MBA or JD: Which Is the Better Career Path?

Whether you’re in college pondering your future career or a professional who’s interested in a change, there are many reasons to consider a career in business or law. There are many options for graduate degrees, but these two educational paths may help lead students to exciting and fulfilling careers—in business with a Master of Business Administration (MBA), or by using a Juris Doctor (JD) to pursue a career in law.

If you have a wide range of interests, choosing between an MBA and JD can be challenging. This guide will cover the differences between the two to help you as you consider the right move for you.

The Online MBA From Syracuse University

Skip the GMAT and earn a world-class MBA online from Syracuse University’s AACSB-accredited Martin J. Whitman School of Management. The program features a rigorous curriculum with six career-focused specializations.

  • As few as 24 months to complete 
  • No GMAT required to apply 
  • Six concentrations available 
  • AACSB accredited


UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School – Online MBA

Kenan-Flagler Business School is STEM-designated and prepares professionals to lead in an evolving business landscape. GMAT waivers are available. 

  • Complete in as few as 18 months  
  • GMAT waivers for experienced professionals  
  • 25+ electives available across five concentrations 


The Online MBA from Rice Business

MBA@Rice, the online MBA program from Rice Business, helps aspiring business leaders rethink their approach to finding innovative solutions to modern business challenges.

  • Complete in 24 months
  • Small school, big ideas
  • Join a tight-knit community of bold, entrprenuerial thinkers


The Online MBA from the University of California, Davis

The online MBA from UC Davis brings a culture of collaboration and Silicon Valley connections to students worldwide. Earn your MBA in as few as 24 months. 

  • The Graduate School of Management at UC Davis is AACSB accredited
  • Students can complete the program in as few as 24 months
  • Combine business with data in a STEM-designated online MBA


Choosing Between a Business and Law Career

Graduate business degrees and law degrees are popular post-bachelor’s educational paths, with many people hoping a graduate degree will make them stronger job applicants and ultimately earn them higher salaries.

This certainly has the potential to be true, but only you can decide what is right for you regarding higher education. Review all your options, including educational requirements, possibilities in business or the law, expected job growth and salaries. Explore job openings within these fields, and consider what you might find most fulfilling.

MBA Curriculum and Business Law Courses

If you’re interested in getting into business school, take a closer look at traditional MBA courses and concentrations. You might find enough legal education through an in-person or online MBA program that you are comfortable getting an MBA instead of a JD.

MBA programs typically include:

  • Finance: Core finance courses focus on investments, including applying capital budgeting, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of valuation techniques and funding sources. Many schools also offer classes on corporate finance.
  • Accounting: These courses teach the fundamentals of measuring, processing and communicating financial information. More importantly, you will learn how to use financial statements to understand a business and make decisions.
  • Economics Statistics: You will learn how to analyze economic data, including basic and more advanced statistical concepts.
  • Marketing: Traditional marketing courses focus on product strategy, economic price theory and pricing, consumer behavior, placement, promotion and communication strategies. In recent years, these courses focus more on digital marketing and the use of big data.
  • Leadership and Management: Expect to take classes on leadership, teamwork, organizational behavior and management. Being in business requires learning how to work with and direct a business’s human resources and become a leader.
  • Business Ethics: Ethics courses are required to help you develop a sense of professional responsibility in the context of business decisions.

Some MBA programs offer law courses, though you should not expect too many law-heavy electives. You might find classes on business law, mergers and acquisitions or taxation, but you’re more likely to see law courses in a dual MBA-JD program.

JD Curriculum and Business Courses

Consider what goes into getting into law school—including preparing for the LSAT—and what you’ll experience when you get there. Law school starts with a set curriculum whether you attend in-person or online JD program courses, full time or part time.

JD coursework begins with:

  • Torts: Torts are harmful acts, other than a breach of contract, that gives rise to a legal claim. You will learn about when a person has a legal claim against others for actions like negligence.
  • Contracts: Learn about what makes a legally binding oral or written contract and about the law that governs contract disputes. Most law schools require you to take two semesters of contract law.
  • Civil Procedure: You’ll learn the legal rules and procedures for civil court, including for filing lawsuits, discovery and motion practice.
  • Property Law: The laws governing land, minerals, water and more.
  • Criminal Law: You will learn about penal laws in America, as well as rules and procedures for criminal courts.
  • Constitutional Law: You’ll learn the history of the U.S. Constitution and how the courts decide constitutional disputes.
  • Writing and Research: This class has many names. Whatever it is called, you will learn how to research, write legal memoranda and present oral arguments.

After completing the law school’s required curriculum, you can choose from many electives. By taking electives in a particular area of law, you may begin to specialize in your education.

Just because you’re interested in the law doesn’t mean you have to earn a JD. It’s best to be confident you’re on the right path before embarking on a law degree. If you’re not dedicated to the idea of practicing law, consider a master’s in legal studies.

The difference between a JD and a Master of Legal Studies is that with the former, you can take the bar exam and become a licensed attorney. With the latter, you cannot become a lawyer, but you’ll be prepared to work in a law-heavy industry like human resources or healthcare. An MLS is great if you want to be familiar with the law and comfortable working with lawyers but do not want to practice.

It’s also possible to specialize with an MLS. For example, you can pursue a master’s in taxation law, business law, intellectual property, human resources, public policy or dispute resolution.

Business or Law Degree: Side-by-Side Comparison

Is an MBA better than a JD? Only you can decide. If you dream of becoming a lawyer, then you have to pursue a JD. But if you don’t want to be a litigator, transactional attorney or politician, an MBA might be better.

Keep reading to compare a JD and an MBA. Our guide breaks down the differences to help you decide for yourself.

MBA vs. JD: Time Commitment

A typical, full-time JD program takes three years to complete. Some law schools offer part-time or flexible programs, which take 3 ½ to four years. How long it takes you to graduate may depend on how many credit hours you can manage each semester, including summers.

A traditional MBA is a full-time, two-year program. It is often possible to choose an accelerated path and complete it in less than a year and a half. Many online programs offer slightly faster options. Or you can pursue an in-person part-time program that takes three or more years to complete.

For working students, full-time MBA programs and JD programs may be too time- consuming. If you want to work while earning a graduate degree, it may be best to look at part-time and online programs. Many universities have programs geared toward working adults.

MBA vs. JD: Cost

The cost of a JD or MBA may not be the determining factor, but it’s likely an important one. You want to be confident you can take on the financial burden of JD or MBA tuition, pay student loans after graduation and get a good return on investment.

Consider the cost of tests for either option. Law school requires the LSAT, though some schools accept the GRE. Many graduate programs require the GRE. Standard test administration costs of the GRE are $205, and additional score reports are $27. The cost of the LSAT is $200, then an additional $195 for the credential assembly service and $45 for each law school report. You will invest more in the GRE or LSAT by buying study materials or going through prep programs.

There’s also the cost of applying. Many universities and law schools have application fees. You may also need to pay for transcripts and official score reports.

Most importantly, look at average MBA and JD tuition. Annual tuition and fees for an MBA usually range from $50,000-$150,000. It’s not impossible to require a total budget of over $200,000 for a program of two years or longer. If you’re worried about the cost of an MBA, consider in-state schools and MBA scholarships.

Getting a law degree is costly. As of 2019-20, average annual tuition and fees were $49,548 for private law schools, according to U.S. News & World Report. The average tuition was $28,264 for in-state public law schools and $41,726 for out-of-state public programs. However, law school scholarships might help defray tuition costs.

If you have to take out student loans for a JD or MBA, don’t forget to calculate cost-of-living expenses. Many full-time students take out loans greater than the cost of tuition and fees to pay for rent, utilities, transportation, groceries and other costs. In a Bloomberg Businessweek survey of more than 10,000 MBA graduates, nearly half borrowed more than $100,000 to complete their degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average law school debt as of 2020 was $145,000.

MBA vs. JD: Exams

When considering how difficult business school is compared to law school, you need to factor in tests. Is law school hard? It may be, and some of that is because of the LSAT, Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (an ethics exam) and bar exam. Testing is a rite of passage in law. Though the bar is not required unless you want to practice as an attorney, most law graduates take it. Take into account bar exam costs in terms of time, effort and money.

Students in MBA programs are typically required to take an exit exam of some kind to obtain their degree, and most universities use the Major Field Test for Master of Business Administration (MFT-MBA). The test consists of 124 multiple-choice questions.

MBA vs. JD: Licensure Requirements

An MBA does not prepare you to practice in a particular profession as a law degree does. If you want to be a practicing lawyer, you must pass the bar and the MPRE (multistate professional responsibility examination) to become licensed. With an MBA, you may have opportunities to move into many business roles that do not require a professional license—only needing to pass an exam if your intended career requires it.

MBA vs. JD: Careers

JD and MBA degrees offer various career paths. A JD is typically for people who want to become practicing attorneys, though there are other options. Some law school graduates clerk for judges or teach.

An MBA helps prepare you to take on a leadership role in business. You might not qualify for an executive position, but you could rise to middle management and prepare to climb higher. Depending on your MBA concentration, you might work within a specific industry such as healthcare or construction, or you might work in a specific department, such as sales or marketing.

MBA vs. JD: Salary

You might be interested in knowing whether JD or MBA degree holders earn more money. That depends on the position, years of experience, industry and geographic region. But earning potential is good for professionals with either a JD or MBA.

The 2019 median JD salary was $122,960 per year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. It’s important to consider that there is an extensive range of lawyer salaries. For example, the median annual wage for lawyers in state government was $89,090 in 2019.

The job outlook for 2019-29 is a 4% increase. Take a close look at job growth and opportunities in your region when considering a JD.

To get an idea of what MBA graduates earn, you may have to review information for many potential positions since you could work in sales, finance, marketing, HR or any other number of departments and industries. Consider management positions, such as financial managers, HR managers and marketing and sales managers.

2019 median pay examples for business jobs that might hire someone with an MBA:

The BLS projected job growth from 2019-29:

What are the Benefits of Obtaining a Dual MBA-JD Degree?

Another option is a joint MBA-JD degree. Some universities allow you to go through one program and leave with both degrees. But whether a dual MBA degree is worthwhile depends on whether you think both an MBA or JD is worth it individually. Both degrees can teach you valuable reasoning, communication and leadership skills. But, if you don’t feel like a JD or MBA is worth it on its own, the length and cost of a dual degree might not benefit you. Only you can decide what is right for your future.

Last Updated January 2021