Is a Concentration Necessary for Your Online MBA?

For mid-career business professionals, executives, and entrepreneurs, one of the most tried-and-true pathways for accomplishing your career goals is pursuing a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). An MBA degree is one of the oldest programs in the U.S. and has long been considered a top return-on-investment.

In recent years, business schools have leveraged innovative technologies to bring the MBA experience online. Top online Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs are the same as traditional MBAs but offer additional flexibility and affordability for busy professionals who wish to continue working while pursuing their advanced degrees.

Professionals enrolled in online MBA programs come from a variety of backgrounds, from business and engineering to hospitality and the humanities. Given this wide range of professions, it begs the question for prospective online MBA students: Are MBA concentrations or MBA specializations an imperative?

This article will review MBA program types and curricula and provide deeper insight into how to decide whether you’ll need an MBA concentration.

Online MBAs and Other Types of MBA Programs

Online MBAs offer students rigorous coursework designed to teach the foundations of a wide array of business fundamentals. Some online MBA programs organize curriculum around real-world business applications, allowing students to translate lessons learned in the classroom directly to their jobs.

Most MBA curricula primarily focus on core business concepts with many offering the additional option or requirement to select an MBA concentration, or specialization, early in the program. Concentrations typically offer the ability to dive deeper into one concept, such as operations, strategy, or business management, or explore supplementary skills or specific industries, such as healthcare, information systems and information technology, or environmental business management.

Did you know?

layer Professionals enrolled in online MBA programs come from a variety of backgrounds, from business and engineering to hospitality and the humanities: Some own their own business, work in corporate finance, supply chain management, or as human resource managers. Others still may work in venture capital, new product development, or lead marketing strategies and social media. Then there are management positions, like CEOs and marketing executives, who oversee an array of business-related areas. This wide array of professional backgrounds enriches discussion and peer-led learning in the program.

While concentrations can help build a competitive advantage or prepare MBA grads to compete in the job market for specific roles, they also run the risk of siloed skills or experience that doesn’t as easily translate or reflect knowledge that can be applied to multiple professions across different sectors.

MBA Curricula: Comparing Core vs. Concentrations

In some cases, MBA concentrations may be preferable. Bernard Garrette, an associate dean of MBA programs, argues in TopMBA that ‘structured specializations’ are good opportunities for students to gain a deep understanding in specific subject matter. This is especially important for students who have specific career objectives and a “post-MBA dream job” in a specialized field or industry.

While specializations help MBA students hone their skills for a particular sector or profession, it may limit the applicability of their knowledge across industries. Top MBA programs offer students an innovative curriculum that focuses on the themes that drive business in the 21st century.

Students can leverage innovative curricula structures to explore opportunities more openly without risk. For instance, you may start your MBA program with a keen interest in project management or business analytics, only to realize that your true passion is solving business problems related to sustainability, social entrepreneurship, or nonprofit management.


edX_Icon_LFinstantfeedback Enrolling in programs that provide innovative curricula structures can also broaden your exposure to professions outside your current or desired field of interest.

For Ching Fung Teai, who’s worked in international business and global financial services for more than a decade, curriculum in Boston University’s Questrom School of Business Online MBA program is broadening her professional network and work experience beyond her current field. Her favorite part of the MBA experience, she says, is the other students’ professional diversity.

“When you're in an industry for 10 years, the people you tend to meet are within that sector,” Ching Fung said. “It's always the same kind of people. At this stage in my career, I’m ready to meet diverse people with diverse backgrounds—professionals from pharmaceuticals, from the arts, from education.”

Will Having an MBA Concentration Affect My Job Prospects?

Earning an MBA degree is universally seen as a way to increase your earnings potential. Overall, business professionals with MBAs report earning “eye-popping differences” compared to their salaries prior to going to business school, according to MBA news site Poets & Quants: “MBAs overall saw a salary jump of $36,742—a nearly 50% increase.”

But do concentrations make a difference? Many MBA alum say that concentrations aren’t in high demand for graduating job candidates.

Overall, an MBA degree is critical for preparing professionals to succeed and lead in today's ever-changing global economy. Earning an MBA can help working business professionals vault themselves closer to achieving their career goals, be it a job promotion, pay raise, or the skills and knowledge to start a business and lead a team. Even—or especially—seasoned pros in leadership roles should understand how business has changed and what it means for their careers.

Accelerate Your Career: Explore a Top Program

At Boston University (BU), the Questrom School of Business Online MBA program provides students with the core knowledge and skills employers expect, including strategic management, organizational behavior, financial management, and more, in addition to emerging areas such as big data, digital transformation, and innovation.

When evaluating options, Alifia Waliji-Banglawala, a pharmacy director overseeing hospice care in 90 communities in Massachusetts, wasn’t looking for discipline-specific programs. She wanted to learn about the integrated nature of business, which drew her to Questrom’s curriculum. Having an MBA concentration wasn’t something she saw as affecting her job prospects. If anything, she felt that earning her MBA while continuing in her full-time role gave her extra job security.

“Maintaining my current position at my nonprofit organization and helping them move forward made Questrom the best option out there—and to have it provided by basically one of the greater learning institutes in the Boston area? It was a no brainer,” she says.

layer “Maintaining my current position at my nonprofit organization and helping them move forward made Questrom the best option out there.”

To find out more about this top-ranked program from BU, explore the program page and fill out a Request for Information Form for further details. If you’re ready, take the next step and learn more about how to apply here.

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