Should You Specialize Your MBA Degree?

generalist or specialist MBA

Unlike a master’s degree in finance or accounting or another specialty, an MBA is, by definition, a generalist program. It exposes students to many disciplines—complex subjects like finance and soft ones like organizational behavior. If you’re contemplating business school, consider whether you’d prefer a general management approach or one offering majors or concentrations. The choice to be a generalist at b-school or to specialize your MBA degree will depend heavily on your career’s end goals.

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Advantages of a Generalist MBA Degree

Business schools want to admit students who will not only get hired after graduation but eventually run the firm. Most applicants see business school as a way to grow as a leader and advance their careers. The degree imparts a strong foundation of general business knowledge. During those two years, students gain a 360 understanding of how various departments operate.

MBA students typically come to b-school with a clear career goal after graduation. Nonetheless, business school is an excellent time to explore a variety of subjects that may ultimately redirect your path.

Today’s professionals want long-term flexibility in the global marketplace. To that end, career-switchers need courses that prepare them for the management responsibilities they will encounter in whichever sector they end up.

A potential drawback to a general MBA is that you may not acquire the depth of knowledge required for a particular position. However, the range of career opportunities from earning an MBA at a top program is invaluable.

Advantages if You Specialize Your MBA Degree

MBA specialization is a good move for individuals who know precisely what they want to do with their careers. Likewise, it’s excellent for those who want to build a more substantial skill base in that area. You get to customize your studies to fit your own goals and objectives.

Suppose you already know you’re interested in STEM, digital marketing, real estate, business analytics, social innovation, health care, etc. In that case, earning an MBA with a concentration can make you even more marketable. Recruiters like to see a strong focus on a particular field or functional area.

“There is a growing desire to have an MBA from a world-class institution while also having knowledge in x, y and z,” Brad Killaly, associate dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, recently told US News & World Report.

“This is a form of validation that formalizes their expertise in an area,” Killaly said, noting that nearly half of Michigan Ross MBA students choose a concentration.

We’re in a highly competitive job market. Having that specialization on your resume, plus a supporting internship or extracurricular activities, will help you stand out from the crowd. Students who specialize can also grow their niche network during the MBA program.

You’ll develop relationships with other specialists in the field, which can be beneficial when finding internships and jobs. That way, they’re ready to hit the ground running on day one.

Drawbacks of a Specialized MBA Degree

While focusing on a specific business subject is fine, it can be limiting. Specializing in one area can cause you to miss out on other important concepts, such as how the different departments of a business work together. One could argue that you should earn a degree in that specialty instead.

Depending on the career path you have chosen after graduation, by specializing, you could inadvertently pigeonhole yourself and narrow your job prospects, especially if you’re a career-changer.

The classroom experience may differ notably for specialists. A traditional MBA experience includes classes full of people with diverse and enriching perspectives. Participants in the same specialization will likely have similar backgrounds and professional experiences from which to call on.

Ultimately, when you’re running a company, chances are you won’t be pulling together the financial models or balancing the books. Understanding those aspects is undoubtedly essential. But you don’t need to be a master—ideally, you will hire others to do the deep dive.

Whether you pursue a general program or specialize in your MBA degree, pay close attention to all your classes—even the areas you plan to outsource when you have the budget.

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Request a free MBA advising session with Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help with your complete MBA applications. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Wharton and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

Tap into this inside knowledge for your MBA applications by requesting a consultation.

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