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Generalist vs. Specialized MBA: What The Experts Say

One of the top reasons why people pursue an MBA degree is to further advance their career. Professionals come to B-school from a wide range of backgrounds—from consulting to marketing—to master new skills, build their network, and level up in their industry. But what about those students who aren’t set on a certain industry?

That’s where a generalist MBA degree may be helpful. Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently discussed the benefits and drawbacks of pursuing a generalist MBA degree and why some students might consider a more specialized MBA degree.


One of the biggest advantages of a generalist MBA degree, Blackman says, is the comprehensive knowledge that it provides.

“The degree imparts a strong foundation of general business knowledge,” Blackman writes. “Here, students gain a complete understanding of how various departments operate.”

A generalist MBA degree can be especially helpful for those students who are considering a career switch and want to explore other industries.

“MBA students typically come to b-school with a clear career goal in mind after graduation,” Blackman writes. “Yet, business school is an excellent time to explore a variety of subjects that may ultimately redirect your path. Today’s professionals want long-term flexibility in the global marketplace. To that end, career-switchers need courses that prepare them for the management responsibilities they will encounter in whichever sector they end up.”

On the flip side, a generalist degree may not be the best fit if you’re intent on pursuing a specific role after graduation.

“A potential drawback to a general MBA is that you may not acquire the depth of knowledge required for a particular position,” Blackman writes. “However, the broad range of career opportunities that comes from earning an MBA at a top program is invaluable.”


If you know exactly what role you want to pursue in your career, Blackman says, then a specialized MBA degree may be a better choice.

“Suppose you already know that you’re interested in an area like digital marketing, real estate, business analytics, social innovation, health care, and so forth,” she writes. “In that case, earning an MBA with a concentration can make you even more marketable. Recruiters like to see a strong focus on a particular field or functional area.”

At the end of the day, many experts say that whether you choose to pursue a generalist or specialized MBA degree, you’ll likely receive a proper education that fits your needs in both.

“The reality is that even the most generalist MBA programs — or at least the really good ones — have an inbuilt flexibility that enables students to mold their studies to fit their own needs and interests,” Christo Nel, the MBA program director at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands, tells Top MBA. “Likewise, MBA programs that market themselves as specialized contain a set of mandatory core subjects which usually make up the majority of the program.”

Sources: Stacy Blackman Consulting, Top MBA

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