Focused programs update specific skill sets in less time than a traditional MBA.

Share story

Declining enrollment in traditional business master’s programs, including Master of Accounting, Master of Finance and Master of Management, has spurred the introduction of specialized master’s degrees. According to a report compiled by the Graduate Management Admission Council, specialties like Master of Data Analytics, Master of Business Information Technology and Master of Entrepreneurship are experiencing an upsurge.

These degrees have been common in Europe for 20 years, explains Dan Poston, assistant dean of masters programs at the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business. Poston has advocated for these programs for the past decade.

Demand from prospective students and employers has sparked the rise of specialized master’s degree programs. These programs are designed to take less time to complete than traditional MBAs, making them even more appealing to students. They also cost less than an MBA degree. Some programs offer an accelerated format with an evening and weekend schedule that allows students to continue working while they complete a degree.

Employers see candidates with these degrees as adding value to their companies. Ninety-four percent of Master of Science in Information Systems graduates from the Foster School of Business were promoted or moved into a new role within three months. At Seattle University’s Albers School of Business, 90 percent of Master in Sports Leadership graduates were placed within six months. The UCLA Anderson School of Management reported that 93 percent of their students who graduated with a Master of Financial Engineering in 2014 landed jobs within three months of graduation.

Elements of a specialized master’s degree

The components of specialized master’s degree programs include classroom experiences and workshops, seminars, talks and similar events designed to accelerate the academic and professional development of enrolled students, says Dan Turner, associate dean of masters programs at the Foster School of Business. Usually these candidates have from zero to three years of professional work experience before entering the program.

“The skill-set development focus is typically in a specialized (e.g., entrepreneurship) and often technical area” (e.g., information systems, supply chain, business analytics, etc.), Turner clarifies.

Most schools and universities offering specialized master’s degree programs require a valid Graduate Management Admission Test or Graduate Records Examinations score as part of the admissions process, says Turner. That helps assess a candidate’s analytical reasoning, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

However, some schools waive the GMAT and GRE requirements if the student attended the same university’s undergraduate program with the same focus as their intended specialized master’s degree.

Weigh these advantages

Specialized master’s programs are shorter and more concentrated than a typical master’s degree. The skills taught are tied to what employers demand in the market. Yet a degree can be completed in 9 to 16 months, depending on the program. During your time in school, you take a deep dive into your focus area, which gives you knowledge and skills that make you more appealing as a new hire.

“A generalist master’s degree, such as a Master of Management, accelerates student development in a broader set of areas, but at the expense of the depth that employers seem to value in the marketplace. In general, we find that employers look for specialist skills among less-experienced job seekers and broader, more generalist skill sets at more-advanced levels of recruiting,” says Turner.

Candidates also have access to resources and individual coaching tailored to their specific career goals.

Get promoted quickly

Specialized master’s degrees also boost careers for those who’ve fallen into a job without clear employment value or who have landed in a field they enjoy but need more training to advance.

“I’ve seen students who majored in liberal arts go back to school for a specialized master’s degree,” says Poston. “It gives them the fundamentals to do well in their area of focus.”

If a specialized master’s degree appears to be a good fit for you, explore a few different schools before applying. Visit the school’s website, examine the curriculum and see where graduates have landed career-wise. Turner says the most important aspect of your research should be to connect either in person or virtually with program staff, current students and even alumni. When making a decision, nothing helps more than having an actual conversation with a real person.

The Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington consistently ranks among the top business schools in the United States — for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.