What MBA should I get? Choosing your MBA concentration

An MBA is a major financial investment. Discover which programs and concentrations offer a competitive edge and decide what MBA you should get.

An MBA requires a large investment of time, money, and commitment. The many MBA concentrations available each offer different advantages and teach different skills. Before enrolling in a program, it's important to ask yourself, "What MBA should I get?"

Assess which concentration offers you specialized skills and training for career advancement. A well-chosen concentration can give you a competitive advantage.

The right MBA for you suits your career interests, background, and lifestyle. While you are considering what MBA to pursue, think about flexibility, credibility, and professional development. This article will help guide you through the process.

Questions to ask yourself when choosing an MBA concentration

Before selecting an MBA concentration, consider all of your options. Ask yourself whether your career goals, current commitments, and strengths align with a specific concentration.

The answers to the below questions can help guide you toward answering "What MBA should I get?"

1. What aspect(s) of business are you most interested in?

Knowing the area of business you'd like to work within is an essential part of choosing an MBA concentration.

Some areas of business -- such as accounting, finance, and marketing -- may prefer candidates with a specific concentration. The right MBA concentration demonstrates core competencies needed to perform well in the job. 

Would the best option be a general MBA program? Or would a specific concentration in your interest area help elevate your career? 

An online MBA program will allow exposure to a variety of business topics, and a concentration narrows your choice to a specialty area of business. 

Consider choosing a concentration that will provide real-world experience in your area of interest via an MBA internship.

As part of your research, look at job boards to find roles you'd be interested in and review their requirements for candidates. Also, consider reaching out to people in the field you'd like to work in and requesting an informational interview to ask about their background and recommendations.

2. What skills are you looking to gain?

After reflecting on your career interests, take an honest look at how your strengths and limitations align with those goals. The right MBA concentration can help you shore up areas of weakness and enhance skills you already have.

Decide what skills you are hoping to gain. Each MBA concentration focuses on a different skillset, which in turn will prepare graduates for different career paths. 

For example, an information systems MBA trains students to use tech to solve problems, streamline processes, and improve communication. Graduates are prepared for managerial and executive IT-related roles. During a human resources MBA, future HR and management professionals learn about leadership, employee development, and labor relations.

3. What work experience do you have?

Review your professional work experience and core competencies. Think about your career and education path, and how your previous experience might fulfill the MBA prerequisites needed for program admission.

What transferable skills can be applied to an MBA program? Assess both your current skills and the ones you would like to develop. 

Perhaps you'll want to choose a concentration that aligns with your current experience and can enhance the skills you already have. That might be a good move for those looking to get ahead in their current field.

Or, maybe you want to choose a concentration that will teach you entirely new skills and help you find new career opportunities. It all depends on your goals.

4. What work, family, and personal commitments do you want to maintain while pursuing your MBA?

Consider how rigorous each program concentration is and how that may impact your current personal commitments while pursuing the degree. A current or former program student will likely have useful insights to share.

Even within the same concentration, the level of rigor and work may vary among schools. Some curricula may be built with working professionals in mind, while others may target full-time students. Research the program so you know what to expect in business school.

Also, consider the business administration career paths for which the concentration will prepare you. Do they align with your preferred lifestyle? What do current professionals in the field find challenging about their jobs, and what do they love?

More key factors to consider when choosing an MBA concentration

After answering the above questions, you're closer to an answer to "What MBA should I get?" But you should also consider admission requirements, length of program, tuition and fees, and specializations in demand. 

Format matters, too. You can earn an MBA online, in person, or through a hybrid program. Accelerated programs target busy professionals. 

Also, consider the networking and career opportunities offered by each program. Some schools offer graduates career placement services such as career counseling and networking events.

Admissions

For admissions, students generally submit an application with a statement of purpose, essays, transcripts, recommendation letters, resume, and fee. Many MBA programs also require minimum Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores.

Programs that offer an MBA without GMAT scores evaluate grade point averages and professional experience. 

Cost

Traditional MBA programs range from $25,000 to $100,000. Generally, students take two years to earn their degree. Students should also calculate the costs of books, electronic devices, association memberships, and other expenses. 

Several institutions offer accelerated programs lasting between 12 and 18 months, which may be less costly than a two-year MBA. Typically, the initial courses focus on business fundamentals. Future courses dive deeper into a specialization.

Demand for specific concentrations

In addition to your personal goals and the skills you'd like to cultivate, consider which concentrations meet the needs of hiring managers in growing fields. The right concentration can give graduates a competitive edge among their peers.

The most in-demand and growing specializations include general management, international management, and strategy as well as consulting, finance leadership, and entrepreneurship. 

Other contenders include marketing, operations management, and information technology. 

Is an MBA better than a master's?

The MBA focuses on business courses and is common among experienced professionals seeking career advancement. A different master's degree may be a better fit for those eyeing a career outside business.

How do you decide if an MBA is right for you?

Consider an MBA if you are seeking a program that enhances your leadership skills, business fundamentals, professional network, and career opportunities.

Which MBA has the highest salary?

Financial services, information technology, real estate, and consulting are among the highest-paid positions in the industry. MBA concentrations specializing in those areas can help you qualify for those positions. 

This article was reviewed by Krystal Covington, MBA

Krystal Covington, a woman with medium-length, curly hair, smiles at the camera.

Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships. 

Covington founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills and connect with other high-achieving women. Covington received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.

Krystal Covington is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.