  • Business ethics
  • Conflict management
  • Cross-cultural communication
  • Human resources
  • Leadership
  • Organizational behavior

Classes may also address hard skills, such as mastery of equitable employment laws, that help ensure success in organizational leadership. Through advanced coursework, students learn to create and support successful teams, manage employees and resources, and make strategic personnel decisions. Typical electives include classes in negotiation, organizational communication, advanced team-building and leadership for strategic planning.

MSOL Specialization

Although few online master's programs in organizational leadership require specialization, some allow students to earn them in niche areas. Specialization options often include global leadership, human resources management, nonprofit management and organizational development.

Some organizational leadership specializations are designed for particular types of workplaces. For example:

  • A nonprofit management specialization introduces students to the legal, ethical and financial considerations in that sector
  • Specialization in healthcare management can prove beneficial for students looking to lead personnel at hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities

Other MSOL specializations relate directly to niche areas of business:

  • A human resources management concentration covers the various administrative needs of organizations, such as recruitment and hiring, employee orientation, benefits and compensation, and conflict resolution
  • Project management specializations empower students with the knowledge and skills to coordinate, manage and evaluate small- and large-scale team projects
  • Students aspiring to consulting careers may opt to specialize in professional and executive coaching, which instills techniques and strategies for teaching executives and business managers about effective employee leadership

Career Opportunities in Organizational Leadership

As suggested by the career pursuits mentioned above, there are opportunities for MSOL graduates in varied areas of the private and the public sectors. A sampling of them follows here, with annual median salaries recorded by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics3 except where noted:

  • Advertising and promotions manager: $133,460
  • Business consultant: $80,0004
  • Chief executive: $185,950
  • Computer and information systems manager: $151,150
  • Human resources manager: $121,220
  • Leadership coach: $73,0005
  • Marketing manager: $142,170
  • Medical and health service manager: $104,280
  • Nonprofit program director: $82,0006
  • Project manager: $84,290
  • Sales manager: $132,290
  • School principal: $98,490

To Become a Successful Leader, Receive a World-Class Education

The Online MBA program at William & Mary will change your life.

Rich history has shaped our university into a community of open-minded, influential businesspeople and entrepreneurs who unite to make each other and our organizations stronger. By attending William & Mary, you join an institution with strong core values and educational excellence that have shaped some of the greatest leaders in history.

Follow in their footsteps. Speak with one of our Admissions Advisors and then apply to our Online MBA program.

  1. Retrieved on October 29, 2021, from usnews.com/education/online-education/organizational-leadership-management-masters-degree
  2. Retrieved on October 29, 2021, from bschools.org/faq/how-many-credits-do-online-mba-programs-require#
  3. Retrieved on October 29, 2021, from bls.gov/
  4. Retrieved on October 29, 2021, from glassdoor.com/Salaries/business-consultant-salary-SRCH_KO0,19.htm
  5. Retrieved on October 29, 2021, from glassdoor.com/Salaries/leadership-coach-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm
  6. Retrieved on October 29, 2021, from glassdoor.com/Salaries/nonprofit-program-director-salary-SRCH_KO0,26.htm