Choosing what Masters degree to apply for can be an overwhelming experience, especially once you are facing the abundance, or sometimes the lack, of information available online. For instance, specialised Masters degree programmes are often discussed in comparison to the MBA degree (the Master of Business Administration) and in terms of how their offerings differ from those of the MBA. Although this is certainly a worthy discussion, there is another side to the story of choosing a programme which has not been paid as much attention. Let’s look at the similarities and differences between general Masters in Management (MiM) programmes and specialised Masters programmes. The latter may include Masters in Entrepreneurship, Masters in Hospitality and Tourism Management or Masters in Human Resource Management, for example.
How are they similar?
Most Masters programmes are designed for Bachelor’s graduates who still have little to no professional experience. This is valid both for the MiM and for many of the specialised Masters out there offering different industry insights. Whichever of the two broad types of programme you choose to enrol in, it is likely that you will be presented with a blend of theory and practice – in the form of internships, company visits or practical tracks and sessions, for instance.
Fortunately for students, both types of programme are much more affordable than the MBA. The pool of Masters programmes today has become so diverse that people with vastly different budgets usually manage to find a suitable option. The level of affordability of the degree is also important with regard to the return on investment (ROI) which students can rely on. The good news is that both the MiM and the specialised Masters offer very good value in terms of ROI and often result in a promising career path. According to Poets and Quants, employment rates and starting salaries in the US for specialised Masters graduates of the schools that top the rankings tend to be high, while mid-tier schools also seem to secure strong post-graduate career opportunities.
Moreover, there are plenty of international opportunities. Those who find it important to be part of a truly diverse classroom or want to be immersed in a new culture do not have to worry about finding a programme that matches this criterion. As reported by Poets and Quants in 2015, specialised Masters are a magnet for internationals: “The University of Michigan Ross School of Business Masters in Supply Chain Management students are about 90% international. Financial Engineering programmes at UCLA Anderson and Carnegie Mellon Tepper attract some 80% foreign students.”
How are they different?
As we have seen, both Masters degrees are usually very international and affordable and alternatives abound even for those who are looking for something very particular. Then what is so different between a Masters in general management and a specialised Masters? Unlike the MiM degree, a specialisation obviously means that the student will become highly proficient in the specific sector on which the specialised programme is focused. If we take as an example the area of tourism and hospitality management, a Masters degree would mean learning the ins and outs of good customer service combined with a managerial or business perspective.
The Master of Science in International Hospitality Management offered by emlyon business school illustrates this level of involvement in the industry: “During your time in Lyon, the capital of French gastronomy, you will fully benefit from the traditions of French hospitality, and your time on emlyon business school's Asian Campus in Shanghai will complement this knowledge with experience of the excellence Asian hospitality is known for around the globe.”
The specialised Masters degree is exclusively focused on a particular industry and, thus, graduates are prepared to enter their field of specialisation directly. While other industries would be unfamiliar for them, they would have the advantage of getting to know their area of specialisation in much greater detail than a general management graduate.
In comparison, Masters programmes in general management cover diverse topics such as strategy, consulting, marketing, or even finance and entrepreneurship. These are areas which are large enough to be addressed and studied in detail on their own. However, the point of the MiM is to provide students with a holistic understanding of all of these topics and by doing so, to prepare them for a position in management in any field of work.
Keep in mind
If you are lucky enough to have found the professional field where you want to grow and build a successful career, then opting for a specialised Masters degree is an excellent choice. You will have the advantage of being prepared for the industry early on while still getting an overall perspective of business, management, and leadership. However, it is just as important to stay aware of what is happening outside the industry bubble. In some cases, focusing on one functional area or skill set may limit one’s ability to create and innovate in the broader business environment.
For those who are headed for a particular specialised degree, it would be good to keep in mind that newly created specialised programmes often respond to current market needs. As noted by Ethan Baron, “Specialised programmes have been multiplying and growing in class size as a result of a confluence of factors. On the student side, there’s growing demand among college graduates who want a quick boost that will differentiate them from others with undergraduate degrees. On the employer side, technological advancement has ratcheted up competition in every sector, and companies want to hire employees who can start producing right away.”
Although the nature of a specialised degree implies that little or no training will be necessary once graduates are employed in their industry – a lucrative possibility for employers – each individual situation is different. Keep in mind that a field of work such as pharmaceuticals will have entirely different characteristics from hospitality management or media management. Research your options well and know what to expect for your post-graduation career when selecting the type of Masters programme to pursue.