What Types of MBA Specializations Are There?
An MBA specialization—also known as an "MBA concentration"—can enhance your core master of business administration (MBA) education and prepare you for a career path that interests you.
Some MBA concentrations dive deep into core subjects already included in your MBA curriculum (finance, economics, operations), while others depart into industry-specific electives and experiential learning opportunities.
There is little downside to pursuing an MBA concentration, though it isn’t a decision one should take lightly considering the investment you're making with your MBA education. If you choose to pursue an MBA specialization, you’ll want to make the most of it.
What are the different fields in MBA?
Today’s business school graduates are not limited to working in traditional business arenas. Your core MBA education can be applied to just about any field—education, nonprofits, hotels/service, healthcare, and much more.
That said, landing a top job in the industry you want most depends on many factors, including your university and your geographical location. As you explore MBA programs, including an MBA specialization as a variable might help you narrow your choices and improve your job prospects in your chosen market.
MBA Specializations and Careers
There is no need to feel as though your MBA specialization will lock you in to a career without deviation. Your career can evolve in many directions no matter what you study or where you start, but a well-chosen focus does have its benefits. Simply having an MBA specialization on your resume can perk a prospective employer’s interest.
Most universities like to stay on the cusp of change by offering students a comprehensive business education that is compatible with the contemporary job market. For instance, Healthcare Management, Human Resources, Information Systems, and Cybersecurity are all growing in popularity.
General Management continues to be a popular choice among MBA students who do not yet have a clear career choice or wish to excel as generalists at the workplace.
Strategy and International Management are also quite popular. In fact, some schools are becoming even more precise than “international,” by offering region-specific concentrations that focus on fields like Asian Business and Islamic Finance.
If you are especially interested in becoming a CEO, CFO, or COO, an Executive MBA program might be your best route. Executive MBAs are built to prepare graduates for the "c-suite" track. Oftentimes, these MBA programs are designed for working professionals who have already amassed five to 10 years of work experience, and many meet on weekends only so that you can apply what you're learning to your job.
Common MBA Specializations
There are some standard MBA concentrations that you’ll find at many—if not most—schools:
- General Management
General Management is one of the most versatile MBA specializations. It is an especially good choice if you're interested in keeping your career options open or are not yet sure what type or size company will suit you best. An advantage of General Management is that it often allows for a wide variety of elective course options. At the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, students who choose General Management as their MBA concentration are able to choose from over 140 elective courses to round out their MBA education.
Those with a Finance MBA specialization will graduate with the right foundation for roles like Financial Advisor, Financial Analyst, Financial Manager, Hedge Fund Manager, or Investment Banker. While there are MBA concentrations specifically designed to prepare students to become Accountants or Economists, a Finance concentration is a solid start to those careers, too. Though a dedicated Executive MBA is probably the best path to the role of Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a Finance MBA also puts this career within reach.
Marketing is one of the most popular MBA concentrations you’ll find in your MBA research. A Marketing concentration can prepare you for some fast-growing fields like Brand Marketing Management or the role of Chief Brand Officer. Marketing research and new product development also fall into this dynamic academic area, making Marketing a versatile MBA specialization.
As an MBA specialization, Strategy might seem focused on a skill more than a career, but consider how many jobs require a strategy at the outset, as well as an ongoing strategy implementation. Strategy is the type of MBA focus that can prepare you for a wide range of roles, including Senior Product Manager and Project Manager, which are seeing an increase in demand. A Strategy MBA builds excellent problem solving skills, which are vital for products at all stages and companies of all sizes.
- Operational Management
Operational Management is an MBA concentration that goes by a few different names, including the simple “Operations” or more nuanced "Leadership and Managing Organizational Change," which is an MBA concentration available at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. Jobs drawing upon this focus include the overall operation of a company – with roles like Chief Operations Officer (COO) within the range of possibility. Operations can also be applied to projects, teams, or specific departments within a company. Those in operations often find themselves in contact with multiple departments and higher ups, which gives operational roles a distinct edge when it comes to learning and advancement within a company.
For those interested in starting new businesses or advising those who wish to do so, Entrepreneurship is an MBA concentration that thoroughly prepares you for this unique challenge. The acquisition of capital is only one component of launching new business ventures and products. Post-launch needs are often addressed in Entrepreneurship studies, leading graduates to excel in a managerial or leadership capacity for companies large, small, and growing.
- Management Consulting
Consulting can be a highly lucrative career path, so Management Consulting has become a popular MBA specialization. Consultancy work can be done independently or within a firm. Consultancy work offers an opportunity to work with a variety of companies and projects that have different goals and needs to which an MBA education can be applied.
It’s not uncommon to see some form of the above areas of interest on the lists of concentrations in both full- and part-time MBA programs. Other areas that are fast becoming standard due to their popularity:
- Information Systems/Technology
Information Systems and Technology is an MBA area of interest that can prepare MBA graduates for the executive track to a role like Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO), as well as a position like IT Director. Because technology now touches virtually every area of a company’s operations, an MBA specialization in technology and communications can boost your profile in the job market, as well as your starting salary, considering how important this expertise continues to be.
- Human Resources
As an MBA specialization, Human Resources studies are tailored to dive deep into human resources analytics, consulting, operational management, and employment law. This MBA concentration is best suited to those who are sure they want to apply their MBA to the Human Resources field.
- Supply Chain Management
With the explosion of the Internet and e-commerce, the flow of goods and services is not quite as straightforward as it used to be – which means there is a need for specialists in this area. Focusing your MBA studies on supply chain management – or “SCM” – can get you noticed by many employers because it is an integral part of keeping many companies financially healthy. Senior Product Managers and Project Managers are in growing in demand and are well-prepared by this MBA specialization, though there are also MBA specializations tailored to those positions at some universities.
- International Management
International Management broadly encompasses many aspects of international business. An MBA concentration in this area will likely encompasses some study abroad experiences, which can be exciting and enriching, along with coursework that broadens your perspective on how other countries conduct business from a legal and cultural standpoint. Considering how many well-known brands are now global, an International Management MBA can be an excellent way to sharpen your candidacy for positions at large corporations and established global brands. International Management, however, can also prepare you to work in family businesses that have international operations, a business that outsources some of its operations to another country, or a government agency that deals with trade.
See more post-MBA career options and salaries >
MBA Concentrations in Demand
When you consider your MBA investment in terms of time and money, it is wise to also consider what types of programs will yield greater professional opportunities. Fields growing in popularity include:
- Technology and Information Systems
The aforementioned “Information Systems/Technology” area of interest is not entirely separate from the Technology and Information Systems MBA specialization. Different universities will name and organize MBA concentrations in their own unique ways, and design their curricula accordingly. Companies do need business leaders to help them maximize and streamline their technology to many different ends, including how they use technology to communicate, so be sure to research each MBA specialization in this field thoroughly to assure the elective courses included will best prepare you for the job or leadership position you envision.
- Product Management
Both new and existing products need good managers to guide workflow and lead teams toward an economical completion of product-related tasks. As technology continues to shift and expand at a constant clip, many work processes are affected and good Product Managers know how to keep pace and save money along the way. A good Product Manager can coordinate multiple teams (finance, development, marketing) toward delivering a product under budget, and employers know this. For this reason, Product Management MBAs are growing in popularity. An MBA with this specialization does not limit you to a specific industry, which also makes it attractive.
- Project Management
Like Product Management, Project Management draws upon solid strategy, organization, and leadership skills. A Senior Project Manager can be responsible for overseeing other Project Managers and their resources. How many Project Managers are a part of a company can depend on many factors, including the size of a company and whether that company is experiencing an expansion of some kind. Like Product Management, this MBA specialization can open career paths across many different industries, which makes it a good choice for those who are more certain about the type of work they want to do than they are about the industry or job market in which they want to perform that work.
With the increased use of data to run businesses – and the increased risk of a security breach that accompanies that use – Cybersecurity needs constant attention. Virtually any size company will have an interest in Cybersecurity, but larger corporations and government organizations will be popular employers for Cybersecurity MBA graduates. Those with this MBA specialization on their resume hold a certain distinction in the contemporary job market with their combined knowledge of business, data, and security, combined.
- Healthcare Management
Healthcare Management is one of the fastest-growing fields for MBA graduates. Hospitals, research labs, insurance companies, device manufacturers, and educational organizations are just some of the entities in healthcare that need help with their approach to business and their financial management. The MBA curriculum for this area of interest is built especially for future Healthcare Managers, but will prepare you well for high-level administrative, executive, and managerial roles in the healthcare industry.
If any of these areas of interest match your career goals, you might very well benefit from choosing a related MBA specialization. However, it’s also important not to chase trends. An MBA in an of itself is a considerable accelerant for any business career.
Highest Paying MBA Specializations
It is impossible to predict which MBA specialization will yield the highest paying job, but certain MBA concentrations are popular for a reason:
- Strategy continues to draw student interest as an MBA specialization because it can prepare you to become a Management Consultant, Senior Product Manager, or Financial Manager, all of which pay well – between $120,000 and $141,000, according to Monster.com.
- The same Monster.com article cites Technology Management as an MBA concentration that can lead to a high-paying job, with roles like IT Director, Vice President of Technology, and Senior Project Manager drawing salaries between $130,000 and $177,000.
- Finance is always a solid choice for an MBA specialization as it can prepare you for a wide range of jobs and salaries, which indicates a degree of job and career security.
It should be noted that different schools have different names for similar MBA concentrations, so be sure to inquire about the curriculum and hands-on learning opportunities at each school to determine if the concentration that interests you is comparable to in-demand concentrations at other schools.
See more MBA salaries >
Ethics-Driven MBA Specializations
Phrases like "socially conscious," "responsible," and "sustainable" are all now part of the business lexicon—and for good reason. More than ever, consumers are aware of how the dollars they spend affect the greater good. While that might not be a priority for everyone, it is a good idea for businesses to develop sustainable practices of some kind. Specializations that help focus an MBA in this area include:
- Nonprofit Business
Nonprofits (or “not-for-profits”) need bright business minds to help maximize their fundraising efforts, manage their capital campaigns, and oversee any expansions – all within the unique legal parameters that qualify an entity as ‘not-for-profit.’ This work can be challenging, but highly rewarding. Nonprofits must stay financially healthy, and many executives and business leaders who work in this arena make healthy salaries. These organizations are often established for the betterment of communities, marginalized groups, social initiatives, and environmental efforts. If your values align with a nonprofit’s purpose, your work will benefit from added purpose.
The more we learn about sustainability, the more we realize it can require a complete overhaul in budgets, manufacturing, and operations. Sustainability could very well become the next big MBA specialization as this practice intersects with new laws. Sustainable practices can have a dramatic impact on a company or brand’s image, as well as its finances. The need for MBA graduates with a working knowledge of Sustainability’s requirements and costs will only increase.
- Resources and Environmental Management
Resources and Environmental Management is an MBA specialization that is sometimes known as “Resources and Environmental Economics.” The study of how communities affect the environment around them can be complex, and this particular area of interest for MBA students could require some deep diving into research and science. Be sure to inquire about the curriculum for this MBA specialization to assure it’s the type of study and research that interests you. Careers stemming from this study include consultancy work and even academia.
- Startups and Small Businesses
Startups and Small Businesses might be combined into one MBA specialization at some universities. What makes this concentration different from “Entrepreneurship” is that it focuses more on the management of smaller businesses, which entails an understanding of building new businesses that might want to start small and stay small. Keeping a business from growing might sound easier than helping one expand, but there are unique challenges that small businesses and startups face, including the management of marketing and legal costs, and the evolution of a brand or series of products that can keep a small business fresh without taxing it with unnecessary spending. Innovation is key and makes this MBA specialization inviting for many who wish to consult small businesses and startups or create them.
You won’t necessarily find all of these concentrations or coursework at every business school, but if these are areas of importance to you and reflect the career you envision, it might be worth your while to identify schools that offer these types of MBA specializations.
How to Choose Your MBA Specialization
The most important questions you can ask yourself while researching MBA programs and specializations are:
- What interests me, personally?
- What type of career do I envision?
- What MBA specializations are most in-demand right now?
- How might this affect the duration of my MBA?
Some fast-track MBA programs—many of which can be completed in as little as one year—might not offer the option to choose an MBA specialization. At the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, our two-year Full-Time MBA is completed in five trimesters, and includes the option to pursue an MBA concentration, as does our accelerated 15-month Full-Time MBA and the Pepperdine Part-Time MBA.