The MBA degree has sent rising stars to employers like McKinsey and Goldman Sachs for decades. But as companies demand more specialist skills, young managers are increasingly banking on specialist expertise to give themselves an edge in the jobs market.
In western Europe, 45% of prospective business school students are only considering specialized masters programs, up from 22% in 2009.
These are the findings of a new survey published Tuesday by the Gradate Management Admissions Council, which also shows that future students are more confident in their job prospects — one reason for the increase in interest in specialist degrees.
Tom Robinson, chief executive of AACSB International, which accredits business schools, told BusinessBecause: “There has been a shift of interest from MBA or general business masters degrees, to those with a more specialized focus.”
More than 60% of prospective students are eyeing a single job function, up from 46% in 2014, GMAC says. This suggests growing bravado amid a strengthening global economy.
Gregg Schoenfeld, director of management education research at GMAC, said: “Five years ago, when we were in the depths of a recessionary period, people tried to give themselves more options coming out of school....Now, there is more activity in the hiring market, so students with a dream job can target it.”
Business analytics has fuelled the boom in specialist programs. MIT Sloan, for instance, in March launched a business analytics masters, costing $75,000.
“Today’s managers need not become data analysts, but they need to be aware of the opportunities,” said Juergen Branke, professor of operational research and systems at Warwick Business School.
Masters programs in accounting and finance have also risen to prominence — finance in particular, as a barrage of post-crisis regulation has demanded more specialist knowledge.
Viet Ha Tran, senior associate admissions director for IE Business School’s master in finance programs, said that, over six months in the last recruiting cycle, applications doubled.
This is the outcome of a brighter outlook for jobs, she said: “For example, Goldman Sachs is increasing salaries for junior bankers in the US by about 20% amid an increasingly frenetic war to attract and retain young graduates.”
The master’s in management, a pre-experience program that is popular in Europe, has gained lustre too, says GMAC, as US schools such as Kellogg and Mendoza begin to embrace it.
“There is growing recognition and awareness of one-year masters degrees in management in the US,” said Russ Morgan, associate dean at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.
Meanwhile, cost continues to be the top consideration for business school applicants, according to GMAC’s research, which shows 63% of them will seek grants, fellowships, or scholarships to fund their tuition. The amount of scholarship funding awarded has surged in recent years, as schools compete to attract top MBA talent.
“Getting an MBA is a serious commitment of time and money, and this investment needs to be carefully considered and planned,” said Virginie Fougea, associate director of admissions at INSEAD.
More than 50% of applicants also plan to secure loans, according to GMAC.
Meanwhile, most candidates pursuing business degrees want a blend of classroom and online learning. “Blended is an important approach because it allows us to provide flexibility, but to still have an intimate, high-touch environment,” said William Lamb, dean of Babson College’s business school.