An undergraduate business degree might help you build a solid foundation in the fundamentals of business: management, finance, accounting, operations, strategy and statistics. Business school should also provide you with a real understanding of business ethics as well as leadership skills and the ability to communicate effectively. All these aspects might help you in your pursuit of a business career, and are often considered absolutely essential to success in senior management positions. But these are the basics that virtually any employer will expect. And the basics are only the beginning.
The real way to gain knowledge, and to get ahead in a career, might be to consider earning a MBA.
Even if you are only beginning to ponder pursuing a graduate business degree, you need to start mulling over some specific concentrations. Most business schools require students to take core courses for foundation and electives of their choice in a variety of different MBA concentrations, specializations or majors in the business field.
The variety of concentrations available at business schools, as in the business world itself, is pretty dizzying. Different schools offer different specializations, and you’ll want to do your own in-depth research as you consider which programs to apply to. That said, here’s a look at some of the most common business subject concentrations:
This field includes areas such as capital markets, corporate finance, commercial banking, hedge funds, sales and trading, financial planning, investment banking and private equity. Whether you see yourself trading stocks on the floor of the NYSE or helping individuals plan their financial futures, whether on Wall Street or in your hometown, finance may be the concentration for you and is a fundamental part of every business education as well as a concentration.If you’re pursuing an MBA in finance, you might take the following courses:
- Advanced financial management
- Financial institutions and markets
- Investment analysis and management
- Analysis of fixed income securities
- International finance markets
- Portfolio management
Those holding an MBA in finance might pursue careers as financial managers or investment bankers, among other jobs. Financial managers provide oversight, analysis of and reports on an organization’s finances. Investment bankers work in financial institutions such as banks, and raise capital and provide financial advice for various entities such as corporations.
A specialization in marketing will teach you to identify audiences for various products and services, and to understand competitors and the market in general. Successful marketing professionals are innovators who can conceive effective campaigns and then properly promote, distribute and price those goods or services. Beyond marketing firms, this specialty is particularly popular in the media and entertainment fields, and marketing skills can be crucial for an entrepreneur. If you’re pursuing an MBA in marketing, you might take the following courses:
- Marketing research
- Marketing strategy
- Advertising and promotion
- Brand management
- Business-to-business marketing
- Consumer behavior
- International marketing
Those holding an MBA in marketing may be qualified for careers as brand managers or marketing managers, among other jobs. Brand managers supervise a brand, product, or service, and are responsible for marketing it to customers. Marketing managers represent multiple products offered by a company.
This concentration focuses on what is the greatest asset of many companies—its employees. Likely areas of focus include organizational psychology, hiring and firing, training, performance evaluation, promotion, salary and bonus compensation, record keeping of personal and performance data and legal issues. A student pursuing his or her MBA in human resources might choose from the following classes, among others:
- Talent management and development
- Social issues in management
- Negotiation and conflict resolution
- Human resource practices and decisions
- Quantitative methods for human resource analysis
People with an MBA focused on human resources often pursue careers as human resources managers or human resources consultants. Human resources managers are responsible for developing, implementing and assessing all policies and procedures related to an organization’s employees. Human resources consultants solve specific human resource-related problems. While human resource managers are in-house, consultants are usually external.
This concentration is designed for those seeking a career in accounting administration or business accounts administration and will benefit anyone who plans to pursue a role that involves financial decision-making or communicating with investors. Areas likely to be covered are managerial accounting, taxation, auditing, accounting information systems, corporate finance and analysis of accounting data. Those working towards their will likely take some of the following courses:
- Auditing concepts
- Income taxation
- Corporate income taxation
- Business law
- Federal estate and gift taxation
- Tax practice and procedures
An MBA, often with a concentration in accounting, may be required for a management position in accounting or finance. Financial analysts, financial planners, accountants, and budget analysts are all positions that may be available to individuals with an MBA in accounting.
International business requires a variety of marketing, managerial and financial skills and knowledge unique to each country or region—whether an established or emerging foreign market. An understanding of differing financial institutions and political systems is key to operating international businesses, global organizations or government agencies. How to value international companies, enter into and operate in foreign markets,and currency hedging are likely areas of study in this concentration. Many students who plan to specialize in global management choose to attend a business school with study abroad or international internship opportunities.Students working towards an MBA in international business may take some of the following classes:
- Global management strategy
- Cross-cultural management
- eCommerce strategy
- Executive leadership
- International business law
- International financial markets
Individuals holding an MBA with a concentration in international business may be qualified to do many generalist MBA jobs in an international capacity, such as international human resources manager. In addition, they may choose jobs such as international trade specialist or import compliance specialist. International trade specialists research and negotiate economic and trade agreements between countries. Import compliance specialists ensure that a company’s imports and exports are in compliance with federal and international regulations.
Students specializing in operations management will learn efficient ways to run and manage businesses involved in the production of goods and services. Typical skills include management of the distribution and supply chain, an understanding of various information systems for production, logistics and operations strategy, and production, inventory and quality management. Information systems specialists design, analyze and manage the information necessary to best run such businesses and stay competitive.Those working towards their MBA in operations may take the following courses, among others:
- Operations management
- Organizational behavior
- Marketing management
- Supply chain management
- Business forecasting models
- Quality management
Graduates with MBAs in operations often take positions as operations managers. Operations managers plan, direct, and/or coordinate an organization’s functions. They may manage daily operations, plan the use of resources, or formulate policies.
Highly Specialized MBA Concentrations
Other more specialized concentration offerings for MBA students might include:
Risk Management/Insurance: This concentration applies most obviously to those who plan to seek a job in the insurance sector, which deals with accidental risk and loss, but also primes the pump for careers in enterprise risk management—managing and minimizing financial, operational and other risks for almost any type of company or organization.
Health Care/Pharmaceutical Management: This complex and changing field is full of issues unique to it, from regulatory compliance to medical malpractice to legal issues in managed care. A concentration can help prepare you for myriad roles in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology companies, HMOs, insurance organizations, government agencies and health care consulting firms.
Real Estate: Real estate concentrators focus on the particulars of real estate finance and investment, valuation, commercial real estate and real estate investment trust (REIT), international real estate, developments, tax issues and analysis of the real estate market.
Entrepreneurship/Entrepreneurial Management: For those innovators who plan to launch or cultivate a new business, this specialization pulls together study of the many different fields necessary to give a new company the best chance to succeed. Having a great idea is only the start. Successful entrepreneurs not only see opportunity but also make things happen, by gathering capital and resources, launching and sustaining a business and capturing a market.