CMI or MBA, which should I choose?

CMI or MBA

If you’re eager to develop your managerial career and progress in your leadership role, earning an advanced qualification could be exactly what you need. 

There are so many management qualifications out there, but after filtering through all of those options, one of the most common decisions people can be left with is: CMI or MBA?

Choosing between CMI or MBA is not the easiest of decisions as they are both quality qualifications, and while both CMI and MBAs can teach you how to drive a business to success, they are definitely not the same thing.

Read on to find out what each of these qualifications are, what you’d need to do to get them, and how each one could benefit you in your future career.

1. What is CMI?

2. What is an MBA?

3. Entry requirements

4. Where you can get CMI or MBAs

5. What are the costs vs benefits?

6. Which is more recognisable?

7. What are the courses like?

8. Conclusion

1. What is CMI?

The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) produces professional qualifications for people at every level of the management pyramid, from team leaders at level 2 up to directors and CEOs at level 8.

But don’t panic! You don’t have to do every level!

Most people tend to take level 3, level 5 and level 7 since these levels represent the most significant steps from entering into management up to directing the company. 

From level 5 onwards, you can apply to become a Chartered Manager, which is a prestigious title that can increase your opportunities for promotion or employment at senior management levels.

Here’s how the three most common levels stack up against the more traditional qualifications:

CMI Level 3Equivalent to an A level

CMI Level 5Equivalent to a HND (higher national diploma) or foundation degree

CMI Level 7Equivalent to a master’s degree

So, as we can see, CMI Level 7 is effectively equivalent to an MBA. 

Quick facts:

Vocational or academic qualification? 

CMI qualifications are practical and based on managing in your actual company

Length? 

A CMI Diploma can take between 6-12 months for each level you do, but there are shorter versions (e.g. a lesser CMI ‘Award’ for that same level might take 1-3 months)

Who do I study with? 

CMI is taken through an intermediary provider rather than directly with CMI itself, and it is most often self-study but some providers may also or instead run lessons

Cost? 

Varies between providers but tends to be around £2,000 per level for a CMI Diploma course

Online or in-person? 

Either, you can study CMI by going into classrooms or entirely online (through self-study or online teaching), depending on the program you choose

There’s a lot more that could be said on CMI and, as we run our own courses for CMI levels 3, 5 and 7, we’ve actually written a whole guide about studying for CMI qualifications if you’d like to know more.

2. What’s an MBA?

A ‘Masters in Business Administration’ (MBA) is the business-oriented cousin of an academic masters degree. 

Like CMI, an MBA provides you with skills to be used in business management and leadership. However, the content and level of any particular MBA course will depend on the institute/training provider that you use to get there.

An MBA can be a great foot in the door for jobs and promotions because they often provide a broad overview of different areas of leadership and management so that you can learn a wide range of subjects and skills. 

Quick facts:

Vocational or academic qualification?

MBAs range from being more academic to being more applied and vocational like CMI, and you should prioritise finding a course that’s applied so that you and your potential future employers can be confident you’re ready to use what you’ve learnt

Length? 

Traditionally, it takes 2 years (full-time) but some courses may be shorter, and part-time courses can take between 4-6 years to complete

Who is it with? 

MBA programs are created and run by the universities themselves

Cost? 

In the UK, course fees average between £10,000-£15,000, but it varies greatly between countries and universities – e.g. University of Bolton’s course is £8,500 and London Business School’s is £97,500

Online or in-person? 

Most often, MBAs are done in person but there are many distance-learning courses available as well

3. Entry requirements for CMI and MBAs

Before you decide whether CMI or MBA will be right for you, you need to know if you are actually allowed to start, given your existing experience and qualifications!

CMI

Good news, for most CMI levels, there aren’t actually any official requirements, other than being over 18 years old (for levels 2-5) or over 19 years old (for levels 6-7). 

Whilst CMI doesn’t impose any particular entry requirements for most levels (other than level 8, which most people don’t take), the course providers have a duty to put you onto an appropriate level so that you’ll have enough management experience to be able to complete the assignments. For instance, a newly-minted team leader probably wouldn’t be allowed to take the level 7 qualification.

If you’re not sure which level of CMI would be appropriate for you, you can check out our pages on CMI level 3, level 5 and level 7 where talk more about who these levels are for. You can also contact your chosen CMI course provider and they will be able to advise you on which level is suitable.

MBA

As any graduates reading this may remember, getting into university is often a little complicated and there are hoops to jump through. For an MBA, this often includes:

  • A degree – At least a 2:1 undergraduate degree (sometimes a 2:2 is accepted), preferably in a relevant subject (i.e. business, management or leadership).
  • Post-graduate work experience as a manager – However, this isn’t always needed, which can be an important difference for younger aspiring managers looking to decide between CMI or MBA, as they can take some MBA courses immediately without having to work their way into management first. 
  • An entrance exam – The two most common are GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) and GRE (Graduate Record Examinations). Both tests are designed to examine a graduate’s analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal and reading skills and cost between £128 and £225 in the UK. 
  • References – Commonly, at least one professional reference is needed from a current or recent supervisor who can describe your skills and examples of when you excelled. Sometimes academic references can be a substitute. 
  • An up-to-date CV.
  • An admissions essay – For example, the London Business School requires you to write about what you intend to do with what you learn on the course. 

Regardless of whether you choose CMI or MBA, CMI requires fluency in English and so do many MBA programmes. On some MBA courses, if English isn’t your first language, you may need to take an English proficiency test.

So, in summary, MBAs are much harder to get into compared to CMI courses on the whole, but the higher level CMI courses will require management experience so they may not be available right now if you’re not at that level.

4. Where you can get CMI or MBAs

One significant factor that may help you decide whether to undertake CMI or MBA qualifications will be location. 

CMI

Most CMI course providers offer online courses, either on-demand with a collection of materials you can study at your own pace or live-online lessons you can attend virtually. 

Face-to-face lessons are also available from a number of CMI centres if you prefer, but these types of courses are rarer, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many previously classroom-based providers online. 

CMI provides a handy directory of its partnered course providers that you can use to look up course providers. If you use the map mode, don’t forget that the actual location of distance learning course providers doesn’t matter since you wouldn’t ever need to go there. 

We’ve also created our own essential guide to choosing your CMI tuition provider, which you can use to figure out exactly what you need from your course.

MBA

You may find that an MBA is more readily accessible to you if you already live and work in or near a university city since most courses are done in person. 

While we can’t guarantee that it’s an exhaustive list, this directory will give you an idea of some of the MBA courses available in the UK. 

Some MBA courses will be available remotely, but they are a bit rarer. To get an idea of the sorts of online MBA programs being run, the Financial Times has a list you can check out.

Be warned: universities market their MBA courses, so directories and listings of “the best MBA courses” may not be entirely impartial. Make sure to look around and check out what the university’s alumni have said about the course and how they’ve benefited. 

5. What are the costs vs benefits?

The cost is possibly one of the most significant differences when deciding between CMI or MBA.

Let’s revisit some rough costs for these courses, which we mentioned earlier, and also consider the expected increase in earning potential (based on what’s been publicised):

CMI –

Course cost

CMI courses – Top-level diplomas are around £2,000 for online and around £4,000 for classroom-based courses. There’s also an ongoing CMI membership cost of £180 a year.

Reported increases in earning*

Chartered managers (which you can become after completing your CMI level 5 qualification or above) can expect an average pay rise of at least £13,000 and boost their business’s profits by an average of £310,000 a year. This is alongside the career benefits you can expect, such as greater management and leadership skills leading to faster promotion and career progression.

MBA –

Course cost

MBA courses – Anywhere between £8,500 and £97,500 (most courses averaging between £10,000-£15,000).

Reported increases in earning*

Graduates from the top MBA programs can expect salary increases of between 96% and 156% five years after graduation. Graduates of the London Business School (often ranked the best in the world) often receive salaries in excess of £157,000! 

Whereas, graduates of less prestigious courses might expect closer to a 35-45% uplift in salary after five years.

*These are figures that have been publicised online by very different sources, so direct comparisons won’t necessarily be entirely accurate.

In case you’re wondering, one reason CMI courses are cheaper compared to MBAs is that most CMI courses are self-study and are run by smaller companies with tiny overhead costs compared to massive university institutions. Hence why classroom-based lessons can double the cost of a CMI course.

The bottom line here is that you can expect a sizeable increase in your earning potential regardless of whether you pick CMI or MBA, but with a top-rated MBA potentially leading to a much higher salary in the long term. However, with the higher cost associated with MBAs, doing an MBA is a much bigger decision to make.

Funding

Many CMI students are either self-funded or funded by their employers. However, if you are UK-based and entering at level 3, there may be some funding available to you, depending on your previous qualifications and experience. If this is you, we’d recommend visiting the gov.uk website to find out more.

In the UK, there are also ‘Advanced Learner Loans’ that you may be eligible for. You can also read about these on the UK government website

In terms of MBAs, frankly, they are overpriced. Part of the price you will be paying is for the prestige and for the upkeep of enormous and beautiful campuses. But, you may also gain access to some world-class lecturers and visitors (particularly on one of the leading courses). However, renowned lecturers won’t necessarily equate to higher-quality learning.

Along with employer sponsorship and self-funding, there are two further options for funding an MBA that you should look into as part of your decision:

Government loans – In the UK, the government will provide a loan of up to £11,570 for course fees or living costs if this is your first post-graduate qualification. However, this is unlikely to cover all costs so the rest will need to be made up from other sources.

Other countries may provide loans, or private tuition loans may be available (but these can be risky if you don’t immediately start earning after graduating).

Scholarships – Many universities will have a list of available scholarships to which you can apply that will cover some or all of your costs. 

However, these are highly competitive and each institution will have its own scholarships and requirements, so you can’t count on receiving most or any scholarship money. 

6. CMI or MBA – Which is more recognisable and respectable?

Now more than ever, people are gaining advanced qualifications and while this is ultimately a good thing, it does mean just having any old qualification is not always enough. You need the right qualification from the right place in order to stand out in the job market or when aiming for a promotion.

Considering the prestige of your chosen qualification is, therefore, an important part of the process. 

Is CMI well respected?

In short, yes!

CMI was founded after World War II (originally as the British Institute of Management) and was a means to improve the quality of management and boost British business.

Fast-forward to 2002, and the qualification went on to receive a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth II, in recognition of the importance of strong management in business and of CMI as a ‘standard-bearer for the profession’.

With nearly a century of operation, recognition by royalty and a current base of over 143,000 members, CMI is certainly not lacking in respectability.

is CMI respected

About CMI

However, one downside of CMI accreditation is that it’s not as recognisable as a university degree like an MBA. Some business leaders may be familiar (and respect it), but you could face having to explain what your CMI level 7 Diploma means to interviewers.

One final thing to consider is the value of earning the Chartered Manager status versus possessing another university qualification (it could be your second or third university degree at this point). That’s not to say MBAs don’t come with status, but CMI may be more distinctive when you’re applying for senior positions.

MBA

These are probably the most recognisable business leadership qualifications in the world (they are often referenced in films and TV shows). However, their respectability can vary depending on the institution.

Overall, an MBA is a fairly respectable sign that you know about business leadership and management, but for top-level positions, not all MBAs will be respected equally. Overall, an MBA from a minor institution is likely to be respected less than CMI level 7, but an MBA from a top-tier university (such as Harvard) will be much more respectable than a CMI qualification.

So, if you’re aiming for a top-level position and can afford the higher fees, you may want to try for a top MBA. On the flip-side, if you can’t get onto one of those courses (or, more likely, can’t afford it), CMI would be a great choice.

7. What are the courses like?

CMI

Each CMI level is broken up into units that focus on different aspects of leadership and management. For example, level 7 includes strategic risk management, developing organisational strategy, marketing strategy, finance for strategic leaders, and more.

You’ll need to take a certain number of units based on whether you’re after an Award, a Certificate or you’re going for the full CMI Diploma, but the great thing is, you can choose the units you want to do, tailoring your qualification to your needs and interests.

For each unit, you will be expected to undertake some theoretical research (CMI provide a lot of content and tools for you at this stage through their ManagementDirect website) and then apply that knowledge to your actual workplace and experience in a series of written assignments, which your tuition provider will help you with. The average unit in level 7 requires between 3,500-4,000 words.

MBA

Like most degrees, an MBA consists of different modules (some mandatory and others optional), with each module including exam or essay assessments. Most courses should provide you with a broad education so that you can learn a bit of everything. This might be in areas such as statistics, operations, marketing, finance, strategy, and more.

At the end of the MBA, there will be a final assessment that may be in the form of a thesis/dissertation, or it may be a practical project (such as creating a business plan or analysing your actual company). These final assessments are most often in the region of 12,000-15,000 words.

In CMI or MBA, the key is practical application. CMI is always applied but not all MBAs are, so make sure to choose carefully, otherwise, employers may look at your MBA like just another academic degree.

CMI courses

8. Conclusion

So, we come to the final choice: CMI or MBA? 

An MBA from a top university is going to be extraordinarily expensive but it would ultimately pay for itself if you can afford it. An MBA from a lesser university is still going to be more expensive than CMI and may not provide as much value for money.

CMI qualifications are consistent across providers because they all originate from CMI’s units. CMI is also likely to be much more affordable than an MBA, even if you have to take multiple levels. However, even though it’s cheaper, you can still learn just as much through CMI and it will be practical like the best MBA programs. 

With all of this in mind, we believe CMI typically provides better value and it’s the one we would normally recommend. 

Free CMI Level 7 Award Course

Join our free online CMI level 7 award course and just pay your CMI fees.

If you’re worried about diving in too deep too early, an award consists of just one module and is, therefore, a great way to try CMI out for yourself! Your award will also count as one of your certificate and diploma modules should you decide to carry on with your CMI level 7 studies.

Sign Up to Access our Free Course Sample

You can also explore our CMI level 7 course for free by creating your free Astranti account. Click below to find out more about our courses or create your free Astranti account.

Holly Dymmock

Customer Service and Mentoring Supervisor

I hope you’ve found this guide useful – but if you’ve got any further questions, leave a message and I’d be happy to help!

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