What’s the Difference Between Specialized and General Business Master’s Degrees?

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If you're considering a business master's degree, you'll want to decide whether it makes more sense to choose specialized or generalized. 

When you’re in the early stages of deciding to pursue a master’s degree in business, it’s important to understand your options as well as what differentiates them. One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether you’re pursuing a general or specialized degree. 

A general business master’s degree, such as an MBA or Master in Management, will educate you on a variety of business principles and can be applied to a broad range of industries and job functions. A specialized business master’s provides in-depth knowledge on a specific topic and students become subject-matter experts in their field. This focused approach can be a point of differentiation that provides a competitive advantage, however, it can also narrow your career options.

Are you seeking expertise or options?

When deciding between a general and specialized degree, one question to consider is whether you want to be known as an expert in your field, or if you see yourself changing careers or pursuing new roles. Remember, a general management degree will open a variety of doors, while a specialized degree will help you excel in your chosen field. You can also choose to specialize first and pursue a generalist master's degree later to further open your career options. 

Full time or part time?

Regardless of the degree option you choose, a significant investment of your time will be required. Not all degrees take the same amount of time to complete, however, and the length of time over which you make that commitment is up to you. For example, MBA programs can be very time intensive, whether you choose a full-time or part-time option, while some general and specialized degrees can be completed within a year. 

What tuition options exist?

Along with your time, you’ll also need to invest in tuition for your business master’s degree. While we have the tendency to think general degrees typically carry a smaller price tag than specialized degrees, this isn't always the case. You'll also have to think about it in terms of time. Tuition for one program may be less than another program, but if it takes you longer to complete the degree, the prices may be more similar than at first glance. Online degree programs are also an option to consider, but again, depending on the school, may cost just as much as on-campus options. Be sure to explore and think through all of the cost implications of your choice, then look at different financing options. A private loan or federal loan could work for you, but those aren't the only options available, many employers offer reimbursement programs for all or part of your tuition.

How will you position yourself?

Job markets are always changing, but no matter the market conditions a master’s degree in business helps set you apart from other candidates. Of course, you’ll also be competing with candidates who have similar academic backgrounds to your own. This reality, especially in a competitive arena, brings us right back to the first question: “Do you see security in subject-matter expertise or in expanding your options?” 

There are pros and cons to every type of degree but remember that with adequate research and a little self-reflection, you’ll find that there’s a perfect fit for you. As you contemplate your decision, read how Oliver Jones from the University of Oxford made his decision.

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