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MBA vs. PMP: Should You Get a Degree or Certificate?

If you’re squeezing your brain trying to decide whether you should opt for an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) degree vs. a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification, I’m here to help. 

Throughout the article, we’ll go through the differences between both credentials to see both the bigger picture and the details of each. Without further ado, let’s delve into each of the certificates and see which is better and for who.

The short answer is, if you’re starting fresh and with no experience, I’d recommend going for the MBA because it fills you in with all the basics you’d need to get into the business world. Then, when you get some experience, you should consider getting a PMP certification to add up to your educational portfolio.

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MBA vs. PMP: The Full Comparison

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s discuss the difference between the two credentials in detail. 

Background

A PMP certificate indicates that you have five to seven years of experience in project management, as well as education in the project management basics, especially that the PMI examines its candidates closely.

Not only that, but it’s an excellent demonstration of your ability to use intricate and complex knowledge to solve project management issues with a high proficiency, which is needed to pass the PMP exam. With all project managers speaking the same language globally, having a PMP certification makes it easier to communicate.

Additionally, it gives you an incredible advantage over other candidates for a project management position, as less than 5% of the twenty million project managers are PMP-certified.

On the other hand, the MBA is a degree, and your grades can make a major difference when it comes to what an MBA credential can achieve for you in your career.

To illustrate, an online MBA in marketing from Phoenix will get you on a very different career path than an MBA in finance from Harvard would. An MBA in finance from Harvard would concentrate heavily on strategy, preparing you very well for executive positions.

With an MBA, you’ll be able to ensure alignment between projects and strategy, which results in successfully executing projects and giving a company a strategic advantage over others. 

Advantages

The advantage that the PMP certification has over the MBA degree is that it’s not as common. Back in the day, not many universities or institutes offered MBA programs and being a two-year degree, not a lot of people went for it.

However, the demand for it rose, and so did the supply, especially of relatively short programs for executive MBA, which made it a lot easier for even employed people to get an MBA.

Not to mention, PMP is more flexible and is based on the needs of the industry and builds on the skills you’ve already gained working in the industry. 

Yet, the PMP certificate requires you to renew it before 3 years have passed. To do so, you must gain PDUs, which are units you gain when you participate in activities that give you education or experience in project management.

Exams

The PMP exam comprises 200 multiple-choice questions that you’re required to finish in four hours. It’s divided into different performance domains, which are as follows:

  1. The first domain: Initiating (13%).
  2. The second domain: Planning (24%).
  3. The third domain: Executing (31%).
  4. The fourth domain: Monitoring and Controlling (25%).
  5. The fifth domain: Closing (7%).

The exam questions are meant to test a lot of your management knowledge, including materials management, quality management, change management, and risk identification.

On the other hand, the MBA (GMAT) exam consists of four sections:

  1. Analytical and writing assessment, which requires you to analyze arguments represented in one question over 30 minutes.
  2. Integrated Reasoning, which requires you to interpret graphs, analyze tables, and make reasonings and analyses represented in 12 questions over the course of 30 minutes.
  3. Quantitative reasoning, which includes problem solving and data sufficiency question types represented in 31 questions over the course of 62 minutes.
  4. Verbal reasoning, which includes reading comprehension, sentence correction, and critical reasoning questions types represented in 36 questions over the course of 65 minutes.

This adds up to around 4 hours for the 80 questions, a similar amount of time to the PMP exam but with much more complicated and exhaustive questions.

Minimum Requirements

You must have at least a 4-year degree education before you apply to sit for the GMAT examination. Moreover, you need an IELTS score of 6.5, with a 6.0 minimum score in each of the IELTS exam components, or at least evidence you have studied English before.

On the other hand, you can apply for a PMP exam, even if your highest education level is a secondary education degree, like a high school diploma or a global equivalent. In that case, you’d need 7,500 hours of leading and directing projects and 35 hours of education related to project management.

If you’ve already attained a 4-year degree or higher, you’re required to have 4,500 hours of leading and directing projects as well as 35 hours of project management-related education.

It’s worth mentioning that in either case, you’re not required to have actually managed whole projects, but the mere participation of a project environment is enough. If you’ve supervised over a team, a team member, or even a junior team member, this can be calculated into your experience hours.

Cost

The PMP exam’s examination fees are $405 if you’re a PMI member and $555 if you’re not a member. The average in total is around $2,000. On the other hand, an MBA degree is super expensive; it can cost up to $100,000.

And this doesn’t take time into consideration, where MBA degrees require a lot more time to prepare for and attain than a PMP certification. And if you think about it, the average salaries for both isn’t that different, as both credentials get you an annual salary of about $100,000, but with the PMP costing much less.

However, it’s worth mentioning that you would need to pay a regular renewal fee for the PMP certification as it expires after 3 years.

Return on Investment

An important aspect of planning is to decide whether the cost you’ll pay seems fair when you consider the end goal. In that case, the PMP certification would be the better option if you’re considering short-term success, but an MBA would be better for long-term salary increases.

Unity

The value of an MBA depends on which school you went to, and there’s just plenty of variation. That’s why the degree’s appeal has gone down, especially that some employers care about the degree being accredited by AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.)

Alternatively, the PMP certification gives all its holders a standard level of knowledge when it comes to project management. If someone is PMP-certified, there’s no doubt that they’re qualified and well-versed with the necessary project management knowledge.

Branding

An essential part of business is to brand yourself, which applies to your personal life as well. If you’ve attained your MBA from a school that’s recognized in a certain area or region more than others, it might render the credential obsolete outside the borders of that area, which would take a negative toll on your career advancement.

This is perhaps why the PMP exam is more practical, as the certification is recognized and respected on a global level. So, when you’re PMP-certified, you’ve also gotten yourself a worldwide branding of your project management knowledge and skills, especially with all the minimum requirements you need to even sit for the exam.

Networking

If you sit next to someone with a PMP certification, you can be sure that you’ll share a common ground and that you’ll be able to share similar experiences and knowledge, which is why its networking is a lot more relevant.

Someone with an MBA could specialize in various different fields, which may have nothing to do with yours. However, the MBA holders’ network is a lot bigger, so if you care more about the social aspect, you might want to explore the MBA with all its different fields and holders.

So, Should you Pick the MBA or the PMP?

The bottom line is: the MBA is more comprehensive as it tests not only skills but also character and general application.

On the other hand, the PMP provides you with valuable content that you’ll always use somewhere, especially since the PMBOK guide is always readily available for you to check and reference.

I’d say the question is which of them to do first, not which of them to attain by and large. Each of them basically serves a different purpose, and each purpose will certainly come in handy at one point in your career journey.


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