Selecting the right specialization for your MBA studies isn’t a decision you should make lightly. There are some key factors to consider with this choice, including the experience you’ll gain through specialization curriculum and the possible career opportunities these skills can afford you after graduation.
While choosing your specialization should involve serious thought and consideration, selecting the right subject area can make your studies more fulfilling, and put you on the path toward your desired career.
Let’s take a closer look at the factors involved in selecting a MBA specialization, the top options currently offered at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and how students benefit from their specialized studies.
Specialization vs. general track
Some of the first things that students consider with their higher education is the major or specific program they’d like to participate in, as well as the institution they’ll attend. Once these decisions are answered, there’s another question students must ask themselves: Should I choose a particular concentration or pursue a general track?
Online MBA programs like that offered by the University of Maryland provide students with a choice of five specializations in different industries, as well as a General Track. This latter option offers the broadest scope and experience for MBA students, covering basic topics and concepts from each of the specialization areas.
For students with industry specific goals, interests or career outlooks, it may be best to select a specialization that aligns best with these personal objectives. On the other hand, students who aren’t sure of their pursuits after graduation, or those looking for a broader and more varied MBA experience, may benefit more from taking part in the General Track.
What to consider
While the General Track can offer a taste of the concepts included in each of the other five specializations, some students are looking for more of a detailed, in-depth look at a particular area. These students can select from available specializations designed to line up with the most currently relevant and in-demand areas of business administration.
Before we take a deeper look at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business Online MBA specializations, there are a few things students should be sure to factor into their decision:
- Current interests and passions: If there are any specific areas that students are especially passionate about or interested in, this could be a great place to begin their specialization considerations. Pursuing an interest in this way can help students be more motivated in their studies and have a more enjoyable experience.
- Previous experience: In addition to passions and interests, students should also consider previous experience they may have that aligns with a certain specialization. A student who held a position in finance, for example, may be well-suited for the Accounting or Finance specializations, whereas someone who had a job in technology might consider the Information Systems and Business Analytics specialization.
- Curriculum: It’s also beneficial to examine the curriculum involved in different specializations to ensure that coursework aligns with what students are looking for. Within the Maryland Smith Online MBA program curriculum, each specialization has selective courses within Foundation II studies that allow students to build essential skills in their chosen field.
- Career outlook: Besides considering elements that are closely related to the studies themselves, students should also give some thought to how their chosen specialization can set them up for a future career. Taking a look into the available career paths for given specializations, as well as the job responsibilities and potential salaries in these positions, can help students make a more informed choice.
The above is not an exhaustive list of considerations students should factor into their specialization decision. But taking the time to think about these elements can help students narrow down their options and make a more informed choice for their future.
Top options for MBA specialization
As OnlineMBAToday pointed out, there are currently more than 25 different specializations offered at leading higher education institutions across the nation. For our purposes here, though, we’ll be taking an in-depth look into the specializations that students can choose from within the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business Online MBA program.
As discussed above, this is a broader and more expansive learning track that includes the basic core concepts from the Smith Online MBA program’s five other specializations. In this way, students can develop their understanding and skills in areas including accounting, finance, information systems and business analytics, marketing and supply chain management.
Choosing the general track is an ideal choice for students who do not want to select a particular specialization, and instead round-out their knowledge across several different, key business administration areas. The General Track can prepare students for an array of potential career roles and provides the widest scope of studies available.
Within the Accounting specialization, studies focus around key concepts for advanced, managerial-level accounting processes. Students will take part in courses and exercises that provide them with the skills necessary to track, analyze and explain corporate financial information within a professional setting. Students learn how accounting factors into formulating larger business strategy, as well as the importance of accurately and efficiently managing a company’s financial assets.
In addition to foundational courses, students build out their specialized accounting skills through available selective courses like:
- Fraud examination, detection and deterrence in the business environment: This course covers fraud examination processes, and teaches the skills required to pinpoint the best resources for avoiding fraud, analyzing the conditions in which it takes place and designing effective fraud detection and prevention strategies. Students also learn the key steps that should be taken after a fraud instance occurs and how to best mitigate the damage.
- The impact of taxation on business entities: This course discusses the tax concepts that impact enterprise organizations and their transactions, including those that apply for C corporations, S corporations, limited liability companies and partnerships. This course also provides a brief look at the taxation of individuals, so students get a comprehensive picture of taxation.
- Financial planning and control systems for managers and consultants: During this course, students learn about financial planning and management accounting control systems, as well as the cost and use of these platforms. Students build skills in accounting data, online transactions, earnings, financial ratios, evaluating financial performance and more.
A main career path for students graduating with this specialization is the accounting manager role, according to PayScale. This position earns professionals a median annual salary of $68,089, depending upon the setting and industry in which they work.
This specialization is centered around money management in the context of the current business landscape. Students expand their understanding of concepts related to corporate finance and restructuring of enterprise finances and assets, as well as the skills necessary to complete financial investigations in a corporate environment.
Within this specialization, students build upon the knowledge gained during foundational courses like financial accounting, corporate finance, managerial economics and public policy. After completing Foundation I courses, students can choose from Foundation II finance selectives like:
- Commercial bank management: This course provides students with a deep understanding of current banking structure, through the lens of recent changes like the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Students learn about key banking and finance activities and processes, the potential risks involved and the impact of current financial regulations.
- Applied equity analysis: This course discusses the analytical frameworks and valuation techniques professionals use in real-world settings, as well as practical market information about the current equity landscape.
- Financial restructuring: Through this course, students learn about the strategies used to increase an organization’s value, including corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buy-outs, bankruptcy restructuring and more.
This specialization can prepare students for careers like the finance manager role, which currently earns professionals in the field an average annual salary of $86,987, according to PayScale.
Information systems and business analytics
This specialization can prepare students for the in-demand and fast-paced worlds of technology, big data and analytics as they relate to business administration processes. These studies focus on the use of information systems in business, the implementation process for deploying such a system and the necessary management of data therein. Students expand their understanding not only into technological platforms and the informational resources these systems use but also the best practices for overseeing and using these types of tech assets.
As with the other specialization options, students discuss key concepts during their required foundational courses, covering topics like strategic information systems, data analysis, decision modeling and business communications.
Students then move on to specialization-specific selective courses, including:
- Data mining and predictive analytics: This course introduces students to topics like big data and data analytics. Students practice working with data sets from sources like web traffic, social media, website comments and reviews. Individuals learn how this information can be accessed, mined and analyzed, and how these insights can prove invaluable in a business setting.
- Managing digital businesses and platforms: This selective enables students to learn more about the structure, characteristics and processes of digital businesses, including big names in technology like Apple, Google and Facebook. Students compare the business processes of these digital entities and learn how they differ from their more traditional enterprise counterparts.
- Social media and web analytics: This course discusses how today’s companies leverage social media, and the impact and implication this has on the enterprise sector as a whole, individual entities and their customers. Students examine the challenges and opportunities that come along with social media and how organizations can make the best use of social media platforms and related web analytics.
A promising career path option for students who choose this specialization is the Computer and Information Systems Manager role, which currently comes with an average annual salary of $142,530, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Within this specialization, students go over concepts related to business’s products and services and the ways in which they drive demand among customers and clients. This learning track explores topics related to the latest marketing strategies, the use of data and analysis for target marketing, brand management and a range of other critical marketing skills.
Students expand their understanding of not only traditional marketing approaches but also emerging strategies, including data-driven marketing and permission marketing through digital channels. Students also learn the importance of brand image and reputation, and how key marketing materials can support the business in its industry.
Over the course of required Foundation I and II curriculum, students take part in classes covering concepts like marketing management, entrepreneurship, ethical leadership and organizational change. During the specialization selectives, students delve deeper into topics including:
- Digital Analytics – Co-creating the customer experience: Here, students work to understand the changing relationship between customers and the businesses they buy from, and how these organizations can craft a leading experience for consumers. Students will apply this knowledge to improving the customer experience offered by companies like AirBnB or Arista.
- Consumer behavior: This course examines the characteristics of consumer behavior, including the factors that can garner customers’ attention, the actions businesses take to encourage conversion and how to support customer loyalty over time.
- Customer equity management: During this course, students build skills related to customer equity and retention and learn how these processes contribute to the marketing investments companies make.
Specialization studies like this can prepare students to pursue careers like the marketing manager role, which earns a median annual salary of $124,850 currently, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Supply chain management
This final specialization option enables students to delve into the key parts and processes that support today’s supply chains, as well as the necessary skills and knowledge to keep every piece of this chain operating efficiently. Individuals learn how to pinpoint potential issues, practice risk management and boost productivity across the supply chain, including through the use of emerging technological management platforms.
Selective courses within this specialization explore topics like:
- Global trade logistics: This course discusses elements like international distribution and the systems that support it, government restrictions for global trade, as well as the necessary import and export documentation. Students learn about the logistics of the supply chain as it relates to global trade.
- Innovative solutions to supply chain challenges: Here, students learn about the critical issues that can come up during supply chain management, as well as unique and successful approaches to resolving these problems.
- Supply chain risk management: This course delves into supply chain risk management (SCRM) as it relates to global enterprise processes. Students build skills for risk identification, assessment and mitigation.
These studies can help prepare students for future careers including the transportation, storage and distribution manager role, which includes a current median annual salary of $102,850, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For more information about the available specializations through the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business Online Master of Business Administration, check out our website and connect with one of our expert enrollment advisors today.