The Rise of the Specialty Master’s

by Paula Lehman on

Practically every twenty-something has a “five-year plan,” an idea of where they want to be by the end of that timeframe and a rough idea of how they are going to get there. And, like all plans, they are never as straightforward or simple as they may seem initially.

Tyler Louie’s five-year plan was as straightforward as they come. He graduated from Northwestern University in 2007 with an engineering degree and went to work for Motorola as a software engineer. He figured he’d get the extensive professional experience he’d need to have a fighting chance at a top business school, keep his contacts in the technology industry, and “go from there.”

It took about 20 months for Louie’s plan to change.

In January of 2009, Louie heard about a specialty MBA program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and applied that April. He would be a member of the Master’s in Management Studies (MMS): Foundations of Business program’s first graduating class. A specialty MBA was, and somewhat remains, a nominally known degree on the whole. Yet despite having a position as a software engineer at Motorola and even a competing offer from another software company, Louie applied to the program as soon as he caught wind of it.

“It offered a good blend of what I needed to get to go where I wanted to quicker,” says Louie, now vice president of user experience at BNY Mellon. “It did end up being an alternative to an MBA but just in terms of what I wanted to get out of it.”

SOME 148,299 U.S. STUDENTS NOW ENROLLED IN SPECIALTY MASTER’S PROGRAMS IN BUSINESS

Louis is hardly alone. According to a survey of U.S. business schools conducted by the Association to Advance Collegiate Business Schools, some 148,299 students were enrolled in these specialized business master’s programs in 2010, a whopping 50% increase over year-earlier numbers. Enrollment is expected to rise again in 2012 because 73% of last year’s GMAT test takers indicated they intended to concentrate on a specific area of study.

Schools are responding to the demand by dramatically increasing the number of available seats for these programs and launching new master’s in everything from Management in Clinical Informatics at Fuqua to Financial Engineering at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. There were 2,444 specialized master’s programs worldwide in 2010, a 21% increase from a year earlier, according to the AACSB.

At Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School, for example, enrollment in its Master of Finance program has tripled in one year. This fall the school will admit some 120 students in the program, including 80 full-time students, up from what had been merely a part-time program with just 40 people enrolled. “We might have to launch another cohort next spring just because we have limited classroom space and have had to turn people away,” says Phillip Phan, a Carey professor who had been interim dean.

DEMAND FUELED BY COMPANIES AND TREND TOWARD SPECIALIZATION

The increasing interest in specialty MBAs is a direct result of a growing acceptance of the degree by universities, applicants, and employers alike. “We’ve become highly specialized in the corporate world,” says Joe DiAngelo, Jr., Chairman of the Board at AACSB. “Information systems, for example, started providing bonuses for employees with specialized skills. Corporate technology has become easier to use so business strategies have changed. Now it’s business intelligence, not creating the data but analyzing and organizing it.”

For the Master of Finance degree, adds Phan of the Carey School,  “A lot of big companies are trying to build an internal capability to work more effectively with Wall Street. General Electric and General Motors are putting more emphasis on the asset management aspects of their business. The large industrials are not going to do financial management and derivatives themselves but having an in-house capability helps them work with Wall Street more effectively.”


Dramatic Growth For Specialty Master’s Programs in the U.S.

Year Programs Enrollment Degrees Conferred Applications Offers
2010-2011 291 44,004 20,376 54,490 28,982
2009-2010 293 39,689 17,652 46,840 26,387
2008-2009 283 36,716 16,128 37,546 21,490
2007-2008 276 35,798 15,656 30,245 18,797
2006-2007 273 29,993 12,784 24,378 16,089

Source: AACSB Data for 492 AACSB-accredited schools in the U.S.

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  • Brian

    Schools are making these degrees for money.. end of story, they have overproduced the MBA and overexploited it. Soon one will be able to earn a masters degree in six months, the degree will become certificate like with a masters name.

  • Leo

    Stern School has an outstanding MSc Degree in Risk Management: http://www.stern.nyu.edu/programs-admissions/global-degrees/ms-risk-management-executives/index.htm

  • Smi_josepha

    Anybody know anything about the masters in management science degrees that a few schools offer?  For instance, there is a masters program in Management Science and Engineering at Stanford that I am looking at but don’t see much information about it anywhere.

  • http://twitter.com/globalcitizenkb Kathleen Brennan

    John, what are your thoughts on choosing a MS in Cybersecurity vs EMBA for person re-entering workforce after 8 yr absence from Tech world? Too specialized? pigeon-holed for future oppty is my fear.

  • JohnAByrne

    If you are already working in a company and hoping to move up the ladder with the MS, I think the specialization is fine. If not, I would go more general with the EMBA at a place where you could take a few electives and maybe do some project work in cybersecurity. The EMBA would be more transferable to a wider range of job and career options.

  • KK

    John,can you please post international students acceptance rates & (placement stats -Work authorizations as well).

    Since I belong to an over subscribed pool(Indian,M,Engineer),any insights from you on this will help me a lot in shortlisting schools .

    Thanks

  • JohnAByrne

    Schools do not break down acceptance rates by geography. It’s clear that Indians and Chinese are at something of a disadvantage in applicant pools. We’ve written on this here: http://poetsandquants.com/2011/11/19/indian-chinese-mba-applicants-face-higher-rejection/

    As for the placement stats, some schools do break out these numbers. We’ll be sure to report them that way. Most of the placement stats will dripping out of the schools over the next few weeks.

  • KK

    Will be waiting eagerly for the stats !! I hear its increasingly difficult for international students to secure H1B visas and now even schools suggest applicants to consider the bad economy & keep options open to go back .

    John,
    Can you please evaluate my profile ?

    Gmat – Plan to take it soon( Target – 730. Practice tests,I am scoring consistently in the range of 720 – 740)

    Age – 25

    Education – BE(Comp) from a top Indian University(Grades average)

    Work Ex – 2 years at a leading Indian IT Company(1 bn $ revenues),3 years next June.
    1 Promotion,
    International experience – Worked directly with a telecom major for 6 months
    [Leading a team of 4 working in India]. Over the past 2 years, have worked with leading clients in the telecom space.Have strong professional certifications(Working on revolutionary Cloud tecnology as a consultant)

    -Can get recommendations from a director & supervisor at the firm

    – One of the toppers of my High school
    & recipient of many awards in school

    -Member of a sports team in High school

    – Organized events in college festivals,active volunteer

    – A bit of community work[Have worked with underpriviledged kids]

    – Trekking and Travelling enthusiast
    -Can speak 5 languages
    -Special interest : Current Affairs

    Why MBA : Want a transition from IT Consulting to Management Consulting

    How strong am I a fit to top B schools with this profile(Consider GMAT 730)

    Thanks

  • KK

    Thanks John

    Can you please evaluate my profile ?

    Gmat – Plan to take it soon( Target – 730. Practice tests,I am scoring consistently in the range of 720 – 740)

    Age – 25

    Education –
    BE(Comp) from a top Indian University(Grades average)

    Work Ex – 2 years at a leading Indian IT Company(1 bn $ revenues),3 years next June.
    1 Promotion,

    International experience – Worked directly with a telecom major for 6 months
    [Leading
    a team of 4 working in India]. Over the past 2 years, have worked with
    leading clients in the telecom space.
    Have strong professional
    certifications(Working on revolutionary Cloud tecnology as a consultant)


    Can get recommendations from a director & supervisor at the firm


    One of the toppers of my High school
    & recipient of many awards in school

    -Member of a sports team in High school


    Organized events in college festivals,active volunteer


    A bit of community work[Have worked with underpriviledged kids]


    Trekking and Travelling enthusiast

    Can speak 5 languages

    Special interest : Current Affairs

    Why MBA : Want a transition from IT Consulting to Management Consulting

    How strong am I a fit to top B schools with this profile(Consider GMAT 730)

    Thanks

  • KK

    John,

    Any such article on P&Q on average experience required for top B schools.
    I have 2 years now & will complete 3 next year.

    Thanks

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