Which MBA Specialization Is Best?

| Genevieve Carlton

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The best MBA specialization depends on your personal aptitudes and career goals. However, some MBA specializations are more in-demand and higher paying than others.

Deciding whether to specialize in an MBA program ultimately rests on each student's unique interests and professional aspirations. One benefit to choosing an MBA specialization is that you will receive focused training in a particular area of business like consulting, project management, strategy, or finance. By specializing during an MBA program, graduates can build the knowledge and skills required for specific career paths. A specialization can also help professionals who don't yet have relevant work experience. This article explores that data, helping MBA students make informed decisions about their specialization options.

What MBA Specializations Are There?

Business schools often offer dozens of MBA specializations, allowing students to focus their coursework on areas that interest them. Depending on the program, MBA enrollees may even be able to select more than one concentration.

However, most programs cap their specialization options. Smaller programs, for example, may combine their small business and entrepreneurship concentrations. Other programs focus on a few core specializations rather than offering a dozen options. Here are a few of the most common MBA specializations.

Most Common MBA Specializations

  • Accounting
  • Business management
  • Consulting
  • Cybersecurity
  • Engineering management
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Finance
  • General management
  • Healthcare management
  • Human resource management
  • Information systems and technology
  • International business
  • Logistics management
  • Management consulting
  • Marketing
  • Nonprofit business
  • Operations management
  • Product management
  • Project management
  • Real estate
  • Resources and environmental management
  • Rural management
  • Small business
  • Startups
  • Strategy
  • Supply chain management
  • Sustainability

MBA Specialization vs. Concentration

What's the difference between an MBA specialization and a concentration? Essentially, there isn't one. Specializations and concentrations both refer to focused curricula that trains MBA students for particular fields. Regardless of whether a business school uses the name specialization or concentration, they both provide targeted skills for specific career paths.

Why Specialize in an MBA Program?

A general MBA degree strengthens decision-making, leadership, and analytical skills. Meanwhile, a specialization provides focused coursework in a specific subfield, such as finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, information systems, or healthcare management. This prepares graduates to pursue specific , and may improve qualifications for certain roles.

Before selecting a specialization and submitting MBA applications, prospective students should carefully consider their academic strengths and professional goals, and weigh those against what specializations their program offers. The following sections explore how to choose an MBA specialization, along with data about the highest-paying and most in-demand MBA specializations.

Featured Online MBA Programs

What Are the Highest-Paying MBA Specializations?

The top-paying industries for MBA professionals include finance, healthcare, and technology. According to a 2019 corporate recruiters survey, the finance industry offers a base median starting salary of $125,000, compared to the general MBA median starting salary of about $115,000. Graduates who work in consulting report the highest median starting salary, with $135,000.

Other industries offer lower earning potential for MBA graduates, though salaries are still higher than for students with only a bachelor's degree. In manufacturing and products/services, new hires make a median salary of $105,000, while the nonprofit and government sectors pay a median salary of around $65,000. Bachelor's degree-holders earn median starting salaries of about $55,000.

Keep in mind that salaries vary widely depending on industry, job title, and location, and what business school you attended can also affect your salary.

What MBA Specializations Are in Demand?

Many MBA specializations report high demand, and a specialization demonstrates focused training to prospective employers. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council 2019 business school hiring report, corporate recruiters primarily look for MBA graduates specializing in strategy, finance, and business analytics. Other in-demand areas include consulting and project management.

Location and local industries can also affect demand. While financial managers see high demand across much of the country, healthcare managers rank among the fastest-growing jobs in Portland, Oregon; meanwhile, computer and information systems managers take the top spot in Colorado Springs. When choosing a specialization, consider what fields are most prominent in the place where you want to build your career.

In-Demand MBA Specializations to Consider

A finance specialization emphasizes portfolio management, investment strategy, and risk management. Enrollees explore corporate finance, securities regulation, international finance, and capital markets. The concentration prepares graduates for careers as financial managers. MBA professionals who work in finance earn a median starting salary of $125,000 per year.

An entrepreneurship specialization emphasizes innovation, business planning, and securing capital for new ventures. Entrepreneurship programs also strengthen management and leadership skills. The concentration prepares graduates to become entrepreneurs or pursue venture capital roles. Professionals with entrepreneurship MBAs earn an average salary of over $100,000 per year, according to PayScale.

An information systems MBA — also called an IT MBA — trains students in the intersection between business and technology. The concentration builds tech skills and familiarizes graduates with information systems, which they can use to improve efficiency and profitability at future companies. Learners also learn about information security, business intelligence, and communication technologies. MBA professionals who pursue careers in technology earn median starting salaries of $115,000.

An international business specialization examines global business development, international trade, and international supply chain management. Students learn about international corporate strategy, negotiation techniques, and economic development. Other core areas include global finance and entrepreneurship. PayScale reports that international business MBAs earn an average salary of over $95,000.

An MBA in project management emphasizes leadership and strategy, especially in team settings. These managers must guide projects from the planning stages to completion while always working toward organizational goals. This specialization includes MBA graduates who specialize in products and services — one of the most in-demand skills — earning a median starting salary of $105,000.

A sustainability specialization emphasizes innovation and business strategy from an environmental perspective. Learners examine environmental challenges and explore sustainable ways to innovate, add value, and earn a competitive advantage. The average salary for an MBA graduate with a sustainability specialization exceeds $80,000 per year, according to PayScale.

Which MBA Specialization Is Best for Me?

Which MBA specialization is the best depends on your unique strengths, interests, and career goals. When narrowing down your options, start by carefully considering what specializations align with your personal and professional aspirations.

For example, some industries offer higher salaries, while others provide an opportunity to make meaningful contributions in a particular field. Some MBA students thrive in data-driven business analytics concentrations, while others excel in healthcare management or marketing concentrations.

Which specialization you choose may also come down to what's offered by your preferred program. Many top online MBA programs offer multiple specializations, including high-demand areas like consulting, finance, and project management. If you have yet to choose an MBA program, available specializations is a good metric to use when narrowing down your choices.

How Do I Choose an MBA Specialization?

A Real MBA Grad on Choosing a Specialization

TBS sits down with MBA grad, Silvi Saxena, to discuss how she decided her MBA specialization.

What advice do you have for students who are deciding on a specialization?

Specialization is great if your industry has the special niche interests, but think about your industry and how relevant a specific specialization may be. Talk to those who are in those areas where you'd like to work and set up informational interviews for yourself to learn about the position and how different specialities could fit into those positions.

At what point in your career did you get your MBA, and why then?

I got my MBA six years after getting my first master's, which was an MSW. Working in healthcare as an MSW had its limits, and an MBA plus my work experience would set me apart for certain job opportunities.

What advice do you have for someone pursuing an MBA?

Think about where you want to be and what will be the best fit for you. There are a lot of speciality programs that work in conjunction with businesses and within the MBA program. Talk to others who have gone through an MBA program, look at the bios of those in positions you'd like to be in, and consider all paths.

Silvi Saxena (preferred pronouns she/her) has worked as a medical social worker/clinician for 10 years doing home visits, hospice care, and hospital work. She has experience with patients of all ages with a wide variety of complex medical and psychosocial concerns. She has a dedicated passion for end-of-life care, palliative, and chronic care. She chooses to work with those who are the most vulnerable in the healthcare system.

Currently, Saxena works in a corporate education role at a national hospice company. Additionally, she has a special interest in and commitment to healthcare-related employee wellness and supporting direct care providers so they can provide the best care for their patients.

Saxena received her MBA from Quantic School of Business and Technology.

Common Questions About MBA Specializations

true Which MBA Specialization Is Best for Consulting?

Management consulting and strategic management are the best MBA specializations for consulting professionals. Prospective consultants may also earn specializations in finance, marketing, or entrepreneurship.

true Which Type of MBA Is in Demand?

The highest demand is for finance, project management, consulting, strategy, and business analytics specialists, according to the 2019 corporate recruiter survey. However, employers hire MBA graduates with many different specializations, as each degree type is suited to different roles.

true Does Your MBA Specialization Matter?

Yes. An MBA specialization offers focused training in a particular field, signaling to employers that a graduate can succeed in that business area. However, most programs also offer general MBAs without specializations, and employers look favorably upon those degrees, too.

true What's the Most Affordable MBA Specialization?

A general MBA is often the most affordable MBA specialization because it requires the fewest credits. However, it's a good idea to research whether your choice of specialization affects cost before enrolling in any MBA program.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.

Header Image Credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

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