The Best MBA Concentrations for In-Demand Fields
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Editor & Writer
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- Master of business administration (MBA) degrees include a variety of specializations and concentrations for students.
- MBA concentrations typically include specialized coursework to train students for a specific field or industry.
- Concentrations vary by school, but typically include traditional areas like finance. Some schools also offer concentrations in growing sectors like artificial intelligence and sustainability.
- MBA concentrations can lead to highly specialized, well-paying jobs in a variety of fields.
Master of business administration (MBA) students at Florida International University (FIU) will have a new concentration to choose from starting this fall: cybersecurity risk management.
"This is an area that impacts every business, from the largest to the smallest, to protect their resources and as managers it's a risk we have to understand," FIU Business Dean William Hardin said in a press release earlier this year. "We're proud to offer this new program in a new cutting-edge area we need to benefit our state and the country."
MBA programs often offer concentrations to students, allowing them to pursue intensive coursework in a specific field or industry. Traditionally, these concentrations have included areas like entrepreneurship and management, offering students opportunities to land higher-paying jobs in those specialized fields.
With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), a shifting business focus on climate change and sustainability, and increasing demand for workers who are skilled in highly technical fields, FIU and various other MBA programs are also offering concentrations geared toward keeping the MBA relevant for the future.
Combine that with a worker shortage in many of those key fields, and some concentrations make the MBA more relevant than ever. Here are a few key concentrations that will help MBA students land a job with a good return on investment after graduation.
In-Demand MBA Concentrations With High ROI
An MBA in finance opens up opportunities for students in higher-paying fields like financial services, investment banking, and venture capital, BestColleges previously reported. Graduates can pursue jobs as finance directors, financial managers, and other key financial leadership positions.
A director of finance makes an average of $233,709 per year, as of May 2023, with $151,439 in base pay and $82,271 in additional pay, according to Glassdoor. Finance managers make an average of $93,038 in base pay, according to Glassdoor.
Business and financial occupations overall are projected to grow by 7% between 2021 and 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with the median wage for that sector being $76,570 in May 2021 — well above the median wage for all occupations of $45,760.
Earning an MBA in marketing lets graduates pursue jobs like marketing managers, marketing communications directors, and chief marketing officers, according to OnlineMBA.com.
Advertising, promotions, and marketing manager jobs are projected to grow by 10% between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median annual pay for those jobs was $133,380 in May 2021.
Many business schools offer MBA programs in marketing, and BestColleges previously reported that many of those programs offer flexible online learning options for students.
Consulting is a longstanding MBA concentration, with many major firms seeking out recent MBA graduates to join their ranks. Base salaries for graduates at major consulting firms neared $200,000 at the beginning of 2023 amid ongoing increases, Fortune reported.
Employment of management analysts is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow by 11% between 2021 and 2031. Management analysts made a median salary of $93,000 per year in 2021, the BLS reported.
An MBA isn't necessarily a requirement for landing a consulting job, according to the online consulting industry resource Management Consulted, but those without an MBA "won't be as well positioned within the firm for advancement."
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MBA Concentrations for In-Demand, Fast-Growing Fields
AI is rapidly changing the landscape of both higher education and the business world. Millions of jobs could be affected by the ever-evolving technology, the BBC reported, but could also lead to new jobs and better productivity across the board.
AI is also set to affect the higher education sector through engaging new students, helping with academic advising, and changing curriculum, BestColleges previously reported. The World Economic Forum estimates that AI could create 97 million jobs by 2025, leading to ripe opportunities for job seekers with skills in machine learning.
Some business schools have already adapted AI into their curriculum. At Northwestern University, for example, the Kellogg School of Management partnered with the McCormick School of Engineering to create an "MBAi" program geared toward teaching students both about business management and AI.
Artificial intelligence jobs in the United States bring in an average of $129,063 a year, as of May 2023, according to Glassdoor.
Cybersecurity and Information Technology (IT)
The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of many businesses, leading to a greater focus on tech and data across the country — but that also meant a greater risk of data breaches and ransomware attacks. Nearly half of IT professionals surveyed by the Thales Group reported an increase in ransomware attacks, according to an April report.
Major employers are scrambling to train cybersecurity workers: BestColleges previously reported that Microsoft plans to recruit more than 200,000 cybersecurity workers via community colleges by 2025. The demand for information security analysts is projected to grow by 35% between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As businesses look to bolster their cybersecurity efforts, various MBA programs have made information technology and cybersecurity a key part of their curriculum. Many of those programs offer online coursework, BestColleges previously reported.
Purdue University Global offers an online MBA in information technology featuring systems analysis, design, and technology management. Baylor University's cybersecurity MBA concentration incorporates courses on cyberwarfare and threats, cybersecurity policy, and tech factors surrounding cybersecurity.
Specializing in cybersecurity can bring hefty returns, according to Florida International University: Chief information security officers have an average annual income of between $150,000 and $250,000.
The demand for data experts has grown dramatically over the past decade, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that trend to continue: Employment of operations research analysts is projected to grow 23% between 2021 and 2031.
Data analyst jobs start with annual earnings of between $56,000 and $88,000, according to Glassdoor, but those returns increase over time: Data analysts with 5-7 years of experience bring in $93,000-$142,000 a year.
Many business schools combine data science and traditional MBA curriculum to create data-focused degrees that embrace changing technology and prepare students to land good-paying jobs. Louisiana State University, for example, has an MBA data analytics concentration that includes available courses on financial analytics, using data-driven decision-making, data visualization, and more.
A data analysis MBA concentration opens up a slew of job opportunities for graduates, according to Louisiana State, including strategic planners, risk management experts, marketing researchers, and healthcare analysts.
Sustainability and Climate Change
Sustainability and climate change is an increasingly pertinent topic for MBA students, breaching the top 10 highest priorities for prospective students for the first time in a recent survey by the United Kingdom-based consulting firm CarringtonCrisp.
Andrew Crisp, the co-founder of CarringtonCrisp and author of that Tomorrow's MBA report, previously told BestColleges that the heightened priority of climate change comes as businesses embrace related positions like chief climate officers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the employment of environmental scientists and specialists to grow 5% between 2021 and 2031. As companies embrace various "green" technologies, from sustainable energy to electric vehicles, businesses are expected to increasingly focus on sustainability. Lightcast reported that the demand for green jobs is up more than 50% since 2019.
More business schools are embracing sustainability and climate change in their curriculum. Bard College offers an MBA in sustainability that teaches students to "to build businesses that are in business to solve social and environmental challenges," according to the program's website.
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