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MBA Specializations Guide (Program Types & Formats)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.