Operations management unites technology and business skills in a quest to optimize development and production. The ultimate goal is efficient business operations that use as little resources as possible while delivering maximum value. Originally a manufacturing specialty, operations management today touches diverse industries ranging from construction to technology services.
A master's degree in business in operations management prepares you to take on the challenge of optimizing production in today's technologically sophisticated economy. Combining business strategy know-how and information systems expertise, the graduate operations management program arms managers with the skills to transform industry and unlock new opportunities for business value.
WorldWideLearn.com's introduction to the master's and MBA degrees in operations management helps you discover how graduate study fits in with your career ambitions. The guide takes you through the application process step by step, from researching schools to preparing your finances.
An Introduction to Master's and MBA Degrees in Operations Management
Understanding the landscape of graduate operations management education is a vital prelude to finding your own place within it.
Master's Degrees in Operations Management in Brief
Operations management is at the root of the traditional business administration curriculum. The first MBA degrees evolved out of early operations management, or industrial engineering, programs. The intersection of business and technology persists in today's operations management curriculum. Combined business and engineering courses include:
- Management information systems
- Systems analysis and optimization
- Strategic quality management
- Discrete simulation
- Queuing theory
- Materials, process, and facilities management
- Risk management
- Service system
In addition to the science of efficient production, master's degrees in operations management extend to business fundamentals such as project management, accounting, statistics, communication, marketing management, and leadership.
Business and Science Master's Degrees
Advanced operations management education features diverse master's degree options, ranging from theoretical to applied business to technical credentials. Options include:
- Master of Science (MS). In the tradition of Master of Science degrees, the MS in operations management is an academic qualification emphasizing specialization and focused, independent research. Graduate students generally spend the first year of the program learning technical fundamentals, and the second year developing expertise via a research project. MS degrees in industrial engineering or industrial administration (MSIA) offer a similar education, with a greater emphasis on technical production engineering. The MS in operations management may lead either to an academic career or to a professional management position. Armed with specialized knowledge, many MS graduates gravitate toward operations analysis and consulting roles.
- Master of Business Administration (MBA). The MBA in operations management takes a broader, more applied approach to the discipline. The curriculum generally focuses on coursework rather than research, creating well-rounded graduates who excel in an organizational setting. An MBA offers ideal preparation for a leadership or supervisory role in operations management.
Learn more about your master's degree options at WorldWideLearn.com's resource pages: Online MBA Programs, Master's Degrees, and The Master's Degree Explained.
Whether you opt for a business or science master's degree in operations management, you may have the opportunity to focus on a particular function within operations.
Process-oriented operations management fields include:
- Manufacturing engineering. Though the term is sometimes used interchangeably with operations management, manufacturing engineering focuses specifically on the use of technology to minimize resource use and optimize industrial output.
- Logistics and supply chain management (SCM). SCM moves outside the scope of manufacturing to take into account the management of raw materials and the coordination of suppliers and distributors.
- Inventory control and production systems. The application of information technology to the management of raw materials and inventory.
- Quality management. The systematic approach to quality control, assurance, and improvement through management processes.
- Service operations. The management of service processes to optimize issue resolution and cultivate a strong customer relationship.
Mathematical operations management:
- Decision analysis (DA). DA describes the use of quantitative methods to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty. Decision analysis applications systematically represent and analyze available information to support rational decision making.
- Industrial risk management. Related to DA, risk management is the systematic identification and prioritization of risk. The goal is to identify an acceptable level of overall risk and manage operations accordingly.
- Operations research and analysis. A branch of applied mathematics designed to optimize the efficiency of complex systems.
To learn more about the field, visit WorldWideLearn.com's Guide to Majors, where you can find sections on supply chain management and industrial management.
A master's degree in operations management sets you up for a range of senior-level careers in both management and technical roles. Alternatively, you can establish an academic career by continuing your education in operations management.
The MBA and MS in operations management may set you up for a lucrative operations manager or supply chain manager career. The master's degree also offers strong preparation for specialist roles in operations management. Examples include:
- Operations management consulting
- Operations analysis
- Risk management
- Business process improvement
- Manufacturing strategy
- Inventory planning and control
- Distribution and logistics planning
- Internal auditing
In addition to manufacturing, retail, and technology industries, operations management graduates find demand for their strategic consulting services in financial and government sectors.
Plan for a Master's Degree in Operations Management
When you have a sense of how your career ambitions may align with today's graduate operations management options, the pieces of the application puzzle may begin to fall into place. Take the following steps to find the right master's degree program and prepare for a successful graduate school experience.
Step One: Find the Right Graduate Operations Management Program
With literally hundreds of graduate operations management programs to choose from, it's important to shop around for the right fit. Focus your search by considering the following factors in turn:
1. Program Format: Should You Earn a Master's Degree Online or On Campus?
With the advent of digital communications and multimedia learning technology, online master's degrees have arrived. Today's master's degree student faces two compelling options for graduate education: either to earn a master's degree online or head for campus. Both approaches have unique advantages:
- Online master's degrees feature convenience and an interactive learning format. The opportunity to earn a master's degree online often attracts working professionals, who bring industry experience and strong networking connections to the virtual classroom.
- Campus master's degrees offer the perennial value of face-to-face interaction as well as access to campus technology labs and research facilities. Master of Science students aiming for an academic career may want to take advantage of the opportunity to work closely with resident faculty.
WorldWideLearn.com's Online Degree Programs and Campus Education sections help you determine which delivery format is right for you. The site also offers links to schools that offer your chosen format. Search for Online MBA Programs, or find a campus program near you.
2. Master's Degree Scheduling Options
In recognition of the needs of working adults, many universities have developed an array of scheduling options to meet any lifestyle. Manage your education alongside other life priorities with:
- An accelerated one-year MBA program
- A part-time master's degree or MBA
- A flexible MBA, incorporating night, weekend, and daytime course schedules
Flexible scheduling options and the option to earn a master's degree online have brought graduate education to a broader, working public. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), three out of four MBA students work more than 35 hours a week while completing their master's degrees.
Accreditation is an important filter for determining the quality and value of master's degree programs. Regular program reviews by independent agents certify a school's compliance with accepted standards of educational quality. A program's accreditation status may ensure the value of your investment and may also factor into your eligibility for financial aid.
The U.S. Department of Education Web site maintains a searchable database of approved regional and national accreditation agencies.
WorldWideLearn.com features a database of selected education partners, all of which are accredited by a federally approved agency. Learn more about the accreditation process at WorldWideLearn.com.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) is the leading international accrediting authority for graduate business programs. Search AACSB's online database of graduate operations management programs by degree level, field of study, and campus-based or online degree format.
3. Academic Program Comparison
The core of your program research may take you into the details of your top candidates. Your mission is to identify the programs with the strongest resources in your area of interest. Academic program criteria include:
- Faculty expertise. Are industry professionals or academics teaching your courses? Do their areas of expertise align with your interests?
- Campus facilities. Because operations management is a technical business specialty, access to technology labs may prove critical.
- Curriculum. Course and degree requirements may reveal the program's emphasis and strengths.
- Degree format. Depending on your career goals, you may opt for a program with more or less emphasis on particular learning activities. Options include: independent research, collaborative projects, lectures, writing projects, clinics, internships, and case studies. The flexibility to earn a master's degree both online and on campus can also affect academic program quality.
- Business partnerships. How strong are the school's industry connections? Programs such as internships, clinics, corporate-sponsored competitions, and of course, recruitment drives offer an invaluable launching pad for your post-graduate career.
- Career support services. Just as closely related to your career fortunes may be the availability of strong professional support. You should look for a career services department, placement counselors, and resume and interviewing assistance.
- Student life. What is the academic environment like? Developing strong relationships is an important part of any graduate program--particularly in the case of the MBA, where today's classmates may be tomorrow's business partners.
WorldWideLearn.com facilitates your research by matching you with schools that meet your program criteria. Fill out an online form indicating your preferences, and school representatives may contact you to discuss the school in depth. The automated system saves you time, allowing you to cover more ground in your research.
School Web sites offer a wealth of information about the graduate degree program, detailing course descriptions, faculty publications, campus facilities, and more.
Informational interviews offer the most reliable vantage point for assessing the academic experience. Meet with faculty, alumni, and current graduate students, asking about program resources, departmental support, academic environment, and the long-range value of the degree. If possible, visit the campus to build your own impression of program facilities and local resources.
4. Program Quality
Finally, you should narrow down your list by assessing program quality and selectivity. Take into account:
- Reputation and program rankings
- Job placement and salary statistics
- Student demographics
Admissions department representatives may provide data about admissions selectivity, job placement statistics, and student demographic information. This candid information about the program may be available online or by request.
Rankings offer one means of gauging a program's reputation. Leading rankings include:
- Financial Times. Online MBA rankings
- U.S. News & World Report. Business Schools Specialty Rankings in Production/Operations
- The Wall Street Journal. Executive MBA
- BusinessWeek. Full-time, part-time, and online MBA degrees
- The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Full-time international MBA programs
Step Two: Apply to MBA or Master's Programs in Operations Management
With your list of target schools in hand, applications may become simply a matter of connecting the dots. Common requirements for applying to a master's degree in operations management include:
1. Complete Prerequisites
To be eligible for a master's degree in operations management, you must usually complete these prerequisites:
- A bachelor's degree in a related business or technology field
- Any prerequisite courses stipulated by the graduate program
- Standardized tests, including the GRE or GMAT and the TOEFL (for international students)
- Work experience (for some programs, such as the Executive MBA)
WorldWideLearn.com's Education Resources Guide can help you meet these eligibility requirements with test preparation resources, prerequisite courses, and online learning tools.
2. Prepare Application Materials
Master's degree and MBA programs generally require the following application materials:
- Application form
- Academic transcripts
- Test scores
- Three letters of recommendation from professional or academic sources
- Personal essay
Request letters, transcripts, and test scores well in advance of the deadline to ensure that these independent pieces arrive on time.
3. Finance Your Graduate Operations Management Degree
Finally, apply for financial aid to help offset the cost of your degree. Your MS or MBA may be the most important investment you ever make. According to the GMAC, graduating MBAs report salary increases of 30 to 40 percent after completing the master's degree. Until you reap the reward of your investment, however, you may need to cover the cost of tuition and supplies.
Financial aid options can help you meet your current obligations. Sources include:
- Federal grants and loans. Complete the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine whether you are eligible for a Pell Grant, low-interest Stafford Loan, or other federal programs.
- Corporate tuition reimbursement. Many employers offer education incentives such as tuition assistance.
- Private scholarships and loans. Community groups and banks offer various financial aid options, including research grants, scholarships, and student loans.
A master's degree or MBA in operations management may offer relevant career training to boost your performance in the workplace. Whether you choose a specialized technical MS degree or a management-focused MBA, you may emerge as a leader in today's operations management field. In addition, you can hold a powerful credential capable of expanding your responsibility and boosting your earning power. Plan for the graduate operations management degree today, and tap into your career potential.
- "2009 Full-Time MBA Ranking," Economist Intelligence Unit. The Economist.
- AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database, AACSB International--The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
- Best Business Schools Specialty Ranking: Production and Operations, U.S. News & World Report (2009).
- "Business School Rankings and Profiles," BusinessWeek.
- Classification of Instructional Programs: Operations Management. National Center for Education Statistics.
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
- Exploring Graduate Business Degrees, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
- "MBA Rankings and Executive Education Programs," The Wall Street Journal.
- Online MBA 2009, Business School Rankings. Financial Times.
- Programs in Business and Management, The Sloan Consortium.
- Public & Operations Management Program, Boston University School of Management.
- The Association for Operations Management.
- The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).
- Top Executives: Operations Managers. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011 Edition. Bureau of Labor Statistics.