Graduate degrees in business administration are among the most popular options for both men and women to further their careers. The master's of business administration (MBA) is an especially common choice, with MBA specialization in a specific area of study available.
MBA specialization allows you to tailor your MBA to the career path you want to follow.
For those exploring MBA specialization, we have prepared a comprehensive guide explaining how to choose an MBA specialization that is best for you.
In this post you’ll learn:
- What the value of an MBA is
- Which careers and industries require an MBA
- How much graduates can make by industry
- How an MBA can help you acquire a management job
- What an MBA specialization is
- How to figure out which MBA specialization is best for you
- Five examples of specializations—including how much they can help you earn, and what you’ll learn during your program
- How a faith-based online MBA prepares ethical business leaders
Depending on your professional goals, an MBA could be the key that helps you unlock higher earnings, advancement opportunities, and more fulfillment in your career.
What is the Value of an MBA?
Before you can determine the best MBA specialization, you should understand what the actual value of the core degree is.
A major selling point of an MBA is the boost in earning potential that often entails.
According to 2019 figures released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary of an MBA graduate is $84,580—more than $25,000 higher than what graduates with only a bachelor's degree in business can expect to earn (source).
Other figures reported by U.S. News paint an even rosier picture. In its annual survey of 130 MBA programs, the periodical pegged the average salary plus bonuses of graduates at $102,495 (source).
Few among us would sniff at a six-figure income, but it’s also true that earning an MBA represents a significant investment of time and money.
Before considering which MBA specialization is best for you, we strongly recommend that you spend some time defining your career goals as precisely as you can.
If you have a clear idea of where you’re trying to get to professionally, it’s much easier to come up with a plan to make it happen. Part of that planning should include researching whether an MBA will actually help you achieve your dream.
Many people create a pros and cons list or a vision board to help them outline their career goals.
You may also find it helpful to write down your reasons for applying to business school before taking the plunge. Seeing your rationale laid out can make it easier to pick flaws—or strengthen your certainty that an MBA is the right decision.
What Kinds of Careers Require an MBA?
Regardless of which MBA specialization is best, at its core an MBA is a management degree.
While graduates are sure to find countless ways to incorporate concepts learned in the real-world, it is best suited for those who want to assume a leadership role in business.
There are MBAs degree holders working in almost every industry. The U.S. News survey found the following salary distribution by industry:
- Consulting: $130,656
- Financial Services: $118,585
- Technology: $116,526
- Healthcare, including poducts and services: $102,362
- Consumer Packaged Goods: $98,921
- Retail: $94,934
- Manufacturing: $92,125
- Real Estate: $91,290
- Energy: $85,685
- Media/Entertainment: $83,846
- Other: $79,228
- Transportation & Logistics Services: $68,945
- Nonprofit: $57,553
It’s important to note that the industry you work in plays a large part in the salary you can expect to earn—regardless of the job title. However, it also means that whatever your passion is, there is likely a leadership role where you can have a meaningful impact.
Management and administration titles will vary by company and sector, but the following are most common:
- Director: typically of a division
- Head: typically of a department
- C-Suite Level Officer: CEO, COO, CFO
- Senior Executive
- President/Vice President
How an MBA Can Help You Get the Job You Want
Leaving the specifics of industry aside for a moment, how does an MBA actually help you get a management role?
In some cases, the relationship between degree and promotion is rather direct.
At some bigger companies, for example, it’s simply not possible to reach a certain level of seniority without the credential.
For those hoping to make their mark in consulting, potentially the most financially rewarding sector of all, an MBA is almost de rigueur for success.
It’s also a very useful asset for those who want to make a shift from working in a specialist role at their company, such as accounting or software development, into a position in personnel management.
Specialists are often perceived as lacking expertise in how businesses work from an wider organizational perspective—the precise knowledge an MBA can confer.
Going through an MBA program will change the way you see the business world, and also allow you to access a network of peers and faculty who can jumpstart your career.
Check out the video below about choosing the right time to begin an online MBA program.
In the example of an accountant or software developer pursuing an MBA, combining an advanced business degree with their own specialist background may make them a viable candidate to become the Director of a division, or even to serve as a Chief Accounting Officer (CAO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO).
There is a very strong argument to be made for getting at least a few years of professional experience under your belt before applying for business school:
- Having real-world context for the lessons you learn in class. This will help you make connections and apply theoretical insights to your own career.
- Weilding a more diverse skill set than those who go directly to business school from an undergraduate program. Managers who understand the work their direct reports are performing are in a better position to optimize their skills.
- Knowing yourself and your interests better, making it easier to select the best MBA specialization for you.
Remember, an MBA is an investment. Consider how this degree will contribute to your specific life goals, and how you can make sure you’re getting the best possible return on investment.
How to Choose Your MBA Specialization
As we noted earlier, MBA degrees are more popular than ever.
According to the United States Department of Education, nearly 200,000 students graduate each year from MBA programs source).
The sheer volume of graduates means it’s more important than ever to distinguish yourself from the flock. That’s where MBA specialization comes in.
All core MBA programs are intended to give you a comprehensive overview of how business works from a managerial perspective.
The curriculum will typically include lessons on:
- Personnel Management
- International Business
MBA specialization augments these foundational ideas with subject-specific courses to focus your studies.
Just as we advise candidates to diversify their professional skills before pursuing a graduate degree, we also recommend looking into which MBA specialization is best for you.
As we’ve established, most MBA degrees provide the opportunity for graduates to earn a higher base salary regardless of their specialization. This gives you freedom to choose a focus area that you are passionate about.
MBA specialization can focus on one or all five of the following:
- Executive Leadership
- Human Resource Development
- Healthcare Administration
- Organizational Consulting
In the next part of this article, we’ll examine each MBA specialization to help you get an idea of the following:
- What you can expect to learn
- Which MBA specialization pays the best
- What your career outlook could be
MBA Specialization #1: Management
This MBA specialization is best for you if you see yourself working in operations or business development. There is always a demand for strong traditional business administration skills.
The MBA-Management specialization will help you gain a strong strategic vision and a well-rounded management portfolio.
What You’ll Learn
Strategic Planning & Management
- Essentially senior management, you will learn how to establish a mission, vision and how to set goals that drive organizational success. With this framework in place, you can translate your strategy into action.
Human Resource Development
- Managers must have a firm grasp not only on their technical assets, but on how to get the most of their people. Discover how professionals learn, how to create procedures that let them develop and thrive, and how to ensure they are motivated and satisfied in their roles.
The skills you learn are best-suited for a role as a significant decision-maker in your company, likely at the director-level.
Your responsibilities might include managing staff, managing budgets and developing guidelines for employee evaluations.
You will likely have lower-level managers who report to you and are in charge of making sure strategies are executed according to plan throughout the organization.
In turn, you may report to and work closely with the C-Suite.
Our research shows graduates of the management mba specialization can earn an average of between $105,796 and $116,752 at the Director-level in operations or business development.
MBA Specialization #2: Executive Leadership
This is the best MBA specialization if you want the chance to make decisions that determine the future of an entire company.
Most students who choose this path already have a strong background in management and want to break through to the very highest levels of their organization.
What You’ll Learn
- What are the characteristics of a great leader? How can they make the greatest possible positive impact on their companies? You will learn how to see the “grand strategy” of business, and influence those around you for the better.
- High-level management shares the same basic principles as managing a team, but you must be able to think bigger. Instead of dealing with the personalities of individual team members, you have to understand the behavior of people in large groups—and how to get those groups moving in the preferred direction.
At the senior-management level, your decisions may affect everyone in the company, as well as shareholders and clients. You may be called upon to answer to the Board of Directors, and you may be a public face of the business.
In a smaller company, you may even have to deal with responsibilities that would normally be shared by a CEO, CFO and COO.
C-suite executives are generally the top earners at their companies, with an average salary range of $80,000 to $145,000 (source).
MBA Specialization #3: Human Resource Development
This is the best MBA specialization if you are especially passionate about working with people.
A company’s human resources team is one of the greatest single determinants of its success or failure.
Marrying an MBA education with expertise in HR will help you make personnel decisions that take the company’s operational needs into account.
What You’ll Learn
Workplace Learning and Professional Development
- Become an expert in the art of training. You will gain important insights into the way employees learn, how to analyze their needs, and how to build organizational scaffolds to help them grow professionally.
Critical Thinking and Social Problem Solving
- As a senior HR manager, you may not have the chance to frequently engage with every employee face to face. Learn how to parse reports and evaluations for signs of disharmony. You can also master strategies to defuse issues before they have the chance to do real damage.
Working as an HR manager means being comfortable with change.
No two days at work are likely to be the same, as the issues and people you manage are very diverse.
Employees may drop by to discuss their concerns with you, and you’ll also be meeting with other managers to stay in the loop. You may also conduct training sessions and help review job applications.
The average salary for a Human Resources Manager with an MBA is between $96,195 and $102,975. (source).
MBA Specialization #4: Healthcare Administration
This is the best MBA specialization for you if you want to be a healthcare leader.
Compared to other industries, the healthcare sector comes with a very distinct set of needs and expectations: procedural, structural and ethical.
That’s why senior management candidates with training specific to healthcare have a real leg up on the competition.
What You’ll Learn
Trends in Healthcare Administration
- Learn about the healthcare ecosystem—how hospitals, specialists and other providers work together to provide services. You will gain an understanding of how and why healthcare administrators make business decisions.
Managerial Finance in Healthcare
- Augment your MBA’s core financial courses with lessons specific to the healthcare field. Topics include measuring the efficiency of healthcare organizations, controlling costs without affecting safety, Medicare/Medicaid financing, and more.
Managing Quality in Healthcare
- What does “quality” mean in the context of healthcare? Learn to define what constitutes effective service, how to support clinical improvements, and how to create processes that ensure standards remain high.
There has never been a greater need for able healthcare administrators.
Our nation’s Baby Boomer population is aging, which means more patients will be accessing the system.. The industry needs fresh ideas and voices, and positions are likely to continue to open up over the next few years.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that medical and health services managers average $99,730 per year. (source). The heads of major hospitals can make considerably more, though the number of positions is more limited.
MBA Specialization #5: Organizational Consulting
This may be the best MBA specialization for you if you value a constantly shifting challenge and love solving problems.
Organizational consultants are called in to give companies an expert outside perspective.
With your deep knowledge of how organizations and the people within them operate, you can point out problem areas and offer innovative solutions.
What You’ll Learn
Organizational Consulting Foundations
- Develop deep knowledge of contracting, assessment and diagnosis, data collection, feedback techniques and how to effectively deal with resistance to change. You’ll also understand change management models, and the importance of collaboration in strategy and implementation.
Management of Organizational Behavior
- Obtain a high-level understanding of how people behave in organizations. You will gain insights from organizational psychology, and how one’s managerial decisions can contribute to the health and efficiency of the company as a whole.
Consulting is a big business. It is one of the best paid MBA specializations, and as more companies transition to using temporary or outsourced staff, we expect the number of roles filled by consultants to increase.
Your role will vary by client and project, but you can expect to embed yourself in the companies you work with to understand how they do business. Then you will come up with plans to help them address issues or take advantage of opportunities.
Finally, you’ll work with senior management to implement your ideas.
Because organizational consultants typically do not make a fixed salary, the range of their average earnings is wide, with sources listing a range from $71,219 to $142,626 (source).
What Makes Spring Arbor’s Culture Unique?
As you consider which MBA specialization is best for you, know that Spring Arbor University’s educational approach will offer a rich learning experience.
As a Christian institution, Spring Arbor aims to contribute to an ethical business world. This is why our curriculum is aligned to ensure our students consider the human impacts of the decisions that they make.
Watch the video below to learn more about Spring Arbor University's faith-based MBA.
We believe that true leaders should stand on principles of service, and work to create positive changes for the people and communities around them.
As Mark 8:36 reminds us, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
According to Forbes, just 25% of Americans trust big business, compared to 67% who trust small business (source). Years of scandal and corporate malfeasance have compromised public trust.
It’s our goal to train new leaders who can begin to repair the bridges between businesses and the communities they serve.
Only You Can Decide Which MBA Specialization is Best For You
We hope this overview of MBAs and specializations has been helpful to you as you consider your future.
For those interested in taking the next step, Spring Arbor’s flexible 100% online MBA program is a fitting option for today’s busy professionals.
You’ll receive a fully accredited, faith-based business education that will help you grow professionally, personally, and spiritually. You’ll also have the chance to network with other business professionals to help move your career to the next level.
Learn about faculty who care— watch theshort video below.
Contact us today to learn more about our online MBA specializations. You can check out our complete brochure or speak with a dedicated recruitment advisor.
- National Association of Colleges and Employers. NACE Salary Survey Winter 2019. https://www.naceweb.org/uploadedfiles/files/2019/publication/executive-summary/2019-nace-salary-survey-winter-executive-summary.pdf
- Kowarski, Ilana. “Find MBAs That Lead to Employment, High Salaries.” US News. 2019. https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-business-schools/articles/mba-salary-jobs
- Byrne, John A. “The Alarming Decline of the MBA’s ‘Value Added Ratio.’” Poets and Quants. 2018. https://poetsandquants.com/2018/03/21/the-alarming-decline-of-the-mbas-value-added-ratio/
- Payscale.com. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Business_Administration_(MBA)%2C_Business_Development/Salary
- Payscale.com. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Executive_Masters_of_Business_Administration_(Exec_MBA)/Salary
- Salary.com. https://www1.salary.com/Salaries-for-Human-Resources-Manager-with-a-Masters-Degree-or-MBA
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
- Payscale.com. https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Master_of_Business_Administration_(MBA)%2C_Management_Consulting/Salary
- McCarthy, Niall. “The Institutions Americans Trust Most And Least In 2018.” Forbes.com. 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2018/06/29/the-institutions-americans-trust-most-and-least-in-2018-infographic/#2649c49e2fc8
- O'Shaughnessy, Lynn. “America’s Most Popular Degrees.” CBSnews.com https://www.cbsnews.com/news/americas-most-popular-graduate-degrees/