Are MBA Specialisations Worth the Focus or Just a Distraction?

Table of Contents

What is an MBA specialisation?

Before we discuss MBA specialisations, we need to define the term specialisation in an MBA.

On the surface it is very simple: when you graduate, you will receive a diploma specifying your completed degree. In this case, it will either be an MBA or an MBA with a particular specialisation such as an MBA in Marketing or an MBA in Finance.

On most MBA programmes, you will need to complete a number of mandatory modules, one or two electives and complete a significant research paper usually called a thesis or a project.

Not all MBA students possess a bachelor’s degree in business. It is for this reason, that the usual mandatory modules aim to cover the essential business-related knowledge required by a senior manager. Examples of these core or mandatory modules are Organisational Behaviour, Accounting for Managers, Finance for Managers, Marketing for Managers etc…

Depending on the MBA you join, it will most likely include one or two electives. The aim of the electives is for students to study modules of their choice. Each university makes a number of electives available and these modules are either very general such as Logistics, International Marketing, Strategic Management or Managing Innovation or specialised modules related to Banking, Tourism, Hospitality, Health Management etc..

It is worth noting that many of the previously thought of specialised modules are becoming essential modules to the contemporary manager and they are becoming part of the core requirements. As an example, the Edinburgh Napier Online MBA had an elective module called Data Analysis for Business Decision Making. Due to the importance of data to today’s business, this module is now a core module that must be taken by all ENU MBA students.

When you decide on a general MBA, you can normally choose any available electives and your thesis or project can be in any business subject you agree with your MBA supervisor. However, when you choose to specialise, the vast majority of universities will require both your electives and your thesis or project to be directly related to your specialisation.

Worth the focus or a distraction?

I have been asked this question by many students and the answer is in a set of questions the student needs to answer for themselves.

  1. Are you thinking of changing careers?
  2. Would you change careers if you were presented with a great opportunity?
  3. Are you planning to migrate?
  4. Do you see yourself as a managing director or a CEO?

It is not an exact science but the more yeses you have, the more you should go in the direction of the general MBA and the opposite is true.

A pertinent example here would be of a career banker in his early to late forties or older who loves banking and cannot see themselves doing anything in life other than banking. An MBA in Banking would be a very good choice for such individual.

On the other hand, a General MBA would be more suitable for a young professional who is in his late twenties, early thirties who started a particular career after university because they were offered a job and is not 100% sure where they will be in 10 years.

Does an MBA specialisation limit career flexibility and pigeonhole graduates into specific roles?

In general, the answer is Yes.

Unfortunately, although a General MBA graduate and a Specialised MBA graduate are very similar in knowledge, specialised MBA graduates are always looked at as specialists for particular roles or departments.

Whenever Managing Director positions or CEO positions are available, General MBA graduates are subconsciously favoured by HR or hiring committees.
The opposite is also true. As an example, MBA in Finance graduates would automatically be favoured over general MBA graduates for a CFO position.

The decision to specialise or not on an MBA should not be taken lightly and potential students need to weigh their options very carefully.

If you wish to discuss your situation with one of our academic consultants or senior academics, let us know and we can arrange a video meeting.


Written by Refaat Kazoun,

GROUP CEO, Stafford Global

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