How to Choose your MBA Electives

Electives are an important part of the MBA experience, enabling participants to tailor make their learning journey to their professional goals and personal tastes

MBA programs have become more personalized than ever before. While the core curriculum of an MBA program provides a strong foundation in essential business principles, it’s the elective courses that offer a unique opportunity for specialization.

These electives allow you to tailor your academic experience, delve deeper into areas of interest, and ultimately shape your career trajectory. Whether you aspire to be a financial whiz, a marketing guru, a technology visionary, or a sustainability champion, your choice of MBA electives can make all the difference.

Sudipta Dasmohapatra, senior associate dean of the MBA program at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, says that MBA electives an essential aspect of the academic journey, offering students the opportunity to tailor their education to their unique career goals and interests.

“These courses expose students to in-depth content on a particular subject area which is valuable for problem-solving and business decision-making in specialized areas,” she says. “This is important for students to develop knowledge in their areas of interest and make graduates more attractive, particularly to employers looking for expertise in those functional areas.”

Elective courses also tend to attract students with similar interests, creating a dynamic environment where they share their knowledge, experiences and passion for a specific topic. “Some electives also focus on cutting-edge innovations and research, allowing students to explore new ideas, problems and solutions in a variety of areas,” Dasmohapatra says.

At the McDonough School of Business, recent MBA electives that have gained popularity have themes on analytics and AI, digital marketing, sustainability, healthcare, impact investing, innovation and design thinking. Students can customize their academic experience by selecting electives from more than 70 course offerings at the school.

Digitalization and sustainable business: popular MBA electives

“Throughout the last years we have seen an increasing demand for electives focusing on digitalization as well as sustainable business practices,” says Jan Hohberger, the associate dean of the full-time MBA at ESADE Business School in Spain. For example, ESADE now offers popular electives in the areas of digital banking and finance, as well as subjects like social entrepreneurship, as well as sustainable and generative business trends.

All told, EADE MBA students have the opportunity to choose from more than 50 specific MBA electives. When choosing between those courses, Hohberger says it is important to find a good balance between planning the elective with foresight and also being open-minded. “Focusing too much on one should be avoided,” he adds. Another pitfall is that students choose too many electives. “Students sometimes become over ambitious,” he says.

Selecting the right electives is a strategic decision that can shape a student’s MBA experience and future professional success, so it’s worth some consideration. Sven Biel, director of MBA program management, at INSEAD in France and Singapore, says: “To choose the right MBA electives, students should engage in thoughtful self-assessment, research the courses and professors, seek advice from career advisors and mentors, and consider the long-term impact of their choices on their career trajectory.”

Additionally, in today’s global business environment, it’s essential to understand international markets and business practices, so he says it’s wise to choose electives that offer a global perspective. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of soft skills like leadership, communication and teamwork. “These skills are highly valued by employers and can set you apart in the job market,” Biel adds.

Focus on personal ambitions when choosing electives

Stefano Pogutz, director of the MBA at SDA Bocconi school of management in Milan, has more advice. “They should focus on their personal ambitions and career aspirations,” he advises students. “It’s essential for them to assess the knowledge and competency gaps compared to the target sectors and functions they aim to access.”

At SDA Bocconi, MBA students can choose from various concentrations, each built on a portfolio of courses tailored to develop the skills and competencies necessary for specific career paths. For instance, the Luxury Business Management concentration is constructed around courses that blend theoretical content with practical experiences, such as merchandising for luxury companies. In addition, these paths offer study tours to such companies.

Beyond the career aspect, MBA candidates should take into account their individual areas of interest and purpose to identify and shape a learning journey that can also be personally rewarding, Pogutz says.

“Participants should select content that not only serves the immediate job market entry but also broadens their horizons, skills and personal managerial toolkit,” he adds. “Sometimes, achieving the right balance between these skills and competencies can be challenging. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a strong connection with the program director, career services and faculty -- as well as seek support from mentors and alumni.”

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