Types of MBA: A List of Top Concentrations
Today's MBA programs provide plenty of options to focus on particular aspects of business in either a specialization or concentration, giving you a competitive edge in today's job market. A specialization can be extremely helpful if you're looking to break into industries where you lack work experience, or a great way to improve skills that are most relevant to you in the field you're already in.
You should pick a concentration that best aligns to your personal interests or career goals. Other niche MBA concentrations, such as business intelligence, human resources, internet marketing or even sports management can help you demonstrate to employers your unique skill set for a particular role.
5 Tips for Choosing the Best MBA Specialization for You
Some of the top MBA concentrations, include general management, international management, and corporate strategy, followed by consulting, finance leadership and entrepreneurship, according to The Princeton Review.
Overall master's-level business degrees are increasingly in high demand across multiple industries, including financial services, science and technology, healthcare, trade and manufacturing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for management occupations was $105,660 in 2019, which was the highest wage of all the major occupational groups. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) also reported in 2019 that 77% of employers plan to hire new MBA holders (GMAC pdf source). In other words, any concentration you pick is bound to support high-demand business roles–its most important to keep your own goals in mind.
- Reflect on your own strengths and interests – Take courses within a concentration or specialization that capitalize on the skills and work experience you already have. Alternatively, use the concentration to build competency in an area or industry you’ve always wanted to learn more about.
- Decide what industry or industries you might like to work in – MBA concentrations in healthcare management, criminal justice, project management, or sustainability lend themselves to unique work environments – think about what fits you best.
- Determine what you’ve liked and/or disliked about previous jobs or internships – Do you enjoy working for one company or consulting on behalf of many clients? Do you enjoy analyzing data rather than speaking to large groups of people? Do you prefer a company with an international reach to a smaller startup? These are all factors to consider when you choose a concentration.
- Consider exploring a niche – Although finance and general management are traditional specializations that still offer tremendous value, newer concentrations might carve out opportunities in growing fields, for example concentrations in healthcare informatics or forensic accounting can help you stand out as an employee with innovative technology skills.
- Factor in any extra potential earnings a specific concentration might bring – Some specializations lend themselves to higher pay. Specializations and concentrations can also have a positive impact on starting salary. The 2019 GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey found that some of the top median salaries for MBA holders were in consulting, finance and accounting, healthcare and technology (GMAC pdf source).
Exploring Popular MBA Concentrations
Not all MBA specializations or concentrations are equal. You must research what types of classes, field experiences or internships are available within a particular program; however, here are some descriptions of the top specializations/concentrations as identified by the Princeton Review.
- MBA in General Management – Perhaps the most traditional MBA program, this option gives you a broad business overview and focuses on finance, leadership, data analysis, marketing and human resources with an opportunity to customize your degree through electives.
- MBA in International Management – Today’s businesses are truly global, and this concentration trains you to lead globally, putting an emphasis on international business in a variety of cultural, political, social and economic contexts.
- MBA in Corporate Strategy – This concentration helps you discover how companies create value, develop a business portfolio and work with other organizations to achieve goals. It prepares you to find consulting jobs in specific industries or become general strategy consultants.
- MBA in Finance – Finance concentrations prepare you for jobs in financial services, banking and risk management or for corporate finance positions in other firms. This concentration is one of the most financially lucrative options and focuses on corporate financial management, investment and portfolio management, forecasting and core cash management.
- MBA in Entrepreneurship – Want to build a start-up? The entrepreneurship concentration teaches you to build a company or develop new initiatives within an existing company. This concentration can also be helpful if you're looking to get into related fields, such as venture capital, as it focuses on capital and venture capital opportunities, franchising, consulting and small-business management.
Other Popular Concentrations
- MBA in Healthcare Management – A healthcare management concentration develops leaders, preparing them to expand, diversify, improve healthcare quality and contain costs within an organization or health network. Coursework focuses on the business of healthcare, providing both an academic and real-world foundation in healthcare issues, trends and practices. Jobs for medical and health services managers is projected to grow 18% by 2028, according to BLS.
- MBA in Project Management – Learn how to plan, manage, budget and monitor projects to improve organizational efficiency with a concentration in project management. Project management methodologies are used in the information technology, construction, manufacturing and consulting industries to help define projects and ensure a cost-effective bottom line. Many project management concentrations prepare you for a PMP® certification, issued by the Project Management Institute (PMI)®.
- MBA in Human Resources – For those looking for human resources leadership roles, this concentration provides insight into recruitment, hiring, training, compensation and benefits, human resource information systems and career development, all from an organizational and employee perspective.
- MBA in Business Intelligence – Big data continues to explode, sparking the need for leaders who can accurately analyze patterns, put them into context, and make correlations between information and results. The job market for business intelligence experts is growing as fast as big data itself. According to BLS, operations research analyst jobs will grow by 26% through 2028.
- MBA in Operations and Supply Chain Management – Top operations and supply chain management leaders draw from a solid foundation in leadership, communication, budgeting, problem solving, planning and coordination. This concentration prepares students for leadership roles in production planning, quality assurance, or logistics–to name a few.
When Do I Pick a Specialization or Concentration?
You may know exactly what area you’d like to focus on in your MBA from the start. If you aren’t quite sure which sure which direction to go in or if you even want to choose a particular concentration, chances are you’re not alone. The good news: most MBA programs require students to complete core courses before they pick a specialization. Some allow you to take a few courses within a focus area as part of a general MBA program without declaring a specific concentration. At Southern New Hampshire University, you may opt for one of 20 MBA concentrations or choose to earn a general MBA.
Still trying to figure out whether you’d like to pursue a straight MBA or double-down with an area of specialization? Here’s why these women chose the paths they did for their MBAs.
A Tale of Two MBA Alumni
When Kira Morehouse '13MBA, a digital marketing specialist for Enterprise Bank, earned her MBA, she chose to pursue a concentration that allowed her to focus on business and corporate strategy to better align her digital marketing background to financial strategy. She credits both the degree and the concentrations for opening the door to her new role.
“In a corporate environment like a bank, it’s helpful and reassuring to the people interviewing you and people you have to report to—board members and directors of the organization—that you have the right background,” she said.
Morehouse, who earned a bachelor’s degree in communication, had worked for several years in marketing agency roles prior to earning her MBA. She had a solid record of accomplishment that included developing TV, radio and digital media campaigns for a diverse roster of clients. However, she did not have a formal background in math and business analytics, which is why she chose to focus her MBA on gaining skills in those areas. She said that because digital media is a newer field, proving that she had a solid foundation in research and analytics—as well as financial compliance–helped show her employer that she was able to set digital media goals that improved the bottom line.
“The confidence I gained when I actually discovered I could do calculus and understand managerial accounting and economics with proper instruction made me feel very capable,” she said.
Morehouse said she was inspired to earn an advanced degree early on, after watching her mother juggle college, two jobs, and a family. Although she never thought she’d pursue an MBA specifically, she said she realized that being able to speak the same business language as her clients and supervisors would serve her well in her career—and it has.
“I always had ideas but I didn’t think they were valued or heard,” she said. “The MBA really sealed the deal for me—working with bankers I was now able to contribute to strategy and show return on investment.
On the other hand, Claire Regan '18MBA, a business systems analyst with 25 years of sales experience, completed a general MBA with career advancement in mind. She credits her MBA for her most recent promotion, which she received just a few months shy of commencement. She decided to pursue an MBA to move from a traditional sales role at Consolidated Communications to an analytics role, where she now analyzes sales accounts and determines how the company might better manage and expand its business communications services. Although she didn't choose a specific concentration, she did take two courses focused on workplace conflict management.
"They proved to give me some valuable skills to use not only my professional life, but in my personal life as well," Regan said. "Not everyone gets along in the workplace; it's ... good to figure out how to best handle those situations.”
As you consider moving forward with an MBA, keep in mind that this is a degree that prepares you well for broad industries. A concentration, however, provides specialization in a particular area that can make a difference in taking on a role in an area you enjoy working in most.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks ’11 is a writer and marketing/communication professional. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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