Should I Choose an MBA Concentration? - Pros & Cons
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When you begin studying for an MBA, you may have the chance to choose a concentration – that is, a specialisation in which you focus on a particular area of business to study in-depth. Students with an economics graduate degree who are starting an MBA program are especially likely to be tempted towards a concentration option, with the perspective gained from an economics program offering an advantage in career paths like consulting, finance or information systems. It is particularly common in the USA for MBA students to have the chance to choose a concentration before they begin their course, similar to how other students would choose a major. If you are given this chance, should you choose a concentration? Here are the pros and cons of specialising during your MBA.
Pros of an MBA concentration
At some business schools, you will find that having a concentration is mandatory. But if choosing a concentration is optional for you, then you should consider your long-term career goals.
If you know exactly which job you are aiming for after graduation, a concentration during the MBA can help you get an edge on other applicants. For example, if you wish to enter a career in financial services, then a finance concentration will help, both to prepare you better for your future role, and to help you to stand out from the crowd when you are applying for highly competitive positions with very large numbers of applicants, all or most of whom have an MBA.
There can also be a financial advantage to choosing a concentration, as some of the best compensated jobs which are open to MBA students – such as in banking or risk management – are roles in which you can specialise while you are still studying. Typically, an MBA with a concentration can help you earn more over a lifetime career than an equivalent Master's degree. So if you are focused on getting a well-paid job once you graduate then a specialisation can help you to achieve this.
Even a field which you think you may not like, such as information technology, or a field which seems obscure, such as sustainability, may prove not only more interesting than you think, but also rewarding. Employers in niche areas who are looking to fill a position with an MBA graduate are likely to prefer applicants with knowledge of their field, and also willing to pay a higher salary for the right candidate.
Cons of an MBA concentration
If you already have a degree in economics, and are looking for an MBA as a means of transitioning into general business and management, then in a sense you already have a specialisation in economics. With an understanding of economic theory, and an awareness of how markets work and the role that businesses function within them, with an additional, general MBA in your pocket you will be well-placed to make smart decisions and advance up the management structure.
One common motivator for students pursuing an MBA is the desire to be entrepreneurs once they graduate. If you wish to start up your own business, then it is in your interest to have as broad a range of skills and knowledge as possible. In this case, an MBA concentration, unless perhaps a concentration in entrepreneurship, would come at the cost of breadth of knowledge, and may not be the right option.
Also worth noting is that some MBA concentrations are less worthwhile, financially speaking, than others. Specialisations in human resources, for example, tend to produce lower salaries than those in consulting or operations. If you are aiming to specialise not because of a passion for one area, but because of a notion that you might be more employable and therefore better paid, do your homework before deciding.
Similarly, be careful about choosing an MBA specialisation if you haven't yet decided what you want to do after you graduate. If you only know that you want to go into business, but aren't sure in what capacity, then it is to your advantage to study as many areas of business as possible. Selecting a concentration, while not exactly ruling out other areas in future, certainly gives you a more difficult story to tell a potential employer, explaining why you specialised in one area but are applying for a job in another. In this sense, a general MBA degree keeps your options open.
Secret option number three: Look for alternatives to an MBA
If you know you want to work in a specific field, then there may be cheaper and more effective courses than an MBA. For example, if your interest is in working in HR, you may be better served by first looking for a job and gaining real-world experience, perhaps supplementing it with additional professional training courses, rather than paying for an expensive MBA course.
Similarly, in a field such as accounting you may be better served by a cheaper and quicker one-year master's degree in accounting, than a longer and more expensive MBA with a specialisation in accounting.
Whether or not you specialise in your MBA (or decide to do an MBA at all) of course depends on your own career status, ambition and financial situation. While some employers insist on an MBA, for others a graduate degree in economics or related field may be sufficient. If you are already decided on an MBA, and perhaps specialising within it, then hopefully this post has given you some food for thought. Do your research, think carefully about what is right for you, your wallet, and for your career, and look forward to one of the most interesting, and in the long-term rewarding years of your life
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