How to Choose an MBA Concentration

Business students entering or enrolled in Master of Business Administration programs typically have the option to choose a specific MBA concentration, also known as a pathway, major or specialization.

“There is a growing desire to have an MBA from a world-class institution while also having knowledge in x, y and z,” says Brad Killaly, associate dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Picking a concentration in the realm of academia allows students to show prospective employers that they have a credential that is beyond taking general education classes or completing standard MBA requirements, Killaly says. “This is a form of validation that formalizes their expertise in an area.”

While most programs do not require a student to pick a concentration, Killaly says nearly half of Michigan Ross MBA students do so.

Gigi Carver, a first-year MBA student at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in Massachusetts, decided in the summer of 2020 to pursue an MBA because she wanted another graduate degree but didn’t want to pursue a doctorate. Knowing she wanted to work on the business side of the biotech industry, Carver chose supply chain and business analytics as her concentrations.

[READ: What an MBA Degree Is and What You Need to Know.]

“Supply chain is a hot topic that is currently being considered at every managerial stage, and a supply chain disruption means no business so it’s very important,” she says. “Business analytics is applied in every other possible concentration like supply chain, marketing and more, so concentrating in it makes me a much more versatile candidate.”

Finding the Right MBA Concentration

A student should pick a concentration based on career goals and interest in business, says Steve Thompson, senior director of admissions at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Illinois.

Kellogg has 11 concentrations, which it calls pathways: venture capital and private equity; asset management; data analytics; diversity, equity and inclusion; energy and sustainability; entrepreneurship; growth and scaling; health care; real estate; social impact; and technology management.

Most MBA programs are two years and require about 60 credits to complete. At Kellogg, 12 of the 57 credits needed to graduate “would be electives that need to be fulfilled by a suite of courses that would be an applied field or concentration,” Killaly says.

Ross has five concentrations: design thinking and innovation; health care management; business and sustainability; data and business analytics; and management science.

Northwestern and Michigan both also have specializations and majors for MBA programs that require more credits in a specific area than a concentration.

Anneliese Jennings, who graduated in 2021 with an MBA in finance from Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business in Pennsylvania, had her undergraduate degree in marketing and was interested in financial analytics and investment banking. She chose finance as her concentration.

“I figured that having a concentration in finance would probably be beneficial if later on in my life I decide to go towards the financial analyst route and want to work my way up to a top position,” she says.

[Read: What an Executive MBA Is and How It Compares to a Full-Time MBA.]

Since receiving her MBA, Jennings has been promoted to data and assessment specialist at the Centennial School District in Warminster, Pennsylvania, where she was a special education assistant.

Similarly, Kirsten Benedict is pursuing an MBA in finance because she sees herself in a financial leadership role later on in her career.

Benedict enrolled in the MBA program at Wilmington University in Delaware after accepting a full-time job at JPMorgan Chase & Co. The company is paying for her tuition and books in exchange for a commitment to remain on staff for a period of time, she says.

“I wanted to get an MBA in finance because I want a better understanding of the business world as a whole,” she says. “Since my background is in engineering, I want to make myself more knowledgeable in the field I am working in.”

Possible Jobs by Concentration

Below are some potential job opportunities for MBA concentrations at Northwestern, according to Thompson, although the jobs listed can apply to these specializations at any school:

— Asset management — Asset manager at family offices or large investment banks, financial analysis manager.

— Data analytics — Senior data analyst, manager of data analytics, strategy insights, analytics manager.

— Diversity, equity and inclusion — Chief of staff, DEI program manager.

— Energy and sustainability — Program manager, chief of staff at not-for-profits, consultant.

Entrepreneurship — Entrepreneurs.

— Growth and scaling — Consultant, chief operating officer.

— Health care — Health care consultant, health care administration.

— Real estate — Associate at commercial real estate firm.

— Social impact — Program manager, chief of staff at not-for-profit, consultant.

— Technology management — Senior product manager, business technology leader.

— Venture capital and private equity — Operating executive, senior associate.

MBA Concentrations on the Rise

Killaly says he’s noticed two concentrations gain popularity in recent years as a result of job market demands.

The first is the broad concentration of management science, quantitative methods and the analysis of data to inform business decisions.

[Read: 20 MBA Programs That Often Send Grads Into Lucrative Fields.]

“That has grown in many, if not almost all, business schools,” he says. “And that would be driven by the needs of our employers, and the needs of the companies and organizations that our graduates want to work for and work with.”

The second is equality, sustainability and governance, or ESG. Employers now often look for potential workers to have expertise in that area, Killaly says.

“Whether that translates into a specialization or concentration, what we see is a really strong interest on the part of our students and prospective students and employers for graduates who can lead in a diverse, robust, equitable and inclusive workplace,” he says.

Even if a college doesn’t have a specific concentration for ESG, Killaly says business schools are now sprinkling it throughout all of their courses.

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