A Masterful Evolution

Specialised Master’s degrees gain steam

Specialised Master’s Degrees are not a new trend, but their market seems to be gaining strength year after year. Choosing to acquire a Master’s degree depends on a variety of factors and can give you the competitive edge you need to advance your career.

Soaring in number, Master’s degrees are a direct response to the surge in the demand for advanced credentials from young professionals looking to stand out from the crowd. Widely recognised and respected in Europe, Master’s degrees are taking over American schools as well – since the year 2000, Master’s degrees granted by US schools have grown a whopping 63%, superseding the number of Bachelor’s degrees with over 15%. 

A survey carried out by the Graduate Management Admission Council in 2014 reveals that, while the MBA is still the most sought-after graduate business degree, almost half of the prospective business graduate students are considering non-MBA business Master’s programmes.

And while both MBAs and specialised Master’s are indeed Master’s programmes, the difference is quite significant.

MBA programmes are functional: they are developed to provide knowledge on a mix of subjects in order to develop practical business skills such as accounting, finance, statistics and emphasise the most important qualities of a manager and a leader, such as communication skills, collaboration and negotiation. Enrolling in an MBA programme requires several years of work experience, and the learning process is based on utilising that experience in the classroom.

Specialised Master’s, on the other hand, are more theoretical and are isolated within the particular area of study; they would also require relevant undergraduate education or a number or prerequisite courses – yet applications to specialised Master’s degree programmes in everything from accounting to marketing and entrepreneurship are on the rise.

Following the post-recession overall rise in graduate school applications, the market for Master’s degrees has also seen steady development. The 2014 Application Trends Survey, carried out by the GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council), reports a continued healthy grow in volume for 2014. Around 60% of the most popular programmes: Master of Accounting, Master of Management and Master of Finance, report an increase in application rates. The trend is similar with the Marketing, Communications and Information Technology Master’s, which also report an increase in applicants.

One of the top factors which influenced the continued overall growth among specialised Master’s programmes has been the higher industry requirements for employees worldwide and the increased job competition.

Attractive to recent graduates

Over 70% of students in Management, Finance and Accounting programmes are aged 25 or younger, with the majority typically having up to three years of work experience.

For Europe, one of the biggest factors driving this change was a series of agreements in the late 90s, known as the Bologna process, which standardised higher education qualifications among European countries. For the majority of European universities, that meant a shift from a five-year Master’s degree to two separate ones – usually a four or even a three-year Bachelor’s degree, and a one or two-year Master’s degree. 

Recent graduates are viewing a specialised Master’s as a way to differentiate themselves and often prefer to continue with their education for one or two more years, rather than enter a difficult job market with only a Bachelor’s degree. They can choose to deepen the knowledge in their recent field of study or add a business aspect to an otherwise technical undergrad major, making them even more competitive.

Advanced knowledge and specialisation

The more specialised nature of a Master's qualification provides the candidate with the precise academic and theoretical framework to tackle a specific area – and not only that. Once reviewed only as a stepping stone towards a PhD, Master’s programmes are now recognised as a true skills’ differentiator - in an environment where a Bachelor’s degree is considered a bare minimum.

Competitive advantage

If you are just starting your professional career and fear that your lack of experience does not work in your favour, then the decision to spend one more year in a Master’s programme might well be a very good one. The GMAC Corporate Recruiters Survey shows that employers expect to pay a new Master’s degree hire a 20% higher salary than that of a candidate with a Bachelor’s degree.

Often, the decision to enrol in a specialised Master’s is driven by the desire to obtain professional credentials and credibility, which will not only give you a competitive edge when joining the workforce, but have also become expected in particular areas such as Accounting and Human Resources. 

Additionally, a specialised Master’s, such as the Master in Management, would help students who already know that they want to be in a business leadership role to develop their leadership potential and receive support in shaping up their career paths.


Master’s programmes in Accounting, Finance or Management tend to draw an increasingly diverse candidate pool - in the placement report for their Master in Management programme, IE Business School, one of the top European business schools, shows that 42% of the 2012 class were female; 48% of the students had undergraduate degrees in business (48%), but the 2012 class also included majors in economics, law, engineering, science, social science and the humanities.


Specialised Master’s provide an excellent opportunity to do more than one degree at a time, giving you an even greater competitive edge in the job market. Dual or joint degrees are offered by many business schools and in many areas, such as Design, Engineering, Environment, Law, Medicine and others.

In addition to the well-known and established Master’s programmes, universities are making new additions almost every year, closely following what’s hot on the job market – Master of Sustainable Development, Master of Computer Game Design and Master of Entrepreneurship are only a few of examples of recently introduced programmes.

If you are faced with the need to make a choice, focus on your ambitions, career objectives, background and qualifications - if you are clear on the type of career you hope to grow in, and would like to go deeper into a discipline and become a specialist, you should consider a specialised Master’s degree.

Rest assured that graduate education does pay off. The need for highly skilled professionals is higher than ever, and the additional time over the textbooks could give you that extra something to distinguish yourself among the other job applicants on the market. A Master’s degree will open doors to areas where a specific set of skills and knowledge is required, such as Finance, Accounting, Marketing or Human Resources, and their value is well understood and respected, especially in Europe.

Do your homework - evaluate your career goals and determine the educational path that will best help you achieve these goals. Research the requirements for positions you aspire to reach and talk to those in your field of interest about what programme they chose and why. This way you will be able to narrow down the best options for you.

This article has been produced by Advent Group and featured in the 2015-2016 Access Masters Guide

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