Creating Your Own MBA Concentration, Specialization, or Track
Posted November 24, 2015 by Giselle Weybrecht
- Author, Advisor, and Speaker - Sustainability and Business
In addition to choosing whether or not to pursue an MBA, and which school to do it at, students also often have the option to choose from a range of MBA concentrations, or topics to specialize in during the MBA. Each school offers different MBA specializations ranging from general topics such as finance or marketing to very specific ones including sports administration or renewable energy. Often, business schools will refer to their MBA concentrations as tracks or specializations. There can be nuanced differences between these, but many times they are synonymous with one another.
For students who are changing careers, or sure of where they want their career to go, an MBA concentration provides a strong signal on your résumé to potential employers about where your interest and expertise lies, which can make the difference between whether you are hired or not into a particular job. Concentrations can help direct your course selection during your MBA to ensure that you take the courses you will need in order to be prepared for your career of choice.
But students should think carefully about their MBA specialization. While concentrations can be beneficial for some, they can also be challenging for others. They may take you down a path that you later decide you do not want to go down. Furthermore, you should ask yourself: does this particular concentration mean anything to the companies I want to work for? And if the schools I am interested in don’t offer the concentration I want, should they automatically be taken off my list?
If one thing is for certain about getting an MBA, it’s that students change throughout it. The more you learn and are exposed to, the more you find out what interests you and what you still have to learn. For many students, their own plans change, so there is a lot to be said about staying flexible and taking opportunities as they come, exploring a range of potential MBA tracks rather than just picking one.
Regardless of whether you choose a concentration or not, it is your extracurricular activities and internships that will send strong signals regarding the passion and interest you have in a particular field, differentiating you from other applicants. With that in mind, here are 12 ways to create your own unique MBA concentration regardless of which MBA program you choose.
12 Ways to Choose or Create Your Own MBA Concentration:
- Talk to others. Seek out individuals working in the field you are interested in before you start your MBA. Gather information about the kinds of skills you may need, what opportunities may exist, and what they are looking for in their graduate hires. Not only will this allow you to better prepare yourself, but it could also lead to projects, an internship, or even job opportunities further on.
- Join related professional organizations. Do some research into the networks and organizations that exist locally, nationally, and internationally in the field you are interested in. Sign up to newsletters, attend events, study their reports, learn from members, and volunteer if you have time.
- Look through the alumni list. Ask the MBA schools that interest you if they have alumni working in a particular field and ask to meet with them. They will likely be able to provide you with some specific insights as to which courses to take at that specific school. Also ask if there is an alumni network from your school of choice in the city you live in and if you can attend their meetings. Even if the alumni attending aren’t from that industry, they might have contacts who are.
- Look at the courses on offer. Most of your MBA will be taken up by electives. Take a look at the electives on offer. Are there any that relate specifically to your field of interest and that may contribute to an MBA specialization?
- Consider exchanges. Even if the school you want to attend doesn’t offer an MBA concentration or courses in a particular topic, you may be able to do an exchange for a semester with another school that does have that concentration or extensive electives and opportunities in your field of interest.
- Research faculty interests. Is there a faculty member or research center on campus that is interested or focused on the topic that interests you? If so, connect with these before and during your program. This may result in opportunities to do some additional research and make some contacts that could help you post graduation.
- Join or organize a club/event. Chances are you aren’t the only one interested in a particular MBA track at your school. If there is already a club or event organized around your topic of interest, become as involved as you can. If there isn’t, start one.
- Look at the city/town you are located in. Even if your school doesn’t offer a particular concentration, explore what opportunities are available in the city your school is located in. Do some of the companies that hire in your field have a presence in the city?
- Gain work experience. Business schools increasingly provide a wide range of opportunities for students to focus in on their topic of interest. Internships and co-op placements can be used to test the waters and see if a particular field interests you for a couple of months. Career services can often help in providing assisting to find short-term consulting opportunities or even part-time jobs with companies in your field of interest.
- Seek other opportunities. Just because your school doesn’t offer the opportunities you are looking for doesn’t mean you can’t tap into those offered by other schools. A growing number of schools offer case competitions open to students from any MBA program or even MOOCs (free online courses) available globally, many with the chance of getting an accredited certificate of completion.
- Check out school partners. Take a look at what companies and organizations are currently associated with your business school. Is a company you are interested in a key sponsor or research partner at your school? Chances are they are also hiring graduates from that school as well.
- Choose a general concentration. If the specific MBA concentration you want is not offered, choose one that can be applicable to any career you choose to go in, for example, innovation, entrepreneurship, problem solving, or strategy.
Giselle Weybrecht is an author, advisor, and speaker in the areas of sustainability and business. Her bestselling book, The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide to Sustainability, brings together all the pieces of the business and sustainability puzzle in an easy-to-understand format. Weybrecht presented a TEDx Talk, "How to Make Anything More Sustainable." She is on Twitter @gweybrecht.