What MBA Focus Should You Pursue?

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An MBA student between classes.Why earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree? Most students who enroll for an MBA focus their studies on a broad range of topics, including accounting, management, corporate finance, political management and healthcare, to pursue various careers in leadership. Every role from healthcare consultant to CEO can benefit from the experience and expertise developed in business school.

The versatility of the modern MBA has made it one of the most popular graduate degrees in the U.S. In 2014, it overtook all other post-baccalaureate academic credentials in terms of total number of degrees conferred, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. And for good reason: An MBA can be very useful when applying to many types of jobs and can contribute to higher earnings potential over the course of a career.

That said, not all MBA programs and concentrations are the same. Students have a lot of options for MBA focuses in particular, including entrepreneurship, operations management and numerous healthcare-related topics. The healthcare online MBA (HCMBA) from the George Washington University (GW) includes a variety of electives as well as graduate certificate options for clinical and translational research, regulatory affairs and healthcare quality, among other options.

We’ll review what a traditional MBA covers, some of the common MBA focuses/concentrations (and what each of them entails), and how to select an MBA program and concentration that’s right for you.

Should You Earn a General MBA or Specialized MBA?

Business and finance courses are probably the first things that spring to mind when someone thinks of an MBA. That makes sense, as classes in those subjects account for a significant portion of the classic MBA curriculum. Major fixtures of a general MBA track include:

  • Accounting
  • Business Ethics
  • Data Analysis
  • Corporate Finance
  • Marketing
  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Management
  • Operations

Overall, a general MBA program can prepare students for careers at small businesses or large enterprises by giving them versatile skills in communication, management, finance and more. However, these catch-all MBAs do not provide the particular knowledge that many students want and need to pursue certain careers, such as ones in healthcare, real estate and green energy.

Enter the specialized MBA program. The GW HCMBA fits into this category, as it incorporates much of the coursework of a typical MBA while adding a deep focus on healthcare topics. Healthcare professionals ranging from doctors and nurses to consultants and administrators pursue this MBA track to acquire the knowledge and skills most relevant to their current and future roles.

The first decision to make when choosing an MBA focus is whether you will take the general or specialized route. There is no meaningful difference in difficulty between the two types, or between the different MBA focus areas, health care or otherwise. In the health care field, the specialized route will usually be more useful, however. Let’s look at what it and a few other common focus areas cover when it comes to classes.

What Are Some of The Most Popular and In-Demand MBA Focus Areas?

With the rise of the online MBA, business students have many options for how and where they get their education. Specialized MBAs have thrived in this new environment. Here are five of these MBA focus areas that have become particularly popular.

1. Healthcare MBA

A healthcare MBA, such as the GW HCMBA, is designed to build specialized expertise. To that end, the HCMBA program at GW is spread across the schools of business, medicine, health sciences, public health and nursing, so students can pursue a comprehensive and customizable course of study.

The core curriculum of the GW HCMBA is broadly similar to the overview we provided earlier of general MBA tracks:

  • Financial Accounting
  • Managerial Accounting
  • Decision Making and Data Analysis
  • Operations Management
  • Finance
  • Global Perspectives
  • Microeconomics for the Global Economy
  • Organizations and Human Capital
  • Marketing
  • Business Ethics and Public Policy
  • Strategic Management
  • Foundational Management Topics in Healthcare

Together, these classes account for slightly more than half of all credits in the program. Note that while they feature many familiar topics, they also include healthcare-specific coursework, too. Moreover, topics like accounting and strategic management are particularly important within healthcare contexts such as hospitals and nursing homes, all of which have complex payments systems and budgets.

Beyond the program core, there is considerable variety in the available healthcare-related electives and graduate certificates. In the GW HCMBA, options include epidemiology, patient safety systems, global regulatory affairs, and issues and trends in health systems. Seven different graduate certificates are also available, covering areas like integrative medicine and clinical research administration.

2. Real estate MBA

Managing and investing in real estate requires a particular set of skills. Real estate-focused MBA programs blend the typical MBA curriculum with more niche coursework, such as classes in:

  • Real Estate Capital Markets
  • Real Estate and Investment
  • Urban Economics
  • Advanced Real Estate Finance
  • Real Estate Valuation Techniques
  • Economics for Managers

Depending on the program, MBA students may also have the chance to run their own REIT (real estate investment trust), which can provide valuable hands-on experience.

3. Sustainability MBA

Sustainability and environmental awareness have become central issues for organizations in all industries as they look to reduce their carbon footprints and also improve their public images. As an MBA focus area, sustainability will involve looking at some of the foundational issues in MBA coursework – like corporate finance, operations and risk management – through the lens of environmental impact.

For example, students might look at how climate change affects the production of certain commodities, learn about how to invest in light of climate change-related risks and what steps businesses can take to put their operations on more sustainable footing.

4. Asset management MBA

Many MBA holders go on to work in the financial sector. It’s a sensible progression since MBA programs are very heavy on finance courses, which build acumen in accounting, risk management and other essential skills. An MBA focused on asset management will refine these capabilities even further by helping students understand behavioral finance (e.g., how markets are often irrational), alternative asset classes, international finance and entrepreneurship.

5. Entrepreneurship

Speaking of which, entrepreneurship has become a key focus area for many online MBAs in recent years. The curricula of entrepreneurship-oriented MBAs are pretty straightforward: They cover how to start and finance a new business, recruit employees, recognize market opportunities, assess financial performance, acquire customers and build business relationships.

There are other focuses beyond these five, including ones that go deeper into subjects like politics and public relations, two increasingly popular career paths for graduates.

Considerations for Choosing Your MBA Focus

Deciding on an MBA focus area, or indeed on what type of MBA (general or specialized) to get, will depend upon your professional and personal goals. The GW HCMBA has attracted business students from many different backgrounds, including clinicians, health services professionals and even business leaders from fields like consulting and insurance who are looking to enter healthcare for the first time.

In other words, anyone who might consider a standard MBA could also potentially benefit from a healthcare-oriented one, too, since it opens up new opportunities in the country’s largest industry. Healthcare could account for almost one-fifth of all economic activity in the U.S. by 2027, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). That’s up from about 18% in 2016, and indicative of the aging population in the U.S. and increased demand for health services.

In this context, earning a healthcare MBA like the GW HCMBA can provide crucial preparation in a growing field. The online structure of the program provides flexibility for working professionals so they can complete all requirements as conveniently as possible. Plus, the varied electives and certificate options make the GW HCMBA highly customizable. While healthcare itself is a focus area, there are many smaller focuses within it, and the GW HCMBA makes those avenues available to all program enrollees.

To learn more about the GW HCMBA’s curriculum, be sure to visit the program details page. You can also go to the main program overview site, where you can answer a few questions and get a copy of our brochure.

Recommended Readings:

Healthcare Elective Classes to Help Define Your Focus
MBA vs. MPH degree


Health Share of Economy to Near 20% in Next Decade
Why the MBA has become the most popular master’s degree in the U.S.