MBA concentrations combine the advanced business management curriculum of the MBA with graduate-level courses across a wide array of subjects, yielding graduates primed for leadership roles in their desired field.
What is an MBA Concentration?
Do you need to pick an MBA concentration? And which MBA degree is the best one to get? Prospective MBA students have a lot to consider when it comes to choosing a program and a concentration. MBA students can complete specialized coursework in a concentration, strengthening their training and preparing to pursue specific career paths after graduation. While more than 20 MBA concentrations exist, most business schools offer 5-8 options. Graduates who do pick an MBA concentration often earn higher salaries than those with a general MBA.
Highest-paying MBA Concentrations
Earning an MBA concentration helps business school graduates pursue specialized career paths after graduation. It can also increase their earning potential, with some concentrations leading to significantly higher salary opportunities, depending on the industry.
Graduates with a strategy concentration, for example, show the highest early career pay of any MBA concentration, according to a study by Poets&Quants. Strategy graduates pursue in-demand positions such as strategy consultant and hold well-compensated titles like chief operating officer; this explains the high early-career and midcareer pay for this concentration.
Other MBA concentrations show a lower salary potential, with a business management or management concentration ranking near the bottom of the list of the highest-paying MBA concentrations. Graduates with a business management concentration earned early career salaries of $60,000, on average, while professionals with a management concentration started at around $57,000. However, both concentrations showed strong salary growth over time, with workers increasing their salary by an average of almost $50,000 by the time they became midcareer professionals.
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As the rankings show, MBA holders in all concentrations experience strong salary growth over their careers.
A general business MBA ranked only 17th out of the top-25 highest-paying MBA concentrations. General business graduates earned early career salaries of just under $62,000, on average, growing to $115,000 once workers reached the midcareer level. While these rank as above-average salaries, graduates with a concentration typically earn more; choosing an in-demand concentration can increase a graduate's starting salary and earning potential.
MBA students choosing a concentration should also consider how the salary potential for MBA concentrations change over the course of a career. Some concentrations, like entrepreneurship, show the potential for strong growth as workers gain professional experience. The average pay for a professional with an MBA concentration in entrepreneurship nearly doubles from early career to midcareer. Similarly, earning a concentration in marketing or innovation management can more than double a professional's salary by the time they reach the middle of their career.
The highest-paying MBA concentrations ranked by early career pay include strategy, corporate finance, and information technology. With several years of experience, professionals see significant salary growth. This is especially true for MBA graduates with concentrations in entrepreneurship, innovation management, and economics. The following table shows the highest-paying MBA concentrations in 2017, ranked by midcareer pay.
What is the Best MBA Concentration to Get?
Students who choose an MBA concentration receive specialized training that prepares them for specific careers in business. Most business schools offer multiple MBA concentrations. While concentration options may vary by program, the following list offers examples of popular and high-paying concentrations for MBA students.
One of the highest-paying concentrations, finance trains MBA students for careers in financial services, corporate finance, and financial management. Finance students take courses in risk management, financial analysis for businesses, and investment management. A finance MBA learns to analyze financial data to inform business decisions, including providing financial reports to top executives to inform their decisions. This concentration prepares graduates for job titles like financial manager, financial consultant, and chief financial officer.
In a marketing concentration, MBA students learn how to conduct research, design a marketing strategy, and implement that strategy to promote an organization. Marketing MBA students take courses in marketing research, business management, database analysis for marketing, and data analysis to evaluate marketing strategies. Within a marketing concentration, students might take specialized courses in digital marketing, social media marketing, and direct marketing. The concentration leads to opportunities as marketing managers and marketing directors.
- Management and Strategy
One of the more general concentration options, a management and strategy concentration trains students to design and execute corporate strategy from a management position. Nearly every business prioritizes management and strategy, and this option leads to many job opportunities after graduation. Students take courses in strategic organizational leadership, corporate consulting, and operational management. This concentration provides additional training in managerial theory and corporate strategic design, as compared to a general MBA, leading to opportunities like corporate consultant, manager, and strategic planning director.
- Healthcare Management and Administration
A healthcare management and administration concentration trains MBA students for leadership roles working for healthcare organizations. Coursework covers healthcare organizational management, improving patient care and quality outcomes, and budgeting for healthcare systems. Students learn how to apply business skills in a healthcare setting, including data analysis of healthcare quality, complex medical divisions management, and financial management in the healthcare field. The concentration prepares graduates for roles as healthcare administrators, healthcare executives, and healthcare managers.
- Human Resources
Organizations in every sector -- including business, government, and nonprofit organizations -- rely on human resources to oversee employee benefits, comply with labor laws, and resolve disputes between a company and its employees. A concentration in human resources trains MBA students in issues related to recruitment, the hiring process, and employee benefits. Students take classes in training and development, workplace diversity, and HR management. Graduates can pursue careers as human resources managers.
Within an accounting MBA concentration, students gain specialized skills in managerial accounting, auditing, and financial accounting. They complete coursework in accounting principles, creating financial documents, and relying on financial reports to make management decisions. While accountants can also pursue a master's in accounting, an MBA with an accounting concentration provides a solid business foundation along with graduate-level accounting coursework. The concentration prepares graduates to earn the Certified Public Accountant credential. Students can also pursue management positions within accounting organizations.
- International Business
An international business concentration trains graduates about global logistics, international trade regulations, and international project management. The growing interconnectedness of the global economy means business professionals with international business training may hold a competitive advantage. MBA students with an international business concentration study global financial markets, expansion opportunities in the developing world, and business transactions across cultural and social boundaries. The concentration can lead to job titles such as global business administrator, international business analyst, and business development manager.
- Project Management
A practical concentration with job opportunities in many sectors, project management trains students to oversee a project from concept to completion. Students take courses in team building, organizational management, and project leadership, while also emphasizing the practical skills required to oversee a project. Project management students also study budget management, cost projections, and data analysis. Graduates can work in finance, manufacturing, tech, and other industries.
Entrepreneurs' roles may include developing an idea, raising capital, and launching a new product or service. An entrepreneurship concentration trains students in innovation and development, with classes covering venture capital, leadership, and small business management. During this concentration, students take classes on entrepreneurship theories, competing approaches to promoting new initiatives, and capital financing. Graduates can start their own business as an entrepreneur, work in venture capital, or pursue opportunities within an existing company developing new projects.
An MBA concentration that leads to various career opportunities, a leadership concentration prepares graduates for leadership roles in multiple industries. Students learn organizational principles, business ethics, and organizational psychology. They also study leadership theories and principles, applying these ideas in different working environments and through different management styles. These skills prepare students for roles in training and development, general management, or to work as an entrepreneur. The concentration also leads to executive-level roles in many organizations.
- Supply Chain Management
MBA students who choose a supply chain management concentration study logistics or the process of procuring, creating, storing, and distributing a product. Supply chain management students learn about transportation management, the production process, purchasing and procurement, and warehouse management. Graduates can work as supply chain managers, logistics managers, operations managers, and procurement managers in industries like manufacturing, tech, and retail.
Do You Need an MBA Concentration?
Business students should consider the pros and cons of an MBA concentration before committing to a degree track. In many programs, MBA students can choose not to pursue a concentration, instead earning a general MBA. However, some business schools require participants to select a concentration. In these circumstances, business students should consider which concentration will best help them achieve their career goals.
While taking MBA concentration classes, students gain in-depth training in a subfield of the business sector. Many students choose a concentration to prepare for a career path after graduation. For instance, students interested in marketing management or human resources management benefit from the specialized training of a concentration in these specializations. This type of targeted training can also help graduates stand out on the job market. Earning a concentration may translate to higher salaries, depending on the specialization.
Students typically benefit from specialized training when entering their chosen field; however, a general MBA can meet the career requirements for many students. For example, a business professional pursuing an MBA to advance in their own company may not need a concentration.
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Some students choose a general MBA to keep their skills transferable. A concentration in human resources management, for instance, could close off job opportunities in other sectors, like finance, healthcare, and supply chain management. Gaining expertise in a specialized area may limit opportunities outside of that field, so MBA students with less clear ideas about their intended career path may prefer a general MBA or a broader concentration like management or leadership.
Concentrations can also come with additional requirements, which vary by school. Though many MBA programs offer a concentration in project management, some programs may include an internship or practicum requirement, helping learners gain professional experience. Other programs design concentrations for professionals with prior experience in that field; these may not accept applicants without professional experience.
Additionally, a concentration can lengthen the degree completion time for an MBA, which may increase the total cost of a degree. While many business schools organize their concentrations around elective courses, a general MBA can sometimes require less credits. Prospective students should research how a concentration affects their overall MBA experience, including graduation requirements, credit requirements, and additional practica or internships.
Some MBA programs may ask applicants to choose a concentration during the admission process, while others let incoming MBA students complete general requirements before selecting their concentration.
Choosing Your MBA Concentration
With so many options, prospective business students may struggle to choose an MBA concentration. When choosing between MBA concentrations, students should consider factors beyond the highest-paying concentrations. Answering the following questions can help business students choose the best concentration for their career goals and interests.
What are your strengths?
Not every concentration fits every student. While some MBA students possess strong accounting or finance skills, others find their strengths in marketing, human resources, or leadership. Consider which business classes came easiest as an undergraduate and/or which topics you find most interesting. Instead of choosing a concentration based solely on salary or career potential, students should consider their own strengths to find the concentration that best complements their skills.
Does this concentration complement your desired career?
MBA concentrations can be flexible. For example, a future entrepreneur might benefit from a concentration in entrepreneurship, leadership, or management and strategy. However, completing a concentration in healthcare management with the goal of moving into supply chain management makes little strategic sense. Prospective students should consider whether a concentration fits their desired career path.
Is your concentration in demand or growing?
In addition to researching the salary potential for different MBA concentrations, prospective students can also research whether employers place high demand on a certain concentration. A growing concentration can help MBA graduates on the job market; thinking strategically at the beginning of a program can benefit professionals after graduation. Students can look at job openings for different titles, like healthcare administrator or financial manager, to measure the potential job growth for a given concentration.
Do the classes in this concentration align with what you want to learn?
Within a concentration, students complete additional coursework to specialize their degree. Looking at the classes offered in different concentrations can help prospective students identify the best option for their goals. For instance, a concentration focused on digital marketing, customer analytics, and global marketing would complement the curriculum for a student interested in marketing manager positions with an enterprise-level company after graduation. Similarly, classes on logistics and management of manufacturing firms can help a student interested in supply chain management jobs.