How to choose your major at a business school
Often business school applicants ask which global program they should consider if they are interested in a particular management subject, such as corporate finance, marketing or human resources. They want to know which program is “good” for each subject. The fact is that most of the top global business school programs are strong in all subjects and typically the core curriculum will be common to all students, whether or not a concentration is chosen.
Oftentimes the question of majors comes down to the program in which you enroll. For example, while while top MBA programs such as The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania or The Chicago Booth School of Business offer students flexibility to concentrate or major in a specific management subject, others such as Harvard Business School or The Stanford Graduate School of Business do not.
If you are still keen that your business school experience should prepare you to specialize in a specific topic or practice area, here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a major: If you are planning a career switch you should choose a major that will position you into your new career choice, e.g. if you’ve been working in accounting but you want to transition into a marketing role, a marketing major can make you more attractive to employers after your MBA. Another way to choose a business school major is to identify knowledge that is difficult to get on-the-job and is best acquired in an academic setting, such as finance or theoretical knowledge of business. But don’t feel pressure to select a major in which you have experience or that you want to pursue in the future. You can choose your major based purely on your interest in a topic you’d like to explore. You aren’t likely to be committed to the interest you indicate when applying, so you can exercise some flexibility once you’re on campus.
Besides majors, some MBA programs offer industry specific concentrations. The top cases that come to mind are programs in health care management, admission to which is often competitive within business schools. For example Wharton’s health care management program must be applied for at the time of the main application and there is a separate interview process. This program is highly selective and constitutes more than simply a major that is fulfilled by additional electives. It prepares students to practice management within a particular industry, rather than in a specific business function. Other types of industry specific MBA majors include entertainment or sports management, hospitality management or real estate. These types of programs offer students great exposure to industry practice, but often experience is required to be admitted. These programs are not necessarily for career switchers. If you’re an accountant it will be difficult for you to make a case for admissions into health care management.
If you find yourself overly focused on learning more about one particular business function, perhaps you should consider pursuing a specialized master’s degree in that subject. For example many students enroll in a master’s in finance, accounting, marketing or even entrepreneurship directly after completing a bachelor’s degree. Specialized courses often help you hone valuable skills and identify your strengths. In fact, many people, after earning a specialized master’s and working for a few years, then understand their professional goals better and choose return to education for an MBA. This is not an uncommon professional path.
Whichever way you look at the question of MBA majors, remember that the MBA degree is essentially designed to expose students to all aspects of management. Keeping an open mind will help you make the most of your experience.