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MBA Specializations Guide

Anyone who pursues an MBA will have many choices to make. Full-time or part-time? What specialty or concentration? On campus or online, or a hybrid of both? Your choices will affect the type of experience you have, how long it takes to get your MBA, and what careers you might be prepared for

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Popular MBA Specializations

An MBA program usually begins with core business management classes that everyone takes. Then you may choose from elective courses that build your expertise in a specialization or concentration.

Many people choose a specialty based on their interests or their chosen career path. Here are some of the most popular.

MBA in Accounting


An MBA in Accounting combines advanced skills in accounting and finance with an understanding of analysis, strategy, and business management.

What you'll study: In addition to core classes in business administration, you may take classes in subjects such as accounting theory, auditing, tax accounting, economics, and finance law.

Job you may consider: Corporate finance, auditor, forensic accountant, budget analyst, taxation specialist

Who it's best for: If you enjoy working with details, solving problems, and analyzing trends with revenues and expenditures, an MBA in Accounting may be right for you.

MBA in Information Technology


An MBA in Information Technology can prepare you to manage the computer systems and digital technologies at a business or organization.

What you'll study: Courses may include systems analysis, cybersecurity, data management, digital marketing, data visualization, and project management.

Job you may consider: IT director, chief technology officer, chief information officer, IT project manager, data analyst

Who it's best for: This degree is designed for people who like technology or who are already working in the field and are interested in advancing to management roles.

MBA in Human Resources


An MBA program with a concentration in human resources focuses on effective strategies for the management of employees.

What you'll study: A typical program will include core business management classes plus courses such as talent management, organizational change, employment law, training and development, compensation management, and labor relations.

Job you may consider: HR manager, employee relations manager, training and development manager, labor relations

Who it's best for: If you want a broad understanding of how the field of human resources relates to best practices in business management, then an MBA in Human Resources may be a good choice for you.

MBA in Finance


An MBA in Finance emphasizes knowledge of financial markets, investments, financial theories, marketing, and banking.

What you'll study: Your program may include courses in financial statement analysis, financial management, statistics, risk management, international finance, and financial technology.

Job you may consider: Finance manager, budget analyst, chief financial officer, corporate controller

Who it's best for: If you are working in banking or finances, an MBA may help you further your career goals.

MBA in Management


An MBA in Management may prepare you to manage the operations and personnel of a company or corporate department.

What you'll study: Electives in the management concentration may include classes such as leadership, conflict management, change management, supply chain management, and ethics

Job you may consider: General manager, sales manager, chief executive officer, consultant

Who it's best for: Individuals who enjoy working with people, understanding processes, analyzing problems, and making decisions might want to pursue an MBA in Management. Often, people working in mid-level management roles will earn the degree to further their careers.

MBA in Project Management


An MBA in Project Management will allow you to specialize in analyzing, planning, implementing, and assessing complex projects of all kinds.

What you'll study: Project budgeting, schedule management, risk management, quantitative analysis, strategic management, project management technology

Job you may consider: Project managers may be needed in information technology, healthcare, construction, marketing, and other fields.

Who it's best for: Project managers should be comfortable working with deadlines and budgets and able to organize and manage people and resources. An MBA in Project Management could possibly lead to a leadership role.

Which Concentrations Pay the Most?

In general, people with master's degrees of any type make a higher salary than those with bachelor's degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For those with an MBA, the highest paying concentrations are consulting, finance, and technology, according to Marco De Novellis, senior editor for Graduate Management Admission Council's BusinessBecause networking site and GMAC Media.

For those with an MBA, the highest paying concentrations are consulting, finance, and technology.

De Novellis explains that the type of MBA concentration is only one factor that impacts how much you can make with an MBA. Other factors, including experience, location, and the kind of company you work for may be equally as influential.

Ways to Earn Your MBA

MBA programs are offered in several formats. Full-time MBA programs are still popular, but for those who wish to study for an MBA while continuing to work, a number of schools offer more flexible schedules.

Here are some popular options.

Full-Time MBA

The full-time MBA program is usually a two-year, on-campus program. In the first year, students study their core classes to learn a fundamental knowledge of business and management concepts such as marketing, accounting, finance, and operations. During the second year, students can choose electives in their area of concentration.

Between the first and second years, many students will complete an internship to gain valuable real-world experience.

"The most powerful thing you can do is to get an internship," says Michael Biarnes, manager of new products and business development with The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.

An internship can help you decide whether you like a specific field or concentration, he adds. It can also give you networking opportunities to meet people in your chosen field and develop contacts.

Part-Time MBA

Many business schools hold classes on evenings or weekends to accommodate students who are working. These programs are ideal for people who are already employed in a managerial position but are earning an MBA to further their career opportunities.

Part-time MBA programs will usually cover the same courses as full-time programs. An internship is usually not part of the experience since almost all students have work experience.

Even so, you should look for opportunities to become involved with local organizations or explore student leadership programs, Biarnes says.

Accelerated MBA

Accelerated schedules are a common option for online programs, but they are also offered for some on-campus programs. These programs may require shorter course lengths, fewer credits, and classes during the summer. Admission to an accelerated program may also have a number of prerequisites, such as a minimum number of years of management experience or previous coursework earned with a grade of B or better.

An accelerated program could offer fewer choices in electives or concentrations than usual. Many programs operate as lock-step cohort classes, meaning that you will take the same courses with the same group of people on a predetermined schedule.

Hybrid MBA

Another popular option for people wanting to earn an MBA while employed full-time is the hybrid model. A hybrid MBA requires you to take some classes on campus and other classes online. This schedule reduces your commute time but also allows you the advantages of networking in person with professors and fellow students.

Executive MBA

An executive MBA, or EMBA, is designed for people who already have several years of managerial experience but are looking to advance further in their companies or careers.

The Executive MBA Council, which provides accreditations for MBA programs, describes the EMBA as focused on career growth, leadership development, and a global business mindset. These programs may allow opportunities for networking and personal growth.

EMBA classes may be held on campus or online or in a hybrid model. Typically, students proceed through an EMBA program in a cohort. The program takes about two years to complete.

Online MBA

Earning an MBA online is growing rapidly in both popularity and acceptance. Many well-established and well-respected universities are now offering options to earn an MBA entirely online.

The usual online MBA program will emphasize speed. In some programs, you can finish your degree in 12 months. This is possible because they require fewer credit hours, and the course lengths are shortened. These program may allow fewer concentrations or elective courses (or none at all).

The 12-month programs may be good choices for people already working in management who want to earn their degree quickly with the goal of furthering their career or moving up the ladder in their company.

4+1 MBA

A 4+1 MBA program allows you to earn a bachelor's degree in business and an MBA within five years. The program is designed for people who want to complete both their undergraduate and master's degrees quickly so they can begin their careers.

A 4+1 program can save you time and tuition money, but the pace is intense. The schedule is often accelerated, with shorter course lengths (such as eight weeks) and few breaks between courses. As you advance, you may take undergraduate and graduate courses during the same term.

Non-GMAT MBA

Traditionally, MBA programs have required applicants to submit their scores on the Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT. This standardized test is designed to assess a candidate's abilities in writing, math, logic, and reasoning.

In recent years, some MBA programs, especially online programs, have allowed people to substitute managerial work experience for the GMAT or have waived the GMAT requirement altogether. However, those schools have retained other admission requirements, such as transcripts of prior college work, letters of recommendation, an essay, or an interview process.

How Long Does it Take?

The length of your MBA program will depend on whether you take classes full-time or part-time and whether you take classes all year around, with no summer break. The average time is about two years but can take longer if you attend part-time.

Online or accelerated programs may shorten the length to complete your degree to about a year.


karen hanson

Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson

Contributing Writer

michael biarnes

With professional insight from:

Michael Biarnes

Manager, New Products & Business Development, The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson; Author of Redefining Success

marco denovellis

Marco De Novellis

Senior Editor, BusinessBecause and GMAC Media