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How a Specialized Business Master's Degree Can Boost Your Career


Posted November 10, 2016 by Barbara Coward - Founder - Enrollment Strategies

Perhaps you are someone who has been considering an MBA for career advancement but keep hearing about specialized master’s degrees. You wonder if they would be a better choice for you. Or maybe you want to augment your undergraduate education to stand out in the job market but don’t need the breadth of an MBA; you have a clearly defined field of study. A specialized master’s degree can be the ideal solution for emerging and rising leaders who are looking for that lift.

The MBA Versus Specialized Master’s

For more than 10 decades, the MBA has been the “go-to” qualification for career advancement ever since Harvard Business School launched the first course in 1908. Like the MBA, specialized master’s degrees offer different delivery formats—residential, online, and hybrid—to accommodate personal study preferences. Yet, the two degrees have some distinct differences. An MBA offers greater breath and typically requires at least two years of work experience. In contrast, a specialized master’s degree provides in-depth expertise in a subject matter and can serve as a bridge to business for recent graduates with little or no work experience. The shorter duration of specialized master’s programs, which can often be completed in less than a year, also offer an attractive return on investment.

Traditional specialized programs include the master’s in management, master’s in finance, and Master of Accounting (MAcc). However, there is a vast and growing number of specialty master’s programs, including sports management, taxation, and healthcare administration, reflecting the diversity of jobs in today’s economy. Whether you are seeking a career change or want an advantage into a specialized field of work, it’s worth learning more about this boom in business degrees and how a specialized master’s program can help you reach your career goals.

A Leap Into Career Advancement

Specialized master’s degrees allow you to earn an advanced business degree, often in a year or less, to make a quick pivot. After all, the days of climbing up a long corporate ladder are gone. Instead, today’s professionals visualize their career as a “lily-pad”—a series of interconnected leaps—for better opportunities. According to a recent Gallup report, aptly subtitled “The Job-Hopping Generation,” 21 percent of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year, and 60 percent are open to a different job opportunity.

With any career change, there is always that possibility that the new job will require skills that weren’t part of your undergraduate education. That’s where a specialized master’s degree can fill the gaps. An undergraduate English major, for example, can acquire the quantitative skills for a job in financial services with a master’s in investment management. An engineer interested in a managerial role can demonstrate her team skills to employers with a master’s in leadership.

Our hyper-connected world means that we are exposed to many more job possibilities than we may have envisioned for ourselves when we started college or entered the workforce. We don’t have to be defined by our past choices. A specialized master’s degree can help facilitate the next leap forward—which could even mean starting your own business, like the two MA in management alumni from Wake Forest University School of Business who founded the online social platform Zipskee that connects travelers with locals around the world.

Response to Industry Demand

It’s important to note that specialized master’s programs, in general, are created by business schools in response to employer demand. The Johnson Graduate School of Management, for example, is launching a new master’s degree in accounting in 2017, reported to answer to the needs of employers, who are increasingly hiring accounting graduates. It’s that adage, “go where the jobs are.”

The job market is constantly evolving, and advanced technologies are creating new opportunities every day. Thirty years ago, the role of social media manager or SEO analyst didn’t exist. Today, employers hiring marketing professionals place a premium on digital skills, and schools are responding by offering specialized degrees, such as ESCP Europe’s master’s in marketing and digital media.

And big data is a big buzzword. “The significance of business analytics has grown exponentially and many companies have invested in analytics,” says Dimitris Bertsimas, director of the new business analytics program at Sloan School of Management. As a result, a quarter or more of corporate recruiters are actively seeking graduates of master’s in data analytics, master’s in supply chain management, and master’s in marketing programs, according to research from the Graduate Management Admissions Council.

Further, the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance revealed that 55 percent of responding business schools reported an increase in both on-campus recruiting and full-time job postings for specialized master’s degrees, with biggest increases in financial services and technology. In an ever-changing employment landscape, your undergraduate degree will provide a baseline of qualifications; specialized skills will help you leverage more opportunities.

There’s no doubt that there are plenty of reasons to pursue a specialized master’s degrees—and no lack of options to choose from. The one question that remains is, which one is right for you?


Barbara CowardBarbara Coward is a business school industry analyst and the founder of Enrollment Strategies, providing expertise in graduate management admissions and marketing.

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