Specialized Master’s Programs At 100 Top Business Schools


Columbia Business School       - Ethan Baron photo

Columbia Business School – Ethan Baron photo

Indiana University Kelley School of Business’s Philip Powell,  faculty chair of the “Kelley Direct” online MS programs, earlier called specialized master’s programs “an act of desperation” for many schools seeking “fast cash,” and said even good schools would launch bad programs.

The explosion of this type of degree has caught employers somewhat by surprise, says Rex Kovacevich, professor of clinical marketing and a master’s programs administrator at the USC Marshall School of Business.

As we have reached out to companies to support career placement for our MS students, we have found that many companies are less familiar with MS degrees,” Kovacevich says. “The conversation is usually an easy one and we find that companies are interested in learning about MS graduates, but it is still a topic that often has to be addressed.”

Marshall, ranked No. 26 among the top 100 U.S. B-schools, has in a few short years built a dominating presence in the business school specialized master’s market. The school offers 10 degrees across a spectrum of fields, having launched half a dozen of those in the past three years.


And the school is selling more than an education  – grads get a network, too: “A degree from USC Marshall gives you instant connections – and a calling card that will open doors around the world,” says promotional material on the school’s website.

Applications to Marshall’s specialized master’s programs, according to the school, are rising steadily. Marshall added the programs for two primary reasons, Kovacevich says. “One was the thinking that business was just getting more complex and although we have a terrific undergraduate program and our BBAs are getting jobs, we thought that an MS degree would help them compete for the very best undergraduate jobs and make them more marketable,” Kovacevich says. Second, USC faculty found themselves writing recommendation letters for USC undergraduates who were applying to other universities for specialty master’s programs. “Our undergraduates,” Kovacevich says, “were trying to make themselves more marketable and stronger and so they were going elsewhere.”

Marshall’s master’s programs attract two categories of applicants, he says: those who want to “add a strong business education credential to their profile,” and those with some work experience who want to deepen their knowledge in a particular area of business. Among the latter group are many applicants to the entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship degrees, and to the marketing program, although Marshall doesn’t target experienced marketers for its program, Kovacevich says.

The degrees can launch graduates into higher positions than they would likely achieve without them, facilitate advancement, and in many cases eliminate the need to take two years off later for an MBA, Kovacevich says, but he presents caveats. Starting pay will probably be closer to the higher end of what a bachelor of science degree holder would receive, rather than reaching lofty MBA-pay realms. Also, earning a specialized master’s represents a commitment to a specific business area. “An MS student can sprint out to a career path that they haven’t fully vetted,” Kovacevich cautions.

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