MBA vs. JD Programs
Those thinking about getting a master’s of business administration (MBA) or juris doctor (JD) degree have plenty of company. There are more than 1.3 million lawyers in the U.S., with about 150,000 students enrolling in JD programs every year, according to the American Bar Association. Similarly, an MBA is currently the most popular master’s degree in America, with almost 200,000 students graduating from MBA programs every year, according to a report by Fortune. Graduates of either degree are well-equipped to lead in a wide range of industries, especially in business—so much so that many universities offer joint MBA and JD programs.
An MBA is a generalist degree in business administration. Core classes cover broad areas such as financial accounting, strategic operations, marketing, and organizational leadership. While students can choose from a wide range of specializations, these and other electives offered at MBA programs make up a comparably small slice of the overall curriculum. Even MBAs that specialize in areas such as business law will only visit the topic in a cursory manner compared to a more intensely focused degree, such as the JD.
Juris doctor programs are designed to train students to become lawyers. First-year core classes cover fundamental topics such as constitutional law, torts, contracts, legal writing, and civil procedure. The skills one learns in pursuit of this degree—critical thinking, strategic decision making, and communication—are widely applicable elsewhere, but this is not a generalist degree. And while JD graduates will often work outside of a courtroom, they will almost always leverage their law education in the profession in which they choose to work.
Check out the side-by-side comparison chart below to learn more about the similarities and differences between the two degrees.
|Master’s in business administration||Juris doctor|
|What is It?||An MBA is a graduate-level degree that equips graduates with business and management skills that can be used across a wide range of industries.||A JD is a professional degree in law. Those who earn this degree can take state bar examinations and practice as lawyers in a wide range of industries.|
Admissions requirements will vary from program to program, but generally, include some or all of the following:
Admissions requirements will vary from program to program, but generally, include the following:
|Typical duration||MBA programs generally take two to three years to complete. Accelerated options can take as few as 16 months while part-time options may take up to six years.||JD programs generally take three years to complete. Part-time options, however, may allow a student up to five years.|
The core curriculum of many MBA programs covers a standard set of topics, including:
While the later years of a JD program will often be customized towards a student’s elective and specialization preferences, common first-year course topics include:
|Specializations or concentrations||
Even though an MBA is a generalist degree, there is a large number of concentrations available, such as:
The law is vast, and so are the number of specializations a JD degree can have, covering areas, such as:
|Who can benefit from this degree?||An MBA degree provides business and management skills that can translate across a wide variety of industries. Recent graduates, entrepreneurs, mid-career professionals, and established executives can all benefit from an MBA.||A JD degree has a wide range of applications, many stretching outside the courtroom. While JD graduates primarily go on to work as attorneys, their skillset is often as applicable to the work of healthcare professionals, politicians, activists, and entrepreneurs.|
|Salary prospects||Salary figures vary by geography, experience, and specific job role, but graduates of MBA programs can expect a high earning potential. The average salary of MBA graduates was $142,000 a year in 2017. According to The Economist, MBA graduates can more than double their salary and enjoy the lowest debt-to-income ratio of all professional degrees.||Salary figures vary by geography, experience, and area of practice, but graduates of JD programs can expect a high earning potential. According to the BLS (2017), the average salary for lawyers was about $141,890 a year. A 2013 USC study estimated the lifetime value of a JD degree to be worth approximately $1 million more than only a bachelor’s degree.|
|Featured online programs||
Online JD programs are still in relative infancy. The ABA has accredited only one JD degree that included more than 12 hours of distance learning or online education. Only California allows graduates from non-accredited JD programs to sit for the bar exam; as such, the majority of online JD programs operate from within California:
|The bottom line||The MBA is a flexible option that gives graduates the skills necessary to lead businesses and teams. While it may lack the depth and focus of a JD program, it can prepare graduates to work across a wide range of industries with high earning potential.||The JD is designed to train students to become lawyers. While the critical thinking and strategic skills one learns in a JD program are often applicable elsewhere, this is not a generalist degree; a JD degree is for those who want to practice law.|