MBA Concentrations: What Will You Specialize In?
Most business schools have adopted a general management education approach but still offer room for specialization. These specializations – sometimes referred to as MBA concentrations – are selected formally or informally through your choice of elective courses. Examples of concentrations are accounting, finance, marketing, and operations. This brings us to an important "a-ha!" moment. The best overall ranked schools may not be the best in terms of the specializations or research approaches that interest you. In other words, the universe of business schools isn't black and white.
The best way to learn about each school's characteristics and strengths is to visit their web site. Read about their research approach. Examine their curriculum. Learn about the faculty's interests. All of these crumbs of information will add up to a picture of what makes the business school unique. For example, Harvard Business School is known for management; the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School for finance; Stanford Graduate Business School for entrepreneurship; and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business for economics.
Now, this process can be fairly nuanced and difficult, but you don't have to do it alone. Don't be shy to solicit the opinions of your friends and colleagues who have attended business school. Chances are some of them will be plugged in to what's good and what's not.
To help you conduct this detective work, we've put together a list of factors that you should consider. Make it your mission to learn as much as you can about each business school's strengths and weaknesses across MBA concentrations!
What's the School "Known For"
In the same way that Gordon Gekko is known for his greed, a department will be known for something. Or, if nothing, then for its mediocrity. The idea is to pinpoint what automatically pops into peoples' heads when they hear the name of such-and-such business school. More often than not, it will be strengths in research areas or the reputation of certain faculty. For example, a business school might be known for its private equity courses or the fact that half of its graduates go to work on Wall Street. The sooner you figure out what distinguishes a school, the sooner you'll determine if it's a good match for your interests.
What Courses are Offered
Reviewing a business school's course offering can be very revealing. By reading through the course descriptions and syllabi, you'll learn about the school's capabilities, focus, and theoretical bent, if any. In some cases, faculty teach courses in the same areas that they research, so you can align yourself accordingly. In other cases, a school may not have any faculty in a certain field, leading to knowledge gaps.
Who are the Faculty
A school is only as good as its professors, and the faculty will play a pivotal role in your experience. So hop onto the Internet and locate the bios of your school's faculty members. Look for things like: Where were they educated? What have they published? What work experience do they have? What are their research foci? What courses do they teach? Do this, and you'll get a feel for your educators...and whether you'd enjoy learning from them.
Is the Focus on Theory or Practice?
There's something to be said about theory vs. practice. Depending on your preferences, you may prefer one over the other. And the same is true for professors. Say, for example, that you want to study marketing and land a job as a Marketing Manager at Procter & Gamble. Now, if none of the faculty has worked in marketing, you'll miss out on "real world" insights. On the other hand, such faculty may offer a rich intellectual framework for treating marketing issues. So think carefully about business schools' MBA concentrations and the kind of experience that you'd like.