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Specialized Master's Programs Gain Ground As Interest In MBA Programs Declines

More students are considering a specialized Master's program and fewer people want to study MBA programs. Entrepreneurship is also on the rise, but finance remains the most popular industry.

By  Seb Murray

Tue Apr 15 2014

The MBA remains the dominant business school program – but it faces increased competition. Nearly half of prospective students are now considering a specialized Master’s degree.

A worldwide survey from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which polled more than 12,000 prospective students, also reveals that fewer people are exclusively thinking of pursuing an MBA degree, while men are more likely to begin MBAs than women.

Interest in MBA programs has declined from 55 per cent to 53 per cent over five years, according to GMAC, and 20 per cent of prospective candidates are focusing solely on specialized Master’s programs, up from 13 per cent in 2009.

However, there are wide regional variations. Since 2009, students’ interests in MBA programs have grown in many countries – most notably Canada (up to 72 per cent in 2013, from 67 per cent in 2009).

Candidates are most interested in pursuing specialized programs in finance (44 per cent), accounting (39 per cent), management (33 per cent), and international management (25 per cent). 

The 2014 mba.com Prospective Students Survey Report explores the motivations, behaviours, program choices and intended career outcomes of those who registered on mba .com – the portal for the GMAT exam.

The data reveals that men are more interested in pursuing MBA degrees than women. In 2013, 60 per cent of men considered MBA programs, compared with 45 per cent of women.

More female candidates are interested in exclusively pursuing specialized Master’s programs than males – 27 per cent to 15 per cent.  

Part-time MBA programs are also losing ground. Just 33 per cent of prospective students who consider an MBA degree were interested in part-time formats in 2013, compared with 39 per cent in 2009.

More than half (52 per cent) of full-time MBA hopefuls are interested in a two-year format; 49 per cent are interested in a one-year format.

Meanwhile, crossover demand has decreased. Candidates considering both an MBA and a specialized Master’s program have declined from a third to a quarter, says the survey.

Younger candidates of both genders are more likely to consider both types of programs.

“Business schools are drawing more diverse students overall, but they are finding the applicant pools becoming more distinct,” said Gregg Schoenfeld, GMAC director of survey research.

But prospective candidates are still concerned about financing their management education. It was the most common reservation cited.

MBA candidates expect to finance nearly half of their education through personal earnings or savings (25 per cent) and loans (24 per cent). Specialized Master's candidates even plan to rely on their parents' bank accounts (29 per cent), according to GMAC.

But for all prospective candidates of both types of programs, quality of education and the business school’s reputation are what really counts.

Reasons for pursuing degrees also hold few surprises: increased job opportunities; development of business knowledge, skills and abilities; and increased salary potential.

“Despite the diversity of candidates, demographically, geographically, and in their program orientation, prospects tend to seek quality education to improve their career prospects,” Schoenfeld said.

Careers are also consistent. Finance (37 per cent), consulting (34 per cent) and products and services (33 per cent) are the dominant industries.

But there is also a rise in tech careers (up to 20 per cent of those surveyed), while 12 per cent of prospective candidates want to enter healthcare.

Entrepreneurship is also on the rise, despite what previous studies have suggested. Twenty-six per cent of all prospects are considering entrepreneurial careers upon graduation, up from 20 per cent in 2009. Only four per cent of 2013 prospects are now entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurship rates are highest in Latin America (46 per cent), followed by Central Asia (42 per cent). They are lowest in the United States.

Meanwhile, the U.S dominates the location choices of the majority of prospective students.

To see the survey in its entirety, visit: http://www.gmac.com/market-intelligence-and-research/market-research/gmac-surveys/mbacom-prospective-students-survey.aspx