The MBA degree is general by nature, as it's designed to train students for careers managing any area of business. Students typically spend the first year of business school studying a core set of courses that provide a strong foundation in accounting, finance, statistics, marketing, management, leadership and more. This ensures all graduates walk away with the same comprehensive knowledge.
Offering concentrations where students can hone their skills according to their career interests is a relatively new and popular concept at many business schools. The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, a top-ranked MBA program in general management, introduced optional concentrations to the curriculum for the first time in 2010.
Adding a concentration to an MBA is a good move for people who know exactly what they want to do with their career and who want to build a stronger skill base in that area.
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You don’t have to specialize your MBA degree, but it is highly recommended for those looking to land a job or internship in a specific industry, as recruiters want to see demonstrated focus on a particular field or functional area. In today’s competitive job market, listing a concentration on your resume helps you stand out from the crowd and shows a keen interest in that specialization, which you’ll ideally also bolster through your internship or other extracurricular activities.
The only case where a concentration may not be necessary is if you already have extensive work experience or another degree in the area you plan to pursue after graduating business school.
While it sounds like selecting a concentration is like having a major, it differs in that students typically choose more than one area in which to focus. In fact, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business notes that most of its students pursue three or four concentrations as part of the Tepper MBA program.
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To determine which areas you’ll want to concentrate on, first do a bit of self-reflection to help you understand your interests and skills. Think about what aspects you enjoyed or disliked most in your previous jobs or internships; what kind of work environment you’ll thrive in; how your career will fit in with other aspects of your personal life; and be honest about how important salary is in your decision-making process.
Once you’ve settled on a few areas of interest, align your school selections with those post-MBA goals. There are so many unique concentrations these days that go beyond the traditional accounting, finance, management and marketing tracks.
If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, look at programs offered at Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Babson College's Olin School of Business or MIT Sloan School of Management’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Track, which is unique because its classes commingle scientists and engineers to maximize the intellectual experience.
Professionals interested in the energy sector can check out the energy and environment concentration at Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, and the energy finance concentration at the University of Texas—Austin's McCombs School of Business. In short, there’s a specialization for everyone.
Even if you’re not completely certain of your post-MBA career plans, you’re bound to find multiple areas of interest that will round out your general management education. However, if you travel down one path during your first year but your summer internship experience convinces you that you need to change course and focus on another function or industry altogether, don’t fret. You still have a whole second year to redirect your energies and find the right concentration for you.