When we think of MBA studies, we often think of simply business or more obvious areas of specialization, such as accounting, finance, general management, human resources, and economics. However, these are far from the only options. In fact, choosing a less common MBA specialization can yield exciting opportunities for those looking to gain an inside edge in a particularly sought-after industry. Here’s a closer look at six perhaps less-thought-of areas of MBA specialization to consider.
1. Energy studies
The world’s energy consumption continues to rise. While conventional energy such as coal, petroleum, natural gas, and nuclear energy need leaders to navigate the evolving industry, green energy is also booming with equal if not greater opportunities.
This field is uniquely lucrative, but it’s also extremely challenging. It’s also up-and-coming. In fact, according to a 2017-2018 study by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) of the most popular specialized master’s degrees, while 71 percent of schools offer specialized degrees in accounting, just five percent offer specialized studies in energy management. The takeaway? Those who do pursue energy management MBAs can expect to find themselves in great demand.
An MBA in energy studies prepares business students for successful careers in energy in both private and public capacities. Many also offer the opportunity to specialize even further in concentrations like natural resource management and cleantech. Whether you’re hoping for a career as a manager with one of the oil giants or interested in renewable energy consulting work, an MBA specialization in energy studies can open the door.
2. Healthcare/hospital administration
As the healthcare sector expands, so does demand for MBA grads with specialized knowledge and skills in this area. Assistant dean of career development at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, Jeff McNish, told U.S. News & World Report, “Jobs in the healthcare sector have become more complex, which requires more experienced staff and an MBA is a way to fill that need. The pressure to maintain or manage costs through business practices has become more important than ever and the MBA is in greater demand than ever before.”
U.S. News & World Report also identified five healthcare careers that require a business background, including corporate development; healthcare consulting; strategic project management; hospital administration; and pharmaceutical brand management.
“If a student were to engage me about healthcare, I would enthusiastically encourage them,” added McNish. “It’s an industry that will offer a lifetime career, and it’s dynamic and of strategic importance.” Other benefits of going this route include high job satisfaction, high salaries, and powerful networking opportunities.
An MBA in healthcare is also a promising route for physicians who want to transition to the administrative side of healthcare, as well as for practicing physicians who want a keener understanding of the industry. “It is a rare physician who actually has any business or economic background. Yet every day in their practice, they are confronted with [...] decisions that are best informed by having some sort of fundamental understanding of those spheres,” diagnostic radiologist and management and public health professor Dr. Howard Forman told Software Advice.
3. Marketing studies
While marketing may not be among the first few fields that come to mind when you think of MBA degrees, it’s a surprisingly common area of study with 27.7 percent of schools offering specialized master’s degrees in this area. (After accounting, marketing trails only finance (48.3 percent) and management (29.8 percent).
There’s good reason for marketing’s popularity as an MBA specialization: an MBA offers a number of benefits for marketing professionals, including supporting a holistic understanding of business and therefore the degree to which marketing campaigns can align with an organization’s needs and wants; learning to think as both marketer and manager; and being equipped to navigate the dynamic field of marketing with the flexibility and problem-solving skills to adapt and keep up.
Examining the value of MBA marketing specializations, Forbes asserts, “Marketing is undergoing a revolution right now. New technology, particularly mobile technology, is giving marketers new ways to get their products in front of consumers. Data collection and analytics is also helping marketers to understand their customers like never before, which helps them deliver precisely timed and targeted promotional content to both individuals and highly specialized market segments.” In other words, marketing MBAs which focus on analytics can be uniquely beneficial.
And then there are the general benefits, too, including faster career progression, broader opportunities, better compensation, networking prospects, and boosted skills.
4. Sustainability studies
MBA specializations in sustainability studies are relatively new -- so much so that they are not even included in the AACSB roundup. However, what they lack in legacy they more than make up for in relevance. In fact, according to Marsha Willard, executive director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals and CEO of Axis Performance Advisor, the value of sustainability degrees is “increasing as each day passes.” This is backed up by research from Net Impact indicating that more prospective graduate students are viewing the ability to make an environmental and social impact more as a “must have” than a “nice to have”.
And while sustainability is so important that many business schools now address it as part of their core curricula, there are advantages to specializing in sustainability. George Basile, senior sustainability scientist and professor of practice at the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, told GreenBiz, “One advantage for the sustainability degree is that most organizations have a host of exceptional MBA holders, yet they still have a growing suite of challenges and increasing market needs that the MBA does not address directly.”
If you do go the sustainability specialization route, you may find it useful to look for programs that incorporate experiential learning in addition to academic knowledge. “Working in the field is a key part of becoming a sustainability leader. No doubt. After all, the laboratory for sustainability is the world and success is measured in the real world. But this is definitely not an either/or. This is about ‘and,’” added Basile.
5. Tourism and hospitality
Global hospitality is a trillion-dollar industry. In other words, it’s big business. With so much money in the mix and so many employees, the need for skilled and knowledgeable business executives in this sector is great. Those with business training will be uniquely positioned to harness their skills and knowledge into transformational outcomes across everything from emerging technology to international issues. This is where MBAs with hospitality specializations come in.
Not only are business executives with these degrees sought-after, but they also have flexible, powerful, and lucrative careers ahead of them. If travel is on your bucket list, a hospitality MBA can help you achieve that goal too!
The Princeton Review recently included “IT or Technology Management” on its list of the most in-demand MBA specializations. “A specialized MBA in IT or Technology Management puts MBA graduates at the cutting edge of UX, design, and the flow of information technology. If you want to manage how data moves within companies, between them, and into the world, consider this specialty,” proposes the piece.
According to The Enterprisers Project, aspiring IT leaders stand to gain many benefits from getting an MBA, starting with the network that comes along with it. According to Project Management Essentials LLC founding principal Alan Zucker, business skills trump technical skills the higher you climb up the ladder. “I have worked with many brilliant software engineers and technologists. These analytic and technical skills have made them very good in their current roles. However, as technologists move into management and leadership, they need to have a broader view of their organization, its mission, goals, and the interlinkages across different domains and frontiers. They also need to develop interpersonal skills as they collaborate with their business partners and lead their teams,” he explained.
Pursuing an MBA with an IT specialization adds up to a best-of-both-worlds solution. Sungard Availability Services vice president of cloud services product management Meg Ramsey added, “Pursuing an MBA helps IT professionals broaden their experience and provides them with a holistic view of how businesses operate. They learn about the business drivers and levers that can be used to help accelerate the business and grow revenue.”
One last thing to keep in mind about MBA specializations is that quality is paramount. Ramsey adds, “[A specialized MBA] could also result in faster career advancement, but the speed of their advancement depends on the quality of the MBA they pursue. Quality of school, program, and peer group are critical to those seeking top advancement.”