5 Common MBA Concentrations

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Prepare to advance your professional skills with these top five MBA focus areas.

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Each educational institution offers its own selection of master of business administration (MBA) concentrations. These five concentrations are popular options that also come with the potential for high starting paychecks. The salaries listed for these industries are mean salaries for recent grads as of 2021, according to Payscale and US News [1, 2]:

  • Consulting: $152,470

  • Management: $122,000

  • Finance: $129,899

  • Marketing: $103,000

  • Operations: $103,000

Choosing an MBA concentration is a way to gain leadership and management skills and tailor your degree to a specific career. Graduating with an MBA concentration (also called specialization or area of focus in some programs) can help you gain greater expertise in a specialized area. Take a closer look at these MBA concentrations and the jobs they can prepare you for after graduation.

1. Consulting

A consultant works with a company to analyze data and fine-tune corporate strategies. Because a consultant analyzes the business practices of the client from an outside perspective, core skills required include quantitative and analytical skills and business and commercial awareness.

Careers in consulting

Many consultants choose to narrow their focus. For example, they may specialize in a particular industry, such as education or health care. Or they may specialize within a certain function, such as human resources or information technology. 

Consultants can take on a variety of roles. Here are several potential careers you might pursue with an MBA in consulting:

  • Financial consultants audit a financial situation and strategize a plan to help reach future financial goals.

  • Management consultants help leaders within an organization better fine-tune their operations and performance.

  • Operations consultants help improve the efficiency of the operations within an organization.

  • Human resources consultants provide support and administrative guidance to a human resources department.

  • Strategy consultants analyze business practices and goals across a broad level of company operations and offer guidance and advice for operations.

  • Marketing consultants analyze or create a marketing strategy for a company.

  • Engineering consultants offer technical solutions or engineering advice within a company or organization.

2. Management

Within an MBA management concentration, you can build and enhance your knowledge of leadership techniques. Learn strategic planning and develop skills that allow you to analyze and manage internal processes. This concentration might also help you further strengthen skills that allow you to create and execute a strategic business plan as a management leader within a company. 

Careers in management

Management skills are necessary across all industries. So, while this is a specialized MBA concentration, it can also be a very versatile one. Starting salaries for management jobs also vary quite a bit across career fields. According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, top executives in the United States make a median of $107,680 [3]. 

Some of the careers you might consider after graduating with this MBA concentration include:

  • Marketing manager 

  • Chief executive

  • General manager

  • Director of business development

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3. Finance

Students in an MBA finance concentration develop the core skills of statistics, analytics, and accounting. Within this concentration, expect to advance your financial literacy using analytics and theoretical tools to help you understand how to better plan for the financial future. Ultimately, as you elevate your knowledge with an MBA corporate finance concentration, you’ll learn how to ensure companies remain profitable in the long term. 

Careers in finance

A finance MBA is appropriate for careers in both financial and non-financial sectors. However, many graduates go on to careers in financial institutions like investment banks, asset management firms, consulting firms, and brokerages. Within these organizations, careers include:

  • Financial manager

  • Corporate controller

  • Accounting manager

  • Chief financial officer

  • Financial analyst

  • Investment manager

  • Director of finance

4. Marketing

With a marketing MBA, you can learn how to reach customers, predict customer behavior, run advertising campaigns, and increase public relations awareness. You have the opportunity to build core marketing skills as you learn about topics related to sales, advertising, and public relations.

Careers in marketing

Because marketing is used across industries, job opportunities may vary. While an MBA isn’t always necessary for entry-level marketing jobs, it can be helpful in obtaining a higher-level position. This specialization could lead to roles that include:

  • Vice president of marketing

  • Director of brand 

  • Market research director

  • Brand manager

  • Director of marketing

  • Digital marketing executive

  • Product marketing manager

5. Operations 

If you choose an MBA operations concentration, you can learn to develop skills that help you maximize efficiency and productivity within a business setting. In operations management, you can expect to help streamline processes within day-to-day operations by using analytical tools.

Careers in operations

MBA operations grads often work in top leadership positions in fields that are heavy on production. These fields include retail, manufacturing, and consumer goods. Careers within these fields include:

  • Supply-chain manager

  • Business operations manager

  • Logistics manager

  • Industrial production manager

  • Product development manager

  • Procurement manager

  • Director of operations

Tips for choosing an MBA concentration

When you earn an MBA with a concentration, you’ll first want to decide your focus. Consider the following factors as you make your decision. 

Research your options. 

Think about where you’d like to work—your dream job or dream company—and then research what that company requires of applicants. Take note of what these and similar employers are looking for in potential candidates. You may find that they prefer certain specifications or qualifications. 

Reaching out to other MBA graduates can also give you a good sense of what to expect within a course field. Or you can research course requirements within each MBA concentration. This look to the future can direct your focus as you consider your course of study.

Recognize your strengths. 

While learning new skills can be beneficial, building on the skills you already have is often helpful when choosing a course of action. Your strengths are an asset. Consider subjects you're good at or personality traits that come naturally to you. Find a concentration that can help you capitalize on those. For instance, if math has always come easily to you, you might find it easy to transition into a financial MBA concentration.

As you do this, determine what you’ve liked or disliked about past jobs and internships. Tasks that you found helpful or easy in the workforce may influence your career path in the future.

Know your goals.

Knowing what you’re looking for will help you determine what concentration to pursue. For example, if a high income is your primary goal, you’ll likely want to consider a job in one of the common MBA industries that are among the highest paying. These include consulting, financial services, technology, and health care, which all see an average starting base salary over $100,000, according to US News & World Report [2].

Of course, a large paycheck isn’t the top motivating factor for everyone. Maybe you want to travel, so you need a career that gives you flexibility. If you’d like variety in your work, you could enjoy consulting across industries. On the other hand, if you prefer stability, you may want an in-house career.

Choose a course of study that will align with your future goals. Remember that the most lucrative track now may or may not be the one that will lead to your happiness in the future.

Consider industry outlook. 

MBAs are often considered a valuable degree. The Graduate Management Admission Council reported in 2021 that 91 percent of US employers plan to hire candidates with an MBA [4]. But it also helps to consider what the field will look like in 10 or 20 years. This is especially important when looking at specific concentrations and career fields. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good resource for analyzing current career statistics and job outlook projections. While no projections are perfect, looking at future predictions may influence your educational pursuits now.

Advance your career with an MBA concentration

Now that you understand the differences between some of the popular MBA concentrations, you’re better able to decide if you want to advance your knowledge in a specific field as you earn your MBA. The iMBA from the University of Illinois is an MBA program that offers a range of specializations, including financial management, business analytics, strategic leadership and management, and more. Explore each specialization’s specifics to get a better understanding of what opportunities await you.

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Master of Business Administration (iMBA)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Article sources

1. Payscale. "Master of Business Administration (MBA), General & Strategic Management Degree, https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Business_Administration_(MBA)%2C_General_%26_Strategic_Management/Salary." Accessed January 24, 2022.

2. US News. "Find MBAs That Lead to Employment, High Salaries, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/mba-salary-jobs." Accessed January 24, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Top Executives, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/top-executives.htm." Accessed January 24, 2022.

4. Graduate Management Admission Council. "Corporate Recruiters Survey | June 2021, https://www.gmac.com/market-intelligence-and-research/market-research/corporate-recruiters-survey." Accessed January 24, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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