If you've applied for and accepted an offer to an MBA program, you may think that you don't need to make any more decisions for the next two years. However, at many MBAs in the United States and elsewhere, you will need to make another choice: whether to specialize your MBA by choosing a concentration.
What is an MBA concentration or specialization?
Concentrations are akin to college majors. They usually consist of courses that a student takes in a specific subject on top of normal core MBA curriculum. Concentrations have grown in popularity in recent years in the United States, and some schools, such as Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology, require students to choose a concentration.
Other schools, such as Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Chicago Business School, don't require concentrations, but their students typically pursue at least one concentration, sometimes as many as four. Some schools, such as Saunders, allow students to design their own concentrations, which includes taking courses in other graduate school departments for students with interdisciplinary interests.
Other schools offer concentrations under a different name—Wharton refers to concentrations as “majors,” for example--and still other schools, such as Stanford Graduate School of Business, don't offer concentrations, instead allowing students to take a series of electives in a variety of subjects during their second year.
Some schools don't always state students' concentrations on their diplomas, but concentrations usually appear on official transcripts.
Should I do an MBA concentration or specialization?
Concentrations and specializations are good for students who know exactly what they want to do in their career. A concentration can also help a resume stand out in the large pile of applications that companies invariably receive from MBA graduates.
Do I have to pick a concentration or specialization before I apply to an MBA?
No. For most two-year MBA programs, students focus on the core curriculum during their first year and pursue concentration requirements in their second year. This means that at many schools, such as California State University, Fullerton and Boston University's Questrom School of Business, students must declare their intent to pursue a concentration by their first or second semester.
And for many career paths, pursuing a concentration isn’t always necessary.
What are the most popular MBA concentrations and specializations?
Most business schools offer a panoply of concentrations, but some of the most common ones are:
A concentration in consulting can prepare MBA students for a career in a management consultancy, or as an internal consultant in a firm. Those students wishing to work in consulting roles in a specific industry—in information technology or healthcare, for instance—can choose to pursue a secondary concentration in that area.
Finance concentrations can help students enter careers in fields such as financial services, banking and risk management; or prepare students for corporate finance positions in other firms. This concentration is typically considered one of the most financially lucrative options.
A concentration in marketing can help a student build a career in marketing, either as a marketing manager at a company or at a specialized marketing firm. Marketing professionals are more in demand than ever these days, thanks to the increased competition created by the Internet and globalization.
This concentration prepares students to lead globally by educating them on the international business environment and the role that government plays in business.
Technology or Information Technology
Students who choose one of these concentrations can pursue a career as a data manager, IT consultant, as a strategist who uses technology to improve a business, or to work in a technology firm like Apple, Google, Facebook, or Microsoft.
Operations Management or Supply Chain Management
Concentrations in operations management or supply chain management can help students learn the ins-and-outs of logistics management and other operational and supply chain issues. Professionals with these skills are in high demand due to an increasingly complex international business system.
A concentration in strategy can help students find jobs as strategists in specific industries, or help them become general strategy consultants.
Entrepreneurship students will learn how to start a company or implement new initiatives in an existing company. This concentration can also be helpful for MBAs looking to get into related fields, such as venture capital.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Sustainability
A concentration in CSR or sustainability can boost careers for students who want to work in nonprofits or sustainable companies, or for those who want to work in sustainability roles in other firms. In this concentration, students learn to work for the so-called "triple bottom line," which prioritizes profit, the planet and employees.
How do I pick the right MBA concentration or specialization for me?
With so many different concentrations and specializations, choosing only one or two might seem like an impossible decision. But there are plenty of ways that you can figure out the right concentration or specialization for you. Talk to professionals at career fairs. Make a list of the aspects of your previous jobs and internships that you liked, and the aspects you disliked, and find out which concentrations emphasize the positive aspects. Take a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to find out your strengths.
Attend networking events, read job descriptions, research average salaries and job duties.
Do schools outside the US offer MBA concentrations and specializations as well?
Concentrations and specializations aren't as common outside the United States. For example, British business schools such as London Business School and the University of Warwick offer plenty of electives, but no concentrations. However, schools in Asia, such as China Europe International Business School and the National University of Singapore, offer a handful of common concentrations, such as finance.
Image: Washington & Jefferson College ([email protected]) / Creative Commons 3.0 (cropped, rotated, added filters)