Alternatives To Business School: Comparing The MSL And MBA

Most folks working in business settings who are looking to expand their knowledge and pick up another credential think MBA.  But these days, there are many choices besides the MBA; some of these specialized master’s degrees might be even more valuable than an MBA to business professionals, depending on their specific industry and objective. One degree to consider – especially for those who are working in technology, other STEM settings, and regulated industries – is a master’s degree that combines the study of business with the study of law; Northwestern’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) degree is the leader in this area. 

The MSL overlaps in important ways with an MBA – it covers foundational business concepts and helps develop students’ communication and leadership skills. Where the MSL differs from the MBA is in its inclusion of legal and regulatory topics, its focus on risk assessment, and its development of critical legal thinking.  The MSL degree is based on the theory that business and legal issues are not separate but are instead deeply intertwined; knowledge of both disciplines leads to better overall decision-making. Especially as employees advance within companies, they are often interacting across disciplines. Being able to communicate effectively with multiple stakeholders, including the legal team, is an important value-add. 

The MSL integrates the study of law and business in a way that mirrors how issues arise in the real world. For example, an aspiring entrepreneur will need not only a smart business strategy, but also an understanding of how to structure the business, protect their brand, and hire employees. Similarly, a product development consultant needs to consider regulatory and liability implications of a product, in addition to manufacturing, marketing, and distribution. The unique focus of the MSL provides its graduates with a useful and comprehensive combination of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills that makes them particularly valuable in a variety of STEM, business, and regulated industry settings. 

Northwestern’s Master of Science in Law has a robust curriculum, including many topics you might find in a traditional MBA program, such as Accounting & Financial Statements, Business Strategy, Entrepreneurial Finance & Venture Capital, Negotiation Skills & Strategies, and others. Many of these are taught by faculty who also teach (or have taught) in MBA programs. There are also business-related courses that you wouldn’t find in an MBA program, including Advanced Contracts, Employment Law, Entrepreneurship Law, Intellectual Property Investments, Introduction to Securities Regulation, Regulatory Strategy & Communication, and others. Studying business and law together often leads to an important holistic understanding that isn’t possible to get anywhere else.

Read on to see how Northwestern University’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) compares to a traditional MBA:


Traditional MBA
Northwestern’s Master of Science in Law (MSL)
– Focuses specifically on business concepts and skills
– Develops business leaders
– Focuses on the intersection of law, business, and industry expertise
– Recognizes the role that regulation, contracts, taxation, intellectual property, and other legal issues play in day-to-day business operations
– Develops holistic leaders, with interdisciplinary skills
2 years (full-time)
3-5 years (part-time)
9 months (full-time)
2-4 years (part-time)
Online or in-person
Online or in-person
Core Courses
Leadership & Teamwork
Business Formation & Structure
Business Torts
Contract Law
Effective Professional Communication
Intellectual Property Fundamentals
Legal & Regulatory Process
Research in Law, Business & Technology
Common Specializations
Finance Leadership
International Management
IT & Technology Management
Management Consulting
Business & Consulting
Data, Privacy & Technology
Health & Medicine
Intellectual Property & Patents
Legal Operations & LegalTech
Regulation & Compliance
Application requirements
GRE or GMAT often required
No test scores required
MBA graduates often seek managerial roles in traditional areas, such as business operations, finance, HR, and consulting. 
MSL graduates tend to take on more intersectional roles that might cross over functional areas, and have them interact with a variety of stakeholders, including lawyers. These intersectional roles might combine intellectual property and business, operations and finance, consulting and healthcare, law, and technology, or product development and regulation. 
Because MSL students often have STEM backgrounds, a larger percentage of graduates take positions in fields that benefit from technical expertise, such as biotech, pharmaceuticals, technology, and healthcare. The MSL is also attractive to budding entrepreneurs and those interested in advancing startups. Increasingly, MSL graduates are finding positions in the legal industry, where they can leverage their understanding of process and business. 

MSL graduates are well-trained and versatile, and they are creative and strategic problem-solvers. The MSL can be a great alternative to an MBA for students who want a more diverse skillset, who work in regulated industries, or who often interact with the legal teams within their business. Alternatively, many students consider completing both an MBA and an MSL degree! Read about how several MBAs have used the MSL to enhance their existing degree and skillset.


Are you looking to expand your knowledge, or considering alternatives to an MBA? Check out Northwestern’s Master of Science in Law (MSL) degree to become a more well-rounded professional.

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