Specialist or General Master’s In Business: Which Option is Right For Me?

Nov 23, 2017
Tags: B-School

Provided by Liz Griffith, Department of Management, LSE

Liz Griffith

Master’s programmes in business and management (also known as MSc, MS or Master depending on which country you’re from) are growing in popularity with business school applicants around the world, and are offered by many top institutions, particularly across Europe.

These programmes are specifically designed for less experienced candidates who want to build the skills to launch their career in the business world, but who do not yet have enough work experience to enroll in an MBA. Typical master’s students will have recently completed their undergraduate degree, and have a maximum of 1-2 years’ work experience.

Master’s programmes offered by business schools fall into two broad categories: specialist and general.

Specialist master’s programmes focus on developing the expert skillset and in-depth knowledge required for a specific industry or professional function, such as finance, marketing, HR or technology management. They act as career ‘accelerators’, giving graduates everything they need to progress rapidly in their chosen field.

In contrast, general programmes provide greater flexibility. They are better suited to those who already have a specialist background and wish to complement this with more general business acumen, or those who aren’t settled on a particular industry or career path yet. These programmes give a strong foundation across all the core elements of people, team and organisational management, and give students a wide range of options after graduation.

So which one is right for you? There’s no better advice than to hear directly from two students who have followed each option.

Meet the students:

Sanjana and Payal are both master’s students in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics, one of the leading business education providers in the UK.

Sanjana LSESanjana - MSc Management of Information Systems and Digital Innovation, a specialist programme in data and technology management


Payal LSEPayal - Global Master’s in Management, a general programme in international business and management


Why did you choose to enrol in your current master’s programme?

Sanjana: “Before joining the LSE Department of Management, my background was in computer science and engineering, with a diploma in cyber law. It seemed like an obvious choice for someone like me to join a specialist master’s programme in information systems management, to enhance my career prospects and transition into a management role in an IT firm. But my intention was not to do the obvious. It was to explore the unanswered questions I had while I was pursuing my previous technical studies. Questions like, ‘Why does only one tech start-up succeed while hundreds fail?’, ‘Does technology determine the future of society, or do social conditions shape technology?’, and ‘How do organisations change when a new technology is introduced?’ Often people chose to do a specialist master’s programme because they want to be able to find jobs in a specific field. However, I believe technology management is the new ‘general’ as IT has become a part of every industry today.”

Payal: “My general management degree at LSE appealed to me for various reasons. With an undergraduate degree in pharmacy, I had no prior management background. Having completed my first year, the course has provided me with an integrated overview of the key areas in management. I can now choose to specialise in my subject of interest in my second year. People come from diverse degrees to do this programme, and the professors start from the basics of every subject. I was unsure of what I wanted to pursue in the future and the degree has given me an insight into so many career paths which I wasn’t aware of before. I’ve realised that with my degree, I can choose to pursue not just popular careers like management consulting and investment banking, but also careers in marketing, financial consulting, human resources, retail banking, project management, entrepreneurship, and so many more options.”

How do you think studying your chosen programme will help you achieve your career goals once you graduate?

Sanjana: “As my career goal is very specific, I needed my specialist master’s degree to develop expertise and a significant depth of knowledge. My career goal is to move into the public/government sector, and I want to work as a specialist in technology policy and implementation in that sector. This requires in-depth knowledge in the field of IT implementation and policy. My programme at LSE is designed in a way that helps us gain a professional edge, and prepares us for an IT management career in any industry.”

Payal: “I feel my general management degree has not only developed me academically – it has also built up my essential professional skills, such as team working and leadership. It has boosted my self-confidence to speak up when needed. These are skills that will take me a long way in my career. It has also helped me explore so many career options. I joined the programme with another goal in mind, but learning about so many more opportunities, I now wish to pursue something completely different. The degree has also given me a strong foundation in management, with insights into various fields, such as marketing, organisational behaviour, quantitative and qualitative analysis, finance, accounting and microeconomics. I feel the knowledge gained by studying these subjects will be helpful in any job I go for.”

What advice would you give to somebody who is making the choice between a general or specialist programme?

Sanjana: “It’s important to be clear about what you want before making a choice between a specialist or a general programme. If you are unclear about what to choose, take the time to figure it out. You can choose to get some work experience or speak to people working in your field of interest, or just analyse the types of questions and topics that intrigue you. It’s also important to look at the modules and syllabus offered by a master’s programme, to figure out whether the courses match the requirements for jobs in your area of interest, and give you a competitive edge. The right decision will enhance your chances to meet your goals and get your dream job.”

Payal: “I would advise people to consider the pros and cons of both aspects. Pursuing a specialist degree is always an option, as from the very beginning you have the chance to stay focused on a particular subject. However, you need to be very passionate about the subject and know roughly the path you want to pursue after the degree. You need to do thorough research into both options before making a decision. For me, talking to people helped me make my choice. Websites and online forums help to a certain extent, but the best advice comes from people who have already done their degree and currently working. Talking to students and alumni helped me learn about job opportunities after my degree and made me more sure of my decision.”