MBA Specialize or Generalize - Which is Better?

MBA Specialize or Generalize
MBA is a significant investment of your time, money and resources. It is better to understand the value that you would be able to generate with the program. A common concern seen among MBA Aspirants is the choice between General and Specialist MBA program. There is no one fit solution for all candidates. You have to consider various factors before selecting one over the other.


The Background of a student plays the most important role in choosing Specialist vs. General MBA program. For example, students with Bachelors in Marketing would rarely move to a different industry like Finance. Their primary target schools would be Kellogg, Duke Fuqua or Stanford. If you have a strong foundation in one of the management functions, a general MBA program is not recommended. For Career switchers like candidates with IT background, a general MBA program would be the right program. The first year foundation courses will build the fundamentals and the electives in the second year would give them a better understanding of an enterprise.

Career Goals

The essays and Interviews would have forced you to think about your career goals in detail. What are your short-term goals? Do you see MBA as a tool for promotion, competitiveness in the job market or as a mean to learn new things and open up interesting job offers from a wide range of industries? Although most MBA aspirants would have a clear idea on the value of an MBA program, many students will explore new areas and opportunities during the MBA program. For students who have a clear post-MBA job function in mind, a specialist MBA program would suit them better.


The Curriculum plays a major role in the learning process. General MBA programs like HBS MBA have designed their courses mostly for Career switchers. The first year include the Required Curriculum where students establish the fundamentals of Business Education that includes Finance, Leadership, Marketing, Operations, Strategy and Negotiations.  The Elective Curriculum during the second year builds on the fundamentals with students given the option to choose from courses from 10 subject areas. This is a common trend seen in General MBA program where students take the initiative of the learning process according to their post-MBA preferences (industries and functions).

Number of Years of the Program

The 1 Year MBA programs have very little option but to provide a General MBA Curriculum. The lack of time for concentrations has forced them to include electives during the later half of the program. Although the effectiveness of electives in 3 months cannot be compared to 12-Month electives seen in General MBA program, the 1 Year MBA program is useful for candidates with significant experience (5-7 Years) who cannot afford to be away from the job market for more than a year.

Practical Application and Uniqueness

Business Schools in Europe have realized that to compete with top-tier Business Schools, they cannot serve the same General MBA program. There are students who want to gain domain expertise at a management level. For such students, the specialist MBA program is a perfect fit. BEM Management School at Bordeaux University was a pioneer when it created The Wine MBA program in 2001, which was later renamed to the Wine and Spirits MBA in 2011.The 96 hours research project in Bordeaux, Adelaide, Sonoma and Hong Kong and 39 hours Consulting project in Bordeaux and Adelaide exposes the students to various markets and help them apply management fundamentals in the wine and spirits industry

Who Values Specialist MBA Programs?

The Return on Investment has been advertised in most MBA ranking publications and Business School brochures. Instead of providing a General MBA program, specialist MBA programs can train MBA students in domains that can give them immediate job on graduation. The location of Businesses in the vicinity of the School encourages them to create specialised MBA programs. Paris is the fashion capital of the world and Essec Business School, located in Cergy-pontoise Cedex (hardly 40 minutes’ drive from Paris) introduced MBA in international luxury brand management program to attract recruiters from top Luxury Brands. The MBA students can add immediate value for the brand with their specialised knowledge.

Who values General MBA programs?

General Managerial function can be fulfilled with this MBA program. Instead of specialising in one domain, MBA students with General MBA background will have a greater understanding of various functions and departments in a company. They would be in a much better position to take leadership roles, which requires a clear understanding of how various departments inter operate.  Traditionally, a specialist would be least likely to take leadership roles in a company. That being said, specialist entrepreneurs have performed extremely well as CEOs, even performing better than their MBA counterparts.

What is the risk of a Specialist MBA program?

With US and European Job markets facing volatility, do a thorough research on the specialist MBA program that you are planning to take. The location of the recruiting firms, the popularity of the industry in the city and the market demand should all be factored in before selecting a specialist MBA program.

What is the risk of a General MBA program?

The competition would be much higher for job opening that has General MBA as a pre-requisite. Also, during economic downturn, specialists are valued more than Generalists. If you are taking a General MBA program, target top Business Schools.

How should I choose specialist MBA programs?

Specialist MBA programs rarely is a factor for Global MBA rankings. So it is tough to get a complete picture of programs that is the best fit for you. To make it easier to understand what each industry offers, we have created a Comprehensive MBA Research Guide that shortlists MBA programs on 19 specializations.

1) General Management
2) Finance
3) Consulting
4) Marketing
5) Strategy
6) Operations Management
7) Supply Chain Management
8) Luxury Management
9) Information Systems
10) Hospitality Management
11) Accounting
12) Energy
13) Non-Profit
14) Wine
15) Sports
16) Sustainability
17) Leadership Development
18) Military 
19) International

We cover industry trends and prospects of MBAs in the specialization.

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