As a generalist degree, an MBA will prepare you for high-level roles in the business world. Many MBA programs also offer MBA specializations, which allow you to customize your degree and receive the best of both worlds–general business skills and specialty skills.
If you are certain about your career trajectory, taking the opportunity to do a deep dive into your specific industry via an MBA specialization—like an MBA in Finance or Analytics—can make you even more marketable upon graduation.
Is there one best MBA specialization or one best MBA specialization for the future? We would argue no–not in general. However, there may be an MBA stream that is best for your specific career experience and goals, especially if those goals lie in a specific industry, function, or specialty.
And there are specific industries and topics that are rapidly growing in popularity, such as Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, Fintech, and Artificial Intelligence.
Read our MBA specializations list to get an idea of the different types of MBA specializations, or jump to those that you find most interesting by clicking one of the links below:
Common Types of MBA Specializations
MBA in Finance
An MBA in Finance is a popular option with many MBAs pursuing a finance career on graduation. Specializing in finance or investment banking is a smart option if you’d like a leg up in this very competitive market. It’s also an incredibly lucrative career choice. According to Payscale, the average base salary of Finance MBAs in the US is $101,000.
Some of the best finance MBA programs include Hong Kong’s HKUST Business School, Stanford, and NYU Stern. Students attending these programs take courses such as macroeconomics, financial modeling, accounting, banking, fintech, and quantitative finance.
Graduates go on to work in private equity, venture capital, and investment banking–often at large companies in top financial markets, including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Citigroup.
Read: Is Finance A Good Career Path?
MBA in Accounting
A career in accounting is a popular choice for MBA grads, many of whom dream of working at the Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC).
If your dream career is in accounting, then attending one of the top MBA in accounting programs is a great fit for you. In the US, McCombs School of Business, at UT Austin, offers the top Accounting MBA, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Gies College of Business, and Wharton.
McCombs offers two, STEM Certified, Accounting Department Concentrations: Accounting for Investment Banking and Corporate Accounting. Gies’ MBA Action Learning Model requires students to work with clients during each semester of the full-time program. Wharton offers an accounting major, which includes courses that can count towards a Certified Public Accountant license.
According to Payscale, the average base MBA in accounting salary in the US is approximately $94,000 per year.
If you’re looking to pivot into the marketing field, or fast-track your burgeoning marketing career, then an MBA in marketing could be for you.
Multidisciplinary Marketing MBAs come in many forms. You could earn your MBA in digital marketing, sales and marketing, or general marketing.
Marketing MBA graduates are prepared for careers as marketing managers, advertising managers, promotions managers, market research analysts, and brand managers to name a few.
The best MBA for marketing in the US is found at Kellogg School of Management, according to US News. International programs, such as Nanyang Business School, SDA Bocconi School of Management, and HEC Paris also offer excellent marketing MBAs with strong alumni networks and placement rates.
MBA in International Business
An International Business MBA will prepare you for a career in global business, working for companies that operate in multiple countries. International Business specializations include courses on global human resources, global strategy, and international alliances.
You will likely study and/or work abroad, and have the opportunity to learn and work with people with different perspectives, worldviews, languages, and business cultures.
US News ranks University of South Carolina (Moore), Harvard University, and Florida International University as the top three best international MBA programs.
The Darla Moore School of Business offers a concentration in international business, which requires students to participate in international immersion courses and projects. The Global Track requires in-country immersion in a largely English-speaking country, and the Language Track offers language-intensive studies in French, German, and Spanish.
The average base salary of an International Business MBA in the US is estimated at $98,000 per year. However, the role types used to calculate this figure are diverse—from project manager to business development director to marketing director.
This is because International MBAs are a lot less specialized than, say, an MBA in Marketing. An MBA in International Business will teach generalized MBA skills alongside international business skills—preparing graduates for a wide variety of roles in multinational corporations and nonprofits.
Read: Best MBA Scholarships In 2022
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MBA in Information Technology
Also known as an MBA in Information Systems, an IT MBA will prepare you for a career on the technical side of business. In addition to core MBA courses, you will also study IT systems and networks, technology strategy, computer science, data mining, and data management.
Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business is the number one ranked Information Systems MBA in the US, according to US News, due to its excellent Business Technologies MBA concentration. Other top MBA in IT programs include MIT Sloan, University of Arizona Eller, and UT Austin McCombs.
An MBA in IT will prepare you for roles such as IT manager, (senior) project manager of IT, and with enough experience, CIO (chief information officer). The average base salary of an MBA in Information Technology is estimated at $111,000 in the US.
MBA in Business Analytics
Data analytics is no longer considered a technical skill best left to engineers; it’s now a required skill in all industries and roles, including sales, marketing, finance, and tech.
Coursework for an MBA in Business Analytics covers topics like big data, data optimization and visualization, forecasting, and modeling. The US News top three MBA programs with Business Analytics concentrations are MIT Sloan, Tepper at Carnegie Mellon, and Wharton
Tim Chan chose to pursue his MBA at the University of Hong Kong, which offers learning opportunities in AI and data analytics, so that he could earn business skills while improving his understanding of data analytics.
‘Now I really know how the management team can make use of data analytics to fine-tune the business model and to improve strategy—these are the things I could not do before my MBA,’ he says.
Specializing in Data Analytics will prepare you for careers at data-focused companies, in roles such as senior manager of business analytics, which has an estimated average salary of $125,000 in the US.
MBA Specializations For Specific Industries And Functions
MBA in Consulting
Consulting is a popular career path for MBAs, likely due to a combination of the competitive salaries offered to recent graduates and the large diversity of available roles.
MBA graduates working in consulting reportedly earn 7.5% more than the average MBA. The average reported base salary for MBAs working in consulting is $136,000.
The Big Three management consulting firms—McKinsey, Bain, and BCG—increased starting salaries for MBA hires to $175,000 in 2022. They’re among the consulting firms that pay MBAs the most.
Find out what you could earn working for the Big Three consulting firms:
→ Bain consultant salary
→ BCG consultant salary
→ McKinsey consultant salary
MBA programs don’t typically offer specific consulting tracks, because there is no singular, agreed upon definition of ‘consulting’. Most MBAs will prepare you for a career in consulting via courses in their core and elective curricula—but some deliver more consultants after graduation than others.
Consulting courses could include general consulting, corporate/business/marketing strategy, strategy and negotiation, and supply chain management. Related tracks could include Strategic Management, Organizational Change, or Leadership.
Courses aimed at improving your creative problem solving, organizational strategy, risk management, communication, and operations skills will all prepare you for a career in consulting.
On the US News list of 45 MBA Programs That Train Well-Paid Consultants, Stanford ranks first, followed by Johnson Cornell and Chicago Booth.
MBA in Project Management
An MBA in Project Management provides a combination of business management and leadership expertise that can be tailored to your industry of choice. Core courses and skills include leadership, communication, problem-solving, negotiation, and conflict resolution–all important for leading a team in a successful enterprise.
Ranked the best Project Management MBA by US News, MIT Sloan offers an Enterprise Management track certificate option in addition to their generalized MBA. The Questrom School of Business at Boston University and Michigan Ross also offer top Project Management specializations for MBAs.
This MBA will prepare you for job titles such as project manager and operations manager. These types of roles are among the highest paying MBA jobs.
MBA in Real Estate
The best MBA in Real Estate is to be found at the Wharton, according to US News. Wharton’s well-established Real Estate major was created in 1983, to prepare students for real estate careers through courses such as Investments, Development and Real Estate Law, Global Real Estate: Risk, Politics and Culture, and Housing Markets.
Other top Real Estate MBAs include NYU Stern and UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. One of the best online MBA in Real Estate programs can be found at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
MBA programs with real estate concentrations will prepare graduates for roles such as Community Developer, Real Estate Developer, Construction Project Manager, or Real Estate Lender, with an average annual salary of $105,000 in the US, according to Payscale.
MBA in HR
If you’re looking to further your career in human resource management, then an MBA in Human Resources is a way to get a leg up on the competition. During your degree program, you will learn about people management, recruitment strategy, talent management, and basic employment law.
Online HR MBAs are incredibly popular, particularly amongst mid-career professionals. The top Online MBA, according to US News, can be found at Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, followed by UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management, and Pennsylvania State University.
HR specialists will learn the communication, technology, and data skills that allow them to manage relationships between organizational leadership and employees. Potential roles include HR manager, HR consultant, and talent acquisition manager.
Read: Top MBA In Healthcare Management Programs | Compared
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MBA in Healthcare Management
To say that demand for roles in healthcare management has risen since the pandemic is probably an understatement.
Prospective MBAs who are interested in bridging general business (finance, management, leadership) with healthcare (ethics, logistics, policy, data) are an excellent fit for an MBA in healthcare management. Healthcare systems need managers who understand the medicine side of the business, in addition to the organizational business practices.
Take it from Ashley Gierzak, who enrolled in the University of Cincinnati Online MBA with a Healthcare Administration Graduate Certificate:
‘I’ve noticed a big difference in my management style and how I’m coaching,’ she says. ‘I’m changing the way I delegate tasks—if an assistant is struggling, I feel better equipped to understand why they’re struggling, and what approaches I can use.’
The top Healthcare Management MBAs include Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, which offers an MBA with Certificate in Health Sector Management, as well as UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, whose MBA program has an optional Focus in Healthcare Management and Innovation.
Outside the US, there’s Goa Institute of Management’s Postgraduate Diploma in Healthcare Management and The Brunel MBA Healthcare Management pathway at Brunel University in London, among others.
MBA in Operations Management
Also known as an MBA in Production and Operations Management, this MBA specialization prepares graduates for careers as managers or consultants by providing specialized skills in such topics as supply chain management and quality control.
An MBA in Operations Management student will learn to create new products and services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
According to US News, the best MBA in Operations Management programs in the US include MIT Sloan, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, and Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management.
These sorts of programs will prepare you for careers such as operations consultant/analyst, supply chain manager, operations manager, inventory manager, or purchasing/production manager. Operations Management MBAs earn salaries of $110,000 on average in the US.
MBA in Supply Chain Management
Are you a fan of logistical puzzles? Supply Chain Management MBAs teach you the skills needed to manage the flow of goods and services around the globe, from raw materials to middle-stage inventory and final products.
You’ll learn about resource storage, order fulfillment, and transportation and distribution logistics for industries such as manufacturing, food production, and healthcare.
The Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University, MIT Sloan, and Arizona State University’s WP Carey School of Business are all top MBA programs for Supply Chain Management.
MBA in Supply Chain Management graduates qualify for jobs like Global Logistics Manager, Transportation Director, Supply Chain Sales, or Supply Chain Consultant.
Best MBA Specializations For The Future
MBA in Entrepreneurship
Are you a startup founder, ready to take your business to the next level, but don’t yet have skills to do so? Or do you want to be an intrapreneur (someone who thinks and acts like an entrepreneur but drives innovation within a company)? If so, then an MBA in Entrepreneurship may be right for you.
This MBA specialization will teach you to be a proactive problem solver, a forward-thinker, and a critical assessor of markets. Coursework may include classes in Venture Capital, Franchising and Licensing, and Entrepreneurial Thinking.
You can gain these skills in MBA in Entrepreneurship programs offered by the likes of Babson College: Olin, Stanford, or MIT Sloan. These programs offer hands-on business experience, tailored coursework, a Global Entrepreneurial Leadership Forum (Olin) and a Startup Garage (Stanford).
Many MBA in Entrepreneurship graduates go on to found their own startup or tech companies, but others may opt to become a business or management consultant or senior product manager, among other things.
Anita Ly, an MBA graduate from the University of Oklahoma, says her MBA in Entrepreneurship helped her break into venture capital. ‘You don’t need to have a startup to be an entrepreneur. It’s like an identity, and I am always thinking in that mindset,’ she says.
MBA in Sustainability
Earning an MBA in Sustainability means undertaking a multidisciplinary course of study, where you focus on economics, green practices, and social justice.
You may take courses such as Environmental Management and Strategy and Sustainable Investment, in addition to your core MBA curriculum. Potential roles upon graduation include sustainability consultant, roles in supply chain and logistics, and roles in compliance. Some companies even hire a director of sustainability.
According to the QS World University Rankings, the best Sustainability MBAs include Warwick Business School, University of Exeter Business School, MIT Sloan, and INSEAD.
MBA in Fintech
Fintech, or financial technology, aims to disrupt the traditional delivery of financial services. Banks, money managers, and large firms are scrambling to keep up with new technologies and understand how they will disrupt their existing businesses, which means that MBAs with fintech expertise are in high demand.
An MBA in Fintech will teach you to navigate the four main areas where fintech is applied in finance: payment, credit, equity, and crowdfunding. According to QS, NYU Stern, UC Berkeley Haas, and MIT Sloan all offer top MBA programs in Fintech.
Coursework might focus on things like Fintech in Emerging Markets, Fintech Security and Regulation, and Risk Management.
Common career paths for MBA in Fintech grads include advisory services, risk and compliance, and analyst roles (financial, business, and quantitative specialties).
Read: How Is Artificial Intelligence Shaping The Future Of Work?
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MBA in Artificial Intelligence
According to PwC, artificial intelligence (AI) could contribute up to $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030; there’s a growing demand for business professionals with specialized education in AI.
When looking for an MBA in Artificial Intelligence, search for MBA programs offering specializations in AI and ML (Machine Learning) Management. The program should aim to teach you how to use AI to solve a business’s problems.
One such program, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) MBA, offers a specialist AI module that allows students to learn how AI can be used to develop business solutions within organizations and in various industries including fintech.
An MBA in AI can lead to a career in tech, entrepreneurship, fintech, and finance. Think of AI jobs such as artificial intelligence developer, machine learning engineer, or data science specialist. MBA in AI graduates can expect to earn an estimated average base salary of $142,000 in the US.
Which MBA specialization is right for you?
The best MBA specialization for you will depend on your career goals, interests, and the types of MBA courses you’re interested in taking during your degree.
If you’re interested in the highest paying MBA specializations, you may want to go the route of Artificial Intelligence, Consulting, or Operations Management.
MBA specializations in Information Technology and Business Analytics also offer incredibly competitive (greater than $110,000 per year) average starting salaries in the US.
Ultimately, there are types of MBA for everyone, from the generalist to the specialist.
Still need convincing? Read our 50 reasons to do an MBA