MBA Areas of Emphasis

The traditional MBA awarded by an MBA school covers a wide range of business and management concepts. It prepares candidates to be executives at virtually any company. Many MBA schools allow students to specialize in a certain aspect of business through elective classes. Some MBA programs allow students to take enough electives to graduate with an MBA degree in a specific area of emphasis. To do so, students must take a prescribed set of elective courses. Other programs have a core curriculum designed with enough specialized classes to offer a special MBA in an area of emphasis.

Different MBA programs have different areas of emphasis. Some of the most common include accounting, business management, e-business/ e-commerce, economics, and entrepreneurship. Some programs offer an emphasis in marketing, information technology, and finance. By taking an area of emphasis, candidates are signaling a career decision. Such goal-oriented study is often viewed favorably by employers.

Students pursuing an MBA in an emphasis area must realize that by specializing they also are narrowing the focus of their studies. Fewer of their classes are likely to be overviews of various aspects of business. Many of their classes instead will focus on the minutiae of a certain segment of business. Many older students already established in a career take MBAs in emphasis areas.

Some of the most common areas of MBA emphasis are described below.

  • Accounting
    An MBA in accounting is a good choice for those seeking a career in public or private accounting. Full-time programs are available and can be completed in as little as 15 months. The accounting specialty includes classes taken by all MBA candidates as well as many courses focused on the practice of accounting. General business courses include classes like business law, marketing, organizational behavior, and even economics. Specialty topics in accounting often cover corporate taxation, auditing, accounting for non-profits, and accounting information systems. An accounting MBA, while comprehensive, is clearly for those on an accountancy career track. Many schools offer specialization within their MBA accounting programs, such as MBAs in government accounting or taxation accounting.

Many programs include an internship working at an accounting firm or in the accounting department of a corporation or government agency. This experience can be invaluable in building contacts and getting hands-on experience in the nuts and bolts of real accounting. During the internship, students might learn how a private accountant audits its own company accounts. Others might learn about the role of government accountants.

Graduates holding an MBA in accounting are significantly more likely to pass the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam on the first try. They also are more prepared than their non-MBA counterparts for the Financial Accounting and Reporting section of the exam. Most states require certification for accountants, so the knowledge to pass the exam is invaluable for future accountants.

  • Business Management
    MBA schools offer MBAs in specialized management fields such as sports business management, hospitality business management, pharmaceutical business management, and even global business management. The specialization reflects coursework, through electives or core courses, in a specific field. Most business management MBAs include an internship working within the selected industry. Students who earn these MBAs leave school ready to take over the management of a particular type of business.

Like their traditional MBA counterparts, students take core courses in business law, accounting, taxation, and organizational behavior. They also take coursework dealing with the specific needs of their industry. Pharmaceutical management students, for instance, take classes in health care regulation, pharmaceutical marketing research, and product management. Sports business management candidates study sports law, sports marketing, and statistical analysis for sports along with general business courses.

MBA programs in business management generally do not take any longer to complete than a traditional MBA. Instead, students take fewer general business courses. Any internship or research is directed toward the industry of interest. Guest lecturers and seminars make up a good portion of the student’s elective courses. As a result, graduates are uniquely situated to take leadership roles in their respective industries.

  • E-Business/E-Commerce
    A growing number of MBA schools offer e-commerce, also known as e-business, as an MBA specialization or area of emphasis. E-commerce is a shorthand way of saying electronic commerce, or the buying and selling of products electronically. E-commerce covers business conducted online and through text-messaging or other digital applications. E-commerce includes the sale of products online, the sale of content or virtual products, and business-to-business commerce.

Students must decide whether they want an MBA in e-commerce or an MBA with a certificate in e-commerce. Some schools offer one or the other, but not both. The difference between the two is that a certificate requires fewer classes in e-commerce while the MBA requires that nearly half of all coursework be specifically in e-commerce. A certificate often reflects only three or more classes taken in a particular concentration.

Classes cover new media marketing and market research, which includes such strategies as data mining. Several classes also are offered in information technology and database management. The technologically inclined are encouraged to explore this emerging area of business. Companies are racing to take advantage of dimly understood opportunities in e-commerce, so experienced, knowledgeable leaders in the field should be increasingly in demand.

  • Economics
    An MBA in economics or an MBA with an emphasis in economics is available at many MBA schools. Economics, known colloquially as the “dismal science,” is the study of production and consumption and the data that affect them. The discipline is further delineated into microeconomics, the study of how individual people or corporations produce and consume, and macroeconomics, the study of how whole economies work or how the economies of bordering countries affect each other.

MBA programs with an emphasis in economics may offer elective or core classes that cover concepts like supply and demand, negative externalities, fiscal policy, and Keynesian theory. The classes often are math heavy as students are asked to construct models to predict consumer or producer behavior over a number of years. Students study how exchange rates are determined and how governments deal with balance of payments. The expertise that students gain allows them to analyze and predict market forces working on the individual, company, and national levels.

Holders of MBAs in economics go on to a variety of executive positions. Many are attractive to government agencies and private think tanks that study monetary policy, consumer behavior, and regulatory issues. States and cities hire candidates with expertise in urban economics and public-sector economics. MBA programs in economics allow candidates to become executives in any number of private-sector ventures, making them valuable employees who can see the big picture.

  • Entrepreneurship
    Some MBA schools offer MBAs in entrepreneurship while others offer MBAs with a certificate in entrepreneurship. Schools also might offer entrepreneurship as a co-major or an elective. Entrepreneurship is the process by which new businesses are created, from conception and funding through growth to public offering or sale to another company. Entrepreneurs learn how to conceptualize and market new products and how to raise venture capital and grow a business.

An MBA in entrepreneurship is likely to include many of the classes that a traditional MBA program offers. In addition, students will learn about emerging industries where entrepreneurs can find a niche for their ideas and talents. Coursework covers new markets in e-commerce and digital media. Special attention is paid to finding capital, growing a firm from a few members to many, and marketing for innovative products.

In some cases, students are encouraged to compete with each other to start businesses. Many programs offer initial funding and even work space to student-run businesses. Students who lose out in the competitive environment are often encouraged to gain work experience at a student startup or a venture capital firm. This specialization, and the opportunity some schools offer to start a new business, should be seized by those with an innovative idea, product, or business plan.

As we’ve seen, MBA schools offer MBA programs in various disciplines. Taking an area of emphasis signals a career decision and shows that a candidate is goal-oriented. Employers tend to look favorably on such candidates.

Searching for Jobs: Evidence from MBA Graduates (pdf)