From Business Analytics to Real Estate, An Explosion In Specialized Degrees

Broad College of Business assistant dean of graduate programs Cheri DeClercq

Broad College of Business assistant dean of graduate programs Cheri DeClercq

Ross’s supply chain management program is one of a number offered by top schools that aren’t intended for students with little work experience. Students have an average of five years’ experience. “They are coming to us to get mastery in a particular skill that obviously marries well with their background and aptitude but will propel them in their career,” Olson says. NYU Stern’s business analytics program is another intended for experienced professionals, with average ages in the mid-30s. Notre Dame University Mendoza College of Business requires two years of work experience of its business analytics master’s students. 

Michigan State Broad College of Business has a long history running specialized master’s programs, having started an accounting degree in 1968, then added finance and supply chain management in 2002, and marketing research in 2010. In 2013, Broad opened a business analytics master’s, in response to what industry and prospective students were telling the school, says Cheri DeClercq, assistant dean of graduate programs at Broad. Companies were saying they were having trouble finding qualified people for big data jobs, because the techies weren’t good communicators and the good communicators weren’t good at tech, DeClercq says. “We try to be really responsive to the marketplace: what companies need, and what students want,” DeClercq says. The rate of job offers three months after graduation for the business analytics program has been close to 100% each year, with the class of 2014 receiving average starting salaries of just over $80,000, DeClercq says. Application volumes for the analytics program have doubled every year, DeClercq says.


Globally, 22% of prospective business school students are focused exclusively on specialized master’s programs, according to the 2015 Prospective Students Survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT. “Student interest in specialized business master’s programs alone has increased across all respondent groups—career enhancers, career switchers, and aspiring entrepreneurs,” the GMAC report says. Among “career enhancers,” who are defined by GMAC as those who want personal and professional growth, and to be recognized by their employers as able to contribute more, the percentage interested only in specialized master’s programs grew to 31% from 22% between 2010 and 2014. The percentage of “career switchers” interested only in those programs nearly doubled to 19% from 10%, while 16% of those in the “aspiring entrepreneur” category were focused only on specialized master’s programs by 2014, compared to 10% in 2010.

Of those considering these programs, 31% were interested in an accounting degree; 28% were after a finance degree; 7% a management degree; and 6% a marketing or international management degree. Supply chain management and data analytics master’s degrees were sought after by 3% of prospective students.

According to the GMAC survey, 26% of prospective students were looking at specialized master’s programs along with MBA programs.


In 2013, the global accrediting body for business schools The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, pointed to fast-rising interest in specialized master’s programs, while interest in MBA programs had been dropping slightly. From 2008/09 to 2012/13, MBA enrollment had fallen 3% in North America, while the numbers of students taking specialized master’s programs had skyrocketed 38%. Worldwide, schools had added 142 such programs, many of them in finance and accounting, followed by general business, strategic management, and quantitative methods. By 2013/14, accounting led the way in the share of specialized master’s programs, with 20%, and finance had the second-largest proportion, at 12%, according to the AACSB. Running at around 6% to 7% were marketing, management, and computer information systems and management information programs.

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