Specialized MBA vs. General MBA: Similarities and Differences

An executive team meets around a conference table.
An executive team meets around a conference table.

When advancing or making a career change in business, experience and seniority are not the only things that matter. Additional education, like a Master of Business Administration (MBA), is often a prerequisite when applying for management or leadership positions. The right online specialized MBA can make all the difference in achieving professional success and satisfaction.

What Is a General MBA?

A general MBA is a strong choice for students who are interested in a broad management education. Without focusing on a particular industry or position, the general MBA curriculum includes the fundamentals of business, including leadership, finance, operations and marketing. 

After completing this degree, graduates are prepared to pursue leadership positions in upper management, with the knowledge to oversee multiple departments and the business expertise to contribute to the discussion and decisions at the C-suite level. In addition, earning an MBA is a good investment for people interested in starting their own businesses. 

What Is a Specialized MBA?

Earning a specialized MBA, however, may be more suited for people who have already chosen a specific field, organization or industry. Offering more focused coursework, these degrees are particularly beneficial for those who have specific and long-term professional goals. Here are some examples of specialized MBA degree programs.

Organizational Consulting

Graduates with an organizational consulting MBA degree are often hired to analyze and identify areas within an organization that could be improved or streamlined. Using behavioral science and organizational leadership principles, they assess how employees, teams and departments work together and determine how best to create change for enhanced performance and success. Organizational consultants may also further specialize in the areas of operations, environmental impact or marketing, to name a few.

Human Resource Development

MBA graduates in human resource development focus on matching individual employees’ skills and knowledge to the organization's goals. They know how to improve performance on both individual and organizational levels by offering appropriate professional development and training to fit the demands of the industry. Hiring a skilled human resource development professional can result in organizational growth, stronger employee satisfaction, commitment, loyalty and increased mutual trust and respect between employee and employer.

Executive Leadership

Graduates of high-quality MBA programs in Executive Leadership can become members of executive leadership teams in companies of all sizes. They make and implement strategic plans for an organization’s vision, mission and goals. They know how to translate plans and strategies into actions, create effective teams and make sound financial decisions and investments. 

Healthcare Administration

Healthcare administrators have a wide range of responsibilities, most of which improve the quality and efficiency of overall patient care. In the area of finance, they often oversee budget projections and accounts payable and receivable. In compliance, they ensure that records are kept secure, current and accurate, that licensing of medical professionals is up-to-date and that employees abide by state and local healthcare laws. Healthcare administrators also stay abreast of emerging trends in healthcare. By using health informatics — a field of study that uses biomedical data to solve problems and make decisions — they work with all levels of management to establish efficient policies and practices.


Management experts and consultants are hired in both public and private sector organizations to find the most effective ways to improve business practices and maximize profits while reducing costs. These specialized MBA graduates work with upper management teams and department heads to create strategic plans, vision and goals. As problem solvers, they gather and analyze company data, review product or service development and processing and explore options for improving employee effectiveness.

Cybersecurity and Data

The need for graduates who are highly qualified in cybersecurity is on the rise, as companies in every industry find it necessary to secure and vigorously limit access to sensitive and personal data. Graduates in cybersecurity and data have the knowledge and skills required to hold data collection, storage and analysis to high standards, providing executives and managers the confidence they need when relying on data to make well-informed decisions.

Executive Communication

Graduates with an MBA in Executive Communication have the skills necessary to create an environment in which communication is ethical, effective, respectful and compassionate. They know the value of listening and are well-versed in strategies that lead to successful conflict deescalation and dispute resolution. In addition, they have the tools required to develop a crisis communication plan in anticipation of unforeseen events or emergencies, during which open and accurate communication with their stakeholders is critical.

General MBA vs. Specialized MBA: Similarities and Differences? 

Choosing between a general MBA vs. a specialized MBA depends on the prospective student’s short- and long-term professional goals. Understanding the curriculum and outcome similarities and differences of each program is critical to a successful selection process.

Similarities of General MBA and Specialized MBA Degrees

Both general and specialized MBA programs offer coursework in key business areas, such as:

  • Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Advertising
  • Economics, finance and accounting
  • Entrepreneurship
  • International relations
  • Business analytics
  • Operations and project management 
  • Human resources management and health administration

In addition, general and specialized degrees provide the skills and knowledge required to move into positions of greater responsibility or a new area of interest.

Differences Between General MBA and Specialized MBA Degrees

The differences between general MBA and specialized MBA degrees can best be described by the employment potential for each. 

General MBA Employment Possibilities

After earning a general MBA degree, business professionals can seek employment in a wide range of industries and many different management and executive positions. General programs offer a broad base of knowledge and skill development common to industries and jobs across the business spectrum. In addition, a general MBA program includes strengthening soft skills, such as interpersonal relationships, creativity, critical thinking and communication.

Specialized MBA Employment Possibilities

Completing a specialized MBA program can open up possibilities for a more focused job search. The coursework in each specialized area provides a concentrated background in the areas many businesses require for management or executive positions. By earning a degree in a specific area, candidates may have an edge over their competition. For example: 

  • Organizational consultants and human resource development graduates may both be in demand as companies expand into new geographic and technological areas, and employees must be trained in new and innovative industry trends. 
  • Highly-skilled members of executive leadership teams can make or break a business. Having the ability to see and understand the big picture of an organization and keep track of its moving parts is a skill many organizations need to succeed and grow. 
  • The complexity and nuance of the ever-evolving world of healthcare have created a new demand for professionals who have chosen a focused education in healthcare administration.
  • A specialized MBA in management may be required when companies are searching for a manager who may also serve in a distinct area, such as a financial consultant, to more than one department or team.
  • As the number of serious data breaches continues to grow, all areas of commerce and industry need qualified experts in data security, mining and governance as well as cloud computing and deployment. 
  • Effective executive communicators serve an important role when “hot topic” political and social discussions in the workplace become heated. And when these conflicts affect productivity, their more nuanced understanding of personal interactions is required. 

Specialization Can Lead to Professional Business Success

When deciding if a general or specialized MBA is right, prospective students should determine their personal interests and professional goals. If success means securing greater responsibility and earnings in a distinct field or position, earning an Online Specialized MBA from Spring Arbor University may be the right decision. The program offers seven concentrations so students can tailor their education to fit their goals.

Find out more about how the admissions team at SAU can help you find the right MBA specialty and prepare you for your ideal career. 


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