Specialized MBAs Garnering More Interest

Posted on September 6, 2011 | Filed in Career, MBA

Time to explore the emerging popularity of the specialized MBA!  This may come as a surprise to those you wanting to pursue a more general MBA, but it appears for some people something more specialized is preferable.

In an article a while ago, the author gives us the example of Adam Krueckenberg, 37, who had a great job as a vice president at Fidelity, but who wanted to return to school for his MBA.  Boston College was the school that sparked his interest and not for any other reason than it offered exactly what he was looking for: a dual MBA/MS in church management and pastoral ministry.  This program has been offered at Boston College since 2005.

Krueckenberg goes onto say: “I wanted a career that was more spiritually fulfilling. I wouldn’t have been able to train for that in a more traditional setting.”

This recent trend, indicated by the Journal, “has crept into most field over the past few decades, but few have embraced it more enthusiastically than the graduate business schools.” Since 1990, there has been a shift in MBAs becoming more and more specialized, ranging from subjects such as aerospace, wine management, luxury goods, real estate, and energy management.

The percentage of business school students enrolled in specialized programs has risen by about 4% each year since 2001. All in all, more than 1/5 of business schools students are seeking a specialized degree.

How does a specialized business degree work?  Evidently, such programs don’t focus on the big picture of their focus, rather they zero in on practical and commercial applications. There are schools such as the University of Chicago and Columbia, which have rather broad business degrees with concentrations like finance and marketing, but then there are schools like the University of Wisconsin in Madison that has made a niche for itself as being a specialized MBA Mecca.

The University of Wisconsin eradicated its general MBA in 2004, focusing, instead, on 13 specializations – some of which include market research and real estate. Students who know exactly what they want to do are often attracted to specialized MBAs, in addition to older applicants with business experience who wants to change fields altogether.

Other specialized programs, such as the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business, are at an advantage because of their location. The University of Oklahoma is right in the midst of pure oil country and many graduates pursue a career in the oil field as executives. Rutgers University, on the other hand, within such proximity to Johnson & Johnson as Mereck, has a pharmaceutical focus, which often attracts students to work in New Jersey after graduation.

On an international level, such specialized schools were adopted early, especially in France. The Essec Business School near Paris focuses entirely on international luxury and brand management, accepting only 40 students a year and conducting classes in English. The Bordeaux Management School attracts students interested in the wine and spirits field with the location enriching their studies dramatically.

Does this seem contradictory in an economic environment where a general MBA might be smarter than a specialized one? Hess concludes: “… going deep instead of wide seems to fit right in with an increasingly segmented world.”

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