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General MBA vs Specialized MBA

The Graduate Management Admission Council (the organization that administers the GMAT exam) released a 2015 Year-End Poll of Employers showing that there will be an increasing demand for Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) graduates in the coming years. Dan LeClair, executive vice president and chief knowledge officer at AACSB International says “It’s becoming harder to get a great job with just a bachelor’s degree.” 1

If you’ve been considering pursuing an MBA degree, now may be the right time.

But with an increasing number of options to choose from, finding the right MBA program that meets your goals and learning style, may take some extra work. Across the country, professionals interested in pursuing an MBA often start with a fundamental question: Whether to choose a program offering a broad-based curriculum or one that permits specialization or concentrations.

Employers hold both options in high regard so your selection should be based on your career plans and the type of learning experience that fits your needs. It’s important to know more about each before you can determine which one is right for you.

Specialized MBA: Pros & Cons

After completing the first-year core foundational courses, MBA programs with concentrations permit second-year students to focus their elective coursework in a specific business discipline. Students completing 3-4 courses in a single discipline receive a degree noting their area of concentration. Specialized programs offer in-depth preparation and knowledge for someone who is committed to a particular industry or specialty throughout their career. Some of the more popular concentrations include:

  • Entrepreneurship – This specialization places an emphasis on developing the entrepreneurial skills needed to start, fund, and manage your own business, as well as overcoming the inevitable setbacks that derail new businesses ventures.
  • Finance – An MBA with a specialization in Finance provide skills to students interested in financial analysis, financial strategy, capital budgeting, mergers and acquisitions, and investment banking.
  • Management – A Management specialization focuses on all aspects of business management, including strategic management, human resources management, leadership, and organizational behavior.
  • Marketing – This specialization offers insights into consumer behavior, brand and product management, marketing strategies and tactics, digital marketing, etc.
  • Accounting – An MBA with a concentration in Accounting prepares students to become leaders of accounting and control functions.

This may seem like a great option for those who know exactly what discipline or profession they want to work in, but the viability of specialized MBAs may have lost some of its luster. Critics of concentrations cite the need for long-term flexibility in order to respond to a dynamic global marketplace where a broad skillset may be more valuable. In addition to your interests, alignment of your education with current industry trends and market opportunities is an important factor to consider when making a selection.

With a specialized MBA, you send an important message to recruiters about your interests, which might lead to success early in your career but may one day impede your ability to pursue other areas of interest. Because of that, it is critical to look at both your short and long-term career aspirations and insure that no matter what decision you make, there is room to grow and succeed. The last thing you want to do is place all your chips on a profession or career that becomes stagnant or is displaced by technological advances.

It is also important to remember that in many professions, specialization occurs through on-the- job training. In certain industries, e.g., Health Care Management and Financial Management, it may be necessary to acquire a specific license and/or certification in order to advance.

General MBA: Pros & Cons

The traditional MBA provides a broad skillset that prepares business professionals for success in any industry or job function at any time in their career. Recipients of a general curriculum build a foundation of knowledge by completing a set of core courses in year one and then in year two choose a wider selection of electives. This broader knowledge lays the groundwork for someone looking to assume more responsibility with their current employer or to seek a new position with a different company or industry. Many choose the general MBA to differentiate themselves in a crowded field or to breakout from a timeworn perception that may be limiting their upside, e.g., “You’re just an IT person.” For those with a non-business undergraduate degree, the general MBA is an ideal way to advance your business knowledge.

General MBA programs offer a wide selection of electives in year two, from supply chain management to digital marketing. The latest innovation to emerge is the addition of “mini-concentrations” that permit students to earn professional certifications along with their MBA, without giving up the broader knowledge from a generalized program. Today, one of the most sought after skillsets by employers and recruiters is a certificate in project management offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

This formula of combining foundational courses with a wide selection of electives creates a skillset that is more easily transferred across job functions, time and career paths.

The obvious drawback of a general MBA is that while you’ll acquire a wider knowledge base, you may not have the depth required for a particular position. However, many students prefer the wider range of career opportunities that become available to them upon completing their degree.

General MBA vs. Specialized MBA: Which is Right for Me?

Applicants debating the merits of a general MBA vs. a specialized MBA are sure to find plenty of arguments for and against each curriculum. Further complicating the decision is the fact that curriculum additions are blurring the differences between the two. If your desired profession or industry has a strong outlook and offers plenty of avenues for growth, then a specialized MBA may be the right fit for you. On the other hand, a general MBA may be better suited for those already established in a career and seeking greater flexibility. If you are looking to combine the best of both options, consider a general MBA with elective tracks offering certifications or a curriculum style that meet your needs.

The decision is ultimately yours to make, but don’t make it without seeking advice from a mentor or your colleagues. Once you have narrowed your decision, make an appointment with the MBA Program Director; they’ve advised countless professionals and can help direct you onto the right path. Rest assured that no matter what decision you make, an MBA degree will place you in good standing.

The MBA Program at Ramapo College

The Ramapo College of New Jersey’s MBA program is one of the top-quality AACSB-accredited business schools in New Jersey. Geared for today’s working professional, Ramapo’s part-time twenty month program is comprised of four key pillars: Leadership, Critical Thinking, International Immersion and Experiential Learning. Highly experienced faculty use real-world case studies to blend theory and practical experience. The curriculum is delivered through a cohort model that is as demanding as it is supportive.

The Ramapo MBA curriculum is designed with today’s real world challenges in mind. The program provides professionals looking to become senior leaders in for-profit or non-profit enterprises with broad based training across a range of business disciplines. Students choose electives that provide marketable skills to help them make immediate and meaningful contributions to their current employers. In year two, students spend a week in China meeting with government officials and executives of private businesses. In their final term, small groups of students spend the entire term working as consultants for one of our world-class corporate partners.

1 Bisoux, T. (2015, September/October). Mastering the mix. BizEd Magazine. Retrieved from

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Categories: MBA