Specialized vs General MBA

By | August 22, 2020

Specializations during an MBA have become a pattern and many schools have schemes with additional certifications, diverse areas of concentration or dual degree alternatives. However, the original idea and base structure of how an MBA program was created had more to do with a strong concentration on ALL management aspects of a company, without neglecting or exchanging one area for another.

There are many arguments for and against a specialized vs. a general MBA, so I will go over some of the most important points to consider. As in any decision, in the end the profile of each individual and the objective that is sought counts a lot.

An MBA with Specializations

MBA programs are recognized worldwide as a quality standard in leadership and managerial skills. An MBA must then provide a fundamental basis that covers the general aspects of a company and give its graduates the tools to make correct decisions in a globalized market.

At the same time, there are many students who, arriving at the program with previous experience, would like to intensify their expertise in a specific area or who perhaps, seeking a change in the industry, are trying to complement their professional profile with an expertise other than the one they have been developing for years. For any of these reasons, the argument in favor of a specialization during an MBA program comes from the opportunities in the job market. A company with a specific need will look for a professional who, having a strong base of knowledge and managerial experience in various fields, has an extra that gives it a unique combination and thus excel in a pool of candidates.

In general, MBA programs cover the fundamentals during the first year and leave the second year for electives or specializations. Therefore, the argument in favor insists that MBAs with specializations still contain enough general component so that their graduates have the necessary tools for the correct performance in a managerial position. Be careful that you have to differentiate between those MBA programs with specializations and those that are specialized MBAs. While the first cover the basic and fundamental courses in leadership and different areas within the management of a business, the second focuses from the first moment on an area of ​​specialization.

A General MBA

In the case of the General MBA, the argument in favor comes from the side of the vision that a leader requires to identify opportunities and make decisions in search of sustained growth. In this argument, “specialists” focus too much on one aspect or area within a company and may in that sense overlook alternatives that someone with training and general vision could identify.

A general MBA program gives its students the ability to make associations within different areas, without favoring any one and make decisions with a comprehensive vision. What a General MBA does is give the graduate tools to identify connections that cross the boundaries of various areas more quickly than someone with a specialized profile.

Now, however general an MBA program is, it will always have an elective component. On the other hand, the profile of each student already brings a specific expertise in a specific area. In this case, it is quite difficult to speak of purely general MBAs, since in my view, these do not really exist. However, there are some programs that essentially have a fairly general approach or trend vs. others that are certainly specialized.

Now, the argument in favor of a General MBA is given by itself, if we consider that all MBA candidates enter a program with the intention of growing professionally. So, if they come with a specific profile, it is logical that the growth comes from the acquired tools that complement their profile, that is, general ones. If you are looking to eventually become a C-level, then this complement comes with a generalized expertise in the various areas of a business.

It is important to note that a company needs both profiles. You cannot survive in the market without having specialists or generalists. However, those who have a greater global vision about the different areas and aspects of a business, will have greater facilities to climb the job.

By definition an MBA cannot offer a true specialization and remain an MBA. If really a student’s passion is in a specific area then doing an MBA is not the way.

In reality, every decision will have different edges that cross the borders of different areas, so that every CEO or General Manager will then have to make decisions considering the impact on each of these and even if they have a team of specialized advisers, the Final decision and analysis will depend on the overall strategy which definitely needs an overview.