The Case For The Specialized MBA Program
9:30 am, December 4th | by Emma Collins, MBAOnline.com
For years, MBA rankings have been dominated by a few prestigious and exclusive schools. However, second-tier schools have recently been attracting students through specialized programs that prepare them for specific careers. At a time when competition among schools is increasingly intense, specialized programs allow schools to attract students who are already focused on their chosen career path, and offers them a chance to hone specific, and often valuable skills.
European business schools were among the first to adopt this model, particularly the Essec Business School near Paris. The school’s international luxury brand management program is conducted entirely in English and attracts about 40 students each year, most of them not French. Similarly, the Bordeaux Management School in western France includes a wine and spirits MBA program in which students supplement their studies with stints at cooperating universities in Australia and Northern California.
In 1990, the main accreditation board for business schools in the US, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, changed its guidelines to encourage more innovative curricula. Since then, US schools have focused on a variety of industries such as aerospace, wine management, luxury goods, real estate and energy policy. Daniel R. LeClair, the organization’s vice president for knowledge services, says that since 2001, the percentage of business school students enrolled in specialized programs has risen about 4% each year. Today, more than a fifth of business school students are seeking a specialized degree.
The University of Wisconsin, Madison, which enrolls about 125 students a year, is also considered a pioneer in specialized MBA programs. In fact, in 2004, the university ended its general MBA program entirely, opting instead for 13 specializations, including market research and real estate. LeClair says that niche MBA programs tend to attract students who know exactly which industry they are heading to, as well as older students with business experience who want to move into a different field. For example, the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business capitalizes on its geography for its energy concentration program. The school is surrounded by oil country, and thus has a pool of local employers who are likely to seek custom-trained executives. For students looking to enter the energy industry, these contacts can prove invaluable.
For small business owners looking to go back to school, choosing either a specialized MBA or traditional program is only one step in the decision-making process. Before making the investment, entrepreneurs and business owners should think about the kind of career they aspire to and research companies in that field. From there, they can have a better idea of whether the long-term payoff will be worth the time and money spent in school. While many prospective MBA students are already working full time, those who are able to fit an internship into their schedule, even for a few months or weeks, can also get a good sense of whether or not to pursue work in a particular industry.
Joe Fox, associate dean of the MBA program for the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, says that too many students fail to explore the myriad opportunities and pathways available at many universities. Instead of aggressively and proactively seeking out the recruiters, faculty members and other university resources who can help students find the program that best suits their needs, students are often overly passive, as if they expect a job to land in their laps. “By not networking with anyone, you almost guarantee you’re not going to get the insight that you need,” says Fox.
There is no one formula for finding gratifying and lucrative business success. Deciding on a specialized program, a traditional MBA, or forgoing formal training altogether is a decision each aspiring entrepreneur, executive or business owner must decide independently. By studying businesses one admires and networking within the industry early on in one’s career, young business professionals can ensure themselves a valuable head-start in a competitive and diverse marketplace, regardless of what form of training they embark upon.
Emma Collins is a writer and researcher for MBAOnline.com.