In years long past, MBA curricula were very similar among different B-schools and universities, but with the number of post-graduate business degrees rising every year, schools have had to adapt their programmes to meet the evolving needs of both students and employers. These adaptations have resulted in schools expanding their MBA curricula courses and flexibility as a means of distinguishing one programme from another.
MBA curricula options
Most B-schools and universities have a degree of flexibility in their MBA programme’s curriculum in that there are required courses, usually foundational, and then there are elective courses, for which you can choose from a number of qualified options. This provides a student with all the skills that an employer expects from a candidate with an MBA, while at the same time allowing students to select the elective courses that interest them the most or that may be most beneficial to their career.
The level of flexibility ranges from school to school and from programme to programme. For example, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business (US) MBA programme hails itself as “the world’s most flexible Full-time MBA.” In this programme, there are several foundation and business function courses you have to take, along with one required leadership class. Apart from that, you can choose from a long list of electives offered and take them in any order you like.
Compare that to Harvard Business School’s (US) MBA programme, which is different from Booth’s programme but nonetheless offers its own version of flexibility. The two-year programme requires a certain curriculum for the first year, and then a combination of required and elective courses during the second year. In addition, during the second year, you are able to cross-register with other participating MBA programmes for up to two courses towards your Harvard MBA, allowing you to participate in the renowned Entrepreneurship Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example.
MBA concentrations and specialisations
There used to be little other than a grade point average to distinguish one MBA recipient from another in terms of business skills. Now, employers need more specialised skills from their pool of job applicants, and B-schools and universities have stepped up to meet their needs by offering concentrations and specialisations within their MBA programmes.
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A specialisation is a degree programme that focuses exclusively on a specific topic and the entire MBA programme is named specifically for that topic, such as the MBA in Thoroughbred Horseracing Industries offered by Liverpool University (UK). That programme will teach you about sponsorship, sport laws and regulations, and even horse welfare, the knowledge of which would be virtually irrelevant globally but in high demand in the UK.
An MBA with a concentration in a particular area of study is typically designed by the student. This involves a broad foundation of business knowledge, but includes specialised electives focused on a particular field. For example, if an MBA student takes a certain curriculum path through which some, if not all, of the electives teach various aspects of entrepreneurship, the degree might be considered an MBA with a concentration in Entrepreneurship.
This evolution of MBAs benefits students as well as employers, since students with targeted career objectives can learn more of what they want to know about (or will utilise) and less of what they do not. You may find that a particular school’s programme has a focus that is unnamed except in the fine print. EMLYON’s (France) Full-time MBA has “a clear entrepreneurial focus” according to its website, yet you would not know it by the name of the degree. That is why it is so critical to research your short list of preferred schools and discuss the details of the programme in depth with an admissions counsellor.
Dual/joint degree MBA programmes
If there are two degree paths that are so closely connected with your career goals that you feel you need the knowledge and skills taught by both, you might want to consider a dual-degree or joint-degree programme. This will allow you to acquire the knowledge you need from both without having to duplicate many of the foundational courses. An example of a dual-degree program is Stanford University’s (US) MBA/MA Education programme, which combines an MBA with a Master in Education degree, a combination that would be ideal for management positions within the educational field.
Practical projects and experiential learning in an MBA programme
Case studies, internships, studies abroad, experiential learning, and real-world clients are just a few of the out-of-the-box learning experiences now offered by many MBA programmes. It is yet another way a B-school or university can differentiate its MBA programme from another’s, and the options may appeal to students differently, possibly attracting a wider audience. Employers want skilled, capable job applicants, and the option of having them field-tested and battle-ready is appealing. The London Business School (UK) offers two such opportunities outside the classroom with its Global Business Experiences and International Exchange Programme.
Flexible MBA schedules
MBA programmes around the world typically take one to two years to complete and are offered in a number of different scheduling formats. A full-time MBA is the baseline, with a student expected to complete the MBA in a typical time frame by taking all the normal courses within a normal schedule. A part-time MBA will, of course, take longer, but will offer more flexibility to those students who are, for example, employed full time and cannot quite commit to a full study load. An Executive MBA programme is designed for working professionals and has a curriculum tailored to their needs, with more emphasis on practical applications in the business world and less on academic theory.
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The curriculum for each of these MBA programmes does not vary extensively in terms of content, but some of the courses may be limited in availability. For example, not all courses will be available for an online programme format, and not all courses will be able to fit your part-time schedule. Nonetheless, the quality of the content taught and the degree itself is still expected to be as high as a typical programme.
The number of options available with present-day MBA curricula is difficult in that it requires much more research to select just the right degree programme for your specific career path, but the research more than pays off by delivering a degree that is tailored to your individual needs. Whether it is a flexible schedule, a dual-degree programme, a specialised degree or a rigorous internship, you have many more options to use to your advantage.