A Guide to MBA Specializations

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Updated October 11, 2022

An MBA concentration provides a targeted focus for your degree. Learn what MBA concentrations are trending and could lead to the most promising salaries.

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MBA concentrations combine an advanced business management curriculum with graduate-level courses across specialized subjects, yielding graduates primed for leadership roles in their desired fields.

What Is an MBA Concentration?

Do you need to pick an MBA concentration? Which MBA degree is the best to pursue? MBA students can complete specialized coursework in concentrations to strengthen their training and prepare to pursue specific career paths after graduation.

While there are more than 20 MBA concentrations, most business schools offer 5-8 options. Graduates who choose MBA specializations often earn higher salaries than those with general MBAs.

Do You Need an MBA Specialization?

A general MBA includes coursework and activities in management, accounting, finance, and other fundamental business concepts. Choosing an MBA specialization allows you to focus on an aspect of business or business environment.

An MBA concentration builds in-depth knowledge of a specific topic and demonstrates expertise to employers and colleagues. An MBA specialization can open career opportunities, increase your credibility, and open new networking options.

An MBA specialization can open career opportunities in new areas while creating a pathway to managerial roles. For example, pursuing an MBA with a specialization in sports management may lead to positions in the sports industry. An MBA concentration in leadership trains you to oversee teams within businesses and organizations. Professionals with MBAs earn nearly $20,000 more annually than their counterparts with bachelor's degrees, per Payscale. A specialized MBA can optimize earning potential even more by delivering expertise in a specific business sector. An MBA specialization provides in-depth knowledge of business topics and introduces you to new peers in the business world. MBA programs can lead to network-building opportunities and facilitate continued relationships among business professionals. With a specialized MBA, you can demonstrate expertise in a subset of business to employers and peers. The degree attests to your knowledge and skills and gives you more credibility on the job market and in professional roles. By earning a specialized MBA, you gain insight into business and grow your skill set. This development can boost personal fulfillment and confidence in the workplace.

Choosing Your MBA Focus Area

With so many options, prospective business students may struggle to choose an MBA concentration. When choosing MBA specializations, enrollees should consider factors beyond the highest-paying concentrations. Answering the following questions can help business students find the concentration that best aligns with their career goals and interests.

What are your strengths?

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 which topics you find most interesting.

Instead of choosing a concentration based solely on salary or career potential, students should consider their strengths to find the concentration that best complements their skills.

Does this concentration complement your desired career?

A future entrepreneur might benefit from a concentration in entrepreneurship, leadership, or management and strategy. However, completing a concentration in healthcare management to move 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 seek candidates with certain concentrations.

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 degrees. Exploring different concentrations before selecting a pathway can help prospective enrollees 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 management positions with an enterprise-level company after graduation.

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 specializations. While concentration options vary by program, the following list offers examples of popular and high-paying concentrations for MBA students.

Finance

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.

Finance MBA enrollees learn to analyze financial data to inform business decisions, including providing financial reports to top executives. This concentration prepares graduates for job titles like financial manager, financial consultant, and chief financial officer.

Learn More Salary and Job Outlook Top-Ranked Programs

Marketing

In a marketing concentration, MBA students learn to conduct research, design marketing strategies, and implement promotional campaigns. 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, enrollees will likely encounter courses in digital marketing, social media marketing, and direct marketing. The concentration can lead to opportunities as marketing managers and marketing directors.

Learn More Salary and Job Outlook Top-Ranked Programs

Management and Strategy

This concentration trains students to design and execute corporate strategy in leadership roles. Nearly every business prioritizes management and strategy, and this option can offer a pathway to many job opportunities after graduation.

Enrollees take strategic organizational leadership, corporate consulting, and operational management courses. This concentration provides additional training in managerial theory and corporate strategic design, as compared to a general MBA, leading to opportunities as corporate consultants, managers, and strategic planning directors.

Learn More Top-Ranked Programs

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 to apply business skills in healthcare settings, including healthcare quality data analysis, complex medical division management, and financial management. The concentration prepares graduates for roles as healthcare administrators, healthcare executives, and healthcare managers.

Learn More Salary and Job Outlook Top-Ranked Programs: Healthcare Administration Top-Ranked Programs: Healthcare Management

Human Resources

Organizations in every sector 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 explore training and development, workplace diversity, and HR management. Graduates can pursue careers as human resources managers.

Top-Ranked Programs

Accounting

Within an accounting MBA concentration, students gain specialized managerial accounting, auditing, and financial accounting skills. 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 and graduate-level accounting coursework. The concentration prepares graduates to earn certified public accountant credentials. Students can also pursue management positions within accounting organizations.

Learn More Salary and Job Outlook Top-Ranked Programs

International Business

An international business concentration trains graduates on global logistics, international trade regulations, and international project management. The growing interconnectedness of the global economy can provide business professionals with a competitive advantage.

MBA students in international business concentrations 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.

Learn More Salary and Job Outlook Top-Ranked Programs

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 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.

Top-Ranked Programs

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurs' roles may include developing ideas, raising capital, and launching new products or services. 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 businesses as entrepreneurs, work in venture capital, or pursue opportunities with existing companies to develop new projects.

Learn More Salary and Job Outlook Top-Ranked Programs

Leadership

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 various management styles.

These skills prepare learners for roles in training and development, general management, or working as an entrepreneur. The concentration can also lead to executive-level roles.

Top-Ranked Programs: Leadership Top-Ranked Programs: Organizational Leadership

Supply Chain Management

MBA enrollees who choose supply chain management concentrations study the process of procuring, creating, storing, and distributing products. These students explore 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.

Top-Ranked Programs

Highest-Paying MBA Concentrations

Earning potential for MBA concentrations varies by industry, location, and experience level. According to Payscale, MBA specializations in strategy and information technology have the highest earning potential. With MBAs in strategy or information technology, individuals can work as chief executive officers and chief information officers. These roles offered average base salaries of over $150,000 as of July 2022.

MBAs in human resources and general management typically carry the lowest earning potential in the sector. An MBA in human resources opens up employment opportunities for positions like human resource director, which earned an average base salary of just over $90,000 in July 2022.

Even at the lower end of earning potential for an MBA specialization, however, these positions provide higher-paying opportunities than a general MBA.

Common Questions About MBA Specializations

Can I switch my MBA specialization while in school?

You can switch your MBA specialization while in school, but time may be limited to do so. It might be necessary to make a change during the first term of enrollment. Otherwise, you may extend the length of your degree.

Is an MBA with a specialization better than a regular MBA?

If you want a specific role in business or to work in a subset of the business world, an MBA with a specialization can be better than a regular MBA.

Which MBA specialization has the most jobs?

An MBA with a management specialization has the most jobs in large part because the curriculum applies to many areas of business.

Which MBA specialization is best for government jobs?

An MBA in public administration, human resources, or general management can help you find a job working for the government.


Featured Image: Ziga Plahutar / E+ / Getty Images

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