What does an MBA specialization really signify, and what can it do for your career? And what is the best one to choose? Discover all you need to know about how an MBA specialization can propel you forward professionally.

1. Highest-paying MBA specializations

1.1 What is MBA specialization? 

Being a student of MBA, you will have numerous options to choose from to be your subject of specialization. In addition to the core curriculum that is compulsory to all MBA students, you can customize your learning further by taking electives in other MBA specialties to round out the curriculum

A specific MBA specialization additionally often means more specialized networking opportunities in a specific industry or function. Many MBA applicants prefer specialized programs for future career prospects within a specific area or industry. 

1.2 Most in-demand MBA specializations 

Here are the top 10 in-demand MBA specializations and the average post-MBA salary of each expertise area. The most valuable skills gained from each specialization and the Top 5 Business Schools most famous for it are also covered:

General Management

Average salary ( by Payscale): $85,200

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. Harvard 
  2. Stanford
  3. Kellogg
  4. Ross
  5. Tuck

Valuable skills gained: developing  the business strategy that enables managers to diagnose situations, making strategic choices, executing their plans and objectives

International Management

Average salary (by Payscale): $93,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. Moore
  2. McDonough Georgetown University (McDonough) 
  3. Harvard University
  4. New York University (Stern)
  5. Wharton

Valuable skills gained: an in-depth understanding of the organizational capabilities required for international operations

Human Resource

Average salary ( by Payscale): $68,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. Kellogg
  2. Booth 
  3. Vanderbilt University – Owen Graduate School of Management. 
  4. University of Southern California (USC) – Marshall School of Business.
  5. University of Michigan

Valuable skills gained: skills managers need in order to bring in and retain a strong workforce ( labor markets, international leadership, recruiting, training, team building, performance updates, …)


Average salary ( by Payscale): $98,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. Booth
  2. Kellogg
  3. Wharton
  4. Columbia University.
  5. New York University (Stern)

Valuable skills gained: preparing graduates for a number of different roles in the field of consulting, such as operations, sales, marketing,real estate, technology consulting,…


Average salary ( by Payscale): $98,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. University of Texas–Austin (McCombs)
  2. University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
  3. Wharton
  4. Brigham Young University (Marriott)
  5. Booth

Valuable skills gained: skills to become accountants, financial managers, auditors, and more; recognizing good business opportunities and making strategic decisions of the company. 


Average salary (by Payscale): $98,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. Babson College (Olin)
  2. Stanford 
  3. MIT
  4. University of California–Berkeley (Haas)
  5. Harvard

Valuable skills gained: the skills they need in order to build a foundation for their business, while they also get a chance to develop their entrepreneurial skills. Innovation, projects, business management and leadership. 


Average salary ( by Payscale): $91,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. Kellogg
  2. Wharton
  3. Ross
  4. Duke University 
  5. Stanford 

Valuable skills gained: excellent communication skills, resource mobilization skills, creativity and an undying zeal to excel in marketing.

Operations Management

Average salary ( by Payscale): $83,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. MIT
  2. Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
  3. University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross)
  4. Stanford University
  5. Purdue University–West Lafayette (Krannert)

Valuable skills gained: how to maintain process flows and to develop vendor and inter-departmental relationships

IT or Technology Management

Average salary ( by Payscale): $110,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. MIT
  2. Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)
  3. University of Arizona (Eller)
  4. University of Texas–Austin (McCombs)
  5. University of Minnesota–Twin Cities (Carlson)

Valuable skills gained: designing and implementing hardware and software solutions to business problems. 

Corporate Social Responsibility (Non profit/Ethics)

Average salary (by Payscale): $72,000

Top 5 MBA Specializations by Business Schools (by US News 2020 Rankings): 

  1. Yale University
  2. Harvard University
  3. Stanford University
  4. University of California–Berkeley (Haas)
  5. Georgetown University (McDonough)

Valuable skills gained: appling core business principles (like strategy, finance, and marketing) while emphasizing the specific needs of the nonprofit organization sector.

A school’s top-ranking as determined by a single source lacks context as the variables involved will not likely be equal to everyone.

As a result, what some would consider key factors may not be counted at all. You should take your time to find out which factors contribute to the rankings and identify the factors that are the most important to you before deciding which programs to target. 

2. “Specialized MBA” vs “General MBA”

2.1 Comparison between “Specialized MBA” vs “General MBA” 

A common concern between MBA applicants is the choice between “Specialized MBA” and “General MBA” and which one is better to study. There is always no fit solution for all the candidates, as one has to bring several concerns into consideration to find out a suitable program: School rankings, program length, or career goals,… to name a few.  Here is our comparison for your reference: 

Why it fits you?

Specialized MBA

– Students receive an in-depth business education in one field. If you’re interested in a specific industry or profession, an MBA specialization can give you more targeted management experience.
– If you already have an idea of the career track you want to pursue upon graduation, a specialized MBA can give you more of a head start than a general program would.
– Many specialized MBA programs are only one year, and several allow students to study while they’re still working, giving you more flexibility.

General MBA

– Offering students a broad base of knowledge in business and management. You’ll learn the basics across all specialties and upgrade skills that can be applied in almost any industry.
– Acceptance to general MBA programs doesn’t require a certain educational or professional background. If you have high GMAT score, working experience and a compelling application, you can go for the top B-schools you desire
– In addition to business and management experience, general MBA programs focus on strengthening leadership, creativity, communication, and critical thinking skills, which are imperative to success in any field.

But consider these downsides too...

Specialized MBA

– The expertise you acquire will be limited to one area, so it’s essential to be sure about your professional ambitions before you commit to a specialized MBA program. It may also be difficult to change careers down the line.
– Specialized MBA programs encourage (or require) students to have relevant experience in their field before applying, so if you’re just getting started professionally, you may have a harder time.

General MBA

– A general MBA won’t necessarily direct you toward a specific profession or industry, so students will need to be proactive about exploring opportunities before graduation. ​
– Most MBA programs (though not all) are full-time and take two years to complete—which means more tuition and fewer opportunities to gain professional experience. Students will need to be sure they can handle the investment

2.2 Which type of MBA is better for you?

When considering between these two options, professionals usually opt for the Specialized MBA to advance their career in specific domain expertise, whereas General MBA is more suitable for future C-level executives of various functions and departments.

The most essential factor for choosing the best fit program is your foundation, which is largely based on your major and your related working experiences. For example, if you have your Bachelors’s Degree in Marketing with more than two years working in a marketing agency, you would hardly switch to a different industry like Finance and your top choice would be Kellogg or Stanford. However, you also don’t need to worry when not having working experiences related to your major as long as you prove the consistency in your application and your strong motivation for further education. 

On the other hand, if you are a candidate having an IT background and want to move your career to the next level, a general MBA program would be the right one. You can have the fundamentals in the first-year foundation course and a better understanding of an enterprise in the elective in the second year. 

3. Summary of Best MBA Specializations by Schools

Each school normally has its own focus on specializations like its own unique characteristics and there is an annual MBA Specialization Rankings among top Business schools

For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is known for technology and operations management, but may not be ideal if your interests lie in corporate social responsibility. Or Kellogg School of Management is considered as a mere “marketing school” as it is home to Phillip Kolter.  Similarly, it is assumed that Wharton is a “finance school” as it consistently shows a great proportion of graduates ending up in Wall Street.

By focusing on your area of specialization, you can narrow down which of the top business schools would be the best fit for your interests and career aspirations.

The below MBA Specialization Rankings by top 15 business schools chart is based on the data provided by US News 2020.


MBA Specialty/Specialties

Berkeley Haas

Technology, CSR/Ethics, Entrepreneurship

Carnegie Mellon Tepper

Production/Operations, IT/Information Systems

Chicago Booth

Finance, Economics, Accounting


Finance, International Management

Cornell Johnson

Accounting, CSR/Ethics


General Management, Corporate Strategy, Marketing, Nonprofit


Marketing, General Management, Organizational Behaviour

Michigan Ross

Corporate Strategy, General Management, Production/Operations

MIT Sloan

Technology/Information Systems, Production/Operations, Supply Chain/Logistics, Entrepreneurship

NYU Stern

Finance, International Management, Media & Entertainment


Entrepreneurship, General Management, e-Business, Nonprofit


General Management, Corporate Strategy


Finance, Entrepreneurship, Accounting, Marketing, International Management


Nonprofit, CSR/Ethics, Economics

Most benefits an MBA can grant to attendants rely heavily on the b-school’s reputation. The more prestigious the brand name is the more credentials and quality networks you have in the job market. To some points, the rankings can speak volumes about the school, but not at all. If you want to find out more about the answer to the question “Does it matter where you get your MBA”, please check out our related article below.

Does it matter where to get an MBA

4. How to choose the best MBA specialization? 

There are numerous MBA programs but most applicants would choose to play it safe and opt for Finance, Marketing, or Human Resources. It’s partly because professionals often go for popular options rather than conducting enough research about the variety of specializations they can choose from. What a pity, as only once students know the full range of MBA options available, can they go for the best fit for their career goals. MBA concentrations within the standard MBA curriculum can prepare students for in-demand jobs that cater to their strengths and interests and possibly increase the post-MBA salary.

So how should they decide to choose the best MBA specialization? Which factors matter the most when making that decision? Here are some suggestions for your consideration. 

4.1 School ranking 

The majority of MBA rankings are available on the internet and they play such an essential role in shaping the opinions of current and potential students about the quality of tertiary education institutions. In terms of ranking, top universities such as Havard, Wharton, Yale,… have significantly produced the most employable graduates and successful students. 

Make sure that the school is well ranked for that specialization. Different specializations will have different rankings, so do the research – prospective employers will certainly do theirs. Check out our related article below for further information about the top business schools. 

The 7 “magnificent” business schools

4.2 Program length

There are two available programs: one-year and two-year.  A two-year course allows you to be a generalist in year one, and move to a specialist in year two together with an internship during the summer in between. On the other hand, a one-year specialist MBA is really a branding exercise as there is not enough time to cover both standard MBA topics and the specialization within the limited time available.

Generally, the accelerated programs at Kellogg and CBS are ideal for candidates who have already determined their post-MBA career track and expect to have a relatively easy entree into their chosen field—someone who will enter the family business, for example, or a  consultant who plans to return to consulting. 

4.3 Personal strengths 

If you prefer working alone or consider yourself a leader, a specialization in entrepreneurship might help you in your quest to start your own business. Do you find health care intriguing? Specialization in health care management might be your best option. Take an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Some questions you can ask yourself may be: What’s the best fit for your learning style and personality? Are you a natural leader, or are you a bit shy? Do you love networking? Are you someone who enjoys frequent challenges?

4.4 Career goals 

It’s a common piece of advice but yes, the key to the right choice is understanding the key reasons why you desire an MBA degree and what you expect to take back, those that align with your career goals. You should take time to identify the factors that are most important to your career needs.

The tougher the market gets, the more scrutinized the degree is.

  • If you have an IT  background and see MBA as a tool for promotion such as professional positions in areas such as client/server, a MBA specialization in IT management would be the obvious answer. 
  • If you hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing and desire MBA specialization in Marketing as a means to learn new things, rankings may not be that important when choosing schools. However, if you seek good job offers from top companies like Google, Microsoft,… MBA specializations rankings by schools do matter. 
  • If you are a career switcher, wanting to move to a different industry, consider carefully as the judges would wonder about your certainty. Make sure that you have solid reasoning in your application.

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