Over the past few years, my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and I have witnessed a surge in interest for specialty masters degrees across a variety of business disciplines. On the heels of our CentreCourt Specialized Masters Event last month, I hosted a live conversation with Poets&Quants editor John A. Byrne alongside my Fortuna Admissions colleagues and industry experts, Michael Malone, Lisa Bevill, Julia Brady, and Caroline Diarte Edwards.
I’ve captured the top takeaways from our discussion about pursuing a specialized business masters, including the benefits and ROI, differences between the top US and European programs, what schools are looking for, insider application advice, and more.
View our hour-long strategy session alongside the summary highlights, below.
BENEFITS OF PURSUING A SPECIALIZED BUSINESS MASTERS
Early career accelerator.
Employers love ‘super analysts,’ says Fortuna’s Michael Malone, former Associate Dean at Columbia Business School. In particular, the more technical masters degree programs are designed for students who are coming out of undergraduate directly, having the equivalent of a year or two of experience and seeking to really deepen what they’ve done in a particular technical area. And it renders you a super analyst – somebody who is able to make much more impactful and deeper contributions to an employer early on – and it makes you very marketable as a result. Employers across industries just can’t get enough students with a strong business analytics background.
By contrast, the Masters in Management (MiM) and the Master of Science in Management Studies (MSMS) are aiming for a somewhat different kind of preparation – they’re looking to help candidates who are coming from a very generalist background, to have leadership experience that is then marketable as an early career accelerator.
Pivot or break into a new industry.
If you know you want to break into a certain industry, or maybe pivot within that industry, specialized masters tend to have more specific industry partnerships, along with the benefit of smaller cohorts, says Fortuna’s Julia Brady, former Managing Director at Kellogg & former Senior Associate Dean, UChicago. Their relationships with the employer community are different; many of them have a STEM aspect. For example, the MSMS was perfect for the theater majors I got to know when I was at Kellogg, who looked to pivot into the business of theater or arts management.
Valuable international exposure.
Both the INSEAD full-time MBA and its newer MiM program attract individuals with an eclectic mix of undergraduate studies, says Fortuna’s Caroline Diarte Edwards, former INSEAD director of admissions. A big attraction for the MiM candidate is the incredible diversity of educational backgrounds and nationalities, which creates a very dynamic classroom. It’s a rich learning environment to come into, in which you have the opportunity to learn alongside people with very different educational and work experience. Most of the MiM students have done internships and therefore arrive with some work experience. That richness of working with people from all over the world is a big part of the learning experience at INSEAD, both for the full-time MBA and the MiM.
Take advantage of being in ‘study mode.’
It’s easier to get back into the mode of studying when you’re just coming out of undergrad. For many people, it’s also a less daunting prospect to continue with their education rather than take a break in their career later. It’s not always easy to step away from the workplace when you’re excelling and it can feel nerve-wracking to leave a great job in your late 20’s. As such, the MiM is a great opportunity to get an INSEAD education before you enter the workforce.
Save on tuition costs.
Some business masters programs are about half the cost of a full-time MBA program. What’s noteworthy, says Caroline, is that both INSEAD’s MBA and MiM are essentially one-year programs, and the MiM is 49,000 euros and the MBA is 89,000 euros. So that’s quite a cost differentiation. For some, it’s a big incentive to go at that early stage and get the INSEAD experience for almost half of the cost.
You can still get an MBA later.
Keep in mind, adds Julia, pursuing a specialized masters early on doesn’t necessarily take the MBA off the table. For example, the way the Kellogg program was designed, which includes a one-year MBA, the accelerated MBA – the MSMS students are perfectly positioned. It’s not closing a door to a future MBA, it’s an early career launchpad.
Adds Caroline: It’ll be interesting to observe the extent to which some of the MiM students do then come back and apply for the INSEAD MBA, even though they’re both one-year programs with some similarities, especially in the core curriculum. I predict there will be many MiM alumni coming back who got a taste of the INSEAD experience. Also, one year flies by incredibly fast. Compared to undergrad, the one-year program is a very different pace and a very intense experience. I think it will motivate people to return at a later date – to complement their education with a full-time MBA.
SPECIALIZED MASTERS APPLICATION TOP TIPS: WHAT ADMISSIONS ARE LOOKING FOR
Track record of academic performance.
The academics do weigh heavily in the evaluation, and then they’ll look at what you’ve done in college. Schools want assurance that you have the ability to tackle a very rigorous academic curriculum. The more technical the degree, the more they’re looking for indicators you can handle a highly rigorous environment. They want assurance you’re coming with the requisite skills and background that you need in order to be successful. For example, if you’re going into a Mfin program, having pre-experience in financial services is great. And if you don’t, then demonstrating in another way that you have those skills or background by virtue of classes is something to consider or invest in.
Evidence of leadership and community engagement.
As most applicants have an average of only one year of cumulative work experience, often through internships, admissions will be looking for that strong academic track record combined with a track record of engagement in your university. That said, there’s a huge diversity in people’s backgrounds and their interests – there’s no need to fit a type. How have you demonstrated leadership? Extracurricular engagement and evidence of leadership are even more vital when you’re lacking in real-world career experience. They’re also looking for those other elements of leadership such as interpersonal skills, communication, teamwork, etc.
Connect the dots for the admissions team.
Most admissions teams believe that past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. When you’re talking about your experience, when you’re putting together your resume and your application, think about conveying not just what you’ve done, but what skills you’ve developed, because that’s what’s really relevant to the classroom.
International programs want to see your global motivation.
International schools like INSEAD, London Business School, IE, and others want to see evidence of international motivation and orientation. The schools are looking to see are you genuinely motivated to be part of an international community. A good way to demonstrate this is by showing you’ve made the effort to get experience outside your home country. A lot of the applicants have studied or done internships outside of their home country before applying to these programs. It’s about demonstrating your cultural awareness, flexibility, and the ability to adapt to a very different environment.
BUSINESS EDUCATION TRENDS: WHERE IS THE SPECIALIZED MASTERS GOING?
Business Analytics is the hottest degree.
Although finance is the largest specialty masters in the market, business analytics by far is the hottest degree – it’s the fastest-growing based on GMAC data, says John A. Byrne, Editor-in-Chief of Poets&Quants. I think we’re going to see a lot more action on business analytics, and its application to artificial intelligence and in machine learning as we move forward. AI is really going to transform the world of work in ways that most people can’t even comprehend yet over the next 10-15-20 years. And using AI to make work more efficient and to make companies more productive is going to be a very big focus.
A lot of the people who are now studying business analytics are basically trying to get their arms around Big Data Set sets and make all the overwhelming data that companies now have helpful for real decision making. I think the next stage of that is how do you apply AI, in analytics, mesh them together, to build more productive and more efficient organizations. I think that’s going to be a really big factor in the future.
Online options are on the rise.
The other thing that’s happening in this market is the onslaught of online education in specialty masters, says John. More and more schools are launching online programs that still allow you to work and earn money while you’re earning a specialty master’s degree. That’s going to be the most explosive growth area over the next few years; it’s just one school after another rolling out these online specialty master’s programs.
Diversity of options also a signal of variance in standards.
The masters landscape is like a mushroom farm, quips Michael. I don’t mean that it’s dank, but I do mean that it’s unregulated. When you talk about a Masters in Finance (Mfin) at one school, it does not necessarily correlate to what a Mfin at another school looks like. And this is one of the challenges to potential students and to employers who are seeking to hire people who graduate from these programs, as there is not a level of standardization.
On the flip side, the benefit is that there are a lot of different options. And you can look for a more bespoke fit between a candidate’s skills or desires to enter the marketplace in a particular way, and a program that is tailored to the way that they want to engage. They run the range, but my experience with both Columbia and Kellogg is that these are not discount programs. One of the additional challenges, again, is this varies from school to school. And oftentimes the amount of aid available in an MBA program is not available to those in an MS program. It really depends on how the school sees the MS program contributing to its overall portfolio. It’s important for candidates to actively have conversations with the admissions folks at these various programs, to find out what kind of aid, scholarships, and other sponsorship might be available, as well as the employment aspects.
For more insight and advice, view the full program.
Matt Symonds is Co-Founder of MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and Co-Host of the CentreCourt MBA Festival. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.