A few months ago, I wrote about this topic in more general terms regarding credentials to focus on as a civil engineer. However, the specific question of whether to get a master’s degree in civil engineering or an MBA continues to arrive in my email inbox. The answer depends on a few key items.

What does your discipline require for you to advance?

In the current environment, every discipline of civil engineering has its own guidelines, requirements, and trends. In many areas, a master’s degree in civil engineering is extremely important to your professional development, where in some areas employers may not require it. You need to figure out which is true for your discipline.

Let’s take structural engineering as an example. From my experience in working with and coaching structural engineers, a technical master’s degree is held in very high regard by companies in the industry, and when hiring, they look for it. On the flip side, in my field of civil/site development, I would say a master’s degree in civil engineering might not be as important to land that job. Why? Because site/civil is a general field that encompasses many different kinds of civil engineering, and many employers feel you can learn what you need through your project work and specialized training. As civil engineering continues to become increasingly complex, how education is balanced with experience may see a change.

What path do you want to take in your civil engineering career?

There is a very blatant fork in the career road that most civil engineers inevitably arrive at. Do you want to remain highly technical in your career and work mostly on technical aspects of projects OR do you want to move into management? If moving into management is something you desire AND a technical master’s degree is not critical to advancement in your specific field of engineering than a master’s in business administration may be a good option for you for multiple reasons.

One, an MBA will give you the business and finance knowledge that you most likely didn’t learn in engineering school or on the job. Secondly, an engineering degree plus an MBA is a combination that gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility in your career, regardless of what kind of field you go into. There are many very prominent CEOs across the world that possess this dynamic degree combination.

What benefits will each degree give you now and later?

Lastly, consider in detail the benefits that each degree would offer you, especially versus the cost. Some engineering companies might reimburse your education only if it is an engineering degree, not an MBA. Some companies might offer a bonus or promotion for obtaining a certain type of degree. Some companies might require a certain degree for partnership in their firm.

This list of benefits will most likely be different for each person, but it is important that, like any good civil engineer, you analyze the consequences of your decision.

Consider alternate degrees.

Now, there are some pretty interesting alternatives to an MBA for engineers, namely the master’s degree in engineering management. There are several different programs like this, maybe even with different names. They are meant to be a business degree, but more specifically to the business of engineering. If you are confident that you plan to be a manager in the engineering world long term, these alternative programs might be the best option for you.

I hope this post is helpful to you in answering this common question of “to MBA or not to MBA.”

Anthony Fasano, P.E., M.ASCE, is the author of Engineer Your Own Success, co-host of The Civil Engineering Podcast and co-founder of The Seller-Doer Academy for Civil Engineers. Email him your career questions to [email protected].