What Is an MBA?

by TBS Staff

Updated August 22, 2022


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With so many MBA specializations, it can be hard to narrow your options. We can help with that.

A master of business administration (MBA) provides students with in-demand and marketable business skills and expertise. Business is the most popular master's discipline, with 192,000 business degrees conferred in 2018 — 23% of the total master's degrees awarded nationally.

An MBA or executive MBA can lead to enormous career flexibility and advancement. In particular, graduates can access management positions, which receive the highest median annual wages among all major occupational groups.

Choosing the right program, however, can present challenges. To help with the process, the following information explores the MBA in detail, including some of the best specialization options available and application considerations to keep in mind.

MBA Specializations

While a general MBA help with advancement in most careers, students pursuing a specific position should choose a related specialization to focus their training and increase their employability. For example, international management MBAs provide business training in a global context, preparing graduates to work with multinational organizations, while an MBA in marketing equips graduates with the skills to develop marketing campaigns and lead promotional teams.

Continue reading for more information about common MBA specializations.

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General Management

Not to be confused with a general MBA program, an MBA in general management typically focuses on leadership principles and strategies. Learners take courses in corporate strategy and negotiation tactics to sharpen their managerial skills. This specialization is sometimes called an MBA in organizational leadership.

In this specialization, enrollees often take on assignments that delve into project management and organizational design. Projects and courses typically use a broad scope, ensuring that students can apply their training to an array of fields after graduation. Common employment opportunities for this specialization include general manager and human resources manager.

International Business

An MBA in international business provides students with the standard MBA training and skills, but within an international context. Learners study international finance, operations, and human resources, exploring foreign markets, cultures, and imports and exports.

Courses and projects cover global strategies, international supply chains, and emerging economies. In addition to management and leadership positions in multinational organizations, an MBA in international business can lead to careers in management consulting and business development.


An MBA with a specialization in strategy or strategic management typically focuses on an organization's performance as a whole, including its environment, goals, and operations. Students learn how to evaluate an organization's market, establish goals, and create and implement realistic strategies to meet those goals.

Within these programs, enrollees take courses in managing alliances, global business strategies, and e-business management. They often take on real-world problems and attempt to develop solutions for them. After graduation, strategic management students can apply their skills to management consulting, project management, and management analysis.


An MBA in consulting emphasizes analyzing organizational problems and developing achievable solutions. Students learn to apply modern problem-solving techniques to operational, supply chain, or administration issues. They also acquire communication and interpersonal skills, which help them deliver solutions and consultations.

Many of the courses and projects in this specialization involve case studies and practical training. They typically cover topics in project management, operational management, and innovation and change. Programs can take an international angle in their courses to prepare students for global positions. Career options for graduates include management consulting, management analysis, and top executive positions.


An MBA in finance teacjes students about corporate finance and how it functions within high-level organizations. Degree-seekers acquire skills in accounting, marketing, logistics, and operations. They also learn how to responsibly and profitably manage the capital invested by shareholders.

The courses available in this specialization vary considerably by program and student interest, but common options include managing short and long-term capital, enterprise valuation, capital markets, and financial innovations. Depending on their training, graduates can find careers as financial managers, controllers, and chief financial officers.


In an MBA in entrepreneurship, students learn how to make a start-up investment ready and maintain strong operations. They learn to evaluate and manage risk, develop business plans, work with investors, and assess future ventures.

Common courses include entrepreneurial finance, market opportunity analysis, and innovation and technology. MBA degree-seekers in this speciality also examine real start-ups to prepare them for practical situations. In addition to running their own start-ups, graduates with an MBA in entrepreneurship can pursue careers in management consulting and analysis, financial management, and marketing management.


An MBA in marketing focuses on tools and techniques used by modern professionals to understand and capitalize on markets. These programs focus on digital marketing, analytics, social media, and contemporary consumer behavior. Students learn to assess markets, develop advertising strategies, and adapt to market changes.

Some typical classes include forecasting and modeling, product branding, and sales management. Many courses in this field ask enrollees to tackle integrative consulting projects and create their own marketing campaigns. Graduates with an MBA in marketing can explore careers in marketing management, sales management, and project management.

Project Management

With an MBA in project management, students gain the skills to oversee projects of varying sizes, controling technical elements like schedule, budget, and reports. They also examine sociocultural factors, like leadership tactics, office politics, and interpersonal relationships.

Standard courses include management principles, dynamic leadership, and improving business performance. Some assignments may ask students to create sustainable business practices and develop training exercises for staff members. This specialization can lead to several careers in management, such as project management, general management, and financial management.

Operations Management

An MBA in operations management gives students the skills and knowledge to oversee an organization's entire scope of operations. These programs often focus on decision-making processes and using statistical and economic indicators to find solutions to efficiency problems. Another, similar specialization is an MBA in supply chain management.

Throughout an MBA in operations, students take courses in supply chain management, performance analysis, and logistics. Degree-seekers use an array of tools and models to analyze the effectiveness of current operations and develop possible improvements. After graduation, they may pursue careers in general management, management analysis, and management consulting.

IT, Technology, or Information Systems Management

During an MBA in information technology, degree-seekers learn how to manage an organization's information systems department. They acquire the skills to evaluate operations, assess and manage risk, develop optimized solutions, and implement changes to a working system.

In the program, students take courses in leadership, IT strategic solutions, financial management, and project management. Projects typically emphasize practical settings and real case studies. Graduates can access an array of careers, including chief technology officer, information systems manager, and project manager.


In an MBA in accounting, students focus on the financial operations of an organization. They acquire skills in complex accounting, along with an understanding of the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern the profession. Some programs may also emphasize international components or government applications.

In this program, learners typically take courses in financial reporting and analysis, auditing standards, and advanced tax strategy. They may encounter more specialized courses as well, such as international tax issues or corporate investments. Careers for graduates include management accounting, financial management, and project management.

Healthcare Management

An MBA in healthcare management examines how managers can effectively run the planning, evaluation, and operations of healthcare systems and organizations. These programs focus on the realities and limitations of the healthcare industry while inspiring students to find solutions to improve health outcomes.

Students typically take courses in population health management, healthcare funding, and ethical and legal issues in healthcare. Learners also engage with actual case studies and healthcare settings to familiarize themselves with the environment and experience the challenges firsthand. Graduates can pursue careers in health services management, management consulting, and financial management.


An MBA in sustainability emphasizes organizational innovations that prioritize the health of the environment and the population, exploring entrepreneurial and problem-solving techniques that help graduates usher companies into the future. Students learn to analyze and assess traditional practices, look for modern solutions, and implement operational changes.

Common courses in these programs include management ethics and social responsibility, sustainable management practices, and sustainable business strategies. Degree-seekers may be tasked with developing their own sustainable operational plans or critiquing contemporary case studies. With this training, graduates can access careers in general management, project management, and management consulting and analysis.

Real Estate

During an MBA in real estate, students develop skills and knowledge in entrepreneurial thinking, real estate infrastructure, and the financial and investment elements of property ownership. Programs often emphasize valuation techniques while also exploring the complex legalities and regulations that exist in real estate.

Throughout the program, enrollees take courses in project life cycles, structuring development transactions, and the economic factors shaping the industry. They may also complete projects in leadership and real estate prototype development. Equipped with this degree, graduates can pursue careers in financial management, management consulting and analysis, and investment and portfolio management.

What to Consider

When choosing a major, students need to consider a variety of factors to ensure they make the best decision for them. Below, you'll find a few of these considerations, including cost, location, and program details. Degree-seekers should also consider school specifics, such as class sizes and faculty credentials and research interests.


Paying for an education is often the biggest challenge students face. While the most well-known MBA programs may carry cachet that can improve employment chances, they often cost more as well. Similarly, private colleges and universities often have much higher tuition rates than public schools, which have access to government funding. For many students, the ideal program is a balance between cost and quality.


School location can have an impact on study costs, educational experience, and employability after graduation. Attending school out of state is often more expensive than attending school locally, and making professional connections is easier if you pursue an MBA in the city where you plan to work.

Through online programs, MBA students can avoid travel costs and choose from a wider variety of schools, which might allow them to find an MBA better suited to their interests. Conversely, distance MBA students often find fewer local networking opportunities compared to those found in in-person programs.


The format and curriculum of a program can impact a student's learning experience. For example, if MBA learners need to maintain employment during their studies, they may prefer a part-time program, or a full-time program with flexible hours. Enrollees should also consider program length and how quickly they can complete requirements to graduate.

Delivery methods can also impact the educational experience. Online and hybrid programs enable working professionals to study more conveniently and graduate faster, but on-campus programs provide more structure. Degree-seekers should also explore a program's graduation and job placement rates.

Academic and Work Performance

Many MBA programs have a set of minimum acceptance requirements for applicants, including minimum GPAs and GMAT scores. Rather than waste time and money applying to unrealistic programs, degree-seekers should resesarch schools that match their scores and focus their search there.

Undergraduate grades and standardized test scores carry a considerable amount of weight in MBA applications, but work experience is usually required as well. Professional references or recommendation letters can also strengthen an application. Applicants who follow a program's application instructions and meet the required minimums have a great chance at success.


Accreditation can influence a student's financial aid and employment opportunities, so it is crucial to choose an accredited school. Look for regional accreditation to ensure that your chosen school meets educational standards.

For MBA programs, programmatic accreditation can also come into play. While rarely mandatory for employment, graduates from accredited programs often have a competitive advantage. Some organizations that accredit MBA programs include the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE), and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP).

Featured Online MBA Programs

How to Evaluate a Program

Which program is the right program depends entirely on individual needs and preferences. To make the best decision, aspiring MBA students need consider what specializations interest them and then apply to the programs that perform best in those areas. Also consider the cost and length of the program, along with admission requirements.

It's also important to consider how a program's location might impact your studies, costs, and career opportunities after graduation. Visit the school, speak with the admissions director, and attend meetings with program advisors to learn more about the specific program and the general school experience.

Many schools provide statistics about graduates of their programs to help future students make their decisions. You can use these graduation and placement rates to evaluate how successful a program is in supporting its current and former students, both during and after their studies.

Aspiring MBA students can also lean on a school's student body and alumni network during the evaluation process. Connect with current students and recent graduates to ask them about their personal experiences; some schools even set applicants up with graduates to help them confirm their decisions. The strength of a school's alumni network can indicate how well graduates fare after receiving their degrees.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is an MBA?

An MBA provides general business training at a high level, emphasizing managerial and leadership qualities. The degree builds on the comprehensive training of an undergraduate business program, but delves into more advanced technical skills and processes. Learners often pursue an MBA to develop their business acumen and advance their careers.

Which Is the Best MBA Field?

While an MBA can be a generalist degree, it also offers specializations, such as accounting, finance, and marketing. Each concentration has its own benefits and leads to specific careers. For example, an MBA in finance can lead to the lucrative financial management field.

Which MBA Is Most in Demand?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the financial management field is seeing a projected growth of 15% between 2019-2029.

Do I Really Need an MBA?

For professionals seeking leadership roles or management positions, an MBA can provide the necessary skills and qualifications. Before committing to this advanced degree, candidates should consider their career goals and research requirements for those positions.

Which Is the Easiest MBA?

Every MBA program has its own unique curriculum and challenges. Students often pursue these advanced degrees while still maintaining employment, which makes them even more challenging. General MBA programs with no specializations usually provide the shortest route to completing the degree.

What Skills Does an MBA Give You?

In general, an MBA provides advanced business and management skills that learners can use in a multitude of positions and industries. The degree also teaches students entrepreneurial, organizational, and operational skills. If they choose a concentration, degree-seekers can also acquire more specialized skills.

Image Credit: Terry Vine | Getty Images

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