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 different disciplines—both hard subjects like finance and soft like organizational behavior. If you’re contemplating business school, think about whether you’d prefer a general management approach or one that offers majors or concentrations. Whether you choose to be a generalist at business school or to specialize your MBA degree depends heavily on your career’s end goals.

Advantages of a Generalist MBA Degree

Business schools seek 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. Here, students gain a complete understanding of how various departments operate.

MBA students typically come to b-school with a clear career goal in mind after graduation. Yet, 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 broad range of career opportunities that comes 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 stronger skill base in that niche area.

If you already know that you’re interested in an area like digital marketing, real estate, business analytics, social innovation, health care, and so forth, then 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.

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. That way, they’re ready to hit the ground running on day one.

Drawbacks of a Specialized MBA Degree

While specializing in a specific area of business is fine, know that it can be limiting. One could even 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 important. But you don’t need to be a master—ideally, you will hire others to do the deep dive.

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

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